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March 30, 2004

Wink, Urge, and Joy? Bimbo Break?

John Ludwig writes about Coca-Cola's trademarks:

I was reading the Coca-Cola annual report tonight. What was most interesting to me was the partial list of all the brands they have worldwide.
  • Diet Pop. Now that is marketing magic. Ditto 187168.
  • Bimbo Break. I guess we know the target market for that one.
  • Diet Almdudler, Drim, Tuborg Squash. Now don't those sound refreshing?
  • Beat, Burn, Hit, Shock, and Slap. For the masochists in the crowd.
  • I knew about Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb, but did you know about their buddies Disney Winnie the Pooh, Fraser & Neave, Master Chill, Master Pour, Mickey Mouse, Pepe Rico, the Pocket Dr., the Robinson Brothers, Samantha, and the Thextons?
  • Chivalry and Neverfail sound very uplifting.
  • Combine Ripe N Ready and Love Body, which via a Wink, leads to an Urge, and then Joy -- but don't forget Safety First.
  • Chaudfontaine, Diet Inka Kola, Guarana Jesus, Jurassic Well, Sparletta Iron Brew, Water Salad. No idea what these are, but I'd buy a can of any of them in a second.
When I visited The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta some years ago, my favorite part was Tastes of the World, where visitors can sample Coca-Cola beverages not available in the US. It made it worth sitting through Coca-Cola's short film presentation, which was so slickly executed that on my way out of the theater, I found myself almost thinking, "Wow! It's not just a soda -- it's a force for good in the world!" Thankfully, before that thought was fully formed, I caught myself and thought, "Um, this is just sugar water." No doubt, though: Coca-Cola knows marketing.

March 29, 2004

Apology? You Don't Need No Stinking Apology

From Condoleeza Rice's interview on 60 Minutes last night:

Amidst all the testimony last week about the facts surrounding 9/11, Richard Clarke took a moment to apologize to the families of those who were killed in the attacks.

ED BRADLEY:
How -- how did you feel when he made that apology?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:
Well, I don't think that there is anyone who is not sorry for the terrible loss that -- these families endured. And indeed, who doesn't feel the deep tragedy that the country went through on September 11? I do think it's important that we keep focused on who did this to us. Because after all this was an act of war.

ED BRADLEY:
But my question is, how did his apology make you feel? Did you think he was grandstanding? Did you think it was sincere?

CONDOLEZZA RICE:
I -- I'm not going to -- to question what -- Dick Clarke was or was not feeling. I think from my point of view, the families need to know that -- everybody understands the deep loss.

ED BRADLEY:
Will the families of those people who were killed hear an apology from you? Do you think that would be appropriate?

CONDOLEZZA RICE:
The families, I think, have heard from this president that -- and from me, and from me personally in some cases in that field in Pennsylvania or at the World Trade Center, how -- deeply sorry everyone is for the loss that they endured. You couldn't be human and not feel the horror of that day. We do need to stay focused on what happened to us that day. And the best thing that we can do for the memory of the victims, the best thing that we can do for the future of this country, is to focus on those who did this to us.

Let me see if I can shorten and clarify that:

ED BRADLEY:
Are you going to apologize to the families of the victims for allowing 9/11 to happen during your tenure?

CONDOLEEZA RICE:
I'm sorry that they lost their loved ones.

ED BRADLEY:
That's not what I asked. What I asked was, are you going to apologize to the families of the victims for allowing 9/11 to happen during your tenure?

CONDOLEEZA RICE:
It wouldn't be good for the victims or for the country for me to apologize for allowing 9/11 to happen. That would be dwelling on the past. We need to focus on the future. So no, I'm not going to apologize as you suggest. Next question?

And They Wonder Why We Hate Them

I've been an American Airlines elite-level flier since the late 1980s. I have nearly 1.5 million miles as a member, which means I'm AAdvantage Gold for life (and would be Platinum for life if I ever hit 2 million miles, but read on to understand why that won't happen). In the past, I helped recruit plenty of new AAdvantage members among my co-workers, because I honestly felt their service was better than the other major airlines. American recognized the amount of business I gave them and bent the rules for me on a regular basis. When a relative died a few years ago, I called up needing four award tickets with just days' notice, and had my choice of flights. If I needed an upgrade coupon's expiration date extended, it wasn't a problem. If my baggage was overweight, they looked the other way.

Oh, how things have changed.

A couple of months ago, I needed an award ticket from Raleigh/Durham to Hartford, with about a week and a half's notice. American flies directly between the two cities multiple times a day. I logged on to check the Web. No joy -- no award seats available at all. I called to talk with an agent -- no better luck. I asked them to bend the rules. "We don't do that anymore," she said. I ended up having to fly into Boston instead -- not where I had wanted to go.

I needed to fly up to Hartford again not long after that. Again, I checked with about 10 days' notice, and again, no award seats at all. It wasn't that there weren't seats available for purchase; there most certainly were. It was that American had decided to allocate a very limited number of seats for award travel, and those seats were (or, for all I know, that seat was) gone. In fact, there were no award seats available to fly anywhere in New England. But American graciously offered to allow me to spend twice the mileage (50,000 miles instead of 25,000) to pick a seat on any flight I wanted. A first-class seat anywhere in North America is only 40,000 miles, but I had to use more miles for a round-trip, one-and-a-half-hour flight on a puddle jumper.

Then I needed tickets to fly out to Seattle. This, I thought, shouldn't be a problem. There are four different ways to get from Raleigh/Durham to Seattle on American: through Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, St. Louis, and New York. Nope, not an award seat on any of them. Not in coach class. Not in first class. I spent an hour on the phone with two different American agents and ended up with the following options:

  1. Spend 40,000 miles to drive three-plus hours to Charlotte and fly first class to Seattle, with a redeye and the drive again on the return.
  2. Spend 25,000 miles to fly to Washington National, then take a bus to the Metro, take the Metro out to the end of the line, take another bus to Dulles, and hope that I made my connection to an Alaska flight to Seattle. Do the same thing on the return.
  3. Spend 50,000 miles to have my choice of flights.
Disgusted, I once again chose to spend the extra miles. Now, after three award trips this year, my account is down 125,000 miles instead of 75,000 miles as it should be.

This past week, my co-founder and CEO Richard Boyd told me that he had called American to try to use some of his upgrade credits on his flights out to San Jose, only to be told that he couldn't because the flights weren't full-fare. It didn't make any sense to me. I called up American for him. I explained the situation. "He no longer has Gold status," the agent said. "You can only use upgrade credits on discounted tickets if you have elite status." As I remembered things, that was a change from the old days, but when Richard said that he had missed Gold by about 1,000 miles without realizing it, I thought, hey, we can fix that. The agent transferred us to customer service to discuss his account status. It was going to be a wait, so as I walked out of his office, I left him with my suggested strategy.

"When you get customer service on the phone," I said, "remind them that you have almost 800,000 lifetime miles with American and were a loyal flier for many years. Explain to them that you didn't travel much last year because of the economy, but that your business is picking up this year and you would like to be able to do most of your flying with them. Remind them that you missed Gold status by only 1,000 miles, without realizing it, and that you would have been happy to put in a flight to make it had you known. Tell them that you're CEO of your company. You won't have a problem."

About 10 minutes later, Richard walked in my office.

"I told the rep that the economy had been tough on our business and so I hadn't traveled much last year, but that I was going to travel more this year," he said. "He answered, 'The economy was tough on our business too, so we can't bend the rules for you.' Then he offered to sell me a Gold membership for $395."

"You're kidding."

"No."

And they wonder why we hate them.

The major old-line US airlines -- American, United, and Delta -- are in a cost-cutting frenzy. Every expense is fair game. No opportunity for revenue is overlooked. It doesn't matter whether cutting an expense or adding a charge impacts their elite-level travelers -- in fact, one imagines they think they can abuse such travelers to a certain degree and get away with it.

The major airlines are telling themselves that if only they can get their costs down within range of those of Southwest, then they can stay competitive. They're telling themselves that people will pay a small premium for the additional services they offer:

  • Fare-shopping on Orbitz and Expedia. Southwest doesn't participate in the reservation systems that would be required for this; you have to go to Southwest's site.
  • Reserved seating. On Southwest, it's first-come, first-serve.
  • Real food on longer flights. It's always snack food on Southwest.
  • Clubs for frequent fliers. Southwest has no such thing.
  • Non-stop flights between popular destinations. On Southwest, one is often changing planes in the middle of nowhere.
The list goes on. If we can just get our fares down close to Southwest, the majors are telling themselves, we'll be okay.

It's a load of bull. Here's why:

  • Fare-shopping on Orbitz and Expedia. Most people I know already check both those sites when they make reservations, as well as Hotwire, and often the airline's own site. I know I do. It's worth a few minutes to me to make sure I'm getting the best deal. So why wouldn't I spend another minute to check Southwest's?
  • Reserved seating. Reserved seating sounds great until you walk up for a flight, the good seats are gone, and you're stuck in a center seat for two or three hours.
  • Real food on longer flights. First of all, no coach-class airline food is real food. Second, the majors are already moving towards charging people for real meals -- $10 for a Wolfgang Puck sandwich on US Airways, I noticed this week. Why not buy it yourself for a few dollars less at an airport cafe before departing? That's what more and more people are doing.
  • Clubs for frequent fliers. If I'm barely on the ground long enough to change planes, as with Southwest, I don't need a club. If I'm flying American and am on the ground for an hour or longer (as I was on my recent flights to and from Seattle), am I to understand that to pay the airline $300 or more a year for a quiet place to use my computer is a benefit to me?
  • Non-stop flights between popular destinations. Not for most people, not to most places they're going.
But this misses the point, really. I'm not a Southwest flier and have no desire to become one. No, the model for the future -- and the true enemy of the major airlines -- is JetBlue.

Like Southwest, JetBlue is non-unionized. Like Southwest, JetBlue keeps its fares low (though not always the lowest on a particular route). But JetBlue has improved on the Southwest model:

  • All seats are reserved.
  • Every seat has 24 channels of DirecTV, no charge.
  • Plenty of cross-country non-stop flights.
  • All fares are one-way -- no round trips required.
  • No Saturday stayovers are required.
  • Free 802.11 access at hub airports.
To my mind, this is the true threat to the majors -- airlines with fundamentally lower costs, but not positioning themselves as pure discount carriers. Instead, these new airlines will compete with and beat the majors when it comes to service.

JetBlue doesn't yet serve Raleigh/Durham, so I haven't yet had the opportunity to fly with them. But I was talking with a long-time friend who lives near San Jose recently, and he talked about how he flies JetBlue now. "American and United and the others like them are going to die," he said. "And they deserve to die." I know that I'm waiting for JetBlue or a similar airline to start serving Raleigh/Durham so that I can switch. Until then, American's antics have made me less loyal, not more so. All other things being equal, I'll probably continue to choose American. But I won't bend my schedule or pay a dollar more to fly with them -- I'll pick the cheapest, most convenient carrier instead. If, in today's world, loyalty to a particular airline is meaningless, then loyalty to a particular airline is pointless.

So what should the major airlines do? I'll write about that later.

March 28, 2004

$49.75? Are They Crazy?

Disney just raised admission prices at their theme parks. I can't wait until we move to a whuffie-based economy and the fans take over.

Beginning Sunday, Disneyland and California Adventure will increase the admission price to $49.75 for guests over 10 years old -- a jump of $2.75, or nearly 6 percent, Disneyland Resort announced Friday.

In Florida, Walt Disney World also is raising its admission prices $2.75 on Sunday, from $52 to $54.75.

Company officials said the higher price reflects the cost of investments in the popular theme parks. New attractions include a Snow White musical production at Disneyland and the "Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror" ride, which opens May 5 at California Adventure.

Disneyland last raised prices from $45 to $47 in 2002.

According to Yesterland, the price in 1972 for a 15-ride ticket book -- the highest-priced admission back then and so the most apt comparison to today's unlimited attractions ticket -- was $5.95.

Using this handy calculator (thanks, NASA!), we can tell that $5.95 in 1972 dollars equals $26.19 in 2003 dollars. That means that Disney's ticket prices are now 1.9 times higher than if they had risen at the underlying inflation rate. Put another way, if this trend holds, in the year 2035, it will cost $94.50 in 2004 dollars to visit Disneyland for the day.

"I Want to Wake Up and Read That..."

From Thomas Friedman's column today:

I so hunger to wake up and be surprised with some really good news -- by someone who totally steps out of himself or herself, imagines something different and thrusts out a hand.

I want to wake up and read that President Bush has decided to offer a real alternative to the stalled Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. I want to wake up and read that 10,000 Palestinian mothers marched on Hamas headquarters to demand that their sons and daughters never again be recruited for suicide bombings. I want to wake up and read that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Ariel Sharon to his home in Riyadh to personally hand him the Abdullah peace plan and Mr. Sharon responded by freezing Israeli settlements as a good-will gesture.

I want to wake up and read that General Motors has decided it will no longer make gas-guzzling Hummers and President Bush has decided to replace his limousine with an armor-plated Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that gets over 40 miles to the gallon.

I want to wake up and read that Dick Cheney has apologized to the U.N. and all our allies for being wrong about W.M.D. in Iraq, but then appealed to our allies to join with the U.S. in an even more important project -- helping Iraqis build some kind of democratic framework. I want to wake up and read that Tom DeLay called for a tax hike on the rich in order to save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation and to finance all our underfunded education programs.

I want to wake up and read that Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from ruling on the case involving Mr. Cheney's energy task force when it comes before the Supreme Court -- not because Mr. Scalia did anything illegal in duck hunting with the V.P., but because our Supreme Court is so sacred, so vital to what makes our society special -- its rule of law -- that he wouldn't want to do anything that might have even a whiff of impropriety.

I want to wake up and read that Mr. Bush has announced a Manhattan Project to develop renewable energies that will end America's addiction to crude oil by 2010. I want to wake up and read that Mel Gibson just announced that his next film will be called "Moses" and all the profits will be donated to the Holocaust Museum.

Most of all, I want to wake up and read that John Kerry just asked John McCain to be his vice president, because if Mr. Kerry wins he intends not to waste his four years avoiding America's hardest problems -- health care, deficits, energy, education -- but to tackle them, and that can only be done with a bipartisan spirit and bipartisan team.

March 27, 2004

Whoops!

I've been diligently removing comment spam from my site and blocking the offending IP addresses, but I had forgotten that I had to rebuild my site to see the changes. My blog comments have been crawling with already-deleted spam. It's almost like turning on the kitchen light at night and seeing cockroaches scatter (which, thankfully, I haven't seen in many, many years now). Ick!

Day is Night, Black is White

Earlier this week, I wrote (here, here) about Richard Clarke's apology to the families of 9/11 victims, the first ever by a current or former US official. In the day-is-night, black-is-white world of the current leadership of the US, to apologize for one's part in allowing the worst terrrorist attack in the history of the country is "an act of supreme arrogance." From Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's remarks on Clarke's testimony:

In his appearance before the 9-11 Commission, Mr. Clarke's theatrical apology on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility. In my view it was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation. Mr Clarke can and will answer for his own conduct but that is all.
First, Clarke didn't apologize on behalf of the nation; he apologized to the families of 9/11 victims on behalf of himself and of those in government whose job it was to prevent such an attack.

Second, I would ask Dr. Frist, if such an apology "was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility," whose right, privilege, and responsibility was it? And given that it has been two and a half years since 9/11, when, I would ask Dr. Frist, was the person whose right, privilege, and responsibility it was planning on issuing such an apology?

While you're pondering this issue, here's another question: Can anyone name a single person in the Federal government -- just one -- who was fired as a result of 9/11? Between the work of the 9/11 Commission, the indisputed bulk of Clarke's book, and the accounts of others such as Coleen Rowley, we know that many, many mistakes led to 9/11 and the loss of 2,752 lives that day. So can anyone name one person who has lost his or her job in any branch of the Federal government as a result of making one or more of the mistakes that allowed 9/11 to take place?

March 25, 2004

Unintentional Irony

From a Wall Street Journal story on Microsoft's small but growing traction in the mobile operating system market:

As the lines blur between phones, laptop computers and hand-held devices, Microsoft's rivals and others in the technology industry are watching the software maker closely. Some, such as AT&T Wireless and Motorola, see Microsoft as an ally in drawing lucrative business users. Ritch Blasi, a spokesman for AT&T Wireless, says Microsoft software "gives people the closest experience to what they have on their PC."
Now there's a stunning recommendation.

March 24, 2004

According to the BBC...

...the assertion in my previous blog entry -- that no serving Bush Administration official has apologized for allowing the 9/11 attacks to happen, and that no former official had done so before Richard Clarke's apology today -- may well be correct:

Mr Clarke began his testimony by offering an apology to victims of the attacks.

"Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you... For that failure, I would ask... for your understanding and forgiveness," he said.

It is believed to be the first such apology by a public figure.

Why did this take two and a half years? Why didn't it come from someone who bore more responsibility: National Security Advisor Rice, CIA Director Tenet, or Attorney General Ashcroft, or most of all, President Bush himself?

Correct Me If I'm Wrong...

...but I can't remember any current high-ranking member of the Bush Administration ever saying anything like what Richard Clarke said today:

Mr. Clarke began his testimony before the bipartisan, 10-member panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, with an apology to relatives of the 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Your government failed you," he said, his voice close to breaking. "Those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you."

"We tried hard," Mr. Clarke went on, "but that doesn't matter, because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask -- once all the facts are out -- for your understanding and your forgiveness."

If the President, any member of his Cabinet, or any other high-ranking political appointee of his has apologized for allowing the 9/11 attacks to take place on their watch, I'd like to know about it.

March 22, 2004

Cymothoa exigua

From hinterlands.cc, by way of boing boing, comes word of a disturbingly parasitic sea creature:

2004-03-22-01.gif

Tongue-eating isopod, Cymothoa exigua

This isopod causes degeneration of the tongue of its host fish the rose snapper, Lutjanus guttatus, and it then attaches to the remaining tongue stub and floor of the fish's mouth by hook-like pereopods. In this position the isopod superficially resembles its host's missing tongue. Brusca & Gilligan (1983) hypothesize that these isopods serve as a mechanical replacement for the fish's tongue and represent the first known case in animals of functional replacement of a host structure by a parasite. This relationship is so-far known only from the Gulf of California.

As someone wrote:

I wonder if a fish can dream and if so, then I bet a fish has nightmares. And if a fish has nightmares, then he probably has them about that tongue parasite.
I'm not even a fish, and I might just end up having nightmares about that tongue parasite.

March 21, 2004

Buddhist Sniper

I have a good friend who, in his younger days, was trained by the military in counterintelligence and as a sniper. Those days are long since past, and while he's comfortable with that part of his history, he now practices Tibetan Buddhism. During our most recent visit together, I joked about how he's a "Buddhist sniper". One thing led to another, and pretty soon I was Googling the phrase. Two references came up. One of them, from a Libertarian site, struck me as pretty funny:

[W]hat would it mean for me to "recommend" a tax attorney, or to identify anyone as a "libertarian tax attorney"? Isn't that a little like asking for a "Buddhist sniper" or a "Hindu steakhouse"?
"Hindu steakhouse". Heh.

March 12, 2004

My Day in Vancouver (Pictures)

The team at Ludicorp hard at work.

Caterina Fake, Satan (AKA Dos Pesos), and Stewart Butterfield.

The former QDesign offices in Vancouver. My office window was on the second floor, to the left.

Public art near False Creek.

Being a board member of Ludicorp, the company building Flickr, the coolest photo site in the world (though it's much more than that), and seeing all the great pictures there, I really wish I had a better eye for photography.

My Day in Vancouver (Words)

Walking back from lunch at Urban Fare today, I was talking with Caterina Fake about blogging and how one's attitudes toward it change. When I started my blog, for each entry, I used the test, "Would someone who doesn't know me find this interesting?" Later on, without even realizing it, I stopped using the test and started posting simply based on what was interesting to me. Caterina and I also talked about the line between personal and private issues. Neither of us is the type to talk about close personal issues on our blog, but I find my attitude toward this changing as well. When I wrote yesterday, "I have been dealing with an unexpected and very difficult personal situation," it was a tough decision as to whether to include that in my entry. Caterina and I agreed that it would be nice to have a Live Journal-type blog, in which one could selectively decide whether posts are public or restricted. I wrote about this in December 2002:

Each of us has a unique vision of selective privacy. Some bloggers post intimate details of their lives, while others are careful never to discuss their personal issues. Some bloggers proclaim their identity loudly, while others remain in the shadows of anonymity. This is as it should be; we are individuals with our own preferences.

To implement our personal versions of selective privacy, we need the ability to create and modify privacy rings -- sets of people and the access we grant to them. Using off-the-shelf blogging tools, it's difficult to set up a blog so that the level of detail presented varies with the reader's identity. One person I know deals with this by running two completely separate Movable Type-based blogs: one public where he alone posts, and another completely private where anyone in his discussion group can post. Not only is this a time-intensive solution for the owner of the blogs, it means his discussion group must now track two URLs instead of one. What happens if he wants additional levels of privacy? Must he create yet more blogs? That's what current tools allow, but there must be a better way.

Lacking privacy rings, the choice is stark: write for anyone in the world, for all time (given the Internet Archive and other archiving services), or don't write at all. It's not always an easy choice.

I say all this because I faced a decision today about how much to discuss of my day in Vancouver -- not visiting with the great people at Ludicorp, which I'll write about separately, but my emotional reaction to being back here. I wrote a longer version of this blog entry which was a more personal account, but decided in the end that it was simply too personal for my own taste and edited it appropriately.

I spent a year and a half working at QDesign in Yaletown, a trendy downtown neighborhood which is, among other things, Vancouver's center for high-tech startups. I hadn't been in Yaletown in a year, and hadn't walked its streets in longer than that. I had almost forgotten how wonderful a neighborhood this is. There are art galleries on every block, restaurants too numerous to remember them all, and False Creek is just blocks away. It was a spectacular day today, warm and cloudless, giving the lie to the common belief that it never stops raining during a Pacific Northwest winter.

On our way to grab coffee this morning, a group of Ludicorpers and I walked past a pair of policemen handcuffing a suspect. "You know," I said to everyone, "I worked in Vancouver for a year and a half, and that's the first time I've ever seen a pair of handcuffs being used." Stewart and Caterina had the same reaction.

Over coffee, Caterina asked me how I would compare Seattle and Vancouver. I said that Vancouver was cleaner, had a better downtown park (Stanley Park), and had fewer traffic jams, not only because the geography here has less of a funneling effect, but also because Vancouver hasn't made the mistake of believing that new freeways reduce traffic congestion. For Seattle's part, I said that for historical reasons, Seattle has more of a Japanese-influenced culture, whereas Vancouver's is more Chinese, and I prefer Japan to China. I suppose I'd add to that the fact that Seattle has more and better shopping malls (if you're into that sort of thing), though Vancouver's downtown shopping district probably matches Seattle's.

Stewart had a great quote, which he attributed to someone whose name I can't remember: "Canada is a better country; America is a greater country." As much as I'd rather avoid paraphrasing a member of the Bush family, it has to be said: Canada is a kinder, gentler place. But I think it's true that it's easier to do great things in America.

March 11, 2004

Bisy Backsun

I'm sorry I haven't posted anything these past few days. I had intended to blog often from Seattle (where I am until heading to Vancouver tomorrow morning), but I have been struggling to adapt to the time change (oh, for the days when I could fly overseas and not miss a wink of sleep -- now I have trouble just flying across the country); I have been fighting off some kind of bug today, causing me to cancel appointments with two friends (sorry, Michel and Jeannie); and in the midst of all this, I have been dealing with an unexpected and very difficult personal situation. When it rains, it pours.

I'll get back to posting just as soon as I can, and try to catch up on this trip, especially the great people I've seen.

March 07, 2004

Heard This Morning

A conversation between my brother Eric and me:

Me: So are you going to be up for playing some Halo today?

Eric (playing Steel Battalion): Sure.

Me: I live for being thrashed at games by my brother, I guess. Who knows? Maybe I'll get better and have a chance against my own kids. It's frustrating, you know, to finish a game, think you're good at it, and then to have your kids start whipping you within an hour of picking it up.

Eric: The old generation must give way to the new. [pause] Many kung fu movies have been based on this theme.

Aspirin, Selenium, and Cancer

During my flight to Seattle, the person seated next to me had his laptop open and was editing a highly technical medical document. I noticed some of the language in it, took a guess, and asked him, "Are you a cancer researcher at the Hutch?" ("The Hutch" is the nickname for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.) He replied that he was. I picked his brain about the latest news in the war on cancer.

He didn't talk about wonder cures or magic bullets, but he did talk about chemotherapy-type treatments with fewer side effects. More relevant to me (and most readers), he talked about research efforts focused on preventing cancer in the first place. Apparently the evidence for aspirin as an anti-cancer agent continues to grow. (A New England Journal of Medicine study linking daily aspirin use with lowered rates of polyps that could lead to colorectal cancer can be found here.) The other agent he discussed was selenium, which is being studied extensively for cancer-preventing qualities. (There's CNN coverage here, and more detailed information here.)

His bottom line was that he takes an aspirin a day, for its effects in preventing both heart disease and cancer, and that he doesn't take a selenium supplement because he gets enough in his diet and from the environment, but if that weren't the case, he would take selenium daily. I'm already using aspirin but will add selenium to my repertoire, unless I'm already getting enough of it (200 micrograms) in my multivitamin, which I'll check when I return home.

March 06, 2004

Outta Here

I'm off to Seattle for the next week, visiting with family and friends, and then up to Vancouver for two days of meetings with the team at Ludicorp. I'll be blogging from the beautiful and rainy Pacific Northwest...

March 05, 2004

Capitalization for Song Titles

This will undoubtedly seem seriously geeky, but here goes: a page detailed capitalization rules for song titles:

  1. The first and last words are always capitalized, and all except the words listed below are capitalized.

  2. These are lower-case, unless they are the first word or last word.
    • articles: a, an, the
    • conjunctions: and, but, or, nor
    • prepositions that are less than five letters long: at, by for, from, in, into, of, off, on, onto, out, over, to, up, with
    • as (only if it is followed by a noun)

[...]

The lack of consistency in Gracenote's CDDB database (used by iTunes for CD information) can be frustrating at times -- it's as if most people have never heard of these guidelines. This makes for a good deal of work when ripping CDs.

Apple could help address this problem by first checking to see if they have a CD in the iTunes Music Store, and if so, using their titles and other extended information, which aren't always perfect, but which are nearly always in better shape than CDDB.

March 02, 2004

Napster v. Apple

Via Slashdot, a Business Week story on Napster's market position and strategy:

The cat in the Napster logo hasn't run out of lives just yet. It sells far fewer songs at its online store than Apple, which sells roughly 75% of the 3 million songs that are sold online each week. But [Roxio CEO Christopher] Gorog points out that based on the latest weekly data from Neilsen [sic] SoundScan, Napster's share equals all other rivals combined, including services from Wal-Mart, MusicMatch, and Best Buy. He says the data show that Napster 2.0 is holding its No. 2 position against Apple in this music-download business.
If the numbers quoted are correct, then Apple has a 75 percent market share, Napster 12.5 percent, and everyone else 12 percent. And Roxio is boasting about this?
Napster could start to increase market share in the more profitable business of selling monthly subscriptions, where customers can listen to -- but not own -- as many songs as they want each month for $9.95. While Napster is far behind RealNetworks' Rhapsody service, AOL's MusicNet, and others, it's taking the lead again in the old Napster's stomping ground: college campuses.
In the comments on the Slashdot story, there's a wonderful analysis of the subscription music model:
What does on-demand get you, really? It depends on your listening habits. Let's say you are starting from a blank slate, and have no music.

After three years of subscribing to Napster, you are still no better off than you were when you first started. You have paid out $360.

If you had spent this money with Apple, you'd have 360 songs on your hard drive, that would be in a lossy format, but otherwise yours to do with as you please.

If you had spent this money on CDs, you'd have around 25 albums, or approximately 300 songs. These songs would be completely unrestricted in what you could do with them, be in a non-lossy format, and able to be stored in a reasonably secure manner.

With the case of Napster, you end up with nothing, and they could go out of business at any time. However, you get to hear a wide variety of songs.

With the case of Apple, you end up with a lower-quality format than CDs, but you get the files to keep. You start out with a small selection of songs, but it widens each time you spend money. If your hard drive crashes, you've lost them all, unless you back up. If you back them up to CD, you should be aware that CDRs have a dramatically lower life than silver CDs.

With the case of CDs, you keep a high-quality copy of the songs that belong to you, they last much longer than CDRs, and are less susceptible to scratches/sulight/etc. However, you have to go outdoors to buy them, or wait for them to be delivered. There is the same problem as Apple, in that you start of with a limited selection of songs, but this constantly grows.

So basically, if you only listen to a few albums at a time, and you want to own your music collection, then Napster is right out. Apple is cheaper, but CDs have significant benefits. Apple is more suited to the impulse buy than CDs (when you are sitting in front of your computer, of course).

I think this analysis is very nearly spot-on, though it misses one advantage of Apple's approach: the fact that you pick each of the 360 songs you buy. That makes their entertainment value far higher than 300 songs taken from CDs, unless you buy only CDs for which you specifically want to listen to every single song (which seems unlikely).

I'm not a wild-eyed iTunes booster. I don't like the fact that they only allow one download of each purchased song -- it would be easy enough for them to give people two or three lifetime downloads (in case of data loss), or a recovery plan (say, $9.99 to re-download every song you've ever bought). I don't like the fact that they offer some albums for sale despite not having every track available for purchase -- this defeats the iTunes concept of only buying the songs you really want. I don't think Apple has done a good enough job of reaching out to the rest of the world to evangelize its hardware -- the HP deal is fine, but what I really want to see are auto and home stereo systems with iPod docking slots.

But I think that Apple has done a phenomenal job of creating the online music market, and I hope they're able to maintain their market-leading position -- it would be sad indeed if Microsoft were once again able to leverage its market share in operating systems to dominate another new arena.

March 01, 2004

And the Answer Is...

In my entry yesterday, I asked readers to guess the originator of a quote condemning the Vietnam War-era practice of the sons of the powerful wrangling non-combat duty with the National Guard and Reserves. As Mike Backes correctly noted in a comment, the answer is current US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his 1995 autobiography My American Journey.