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August 31, 2002

More on the NEA

I wrote about NPR's interview with the incoming president of the NEA, Reg Weaver, in my previous blog entry. In the interview, Weaver blamed problems with schools on support for vouchers. He went on to discuss his position on testing and standards:

NPR: The federal law insists that students meet certain test score standards, um...

Reg Weaver: They call it "annual yearly progress."

NPR: And is it the case that the National Education Association doesn't equate high test scores with, say, high standards of teaching?

Reg Weaver: No, no, we have no problems with accountability. But when you're looking at test scores, there are all kinds of things that can be read into a test score. A test score is an output. But what people don't do is they don't focus on the inputs. I'm talking about funding, I'm talking about whether the school is safe and orderly, I'm talking about whether you have qualified staff, I'm talking about whether you have technology. The inputs help to determine the output.

Once again, it's important to parse what Weaver is saying. When questioned about accountability, he turned the discussion around to funding, security, qualifications, and technology -- in other words, everything but academics.

By and large, the teachers I have known are dedicated, hard-working professionals who teach because they love children and can't imagine doing anything else. From what I have seen, it is school administrators, teachers unions, and elected officials who get in their way. Administrators waste money on bureaucracy that teachers neither want nor need. Unions promote confrontation and resist efforts to reward teachers based on their performance. Elected officials constantly meddle, seemingly never to positive effect.

I wouldn't have expected the new president of the NEA to take a more cooperative tone, but he hasn't even taken office yet and already is making things worse.

August 30, 2002

The NEA Discovers the Root Problem in Education

Earlier today, NPR's Morning Edition broadcast an interview (available only in RealAudio format; I've transcribed part of it here) with Reg Weaver, the incoming president of the National Education Assocation. The interview started on the subject of school vouchers:

NPR: Reg Weaver is a science teacher from suburban Chicago who next week takes over as the new president of the NEA. He says the union continues to oppose vouchers despite substantial support for them within the African-American community.

Reg Weaver: Being an African-American myself, and a classroom teacher, and a parent, I think I have a little experience in terms of what the issues are, and if you will look at the research, it's not necessarily because the schools are not performing as we would like for them to, but because of discipline problems, because of drugs, because of crime, and what I am saying is that I want all schools to be as good as our best school.

NPR: Unfortunately, that hasn't happened, um...

Reg Weaver: No, it hasn't happened...

NPR: Why shouldn't there be an alternative?

Reg Weaver: But see, it hasn't happened because I think the voucher issue is a divisive issue, and it has a tendency to pit classes of people against other classes, rather than saying it is all of our responsibility to educate all children to the best of our ability.

Go ahead and read that a second time. Weaver states that he wants "all schools to be as good as our best school." He admits that's not the case today and is asked why there's no alternative. "Because," he answers, "the voucher issue is a divisive issue..." Yes, that's correct. The new president of the NEA is taking the position that advocacy of school vouchers is the reason that many schools today perform so badly.

In essence, Weaver is saying that to merely advocate a point of view that differs from his union's is to impede the improvement of schools. This is a nearly unbelievable statement, even coming from the NEA.

August 29, 2002

A Taste of the Great White North

While visiting and then living in Canada, though I generally bemoaned the smaller selection of the grocery stores there, I nevertheless came to love a variety of food products that are difficult or impossible to find in the US:

Coffee Crisp candy bars...

Maple Shreddies breakfast cereal...

And all-dressed potato chips...

Now it's all available on the Web, at Canadian Favourites (found via boing boing):

The premier site for Canadians worldwide who are craving a taste of home. Shop safely online from the widest available selection of Canadian food products including Tim Horton's Coffee, Nestlé Chocolate, E.D. Smith Jams, Red Rose Tea, Humpty Dumpty Chips and so many more we know you'll be happy to see.
Oddly enough, none of the Canadians I knew while there went in for all-dressed chips, but someone is buying them. Now it can be me once again! Woo-hoo!

August 27, 2002

Stewart Alsop on Danger

Stewart Alsop has written a column for Fortune on why Danger's Hiptop (written about earlier here) will fail. He loves the device itself, but is skeptical of the business model:

The company is licensing the hardware design, called Hiptop, to whomever wants to buy it. (It says T-Mobile, the wireless subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, is the first of many companies ready to license its hardware.) The first device -- the one T-Mobile calls Sidekick -- will be sold for less than $200. The U.S. cellular industry's structure is such that carriers often subsidize new devices for as much as $150 in return for customer contracts that guarantee minimum service fees for up to two years. That means, in theory, that T-Mobile could sell the Sidekick for as little as $50, a great plan for targeting teenagers.

The problem is that Danger can't tell T-Mobile how to price or market its cool new device. So if T-Mobile decides not to subsidize the Sidekick, it could go for $200 -- a huge mistake, because teens don't have that kind of money. And even if T-Mobile does price the device for the target market, there's no real assurance that the company will explain it or sell it correctly. Telephone companies have never been known as great marketing engines.

For this arrangement to pay off, Sidekick will have to sell like gangbusters. After all, T-Mobile used its own brand and has poured some serious cash into Danger. As for Danger, it's not charging T-Mobile to license the hardware design, and it's not receiving any money for voice calls made with the device. Instead it'll take a portion of the monthly fee users pay for web access, instant messaging, and e-mail.

Elsewhere in the article, Stewart says that "huge telecom carriers can't put one foot in front of another, even when they try really hard." Will the Hiptop fail because of the carriers? I share Stewart's concerns, but it may be that Danger has done enough things right that at least one carrier will get the marketing model right.

August 26, 2002

Haven't We Heard This Before?

On the cover of the 19 August issue of eWEEK can be found the following two headlines:

Linux desktop due

Microsoft security under fire

Linux desktop due? Quelle surprise! Microsoft security under fire? Non! Quelle horreur!

The Linux desktop headline reminds me of a Soviet-era joke told to me by a Russian teacher at the Defense Language Institute back in 1981:

Gospodin Rudnik: Ask me if there will be true communism in Russia.

Me: Will there be true communism in Russia?

Gospodin Rudnik: (wryly) Da.

So, if you ask me if there will be a true desktop Linux, my answer is, "Da."

August 25, 2002

Heard in Chat the Other Day

My sister-in-law Karin: Did you make it back [from Seattle] okay?

Me: No, my plane crashed and I'm dead. But Hell is actually pretty nice. Of course, there's a Microsoft company store here.

August 24, 2002

The Best Coffee in the World

While on a trip to the Big Island two years ago, a friend and I visited a small coffee shop called Island Lava Java.

At the time, I wasn't much of a coffee drinker, but I ordered one just the same. My friend tasted hers first, looked at me, and said, "This is the best coffee in the world." I tried mine. I wasn't the connoisseur she was, but I knew it was fantastic. We sampled other Kona coffee brands on the Big Island, but none of them matched Island Lava Java. Upon returning home, I began drinking more coffee, but nothing even came close. In the two years since, I've bought from them via mail order more than once, both for myself and for friends.

Long-time friends Paul and Karen Gustafson were recently headed to the Big Island for the first time. "You have to try Island Lava Java," I said. "It's the best coffee in the world." They just returned, and this was in a note from Paul:

"Island Lava Java" - Yes. The best coffee in the world.
So now it's settled.

If you're on the Big Island, Island Lava Java is in Kailua-Kona, at the south end of downtown on Alii Drive. If you're not, they're on the Internet at Island Lava Java.

August 23, 2002

TiVo's Fortunes Looking Up

TiVo announced its second quarter results today (found in the New York Times), and the news was all good. Revenue was up nearly six times over the second quarter of last year; the subscriber base has doubled in the last 12 months; and so on. TiVo also announced:

TiVo announced today that SONY will offer a new digital video recorder with the TiVo service in the U.S. market this holiday season. The next generation unit, based on a SONY design, uses technology licensed from TiVo. The introduction of this product follows SONY’s recent launch of a DVR in the Japanese market also using technology licensed from TiVo.
I haven't been able to track down definitive information on this DVR, but could it be this?

August 22, 2002

How to Use Wireless as a Marketing Tool 101

This is how to use the wireless Internet to boost your retail business.

According to an article on MacCentral:

Lori Hawkins writes [in the Austin American-Statesman] that Austin-area Schlotzsky's Deli sandwich shops now offer free wireless Internet access, in some cases, up to miles away...

Austin-area Schlotzsky's Delis already offer Internet access via PCs and iMacs. While it isn't unique for coffee shops and other eateries in areas with high concentrations of technically minded users -- like Austin -- to offer wireless Internet access for their patrons, most businesses keep the service as local to their establishment as possible as a way of enticing customers. Schlotzsky's is bumping that concept up a notch by installing four-foot antennas on the roofs of its Austin-area establishments that will enable users to access the Internet up to a mile -- in some cases, the company hopes, up to four miles away.

Users of Schlotzsky's wireless network are greeted with a Schlotzsky's Web site home page when they first fire up their Web browsers, but it's free to use, according to Hawkins. The service is Wi-Fi compatible...

An extension of Schlotzsky's "Cool Cloud" free Internet access, the company hopes to expand the free service from ten Austin locations to more than 600 stores nationwide. Schlotzsky's CEO John Wooley told Hawkins that his company hopes to eventually offer the service to schools, libraries and community centers as well.

So you're free to use their 802.11 network if you're in range; you just see their home page when you first access the Web from your browser. Smart. Now let's hope more establishments catch on.

August 21, 2002

"Two and a Half Tons of Hubris"

The Wall Street Journal has a story in today's edition on Porsche and its forthcoming SUV, the Cayenne.

The story is mostly about Porsche and only a little about the Cayenne, but what it does say about the car itself is telling:

This week the maker of the legendary 911 and the sleek Boxster convertible will roll out the Cayenne, the first non-sports car in Porsche's 54-year history.

The timing is puzzling. The stock-market plunge and the weak global economy are casting a big shadow over luxury-car sales. Porsche is offering special leasing deals in the U.S. on the two-seat Boxster for those who can't afford to buy one.

At the same time, the already-full market for SUVs is getting more crowded. This autumn, Volkswagen AG and Volvo both plan luxury sport-utility vehicles...

Many Porsche purists were shocked to hear that the company, so closely identified with sports cars, would try to stretch its brand so far.

"Would you buy a Land Rover sports car?" asks automotive Web site pistonheads.com. "Sure the Porsche Cayenne will be the world's fastest and best handling 4X4. So what?" Eagerly awaited photos of the Cayenne -- which looks closer to a nimble sports car than a rough and ready Jeep -- did little to inspire confidence when they were unveiled at the Geneva car show in early March. The day after Porsche showed the world what the car looked like, its share price fell more than 4%.

Dubbing it "two and a half tons of hubris," Automobile magazine uses its design review column in this month's issue (not available online) to bash the design of the Cayenne:

Perhaps the most startling design aspect of this giant vehicle is the utter banality of the overall shape...

I know there are passionate true believers who will brook no criticism of their beloved marque, but it is hard for me to work up much enthusiasm for an ugly Porsche that weighs three and a third times as much as my first 356 coupe, that has no redeeming individual style, and that seems both incredibly cynical and desperately late to market, entering at just about the time the wave is cresting...

Porsche can do better, and we deserve better from it.

If the Cayenne was from a lesser car company, it might be forgivable as a design exercise gone wrong. Given, though, that it is from Porsche -- in just the last decade responsible for designing the all-time classic Boxster and then for successfully updating the 911 -- it is a shockingly bad piece of work. Leaving aside the question of whether the world needs or wants another SUV right now, the Cayenne is just plain ugly. There's no other way to put it. It's not Pontiac Aztek ugly ("it wasn't beaten with the ugly stick; it is the ugly stick"), but then Porsche isn't Pontiac.

It's a shame that the Cayenne isn't a better car. I can think of at least three or four competitive cars I'd rather drive, including some cheaper than the Cayenne.

We have come to trust Porsche, and the Cayenne has the appearance of a breach of that trust. Of course, Porsche has made mistakes before, and yet they always redeem themselves. With time, Porsche will be forgiven -- and, perhaps, a bit wiser.

August 20, 2002

Taiwan to Declare Independence in 2008?

The Straits Times of Singapore has taken a look at the potential for war between China and Taiwan (written about earlier here). They predict that Taiwan will take advantage of the Chinese preoccupation with the 2008 Summer Olympics to declare their independence that year, or perhaps a year earlier:

Beijing observers see Mr Chen's Aug 3 referendum speech as an echo of an earlier call by Mr Lee for a formal declaration of independence by 2008, the year that China will be hosting the Olympics.

And it will be no coincidence, say these analysts. With China hosting the mega sporting event and the eyes of the world on it, so the argument goes, it would be hard for Beijing to wage a war on the separatists.

Other Chinese strategists, like Yan Xuetong of Qinghua University and Zhu Yanlong of Beijing United University, believe that Taiwan might make a bid for independence in 2007, a year ahead of Mr Lee's target date.

Whether independence is declared in 2008 or the year before, the general view among Chinese experts is that the Taiwanese independence camp has a timetable mapped out.

The problem with the article is that it acts as if Taiwan isn't a democracy, and the government can plan events on a precise timetable. In fact, it's not at all clear how the public would vote in an independence referendum today, much less five or six years from now.

Having said that, to the extent that such events can be planned, consider this: once the 2008 Olympics are over, China will undoubtedly feel much freer to take action. Taiwan's best bet is to declare independence well in advance of the Olympics, but not so far in advance that China might bet on the world community forgiving them with time (as has happened with Tiananmen Square). To me, this would indicate declaring independence sometime between 2004 and 2006. But again, it's all up to the Taiwanese people.

August 19, 2002

NetStumbler 0.3.30

Marius Milner announced NetStumbler 0.3.30 in a message to the [unwired] list. New features include:

  • Allow configuration of baud rate and other settings for GPS.
  • Added "Default SSID" filter to tree view.
  • Close connection to NIC when scanning is not happening.
  • Moved much of the configuration to a dialog box.
  • Support for user-provided scripts to be invoked when various events occur.
  • Many errors are reported in a more meaningful way.
  • Workaround for problem with driver version 7.62.
  • GPS now supports Garmin proprietary protocols.
  • MIDI output of signal strength(s).
  • Proper installation package (thank you Nullsoft).
  • Use NDIS 5.1 native 802.11 features for scanning on Cisco and some Prism cards on Windows XP.
  • Support for 802.11a on Windows XP.
  • Support for USB devices on 98/Me.
Sweet!

Heard at CompUSA Today

Checkout clerk: "Would you like a free three-month subscription to AOL with that?"

Me: "It'll be a cold day in Hell before I sign up for AOL."

Checkout clerk: "I didn't think so."

Dell Redux

An e-mail exchange with a friend prompted by my entry on Dell has helped sharpen my thinking a bit.

Dell's goal is to sell technology, not create it. Given this, who exactly does create it? If our industry was composed of all Dells and no Apples, who would have promulgated the windowing user interface? The mouse? Built-in networking? The CD-ROM drive? FireWire?

For all intents and purposes, Dell has ceded user-level innovation -- i.e., innovation aside from improving manufacturing and delivery efficiencies -- to Microsoft, Intel, and Taiwan Inc., roughly in that order. Is that a good thing for our industry? Put another way, if Apple were to vanish tomorrow, and with Dell as a pure seller of devices, who would provide the pressure on Microsoft to improve their product?

Having dealt with Taiwan Inc. while at Be, here's how it works: the PC "manufacturer's" product management team visits Taiwan and meets with all the usual suspects, who trot out all their new designs. The team narrows the field down to a few models that are reasonably close to what they want, then picks a vendor and a design based on cost and the vendor's willingness and ability to tweak based on their requirements. This is not the kind of integrated design process that gets us major leaps forward. It gets us machines that are a little bit better than last year's for a little less money.

Look at what has happened in office suite software: now that the office suite business is profitable for exactly one company -- Microsoft -- innovation has pretty much ceased. I'm using Office XP now, and as an upgrade to Office 2000, it's something of a joke. With no Lotus Improv, no Aldus Persuasion out there providing competition -- or even a benchmark -- Microsoft just phones in its new releases. This is what frightens me in operating systems. Apple has carved out a reasonably profitable niche for themselves and so continues to provide inspiration for Microsoft from afar. If they go, then we're well and truly doomed, because Dell has washed their hands of the matter.

My friend correctly compared Dell to Wal-Mart. That, in my book, is the problem. As long as I have a choice in product vendors, then Wal-Mart is fine. But if Wal-Mart can only buy from one supplier, then we're all at the mercy of that supplier when it comes to innovation.

Given the nature of the PC marketplace today, if we're casting the role of the leading vendor of PCs, do we want a company like Wal-Mart, focused on relentlessly pushing prices down, or do we want a different type of company, focused on more than just price?

August 18, 2002

Stand Back! I Have Something That Resembles a Knife!

I'm at Dallas/Fort Worth airport this morning, between flights on a trip out to Seattle. Before heading to the Admirals Club to catch up on e-mail, I stopped by McDonald's to grab something quick to eat.

Now, in the age of airport security, I understand that plastic tableware is the rule in terminals... and McDonald's would use plastic in any case. But with my meal, I was given a plastic knife that not only lacked a sharp edge (as I would expect), but that lacked serrations as well. In other words, it was a piece of plastic molded to resemble a knife. Never having tried to use such an implement before, I can now authoritatively report that a "knife" that is neither sharp nor serrated doesn't actually cut anything per se.

If this is a security thing, I'd like to officially declare the whole security thing out of control.

August 17, 2002

Innovation at Dell?

In Lee Gomes' column for the Wall Street Journal last week, he wrote about the future of Dell:

What does Dell do, exactly? Intel and Microsoft have all the engineers. Dell doesn't even make its PCs; a string of faceless contract manufacturers do that. All it really does is take and ship orders, and then collect your money...

Is there room in the computer industry for intense R&D from anyone besides Bill Gates, Andy Grove and the Linux enthusiasts led by Linus Torvalds? Or will Wintel and Lintel machines do just about everything that the world needs doing, with everything else, such as advanced business systems, an inconsequential niche?...

[I]t's unclear what the future holds for a company whose basic business is to efficiently deliver things that someone else makes.

Michael Dell responded and his letter is quoted in Gomes' column this week:

We've got 3,200 people in our product development groups who differ with your characterization of Dell's R&D capabilities. Importantly, I think our customers would, too. Our expertise in manufacturing and logistics is well known, and our product innovation is also significant...

Comparing R&D spending by individual companies is misleading. Developing proprietary technology is expensive because it's mostly done independently, and has to sustain old platforms. On the other hand, standards-based R&D is collaborative, done by dozens of companies leveraging each other's work.

And the dramatic market share gains Dell is making in the U.S. and world-wide are proof that customers are smart enough to understand this advantage. When it is so clear which model is advantaged, why waste any "managerial brilliance" trying to second-guess our customers?

In other words, Dell will continue to focus its R&D dollars on improving its efficiencies rather than on dramatic changes to the products it sells. Dell is betting that if it can continue to lower its costs faster than its competitors, customers will continue to choose its products over those competitors who attempt to innovate at the level visible to system users.

I have owned both desktop and laptop Dell systems in the past, and I just bought a new Inspiron 4150 for work. When I bought a Dell laptop at Be, Jean-Louis Gassée criticized my choice. "Dell," he said, "they're not so good. They have a good reputation, but their machines break down far too often." It was a fair point. I've had quality issues with all the Dell machines I've ever had. I thought about it for a moment. "All PCs break down at some point, Jean-Louis," I replied. "The question is, which vendors are going to be there for you when they do?"

After swearing off Apple machines forever during the reign of one of their incompetent leaders -- I can't remember now whether it was Michael Spindler or Gil Amelio -- I now find myself at the Apple Store, looking longingly at the Titanium PowerBook G4. Widescreen display, slot-loading DVD/CD-R drive, the beautiful software of Jaguar -- but, doing my best to compare apples to oranges (so to speak), my company would pay a premium of at least $600-800. Also, I have the need to demonstrate specific software that simply isn't available for Mac OS. So the result is that I'm stuck buying PCs. I wanted a mid-weight notebook with a trackpad and the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB chipset, which left me with two options: Compaq and Dell. The choice was easy.

A former colleague of mine once visited Dell to discuss potential non-PC products. Dell had devoted a great deal of thought to the matter, and held many meetings on the topic, but in the end, their response -- as quoted by my colleague -- was, "We take the best technology from Intel and Microsoft, then package and ship it to our customers." That's the Dell model, and given that it has made them the most successful PC maker in the world, the idea that they would change at this point is almost laughable. But should they change? That's a different question.

Gomes articulates the "Dell needs to innovate to stay ahead" argument. There's also the "Dell owes it to the industry and to the world to innovate argument." Is either correct? I'm not sure. My heart tells me they must innovate both to stay ahead and because they owe something back to the world, but at the same time, I'm typing this on a brand-new Dell and not the PowerBooik I really want.

August 16, 2002

The Top Brands

As my sons and I were driving back from Washington, DC the other day, we were talking about the concept of brands and which we thought were the most valuable. Here was our list of the top five:

  1. Coca-Cola
  2. McDonald's
  3. Disney
  4. Microsoft
  5. Sony
According to Business Week's latest survey of the world's 100 most valuable brands, the five most valuable are:
  1. Coca-Cola
  2. Microsoft
  3. IBM
  4. GE
  5. Intel
Disney is number 7; McDonald's number 9; Sony is all the way down at number 21.

The full list can be found here. It makes for interesting reading.

August 15, 2002

The Quote of the Day...

...concerns career aspirations:

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed. Or repair anything sold, bought, or processed, y'know? As a career I don't want to do that.
From Say Anything, as written by Cameron Crowe and played by John Cusack.

August 14, 2002

America's Flawed Prison Policies

The Economist's cover story this week is on America's massive prison population.

America's incarceration rate was roughly constant from 1925 to 1973, with an average of 110 people behind bars for every 100,000 residents. By 2000, however, the rate of incarceration in state and federal prisons had more than quadrupled, to 478. America has overtaken Russia as the world's most aggressive jailer. When local jails are included in the American tally, the United States locks up nearly 700 people per 100,000, compared with 102 for Canada, 132 for England and Wales, 85 for France and a paltry 48 in Japan. Roughly 2m Americans are currently behind bars, with some 4.5m on parole or on probation (the probationers are on suspended sentences). Another 3m Americans are ex-convicts who have served their sentences and are no longer under the control of the justice system.
This chart from the article illustrates the situation quite dramatically:
Yet, as the issue's editorial points out:
[W]hen it comes to drugs and violent crime, the two plagues hard sentencing was supposed to cure, it has failed dramatically. Drug-taking is as widespread as ever, and America's murder rate is still nearly four times higher than the European Union's.
Perhaps it's unfair to compare the US murder rate to that of the European Union. What if we compare the US to Canada? According to Statistics Canada, in 2000, the murder rate in Canada was 1.8 per 100,000 population, while in the US it was 5.5 per 100,000. That's a differemce of over three times.

Even in Vancouver -- home to what is reputedly the roughest neighborhood in Canada -- I've never felt scared for my life. I've never worried about what would happen if my car broke down. Yet I've felt scared plenty of times in the US -- in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. What have our prison policies brought us? Have they truly made us safer? We lock up seven times as many people per person as the Canadians and yet we continue to live in a far more dangerous place. Isn't one definition of insanity the belief that continuing to engage in the same behavior will bring different results?

August 13, 2002

Changes at AA

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines is dramatically changing how it operates. In addition to reducing capacity, phasing out some aircraft, and eliminating first class on some overseas routes, AA is overhauling its hub-and-spoke system:

Beginning in November, the carrier will reschedule its massive Dallas-Fort Worth hub to remove the peaks and valleys and plan a continuous flow of jets, something American has already experimented with in Chicago with cost-saving results.

Instead of flying waves of airplanes -- 50 or 60 at a time -- into hub airports all within 20 minutes of each other, American will spread out its flights at its Dallas operation. It's called a "rolling hub" in industry jargon. Instead of planes sitting at gates while passengers scurry about, passengers will have to sit longer. Planes will come in, unload and refill with a load of passengers already waiting at the airport. Connections as long as an hour and a half may be more routine.

The change in hub operation represents a psychological shift from running the airline to generate the most revenue to running the airline more cost-effectively, even if it means less-efficient trips for passengers. In the past, airlines were loath to have longer connection times because flights were listed in travel agents' computers by elapsed time, with the quickest connections listed at the top of screens. Itineraries with longer connections didn't sell as well. Now, online booking tools and search engines most often list flights by price, not time. What's more, with delays and the cutback in food on flights, travelers often prefer a longer connection time so they can grab meals...

American's president, Gerard Arpey, says the new schedule will allow the carrier to offer the same number of flights with 17 fewer airplanes and fewer gates -- a huge savings. Pilots and flight attendants will be more productive because they will spend less time sitting at the terminal. Already at Chicago, the amount of times flights spend taxiing has been reduced because of less congestion. American used to have longer taxi times than United; now American has shorter times.

Speaking as someone who has done a fair bit of flying -- I have over 1.4 million miles lifetime with AA -- this doesn't strike me as necessarily a bad thing for travelers. Sure, given a choice, I'd rather have a direct flight with no connection at all. But given that I do have a stop, lengthening it by 30-60 minutes could actually be helpful. AA's Admirals Clubs are equipped with T-Mobile's 802.11 networks now, which makes them ideal places to send all the e-mails I've written on the first leg of my trip. Sometimes, though, the connection is so rushed that I barely have time to connect, then check and send mail. A little more time would help.

Pixar Gets It Wrong For Once

The Tech Report has a comprehensive article on the progress being made toward film-quality 3D graphics on the desktop. The article begins by discussing Pixar's view of the prospect as of NVIDIA's launch of the GeForce2:

NVIDIA's Jen-Hsun Huang said at the launch of the GeForce2 that the chip was a "major step toward achieving" the goal of "Pixar-level animation in real-time". But partisans of high-end animations tools have derided the chip companies' ambitious plans, as Tom Duff of Pixar did in reaction to Huang's comments at the GeForce2 launch. Duff wrote:
`Pixar-level animation' runs about 8 hundred thousand times slower than real-time on our renderfarm cpus. (I'm guessing. There's about 1000 cpus in the renderfarm and I guess we could produce all the frames in TS2 in about 50 days of renderfarm time. That comes to 1.2 million cpu hours for a 1.5 hour movie. That lags real time by a factor of 800,000.)

Do you really believe that their toy is a million times faster than one of the cpus on our Ultra Sparc servers? What's the chance that we wouldn't put one of these babies on every desk in the building? They cost a couple of hundred bucks, right? Why hasn't NVIDIA tried to give us a carton of these things? -- think of the publicity milage [sic] they could get out of it!

Duff had a point. He hammered the point home by handicapping the amount of time necessary for NVIDIA to reach such a goal:

At Moore's Law-like rates (a factor of 10 in 5 years), even if the hardware they have today is 80 times more powerful than what we use now, it will take them 20 years before they can do the frames we do today in real time. And 20 years from now, Pixar won't be even remotely interested in TS2-level images, and I'll be retired, sitting on the front porch and picking my banjo, laughing at the same press release, recycled by NVIDIA's heirs and assigns.
Later in the article, the author makes clear that events are progressing more quickly, perhaps, than Pixar thought possible:
Pixar had better be ready to receive its carton of graphics cards. Only two years after Tom Duff laughed out loud at NVIDIA's ambitions, graphics chip makers are on the brink of reaching their goal of producing Hollywood-class graphics on a chip.
After distributing this article, I heard from David Smith, AirEight's Chairman and CTO and fairly legendary 3D programmer:
The fact is that these chips are easily doubling in price/performance every six months. This means that every five years we get 32x improvement. Ten years is 1000x. But, the real point is that there is a fundamental change occurring with the nature of the GPUs. They are now becoming essentially massively parallel general purpose shading engines. That is, what we are really seeing is a completely new thing here. Think of it as essentially that 1000 server farm on a single chip without the majority of your cycles wasted in bandwidth management. The simple reality is that the performance of these things should easily be able to achieve Pixar like capabilities in 5 years -- defined in terms of what they will be doing then, not now. In fact, you will see Pixar adopt these architectures in 2-3 years, and maybe less because their competitors certainly will, so by definition, this technology will "catch up" to Pixar.
What interests me about this is the gulf between price-performance improvements at the high end and the mid-range to low end. The rewards for success are greater in the middle of the bell curve of technology adoption, and so the capital available for R&D and the pressure to use that capital efficiently are increased -- at least that's how I assume it must be. Has anyone done a study of CPU performance comparing the improvements in, say, supercomputers versus the desktop? My hunch would be that the desktop curve is steeper.

August 12, 2002

The Economist on Taiwan

Typically, the Economist has an eminently sensible article on the current dispute between Taiwan and China over the suggestion by Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, that he might support holding a referendum on declaring indepedence from China:

One can question whether it was wise of Mr Chen to anger the Chinese, but what he said was surely right. It is merely a recognition of reality to say that China and Taiwan are two states, not one: Taiwan may not have many embassies, thanks to relentless Chinese bullying of weak-spirited governments everywhere, but it is a member of the World Trade Organisation and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group. It competes in the Asian and Olympic Games (under the absurd name “Chinese Taipei”). It has an elected president and an elected parliament, and its 20m people enjoy rights and prosperity unknown to the 1.2 billion across the strait.

By routinely threatening force against Taiwan, China equates itself with Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, both of whom shed blood to preserve their empires. Until it desists from such talk -- even if talk is all it is -- China can never be a full member of the community of civilised nations.

Indeed. Taiwan is a prosperous democracy. Its people have the right to self-determination. The world community has allowed China to isolate Taiwan over the last few decades, which seems outrageous to me. China periodically threatens to leave world institutions if Taiwan is admitted at all, or is admitted under its own name. It's time we called China's bluff and supported the Taiwanese in such matters. If we fail to do so, then the West's claims about supporting democracy are a sham.

August 11, 2002

This Is Just Too Strange

I've known for some time now that my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is ENTP, or Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving:

Creative, resourceful, and intellectually quick. Good at a broad range of things. Enjoy debating issues, and may be into "one-up-manship". They get very excited about new ideas and projects, but may neglect the more routine aspects of life. Generally outspoken and assertive. They enjoy people and are stimulating company. Excellent ability to understand concepts and apply logic to find solutions.
So far, so good. Now I find out that -- according to one observer, at least -- Wile E. Coyote is an ENTP. I have no idea how one goes about applying a personaity type to a cartoon character -- who takes the test? -- but it's strange nonetheless.

Wile E. has been my favorite cartoon character for as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, my favorite toy was a Wile E. Coyote figure. When I was in college, I wrote my final paper for film class on Chuck Jones (and got an A, as I remember). Don't get me wrong; I'm not obsessive. I don't have a Wile E. fansite. I neither write nor read a Wile E. newsletter. It's just that I've always had a special fondness for him. But to find out that I am him? What does that mean?

August 10, 2002

Digital Cameras or Camera Phones?

infoSync is running an article on Strategy Analytics' prediction that digital cameras will lose ground to camera-equipped cellular phones:

Strategy Analytics today released a new Market Forecast report entitled "Strategic Perspectives on Cellular Camera Phones." The report notes that 16 million camera phones will be sold worldwide in 2002, growing strongly to 147 million in 2007. By comparison, although 22 million digital still cameras will be sold worldwide in 2002, their slower growth rate of 34% will result in only 95 million sales in 2007.

In other words, digital cameras for the man in the street may face extinction in not too many years, since cameras integrated in mobile phones will become commonplace. Image quality will increase over the years, and when it meets the needs of the average consumers, chances are that only professionals and photo enthusiasts will turn to dedicated camera devices if mobile phones can deliver what Joe Consumer needs.

I'm not in Strategy Analytics' camp on this one. Will camea-equipped phones be popular? Yes. Will they necessarily displace dedicated digital cameras? No. I believe that camera-phones will serve a different market, providing low-quality photos with the instant gratification of quick posting on the Web. They will also serve as springboards for a variety of interesting services: it's easy to imagine a mobile, near-real-time version of Hot or Not, or a sort of LastMinute.com of matchmaking services for people already out and about but without a companion (just to name two). But it will be some time before the digital cameras in phones will approach the quality of today's dedicated cameras, and while that is happening, the quality of dedicated cameras will be rising dramatically (thanks especially to Foveon).

August 09, 2002

Mossberg on Danger

The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg has been tasting Danger's Hiptop device -- to be called the Sidekick by launch partner T-Mobile -- these last few months, and he pronounces the grape to be good:

The new T-Mobile Sidekick looks nothing like the other wireless hand-helds on the market, and costs far less -- $199 after a rebate, compared with $350 to $800 for BlackBerries, Treos, Pocket PCs and Nokia 9290s...

With consumers in mind, the monthly fee for the Sidekick will be just $39.99 for unlimited data usage over a high-speed, always-on GPRS network...

As an e-mail, Web and instant-messaging device, I found the Sidekick highly usable and effective, even addictive...

Its coolest feature is that the screen swings up to reveal an excellent keyboard that's roomier and better than the ones on the RIM BlackBerry or Handspring Treo devices...

The user interface is fresh and smart...

The screen isn't huge or in color, but it is backlit, and has very good resolution with small but crisp text and gray-scale display of pictures...

The best application on the Sidekick is e-mail. It can handle multiple standard Internet e-mail accounts...

E-mail is continually delivered over the fast GPRS network. You never have to make a call to fetch or send mail. The entire message gets delivered, including attachments...

The AOL instant-messaging module works beautifully, and in real time, and there's a separate module for sending short text messages to other phones on the T-Mobile network.

The Web browser is one of the best I've seen on a hand-held device.

Walt goes on to criticize the the Sidekick's phone functionality, synchronization features, and low-resolution digital camera, but ends up calling it a "true breakthrough."

Walt is the most influential product reviewer in the US high technology world today. How much is a great product review from him worth? Thinking about it from a marketing communications standpoint, if I was launching a consumer product, I would say at least $500,000. Maybe more. Maybe $1 million, depending on the product. Danger and T-Mobile must be celebrating right now.

August 08, 2002

The Wacky World of Japanese Ice Cream

17 pages of bizarre Japanese ice cream flavors, available at the Ice Cream Exposition, being held through 30 September at Namco Nanja Town, Sunshine 60 building, Toshima-ku, Tokyo. I need to go to Tokyo in the next few weeks. Hmmm...

Underpaid, Undersexed, and Over There

A Canadian woman working in London claims that English men are the most imcompetent dates in the world. Read her sad and frustrating story here.

Stung by her criticism, an English man who dated her gives the blow-by-blow in a rebuttal. Read his detailed yet perplexed version of events here.

Found via Mating Call.

August 07, 2002

Microsoft the Uber-VC?

Dave Winer is onto something:

Isn't it obvious that Microsoft should use some of their cash to reinvigorate ISVs? Imho, that would be a buy signal for MSFT, an acknowledgement that they play a different role in the software industry of 2002 than they did in 1992. It would also help NASDAQ get over the dotcom debacle. Technology needs a mega-roadmap, in other words a roadmap for future roadmaps. Clearly nothing MS is doing now, or will do in the future, can stick, because there are no credible ISVs to adopt their schemes, to triangulate on their vision. Yes, things like Hailstorm and Palladium are necessary and inevitable, but they can't come from MS. But that's all that's left. Catch-22. Gotta dig out of this Bill and Steve. A Marshall Plan for the software industry bootstrapped in part by the $38 billion hoard.
Of course, this isn't new for Dave; back in 1997, he was proposing that Apple spend its money like this rather than acquire NeXT (written about earlier here). But this time it makes sense.

In 1997, Apple was a broken organization, held back by the incompetence of senior management. Apple desperately needed to solve its own problems first, which Gil Amelio unwittingly did by acquiring NeXT. Today, Microsoft is the most successful company in the history of high technology. Their problem is, in a sense, that they have become too successful. (Depending on your views, you may regard this as a result of competent management, monopolistic practices, or both.) Dave is right: who is left to "adopt their schemes, to triangulate on their vision?" How many major non-game software vendors can you name? Adobe? Intuit? Those are easy. Who else? It gets hard after that, doesn't it?

Even devoting just 10 percent of its cash hoard to venture investments would make Microsoft a VC of gargantuan proportions, injecting much-needed funding and excitement into the software industry.

August 06, 2002

More on Digital Rights Management

Here's today's gedankenexperiment:

Imagine that an inventor creates a machine that accepts as input hardcover books and generates fully-formatted PDF versions of them, ready for dissemination over the Internet. Imagine that this machine becomes popular and people can find pretty much any book, new or old, that they want over P2P networks. What would the effect be on book sales? What would the effect be on book authorship? This is analogous to the situation we face with music today, and will face with video very soon.

Actually, this analogy isn't quite strong enough. For it to fully match the situation with CDs today, we have to imagine that virtually all modern PCs incorporate not only book converters as described above, but include also printers capable of making perfect books from PDF files in about 20 minutes, for less than $1 each.

I've made this argument in a private discussion group, and the reaction in part seems to be that I'm taking the side of the movie studios and record labels. I'm most emphatically not. Whatever I may think of the actions of these entities does not obscure the core issue, and that is how artists will be paid for their works in the future. If the answer is that everything becomes shareware, then I submit that neither the creators nor the consumers of content may care for the resulting world in which they live.

Given this, how do we solve the problem of protecting intellectual property on the Internet? I don't know. I'm struggling to come up with alternatives that:

  • Do not rely on legislative solutions
  • Do not rely on judicial solutions
  • Do not restrict the use of technology by consumers
  • Preserve the rights of intellectual property owners
  • Enhance the rights of the artists themselves
  • Protect the privacy rights of consumers
I hope and believe there is a way forward enabling content creators and owners to choose how their intellectual property is distributed and used over the Internet. Such a solution should even the playing field by making it easier for individuals to compete by licensing their own content through as few middlemen as possible. Such a solution must be devised and agreed to by all the stakeholders, and its ultimate success must be based not on government diktat but on the free market choices of businesses and consumers.

In saying this, I recognize that to simply transfer a version of today's commonly-used content marketing and distribution systems to the Internet is not necessarily a giant leap forward. As Courtney Love explained:

What is piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing an artist's work without any intention of paying for it. I'm not talking about Napster-type software.

I'm talking about major label recording contracts.

Let us treat the Internet not as a threat to intellectual property, but as an opportunity to redefine how intellectual property is marketed and distributed. At the same time, let us recognize that intellectual property is just that -- property -- and its protection is in the interest of not only its creators and distributors, but of the public at large.

August 05, 2002

Heard at Lunch Today

Greg Rivera, describing the Tweetsie Railroad:

"It's not a real train. It doesn't have a steering wheel."
Glad we cleared that up.

Frittering Away Our Liberties

The Truth Laid Bear has a thought piece (via etherbish) about the long-term effects of the war on terror, written as a future version of the the same blog set in the year 2014. It's not a pretty picture:

We have carefully created an edifice of law and judicial precedent that, while following the letter of the Constitution at every turn, has betrayed its spirit at the deepest level. Driven by the frustration at our inability to stop those who would do harm to this nation and its citizens and by the ever-present need for government officials to be seen to be Doing Something About The Problem, we have transformed ourselves from a society which places respect for individual liberties at the heart of our culture into a state which considers every citizen to be a terrorist-in-waiting, presumed guilty and to be monitored, restricted, and controlled at all times.

The Founding Fathers labored long and hard to ensure that the power of the government was restricted at every turn, so that the United States could never become the kind of oppressive regime they so loathed in the English crown. We now know, however, that even their brilliant counterweights and careful checks on the power of government were no match for the decade-long efforts of a federal bureaucracy fueled by paranoia, and cheered on by a public that had feared for their lives so badly, they surrendered their liberty and their pursuit of happiness without complaint.

Is this hyperbolic? Of course it is. But consider the following statements by President Bush at a recent press conference:

The number one priority of this government and the future governments will be to protect the American people against terrorist attack...

Protecting American citizens from harm is the first priority, and it must be the ruling priority of all of our government.

And here I thought the first priority of the President was to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Are we frittering away our liberties in the name of the war on terror? This is from a recent New York Times article:

Yasser Esam Hamdi, a Saudi national who was captured in Afghanistan [and labeled an "enemy combatant" by the government], is probably an American citizen by virtue of having been born in Louisiana...

Judge Robert G. Doumar, an appointee of President Reagan, has twice ruled that Mr. Hamdi is entitled to a lawyer and ordered the government to allow Frank Dunham, the federal public defender, to be allowed to visit him without government officials or listening devices. Judge Doumar said that "fair play and fundamental justice" require it. He said the government "could not cite one case where a prisoner of any variety within the jurisdiction of a United States District Court, who was held incommunicado and indefinitely"...

[Appeals Court Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson 3rd] seemed to evince some surprise at the breadth of what the government was asserting when he asked the Justice Department's lawyer, "You are saying that the judiciary has no right to inquire at all into someone's stature as an enemy combatant?"...

The case of Jose Padilla, which has not progressed as far as that of Mr. Hamdi, may present an even greater challenge to normal judicial procedures.

Mr. Padilla, also known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, is, like Mr. Hamdi, an American citizen, imprisoned in a naval brig after having been declared an enemy combatant. But unlike Mr. Hamdi, Mr. Padilla was not arrested on the battlefield by the military but on United States soil by civil law enforcement authorities, on May 8 in Chicago...

"This is the model we all fear or should fear," said Dunham. "The executive branch can arrest an American citizen here and then declare him an enemy combatant and put him outside the reach of the courts. They can keep him indefinitely without charging him or giving him access to a lawyer or presenting any evidence."

Still not convinced? This is from an article in the Washington Post:

The 600 suspected terrorists being held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no right to bring their cases to U.S. courts, a federal judge in Washington ruled yesterday in a decision that allows the government to continue holding the detainees indefinitely.

In a 34-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected efforts by 16 captives to end the government's policy of holding them without charges, access to lawyers or trial dates. It was the first time a U.S. judge had ruled on the merits of that practice.

Kollar-Kotelly ruled that although the men may have "some form of rights under international law," such as the Geneva Convention, their nationalities and their geographic location mean that they do not have the right to press their cases in U.S. courts.

"The court concludes that the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is outside the sovereign territory of the United States. Given that... writs of habeas corpus are not available to aliens held outside the sovereign territory of the United States, this court does not have jurisdiction" to hear the case, she wrote....

"None of the men in Guantanamo have been accused of anything," said Barbara Olshansky, assistant legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit organization representing Shafiq Rasul, a British national, and three other plaintiffs.

"The judge's decision is in error from many perspectives. She says they have access to international law, but it isn't clear how they would ever get it if they can never see their lawyers or have any form of due process... The U.S. calls countries the world over to task for these sorts of abuses."

The net effect of all this is that the present Administration has asserted its sole right to determine who is an "enemy combatant," whether an American citizen or not, and whether arrested in the United States or not. Once so determined, the Administration asserts that no court should have the ability to review its decision, and that such enemy combatants may be held indefinitely, neither having been brought to trial or even offered access to counsel.

The description of life in 2014 doesn't sound quite so far-fetched now. Still hyperbolic, but not out of the question.

This seems like a useful time to remind ourselves of the words of Benjamin Franklin:

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Thanks, Ben. I wish you were here. We could use you right about now.

August 04, 2002

The Barista Principle

Strategy+Business has an extensive article on the rise of Starbucks titled "The Barista Principle." It puts in perspective the scope of what Starbucks has achieved:

At a time of rising perceptions of parity across most product and service categories throughout the developed world, Starbucks had managed to take one of the world's oldest commodities and turn it into a differentiated, lasting, value-laden brand. Moreover, the company had done this without relying on some of brand marketing's most venerable tools, including an extensive advertising and promotions budget. Over a 20-year period, Starbucks spent approximately $20 million total on advertising, an average of $1 million per year; in contrast, according to a 2001 Business Week analysis of the top 100 brands, Proctor & Gamble Company's Pampers brand -- which ranked 92, four places below Starbucks, on the list -- spends $30 million annually on advertising.
The obvious question to ask is how they pulled this off. The authors propose their own answer:
How did a small Seattle company turn itself into a global synonym for java and joe? The answer, we believe, lies with an ingredient as central to Starbucks's business as the premium coffee beans it roasts: Relationships. "Starbucks starts and ends with core values … [and] the core values emanate from and around relationships with people," says Anne McGonigle, the company's vice president for special projects...

Keeping the customer's desires and expectations firmly in mind is a tactic characteristic of successful companies, our research found. More than two-thirds of the top-quartile firms we surveyed devote primary organizational focus to meeting customer expectations and extending long-term customer relationships. This is a much higher percentage than we found among bottom-quartile companies, which are far more focused on cutting costs and shedding underperforming assets.

The article is a good one, and is recommended, but I think the authors missed both positives and negatives.

On the positive side, Starbucks has done a brilliant job of creating its own language. Tall, grande, and venti have replaced small, medium, and large. Not everyone is happy with this, but in creating its own trademarked ordering system, Starbucks builds customer loyalty. If the competing coffee house uses different terminology that that to which you're accustomed, it's one more reason not to go there.

On the negative side, I think the authors give Starbucks a pass on their licensing deals. They write:

On the surface, there is, as [Starbucks founder Howard] Schultz noted in his book, an "inherent contradiction" between the company's close control of the Starbucks retail store experience and the licensing of the brand. Compromised quality is always a risk.

The company's solution is to carefully select partners based on their reputation and commitment to quality, and to gauge their willingness to train their employees the Starbucks way.

Sure they do. Have you ordered Starbucks coffee at an airport location recently? Starbucks' airport stores are operated by HMS Host, the largest airport concessionaire in the US, and it shows. Peter King, the best writer on American football working today, regularly writes brief notes about his Starbucks experiences in his weekly "Monday Morning Quarterback" columns. Over the last few seasons, his comments have consistently become more and more negative. Consider this from his 18 December 2000 column:

I am sick of the inconsistency of Starbucks. You pay $3.65 for a grande hazelnut latte and you'd expect the same quality from drink to drink. You get a wide disparity. A couple more bad ones, and I'm going to throw open my office window and yell: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"
I've seen the same sort of thing at O'Hare more times than I care to mention -- so much so that I've given up on airport-based Starbucks locations.

In the end, Starbucks has done gotten right vastly more things than they have gotten wrong. For much of the world, they have de-commoditized a basic staple, which is an amazing achievement in and of itself. That they have done so while spending only $1 million per year on advertising is nothing short of spectacular.

August 03, 2002

Blue Planet

I've been watching Blue Planet, and simply put, it's the best nature documentary I've ever seen. It's an eight-part BBC documentary series on life in the ocean. All the footage is original, shot on high-definition cameras over five years, at a total cost of $10 million, and it shows. The photographers captured unprecedented images: from in-the-water footage of blue whales to a polar bear diving into the water after a beluga whale... from dolphins making bubble walls to corral prey to a pod of orcas attacking a grey whale calf. The narration is by David Attenborough (who else?) and the series is set to a beautiful score. It's absolutely spectacular.

Amazon doesn't yet have the four-pack of DVDs, but you can order the series as two two-packs:

The Blue Planet - Seas of Life 2 Pack (Parts 1 & 2) DVD
The Blue Planet - Seas of Life 2 Pack (Parts 3 & 4) DVD

For just under $60, you get eight 50-minute episodes, eight making-of featurettes, and some extra bonus materials. I can't recommend it highly enough.

August 02, 2002

Commercials Are Dead. Long Live Commercials!

David Pogue has a column in the New York Times (website only) on channel-skipping using TiVo, ReplayTV, and other similar devices. He puts the problem succinctly:

If everybody has ad-skipping boxes, nobody will ever see the ads. Advertisers won’t pay the networks to show them -- and the networks will have no revenue. Presto: The end of TV as we know it.
So what to do about this? Pogue outlines four possible scenarios:
  1. Trick the video recorders.
  2. Embed the ads into the show.
  3. Pay TV.
  4. Make the ads so good, you want to watch them.
It's the last idea that has Pogue intrigued:
If the advertisers took it upon themselves to make their commercials irresistible -- better than the shows, even -- viewers would want to see them, no matter what ad-skipping features were available. The ads would get seen, the networks would get their revenue, consumers would be entertained. This is the ultimate win-win.

How am I so sure this would work? Because I know so many people who watch the Super Bowl just for the ads -- and fast-forward through the football.

Pogue is on the right track. Consider this:

  • The popular AdCritic.com, which once offered free downloads of commercials, was immensely popular until someone figured out that banner ads weren't exactly paying all the bandwidth bills. (Now it's back, but with an annual subscription fee of $69.95.)
  • Over the last couple of years, Apple has expanded its user base for QuickTime in large part by having the best selection of movie trailers on the Web. In other words, people are downloading their software (and paying for upgrades) to watch commercials.
Surely this can be exploited. My TiVo (or TiVo replacement) should be downloading commercials and movie trailers at night. If I watch them, I can give them the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and the TiVo will learn what sorts of such content I like. My ratings are then pooled into a database so that I can see the most popular commercials and movie trailers. Over time, I can build up a small library of my favorite commercial content -- probably not more than an hour's worth or so, but that would be 30 trailers or up to 120 commercials: bite-sized bits of entertainment to be enjoyed whenever I like. Everyone wins.

August 01, 2002

The Digital Rights Management Workshop

Doc Searls has a useful entry entry (via Dan Gillmor) summarizing various accounts of the Department of Commerce's second Digital Rights Management Workshop. My favorite is from Ruben Safir, who attended on behalf of New Yorkers for Fair Use and New York Linux Scene:

We decided, after much discussion and after considering many opinions on the mailing lists, to attempt to drive into the public lexicon the phrases, "DRM is Theft" and "We are the Stakeholders". We carefully chose these expressions to counter the rhetoric coming out of the copyright monopoly content industry, especially the claim by Senator Hollings that he had assembled all the "stakeholders" to write his CBDTPA bill and Jack Valenti's rhetoric that the simple act of listening to a DVD on a GNU/Linux operating system is stealing property from the motion picture industry.
The highlight came when Jack "Boom Boom" Valenti of the MPAA took the floor:
He put on a classic Jack Valenti performance, saying that it was his position that government intervention in this matter wasn't a bad thing. He said his experience in the Johnson Administration passing the 1965 Civil Rights Act showed him how important and good proper government intervention can be. He then continued by saying that it was his hope that the leaders of the IT industry and the computer field would come to a consensus in the next month on a DRM standard that would protect the property of the movie industry from theft...

Jack, in order to convey how serious the MPAA is about getting DRM enacted quickly, said that while the MPAA responded to a letter from Microsoft about progress toward DRM in 24 hours, that when the MPAA sent such a letter to Microsoft, Microsoft took a long time to respond. Microsoft at this point all but threatened to buy out all of the movie producers if they continued to be such a pain in the neck. Although this was not their exact words, their threat was neither veiled or lost on Mr Valenti.

Meanwhile, Jack tried to persuade the panel that the movie industry had never really been against the VCR. This caused some agitation among the panelists, and the crowd laughed. The panel pointed out that despite the movie industry's professed love for the VCR, they brought an injunction against panel members whose companies made VCRs -- an injunction that was eventually defeated in the Supreme Court.

Jack Valenti is intelligent, articulate, charming, and a dissembler of the highest order. If we must continue to put up with him in the public sphere, could we at least pass a law banning him from continuing to make references to the Johnson Administration and the Civil Rights Act?

As for DRM, I'm dissatisfied with the arguments on both sides. As a free market adherent, I believe that I should be able to sell my property to others on whatever terms we find mutually agreeable. If I want to sell someone a print of a photograph I took, but as a condition of sale require them to agree to display it in their living room, or in their restaurant, or alternating between the two except in months that end in R, that's no one else's business but ours. At the same time, and also as a free market adherent, I find it obscene that numerous politicians are attempting to create laws that would mandate technologies in my consumer devices, such technologies solely designed to restrict how I use the device, therefore -- in theory -- benefiting a third-party.

Is the motion picture industry in danger of being Napsterized? Yes. Would that be bad for the industry and for the US? Probably. Does that justify government intrusion on the scale currently contemplated? No.