Saturday, October 18, 2008

Use iGoogle? Hate the Look & Feel Changes? Here's How to Revert

Google, with it's usual arrogance, foisted off a new version of the iGoogle look and feel with zippo warning to users.  I left my iGoogle page yesterday, opened it another tab a few minutes later, and had a classic "WTF" moment, thinking somehow I had chaged my page settings accidently.  I spent a fruitless afternoon trying to revert to my old settings, until finally realizing today that it wasn't me, but that great big Goog in the sky.

I'm going to leave aside the arguments about whether the changes are good or bad.  Personally I think they suck, especially moving the tabs to the left side of the page and the mail preview that can no longer be turned off.  But opinions of suckiness aside, the point is that I was/am familiar with how my iGoogle page works.  I don't want to have to adapt to some new way of working because some Google engineer thinks it's "better" for me.Maybe eventually I will, but at my own speed and inclination, Google, not yours.

Hidden on the "Google Operating System" blog are these instructions to get the old interface back - at least temporarily:

If you have the new version, but you prefer the previous interface, go to the settings page and select English (UK) from the list of languages. Please note that this is just a temporary fix.

Monday, September 29, 2008

News You Can't Make Up - Part the Nth

via William Gibson:

A US Illuminati black op to seek, locate and disarm a Soviet nuke disguised as a blue plastic cow sculpture ended in failure when the special agent charged with the task got stuck in an air duct in Knoxville Museum of Art, and was obliged to call for traditional law enforcement assistance.

According to Knoxville's WBIR, 25-year-old Richard Anthony Smith rang 911 at around 4.30am on Wednesday to alert the authorities to his predicament. When officers arrived, they found him trapped in said duct about 45 feet below the roof, having "repelled [sic] from a CH2 Huey"* onto the museum. Smith simply said: "Mission failed."

Once extricated, the spook - dressed in "camo top and bottom, black shirt and green hat" - elaborated that he was in fact a "special agent with the United States Illuminati, badge number 0931" ordered by "Director Womack" to "defuse and confiscate a Soviet-made MERV6SS-22AN warhead, with 14.5 kg of enriched uranium and a plutonium trigger, capable of delivering a 40-kiloton yield".

Full story here which also includes my favorite part - that after becoming stuck in the duct, Gibson received another call from "Director Womack" advising that he had made a mistake, and the cow sculpture was actually in Memphis.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

City By the Bay

Another podcast series, as Leo LaPorte likes to say, is in the can, this one from Oracle OpenWorld (OOW) in San Francisco, which is where I've spent my last week.

OOW surprised me by its size - over 43,000 in attendance, according to reports. It was kind of like a Comdex, the super-technology show in Las Vegas which I used to work regularly in the `90s.  Blocked-off streets, packed sidewalks, hotel lobbies so crowded that it was hard to move through them.  This all in San Francisco, so outside of the influx of the 43K technophiles, you also had the early Fall turistas on the streets.  San Francisco is probably one of the best cities in the world to visit in the Fall if it isn't raining, and nary a drop did we see that week.  Weather was mild and in the mid-70s during the day, mid-60s at night.

I haven't been in the City for the past eight years.  In fact, I haven't been much of anywhere in the past eight years.  I've traveled more in 2008 than I have in the previous eight combined.  I was pleased to find that few of the personal landmarks I remembered had changed.  I was able to hit Napa Valley Wines and take care of our holiday wine needs in one fell - albeit expensive - swoop.  Vy's Jewelry was still in the same location in Chinatown, so Peggy got a present for being abandoned with two unhappy cats as I worked and played out west.  I went back to one of my all-time favorite sushi places, Sanraku on Sutter, and found a new favorite, Colibri Mexican Bistro on Geary, which I highly recommend - I had one of the best meals of my life there, undoubtedly oiled by two margaritas with blue agave tequila.

I didn't get to Kayo Books or Hunan Home, or John's Grill, which would have pretty much rounded up Fred's Cooks Tour of S.F., but given I produced and engineered a dozen podcasts over a four-day period, I was pretty pleased that I got in as much personal time in as I did.

I have a love/hate relationship with San Francisco.  It's one of the great cities of the world.  If you like walking around as much as I do, it's a perfect place to visit.  But, the armies of street people/homeless/bums/winos/panhandlers can get me down, especially when San Francisco is on the tolerant side of the pendulum, as it seems to be now, and essentially leaves them alone just as long as they're not aggressively scaring away the tourists. So walking can become similar to running a gantlet.  You shake the head and stare straight ahead, and hurt inside, trying not to wonder about their stories.

But that's the down side.  The up side was that it was a great trip - a good job done well in a beautiful, intriguing city.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

How Heinlein Responded to Fan Mail

Click on the image for a readable version.  Not a problem that I have, although I do get the occasional cranky email asking why I didn't answer someone's earlier email, and most of my responses to Dreamtime email are a canned version of "Thanks for the kind words."  But it's interesting to see how RAH handled the situation.  Harlan Ellison used to send a pre-printed postcard, as I remember, which said in a florid pseudo-Chinese style something to the effect of  "if I spent the time replying to how much you enjoyed [insert title here], I'd have less time to write the stuff you enjoy. So forgive this canned response."

I think my favorite of the group is the terse, "Please do not write to me again."

via Kevin Kelly

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Not Vetting Sarah

From the usual gang of idiots over at Mad magazine.  I was (almost) willing to forgive Palin anything until the polar bears.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Rusticatin'

We're back from our annual Labor Day vacay, this time taken way up North at Beaver Cove, Moosehead Lake, Maine, where men are men and spend most of their time lazin' on the deck.

Peggy and Fred took a 3-hour cruise on the steamship Katahdin - highly recommended - which covered less than half of the 40-mile Moosehead Lake.

During his tour narration, our captain noted that the lake trout population, known locally as "togue," had been virtually wiped out because some idiot - or group of idiots - had introduced Yellow Perch into the lake. When I was a kid in the `60s, it wasn't unusual to catch a dozen or more togue in one day's fishing. Tragically, all gone now, and probably not to come back.

While visiting the quarterdeck, I mentioned to the captain I grew up on Sebago Lake, the second largest lake in Maine. "Oh, that pond?" the captain grinned at me.

We found that the only direct route to Moxie Falls involved a route that personified the phrase 20 miles of bad road. About 5 1/2 miles in on a badly rutted, washed out road with large rocks poking out just waiting to take out things without which our long-suffering Murano would probably not run, we met a beat-up pickup heading in the opposite direction. "You can't go down there, the road's terrible," the driver called.. "You couldn't make it without a 4-wheel drive. Where you headed?"

"Moxie Falls," I replied. "Maybe, I should turn ..."

"We're going right by it," he interrupted. "Follow me." And with that he sped off on another road that led off God Knows Where which a) was even worse than the one that we were on and b) our GPS, which had gamely sent us down the original road didn't even recognize as a road.

In fact, the GPS - which we've anthropomorphized with the name "Tommy," gave up trying to navigate us, except to point an arrow at where we had been, apparently in the hope we'd recover our senses and return to Known Territory. Which we eventually did after about a mile or more of following the Mad Mainer, who blasted along the road at upwards of 40 miles an hour as I crawled over ruts and rocks. As his dust trail disappeared into the trackless wastelands, I found a spot to turn around, not an easy thing to do, and headed back to where Tommy's arrow pointed. After a long long long time, we finally made it back to the point where Tommy was willing to acknowledge that there was a road there, such as it was, and then only had to spend another 5 1/2 miles crawling back out to the paved road.

We'd finally make it to Moxie Falls the following day after Peggy plotted out a circuitous route that covered about 60-odd miles to a destination that was about 20 miles away as the crow flies but, by God, had the benefit of being entirely upon pavement.

Moxie Falls is very beautiful, if a little difficult to visit.

We also found the lodge my family stayed at during our regular visits to Moosehead in the `60s - Maynards. Already old when I first came there, Maynards was established in the early 1920s, the place is virtually unchanged in 2008, the only noticeable difference that I could find is that the cabins now have a full bath. Back in 1964 it was an outside shower and an outhouse.

And we did many other things, the things you do when you're on vacay in the Great North Woods: We visited Kamp-Kamp, the largest store in Greenville, Maine where Peggy longed for moose antlers and Fred for a set of Classic Illustrated Comics that could have come straight from my bunk at Maynards. We bought hand-picked blueberries and blackberries and fresh-baked goods for dessert every night. We hiked the Lily Pond State Park, read about local things in the local paper - including the kids fined for leaping jay-naked off the Black Frog restaurant dock.

And mostly we relaxed, 'cause that's what it's all about.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Makes a Good Blog?

via Merlin Mann, who I hope doesn't think I'm ripping him off, and if he does, I'm sure will something snarky about me on Twitter (just kidding, Merlin)...


***
  1. Good blogs have a voice. Who wrote this? What is their name? What can I figure out about who they are that they have never overtly told me? What’s their personality like and what do they have to contribute — even when it’s “just” curation. What tics and foibles fascinate make me about this blog and the person who makes it? Most importantly: what obsesses this person?

  2. Good blogs reflect focused obsessions. People start real blogs because they think about something a lot. Maybe even five things. But, their brain so overflows with curiosity about a family of topics that they can’t stop reading and writing about it. They make and consume smart forebrain porn. So: where do this person’s obsessions take them?

  3. Good blogs are the product of “Attention times Interest.” A blog shows me where someone’s attention tends to go. Then, on some level, they encourage me to follow the evolution of their interest through a day or a year. There’s a story here. Ethical “via” links make it easy for me to follow their specific trail of attention, then join them for a walk made out of words.

  4. Good blog posts are made of paragraphs. Blog posts are written, not defecated. They show some level of craft, thinking, and continuity beyond the word count mandated by the Owner of Your Plantation. If a blog has fixed limits on post minimums and maximums? It’s not a blog: it’s a website that hires writers. Which is fine. But, it’s not really a blog.

  5. Good “non-post” blogs have style and curation. Some of the best blogs use unusual formats, employ only photos and video, or utilize the list format to artistic effect. I regret there are not more blogs that see format as the container for creativity — rather than an excuse to write less or link without context more.

  6. Good blogs are weird. Blogs make fart noises and occasionally vex readers with the degree to which the blogger’s obsession will inevitably diverge from the reader’s. If this isn’t happening every few weeks, the blogger is either bored, half-assing, or taking new medication.

  7. Good blogs make you want to start your own blog. At some point, everyone wants to kill the Buddha and make their own obsessions the focus. This is good. It means you care.

  8. Good blogs try. I’ve come to believe that creative life in the first-world comes down to those who try just a little bit harder. Then, there’s the other 98%. They’re still eating the free continental breakfast over at FriendFeed. A good blog is written by a blogger who thinks longer, works harder, and obsesses more. Ultimately, a good blogger tries. That’s why “good” is getting rare.

  9. Good blogs know when to break their own rules. Duh. I made a list, didn’t I? Yes. I did. Big fan.
***
Although I've never taken the time to articulate my thoughts on the subject, Merlin pretty well captures what I attempt to do when I "blog," more so at Dreamtime than here. But I do try to have so small measure of craft even with fhb, which I consider more a public diary than anything else.

And it's why I keep fhb going, although my focus is obviously on Dreamtime these days. And when I think about it, most of the blogs I still read, and podcasts I still listen to, follow Merlin's list of what gets my attention - and why.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Ultimate iPhone Application



And for $999, you too can tell the world, "I am Rich." Actually, you can't right now, as the humorless Apple has removed the app.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

"...and I'll whisper, 'No.'"



The new WATCHMEN trailer, the best evidence to date that the movie will cleave closely to the graphic novel. I like the word "cleave" as no matter which definition you use, I'm right.

Some fanboy impressions, in no particular order...

  1. Osterman in the intrinsic field vault. His body dissolving parallels the panel in WATCHMEN IV, Page 8.

  2. Archie the Owl Ship emerging from the Hudson: WATCHMEN X, Page 11.

  3. Random scenes of the Silk Spectre and Nite Owl. The Comedian tossed out his window. Ozymandias in front of his world video monitoring station.

  4. Dr. Manhattan. This appears to be a scene from Manhattan's origin, when he was still learning how to rebuild his body, possibly replicating WATCHMEN IV, Page 9.

  5. Archie descending through flames, possibly to the Sing-Sing riot. Rorschach improvising a flamethrower (WATCHMEN V. Page 26).

  6. The Silk Spectre. Dr. Manhattan x 3 in that infamous scene where Laurie cries out:, "Jon, be one person again!" (WATCHMEN II. Pages 4-5).

  7. Nite Owl in a very Batman-like pose. The Comedian's funeral. The Comedian in Vietnam. The Vigilante riots. (various from WATCHMEN II) Voice-over, "God help us all." The last is probably a reference to the quote in WATCHMEN IV, "God exists, and he's American." A chilling prospect, when you think about it.

  8. Manhattan appears after successfully reconstructing himself. (WATCHMEN IV, Page 10). Note the full frontal nudity. Manhattan and Laurie kiss (WATCHMEN IV, Page 18). The Comedian smashing a wall, possibly after discovering the secret that would lead to his death, Rorschach throwing someone (Moloch?) against a wall. Ozymandias fighting off an assassin (WATCHMEN V, Pages 14-15).. Nite Owl screaming and Manhattan incinerating a Vietnamese (the two unrelated, The latter from WATCHMEN IV, Page 20).

  9. More vigalante riot footage, this obviously parralleling WATCHMEN II, Page 16.The Rorschach voiceover is a variation of the statement in Rorscach's journal entry which opens the WATCHMEN series, which reads in part: "The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up against their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us!'... and I'll look down and whisper, 'no'."

  10. The Martian clock tower.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dreamtime Trucks Along With Episode 56


Time for a Dreamtime plug, which I haven't done in a bit. We're up to Episode 56 and about 3,000 regular listeners, as far as I can tell, which ain't bad for an amateur podcast.

It's Summertime, the living is easy, and our July Twenty-Ought-Eight show is all about solar rays and happiness, direct from the sun and fun capital of the world, Merrimack, NH.

Featuring Eric Burdon and the Animals from the Summer of Love, Mickey & Sylvia, (with a sidelong look at Dave "Baby" Cortez and The Rocky Fellers), Bob Denver (in-between gigs as Maynard G. Krebs and Gilligan), thoughts on the Man Who Walked on Water, our favorite Disney girl, Annette and her seldom-seen belly-button, a visit to the racetrack, and winding up with a hip-hop version of Cruel Summer. Plus Dreamtime favorite Summer movies, and a few jingles thrown into the mix.

Episode 56 - Ho Daddy! The Summer Surf and Turf special

The Miami Beach audience is the greatest in the woild - Jackie Gleason

Life's Too Short for High Cholesterol








A new issue of my favorite web comic is out.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Forget Kindle - I Wanna Readius!


Well, maybe.  The thing about the Interwebs is that bird in the bush always seems more attractive than the one in the hand - not that I have a Kindle in hand, just that I would like one.



Well, maybe.  The NY Times had an article on an interesting new "mobile device" this past Sunday, the Readius, billed as the first pocket eReader. Like the Kindle, you'll be able to read books, subscribe to newspapers, read email, and receive other content - such as podcasts amd mp3s - on the Readius.  Unlike the Kindle, the Readius uses a flexible display, one that can be literally unfurled from the pocket-sized device.



Fueled by way too many science fiction novels over the years, I've had this vision where someday I'll have this thing that looks like a sheet of blank paper, newspaper of magazine-sized, that I'll simply tap, and voila - I have the front page of the Times, or the Globe, or Wired. Or anything I want to read.  That vision has probably been best illustrated in a throwaway scene from the movie Minority Report, as described in this 2005 article from The Washington Post:

In the scene we're interested in, a Metro passenger is reading a USA Today. It LOOKS like a USA Today in that it's a full-page newspaper (called a "broadsheet") but instead of a handful of papers, it's a paper-thin video screen, thin enough to fold up and put under your arm. Instead of static photos and text, it's constantly changing text, video and perhaps sound. Think of it as a combination paper, television and Internet, presumably wirelessly connected to a futuristic Wi-Fi, perhaps the next generation of the new Wi-Max super hotspots that are rolling out and cover several square miles instead of several square feet.

We're getting closer to that vision all the time. As Andy Ihnatko notes in his review of the Kindle (warning: Ihnatko's site always takes a tremendously long time to load every time I visit it, I dunno why), the world-changing thing about the Kindle isn't that it's a very cool eBook reading device, which from all reports it is. But the ultimately cool cool thing about the Kindle is that it's a very good - and since its Internet connectivity is subsidized by Amazon, very free - portal to the Web.

"At its core, the Kindle is a light, compact device that (metaphorically) contains the Wikipedia in its entirety; the complete text of every RSS-enabled site that you care to follow through Google Reader or Bloglines…as well as tens of thousands of commercial titles" - Andy Ihnatko

That's what the Readius could become.  Well (all together now), maybe.  Someday.  we'll see.  For the moment, the Readius is an announced but not-shipping product, first to be released in Europe for an unknown price, and scheduled for U.S. rollout sometime in 2009.  Again, price unknown, although the Readius CEO notes in the Times that it will be priced higher than the Kindle - currently at $345 U.S. And it's unlikely that the Readius will have a free Internet connection either.



But we're getting there.  First the Kindle.  Next the Readius.  Someday - maybe someday soon, the Minority Report "broadsheet."



Below, a video of the Readius (somewhat) in action:






Saturday, July 05, 2008

Me & My FlashMic

As I've mentioned before, I recently got back from a gig in Vegas where I acted as producer and general ringmaster for a "live" podcast series from a business conference.

It's something I've wanted to try for awhile, and we were able to sell the clients on the idea that it'd be as close to live as we could make it without streaming - which I wasn't willing to tackle as a first attempt - and that we'd keep it to a guerrilla effort - fast, cheap, and if not out-of-control, at least not needing much oversight from our clients.

We did get about as live as you would want, posting most of the dozen shows we produced a few hours after recording, more than acceptable everyone agreed, given that we weren't doing breaking news. If necessary we could probably had the stories on the Web an hour after recording - the biggest bottleneck I ran into was the so-called high-speed internet connection offered by the hotel, which was neither high-speed nor provided much of an internet connection.

I eventually ended up posting most of our podcasts around 3 a.m. each morning, the only time I could seemingly get a consistent and relatively fast connection. In the hotel's defense, it did waive the $10 a day charge after I complained, but I still noted that a venue billing itself as a high-end business conference resort - which The Palazzo is in most respects - really needs to upgrade its internet connectivity for customers even if they have to charge more.

Because it was a guerrilla effort, there were only three of us: a reporter/industry analyst who did the bulk of the interviews; our client contact, who helped with all the necessary executive arranging/scheduling/handling; and lil ol' me, who outside of being the producer, also acted as engineer.

Most of the business podcasts I produce are phone interviews or roundtable discussions, most conducted through a traditional landline conference call, sometimes through Skype, recorded, edited, posted by me right here from the kitchen table. Since we were doing in-person, live interviews from the Vegas conference, I needed some sort of mobile recording equipment. All I was sure of was that based on experience I wanted as little gear as possible. The more gear, the more to haul around, the more to lose or break.

After some research, and discussion with fellow podcasters, I hit upon the HHB FlashMic, pictured above, and one of the coolest pieces of technology I've run into in quite awhile. It's nice when something not only lives up to your expectations but exceeds them. Resembling a wireless microphone, the FlashMic is an all-in-one recording studio. It runs on two AA batteries. It has a built-in 1GB flash drive. It has a professional-grade microphone - think broadcast or NPR-quality. One button to turn it on. One button to record. Plug it into Mac or PC with a USB cable and drag-and-drop your files over.

That's it. The FlashMic worked like a dream. Our reporter/analyst would do an executive interview and hand the FlashMic to me when finished. I'd download the .WAV file (the FlashMic can also save/transfer as an mp3) to my laptop, add our stock bumpers and do some minor editing in the freeware sound editing program, Audacity, and save it out as an mp3 for later uploading to the Web.

All done. You can listen to some examples if you check out the link above.Our client liked the FlashMic so much that she took it to the show floor for some "man-in-the-street" interviews, which I dutifully added on to our podcast series. Even the execs we interviewed dug the FlashMic, one noting that he had just come from another podcast interview which was an Old School mobile studio set-up... a room filled with mikes, soundboards, cables and equipment. The exec. thought he had walked into the wrong room when all he saw in our set-up was no set-up at all. Me, my laptop, our reporter and the FlashMic.

The price for the FlashMic can be off-putting. Street price ranges from $999 to $1200 (I got it for the lesser price through Amazon). But the equipment is a perfect example of the ol' "you get what you pay for" maxim. Would I recommend the FlashMic to the hobbyist podcaster? Probably not unless the hobbyist has money to burn. Can you put together a good, professional mobile recording platform for less than $999? Sure. My alternative - a digital recorder and a high-end mobile mike - would have run around $600-700 total, and if you're on a budget, you could pull together something for significantly less than those figures.

But for around $300 more I got what I wanted, quality, ease-of-use, and convenience. If you're doing podcasts as a business and if you want to be able to just wander around and capture interviews, ambiance, and sound for podcasts with a touch of a button you couldn't do better than the FlashMic.

Probably the best testimonial is that the other two members of my erstwhile Vegas team - client and reporter - have ended up buying FlashMics for their own projects.

Technical glitches

Blogger is in the midst of a major upgrade, meaning that things work, sometimes work, don't work, or stop working. Among the "sometimes working" is my access to Blogger itself and formatting stuff such as paragraphs and HTML links... that's just the stuff I've discovered so far. So, if my posts look a little funky during this period, that's probably why.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Lady Vanishes

I've been following with interest - and with the certain fascination you have viewing the aftermath of a particularly messy accident - the ongoing story of Boing Boing's "unpublishing" of blogger/columnist Violet Blue. The 411 for those not familiar with the story...

  1. Blue, a self-styled "sex educator," is a fairly well-known Web celebrity. Like most Web celebrities, Blue is also a tireless self-promoter, and has been publicized several times on the pop culture site, Boing Boing.
  2. According to Boing Boing, the group's columnists* decided to remove all past postings concerning Blue from their site "a year ago." They did so without announcement and without notice from the Web at large, until Blue and several of her friends began posting about her disappearance from Boing Boing in late June 2008.
  3. Boing Boing eventually responded on July 1st. Noting that yes they indeed had "unpublished" Blue (their term, without any apparent sense of irony); that it was a private matter between Boing Boing - either individually or collectively - and Blue; and that it was their blog to do with as they wanted.
End of story, or so BB hoped. This being the InterWebs, it, of course, wasn't, and close to 900 comments - including one of mine - have currently been added to in support of, or critical against, or used as a foundation to argue their own agenda, on the Boing Boing statement.

Boing Boing hasn't helped their case any by making several serious errors in the ongoing story. One of the Boingers - one who in fact had been a close friend of Blue's - implied that she was akin to a "piece of shit" that needed to be removed from the Boing Boing virtual household (the comment was later edited to remove the analogy). The BB moderator, while criticizing Blue and her supporters for lying, made several factual errors herself, including claiming that Blue had never written for Boing Boing - even though there is incontrovertible evidence that she did. And Boing Boing refuses to clarify the reason why they "unpublished" Blue, while ominously hinting that Blue "behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her," and that they had no wish to embarrass her.

So enough of the reporting and on to opinion. Like every blogger, I've had to deal with the differences in writing on-line vs. Old School. Back in the day, you couldn't "unpublish," you couldn't edit after publishing. Once out there in print, you owned the words. Me, I deal with the issue of how to correct something I've written while giving notice that it is a correction by strike-through or an UPDATE notice. The only time I change a post without notice is to fix a typo. I've never taken down a post, and hope I never have to consider doing so. I've occasionally left posts in draft for several days - even weeks - and sometimes deleted them without posting. That's what the "Draft" button is for.


fhb doesn't provide the multitude of links of a Boing Boing, of course. I occasionally change my Blog Roll to reflect what I happen to be reading at the time. Blogs disappear - sometimes they reappear. At least one blog fell off my blog roll because I found I didn't like the blogger's writing and attitude anymore. But even with that, I couldn't see going through my blog and purging all references to that blog, of which there are still several, as distasteful as I found some of the blogger's later posts.

"Unpublishing," outside of being a nightmarish term, is a bad idea, imo. You shouldn't have the ability to rewrite history, no matter what the reason. Boing Boing, of all blogs, should know that. As many commentators have said the "Violet Blue thing" would be the natural meat of a Boinger like Cory Doctorow, if it had happened on some other site. Doctorow, by the way, is notable by his absence from the ongoing debate.

So, speculation, which Boing Boing has also made fair game, in my opinion, by their coy references to whatever Blue did to trigger the "unpublishing." Blue herself claims not to know. There is speculation - especially with all the references Boing Boing has made to "embarrassment" and given Blue's avocation - that it may indeed be a personal matter. The Web consensus seems to be that Blue's attempt to trademark the "Violet Blue" name (apparently her legal name, but not the one she was born with), and her 2007 suit against a porn actress also using the same name triggered Boing Boing's group decision, Great Critics of Copyright that they are.

Who knows? As in most of these stories, the cover-up - or in this case the "unpublishing" - has become a bigger story than the original.

*UPDATE:: In an interview with the LA Times, Boing Boing columnist Xeni Jardin (the one who had later made the "piece of shit" analogy) noted she had unilaterally removed the posts/references to Violet Blue, also noting again that her reasons were a prinate matter between her and Blue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Podcasts to Go: No Waiting




I usually try to keep the business self-promotion to a dull roar, I have other places for that.

But every now and then, I produce something I'm pretty proud of. Here's some samples.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Gotta Get My Fred and Wilma



Joe Cock-air at Woodstock with a subtitled "Little Help from My Friends." Try it. You'll like it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Las Vegas: In Search of a Tuna Sandwich

I spent the past week in Las Vegas - preparing for and then producing a "live" podcast series from a business seminar is one of the things that's kept the fhb blogging light over the past several weeks. All-in-all things went pretty well. The usual expected glitches. But we recorded over a dozen podcasts averaging 15 minutes each over the space of three days, and got most of them posted within a few hours after recording.

It's been a little under a decade since the last time I was in Vegas. I was on a business trip - working a trade show - that time too. In fact while I've been to Las Vegas a half-dozen times or so, I've been there only once on a pleasure trip, and that was 16 years ago with Peggy. We had a good time - stayed at the Mirage, saw the white tigers, did a show at the Aladdin, gambled a bit, ate at what at the time was one of the few seafood places in the town, the Tillerman off the main strip; and spent some good time away from the city too, traveling to both Hoover Dam and a Nevada ghost town, as well as ending up in the middle of a cattle drive... but that's another story.

Vegas, as nearly everyone there will tell you repeatedly, has changed. Vegas has always changed. I'd expect that if I went back tomorrow the town would have changed. I more or less missed the Rat Pack ring-a-ding-ding era of the Vegas most people my age still think of when imagining Vegas - the Sinatra/Mob/Gambling/Comping/Big Acts/Mid-America on vacation Las Vegas - only knowing it by hearsay when my father would bring back a story or autograph from one of his layovers there.

When Peg and I went in the early `90s, Vegas was on the downside of that era, still heavily into the cheap buffet, scantily-clad showgirls, and now promoting small but inexpensive rooms in gaudy hotels that all had some shtick to differentiate them from the others ... exploding volcanoes, pirate battles, knights in armor. And the casino was king. Most of the floorspace at the Mirage and other hotels was given over to gambling.

Things, as I said, have changed again, at least where I was staying, which was at the Palazzo, part of the Venetian casino-resort complex. Both Palazzo and Venetian place a heavier emphasis on resort rather than casino, and many people seemed to be in the small casino areas only because they had to pass through them to reach shops, restaurants, spa, or business conference. As one of my traveling companions remarked sardonically, the powers at Vegas are in a constant search for new ways of extracting money from visitors. Not into gambling? No problem. Most of the floor space is devoted to either upper-scale shops or upper-scale celebrity chef restaurants. The shows are Broadway-style - the Palazzo was featuring Jersey Boys and the comedian Wayne Brady.

And one thing in Vegas that hasn't changed over the years is the emphasis on excess: Supra omnibus in rebus is the Las Vegas motto. Are the Palazzo rooms - all suites - beautiful? Yes, so beautiful that I felt a little embarrassed staying there - I kept expecting to find a family of four camped out in my closet. And the high-def LCD panels in living room and bedroom are nice, but do I really need one in the bathroom too?

Is the breakfast room service great? Yep, if you're okay with $30+ for a bagel, fruit, and coffee. But you can't say that the Palazzo short-changes you on helpings. The plate of fruit I got was on a platter, and I was still noshing on it into lunch. I made the mistake one morning of ordering one of my travel favorites - lox - and got what appeared to be half a smoked salmon that could have easily fed that family of four camped in my suite's closet.

Lunch and dinner in the hotel were the same - You weren't going to get away for less than $30 bucks for lunch anywhere in the Palazzo, and there was no such thing as a simple sandwich. By Thursday I was desperate for a plain tuna sandwich - no capers, special vermont smoked cheese, black olives, tuna nicoise of a sandwich, but just a good ol' tuna sandwich - and had to go up the street to Caesars and the Carney Deli to find one... and it still cost me $10 bucks.

Diner was - in a phrase - over the top. I took a client out to the Venetian's Aquaknox, which I highly recommend, but I also highly recommend deep pockets if you go there, too. On the one hand, I haven't had so many people waiting on me since Mexico - I think we had something like six separate servers - and the meal was excellent. I had possibly the best ahi tuna I've ever eaten. But you pay for what you get, especially in Vegas, and the tab was well North of $200.

And after awhile it all seems frighteningly normal to spend money that way. By the end of the trip my spending $30 for a cigar and $24 for two drinks while enjoying the cigar seemed, I dunno, okay.

Hey, spending more on ceegars and booze than I would normally spend on a meal?

It's Vegas, baby.

.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Where the Bals Go, the Hoi Polloi Soon Follow

Roberta say we're "so leading edge she can't stand it" as she forwarded this article.

A few weeks after our Hawk Walk, the New York Times published an article on the British School of Falconry in their Executive Pursuits section (which made me laugh out loud, as I'm about as far away from pursuing pursuits that your average executive would pursue as is possible).

Fwiw, I think my article is better, if for no other reason than I avoided quoting Yeats, which the Times writer actually does twice.

I WADED into the pitiless mid-May sun with a falconer and one of her favorite birds of prey. The grassy meadow in front of the British School of Falconry at the Equinox resort in Manchester Village, Vt., bloomed with yellow dandelions.

My instructor, Dawn Kelly, carried a brown-feathered Harris hawk named Elmer on her leather-gloved left fist. I recalled the opening lines of “The Second Coming” by Yeats.
The article features Dawn Kelly and the hawk, "Elmer," both of whom we met. Dawn was inordinately proud of another hawk, the unfortunately but appropriately named "Miss Piggy," who had succeeded in killing a turkey about five times her size earlier in the year

Full article here.

"Peggy, I say, oh, Peggy. We're going to have somewhere else to Summer.
Manchester will be simply overrun with tourists
."

Cheers! Tears!! I’m here!

I'm still super-conflicted about Twitter, not least because its reliability is so flaky that it's often unusable. I've also taken to "unfollowing" (a nice 1984ish term), more people than I'm adding of late... mostly people who drown the system in minute-to-minute minutia. The latest was someone who was giving a blow-by-blow account of the DNC decision on the Michigan and Florida votes. He was apparently there and, I guess if you wanted a real-time account of the meeting it was fascinating... but not to me. Twitter really needs some sort of real-time filter/ranking system, so that tweets important to you at the time rise to the top.

In any case, one Twitterer I am following is the Mars Phoenix lander, which actually does exemplify how Twitter can be put to good use. We haven't gotten so far out that a spacecraft has taken to posting Tweets in its spare time. Instead, Veronica McGregor, the news services manager at JPL, had the great idea to create a Twitter account for Mars Phoenix, and lots of people like following it, over 12,750 to date. The full story behind Mars Phoenix's Twitter account can be found here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hodags Forever


Once a a Wisconsin hodag, always a hodag. Even though we didn't do the Ultimate Championships this year, Ace Reporter Roberta had a special feed direct from Boulder, and gave us regular updates over the weekend.

It probably couldn't be said better than Chris Spittal on the UPA site...

"Head of an ox, feet of a bear, back of a dinosaur, and tail of an alligator, the Wisconsin Hodags were the better team in the 2008 Open UPA Championship Sunday, and their superiority was apparent from start to finish."
Wisconsin took it all with a 15-9 win over arch-rival, Florida. I suspect that many were the blue-eyed Hodag tattoos later that evening.

And here's a highlight reel direct from the Hodags site:

How Bad Are Things in the Newspaper Biz?

So bad that someone - with no irony - has created a site called Praying for Papers. Its self-described mission:

"This is a troubling time in the newspaper business. Every day we hear stories from papers that are laying off employees and struggling to stay afloat.

Our idea at Praying for Papers is to encourage anyone who is touched by this shift in our industry to include it each day in their prayer life..."
The Boston Globe continues to devolve into just another paper with another group of columnist layoffs, including the aptly named Royal Ford, whose last column was at the end of April. Ford was replaced by a generic column from cars.com. I suspect that something like the Kindle will become part of the surviving papers' business model in the future. How they'll make money remains to be seen, but certainly the dead tree distribution can be replaced by something more cost-efficient.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Walks With Hawks

If you know me you know that I've had a propensity for ah, "enthusiasms," since I was a kid. Those could be anything from racing MG-TDs to bee-keeping, to rocketry to time travel to sailplaning.

Whatever it was, it was usually triggered by a book I had just read and wildly impractical for a 12-year-old to take up. Not that that ever stopped me. I'd simply head for the 1964 version of the Web - back in those days we called them "libraries" - and haunt the reference sections until I had absorbed everything I could find on the subject. If I couldn't actually do whatever had caught my attention, I could sure learn everything I could about it, on the off-chance that I might eventually get a hands-on opportunity . Thus, I can still provide such useful tidbits of information as that M.G. stands for "Morris Garages," that you corner a sports car by cutting through the apex of the curve; that "laser" is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation; that royal jelly is fed exclusively to bee larvae in order to create queens, and that the leather strap used to tether hunting birds is called a "jess." More about that last in a bit.

It's not a bad quirk for a writer to have, as I've learned over the years, although it's occasionally wearing on Peggy who has to listen for weeks - sometimes months - at a time as I take up yet another subject. On the other hand, my long-suffering wife does listen to my babbling and even occasionally acts upon it.

This all takes us up to Manchester, Vermont, where Peggy and I spent last weekend on a postponed anniversary trip. On an earlier trip to Manchester, we had come across a tiny sign in front of a nondescript building that read "The British School of Falconry." Now, I'm totally wild about raptors. It was one of those enthusiasms I mentioned, where I spent several months as a kid wanting nothing so much as to take up falconry and immersed myself in jesses, goshawks, bells, merlins, hoods, peregrines and gloves. Many years after that enthusiasm had all but been forgotten I had spent one of the best summers of my life watching two red tail hawks raise a family of three from just-barely-flying to full-fledged hunters. I made Peggy laugh out loud that summer as I only half-kiddingly presented my gloved arm to the oblivious hawks on the off-chance that one might glide down to me.

Looking for something different for us to do on our 24th, Peggy had looked into getting us a room at The Equinox, a ritzy Manchester resort which is way out of our league except on special occasions. The Equinox has a co-op deal with the group behind the British School of Falconry and Peg was able to get us a package deal that included an introductory handling and flying lesson with a Harris's Hawk as well as a "Hawk Walk" where I was able to fly our hawk along a trail at the Robert Todd Lincoln estate, Hildene.

As it turned out, The Equinox was undergoing major construction, and we decided to take a pass on staying there, instead booking a room at The Wilburton Inn, a delightfully funky place in the off-season run by two true eccentrics who are also wonderful hosts. The Wilburton is highly recommended. And we still did the falconry thing at The Equinox package price.

At 2:00 on Saturday we were with our trainer, Rob, who brought me through the basics of handling my hawk, Sprint, as Peggy acted as observer and photographer. The 45-minute walk-through ranged from holding (left, gloved arm, jess held between thumb and fingers); walking with (hawk needs to face into the wind or will bait [i.e. flap around in an unseeming manner], often backwards and/or sideways; raptor psychology (essentially, smallest possible effort for largest possible reward); training of raptors (essentially, hunger = interest. A satisfied raptor is interested in nothing except standing on the nearest perch); why we were using hawks instead of falcons (Falcons work wide open spaces, gliding around and then swooping on prey. Hawks are more suited to New England woods, able to maneuver around trees and brush and able to take a heavy beating when necessary); and how to cast and retrieve your hawk.

We were with another couple - the woman acting as handler and the man as observer - and we exchanged our hawks for another pair and set off to Hildene and our hawk walk. All our hawks were Harris's, chosen because they tolerate humans much better than most raptors, and interestingly, who like to hunt in teams. Most raptors will attack each other rather than work together. Trained Harris's tend to treat both dogs and humans as members of their hunting pack - "we're the hired help" Rob called it - expecting us to flush out the game for them.

I have many memories I treasure: landing a seaplane for the first time; hiking the Grand Canyon; Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands; Niagara Falls. I added a new memory last Saturday, a surrealistic walk through the woods, two free-flying hawks pacing our group, gliding from tree to tree, occasionally swooping into the brush after unseen game; flying to our gloves if given the opportunity to see if they could convince Rob to provide some free meat. I was flying a hawk named Wallace, the other handler-in-training, Maya, had a hawk named Skye. At the end of the walk, I held up my arm for Skye who, at the last moment, dipped under it, soared a few inches off the ground, and then rose up to gracefully perch on Maya's glove.

It was one of the most beautiful things I think I've ever seen.

Peggy's photo album of the training and walk can be found here, although most of the remaining shots are just me with a goofy grin and a hawk perched on my arm.

The "once-in-a-lifetime" phrase is an overworked term that writers learn to avoid. But I came as close to a once-in-a-lifetime experience as I'm likely to have, thanks to Peggy. If I regret one thing, it's that she didn't get to try too, as the rules say one handler and one observer per couple.

But if I have my way, we'll be doing it again. Soon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Think Gas is Expensive?

Well, yes it is. Peggy and I spent $110 on the weekend to fill up the Murano and Mini. (The Mini, btw, which requires premium, broke $40 for the first time in my fill-up history). But, everything is relative. Be glad your car doesn't run on Pepto-Bismol.

Here's a meme currently making the email rounds...

Gas.............................................$3.60 per gallon
Diet Snapple 16 oz $1.29 ....... $10.32 per gallon

Lipton Ice Tea 16 oz $1.19 ....... $9.52 per gallon

Gatorade 20 oz $1.59 ............. $10.17 per gallon

Ocean Spray 16 oz $1.25 ........ $10.00 per gallon

Brake Fluid 12 oz $3.15 .......... $33.60 per gallon

Vick's Nyquil 6 oz $8.35 ....... $178.13 per gallon

Pepto Bismol 4 oz $3.85 ........ $123.20 per gallon

Whiteout 7 oz $1.39 ................ $25.42 per gallon

Scope 1.5 oz $0.99 ..................$84.48 per gallon
Evian Water 9 oz $1.49…….... $21.95 per gallon
Printer ink ………………...... $5,200.00 per gallon

I'm 81 Percent French in Bed


Or so says the Are You British in Bed? quiz, today's productivity-buster.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It Was 24 Years Today


That my life began.

Fred (heart) Peggy.

.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Twittering Into the Future

I've been playing with Twitter of late. You can find me there at FredatDreamtime if you're interested in me. You can also find me at DylanTweets if you're interested in Bob Dylan news. My geeky side is particularly proud of DylanTweets, which is automatically pulling content from the Dreamtime blog as I post it.

The fast 411 on Twitter is that it can be thought of as a real-time (or near real-time) micro-blog. You're limited to 140 characters per post. That's characters, not words, sharply restraining you to pithy statements. A lot of Twitter is of the "I'm eating a cheese sandwich" text message variety, but some of it can be very cool and interesting, depending on who you're following. "Following" at Twitter is essentially subscribing to someone's news. Every time they decide to inform the world they're noshing on another cheese sandwich, the message shows up on your Twitter home page.

While the question on whether Twitter is actually useful for someone like me remains to be seen, I have been going up the slow scale of awareness from "what is this thing good for except as a major productivity buster?" to the, "Hmm..." stage. Two examples.

One of the people I'm following on Twitter, is the tech pundit/writer, John C. Dvorak, who's a panelist on one of the podcasts I listen to, TwiT (no relation to Twitter). On Monday's show, Dvorak mentioned as an aside a coffee he purchases in San Francisco, whose name I couldn't make out. Someone else on Twitter asked Dvorak for the coffee machine he uses and I chimed in asking about the coffee. 20 minutes later I had my answer direct from the man himself.

So, consider, a podcast recorded on a Monday in California, listened to by Fred in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Fred contacts one of the panelists on Tuesday with a question, and has his answer within a half-hour.

Or consider this: Roger McGuinn, yes that Roger McGuinn, twitters. And if you had been following him on Twitter you would have read that Bruce Springsteen invited him backstage at his concert last night, and the two ended up on-stage doing Turn, Turn, Turn. And indeed a video of that duet is already on YouTube, which I'm not linking to, as the video quality is of the Cloverfield variety. But again, here I am sitting in New Hampshire, reading notes from a rock star in almost real time, and then watching a video of what he's talking about a few hours later.

In some ways we really are living in the future.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

R.I.P. Skybus


Not even a year old, the no-frills airline, Skybus ceased operations today. A pity, I liked the airline a lot, recommended it to several people who themselves liked it, and had even considered buying us $10 tickets to Florida for a weekend day-trip this long Winter.

Here's an excerpt from a post I wrote last May on our Skybus experience, three days after the airline began operations...



"...After the Hodags took the regionals, my brother-in-law, Ted, sent an email telling us it was never too early to start thinking about booking a flight to Ohio and - incidentally - he had just read about this start-up no-frills airline called Skybus based out of Ohio that was selling $10 seats from Portsmouth, NH to Columbus. Skybus wasn't flying yet when I checked out their Web site. In fact, they hadn't even received their FAA certification, but after doing some research on the company and assuring myself they were legit and safe, I booked us on a flight on what would be - we hoped - their third day of operation.

Skybus did, indeed, receive their certification a week or so before they were to start flying, and sent us email telling us Flight #2 from Pease Trade Center (originally Pease AFB) to Columbus was departing as scheduled at 9:05 Friday morning, the 24th of May. Peggy and I went down to Pease the weekend before to check out the scene - and a weird one it was. Imagine something like 28 Days Later, but without the zombies. A few cars in an otherwise empty lot, a totally deserted terminal, a sign for the Pan-Am Clipper, a couple of Skybus kiosks. We were relieved to see the last, as it was the only evidence that the airline existed.

On the Skybus

So, here's some basics on Skybus:

  1. $10 Seats? Yep, they do sell $10 seats, a minimum of 10 per flight according to their Web site. But those seats go fast. And whether $10 or not, you need to book early for the best rates. A quick check of the Skybus site today shows the first $10 seats now available on the Portsmouth to Columbus route are in late October. I booked our seats for late May in early April, and it cost $30 apiece one-way. The same seats can cost as much as $110, dependent on the date you want to travel and when you book your flight. Flights from Columbus to San Francisco (really Oakland, as "Boston" is really Portsmouth on a Skybus flight) were ranging from $225-330 in June to $50-$150 in November. Again, you need to book early for the best rates.

    A $120 round-trip for two was a bargain when a comparable trip from Manchester, NH and back would have cost over $600. I should note that the $120 wasn't really $120, though. With taxes, baggage fees and priority boarding, our total round-trip cost for two was $202.60. See #2 below.

  2. How do they do it? First, they sell sponsorships. Our jet was displaying the logo of Nationwide Insurance on the outside and Skybus plans to also sell advertising space in the cabin, too. Our flight attendant closed her little landing speech by noting that if we'd like to sponsor that announcement, please check out the Sponsors page at Skybus.com.

  3. Second, they also offer a variety of geegaws and gadgets for sale during the flight - everything from perfume to chocolates to a kid's knapsack to iPod accessories. Think of the in-flight catalog items you see on most airlines... that sort of stuff. They only difference is you can buy it right then and there.

  4. Third, they really are no-frills, and they charge for everything except the use of the bathroom. Checking in bags? It will cost you $5 a bag, with a maximum of two bags per passenger. Have more than two bags? The price goes up to $50 per bag. If you can carry it on, it's free, but the Skybus space restrictions on carry-on baggage are very tight. Carry-on items can't weigh more than 22 pounds, and can't be larger than 9 inches by 16 inches by 19 inches.

    Want priority boarding - a fancy way of saying you get closer to the head of the line? You can get it for $10 a person. I bought it for us, but I'm not sure it was worth it. However, if you like the Exit seats or want to make sure you're not sitting in the middle seat, it might worth the price to you. I'm not sure how many "priority" seats Skybus sells per flight. All they say is that it's limited. We were with a group of maybe 15-20 people in our priority lane out of 109 people on the flight from Portsmouth to Columbus.


    Want a pillow or a blankie? You have to buy it (on the up side you can keep it). Want something to eat or drink? You can't bring food or refreshments on the plane, since they want to sell everything to you. Meals - ranging from cheese plates to salads to sandwiches to mini-dinners - run from $8 to $12. Beverages run from $2 (coffee, water) to $5 (booze) - about standard or a little higher for airline fare these days.




  5. How's the Experience? Not bad at all, in fact unsurprising, which is meant as a compliment.

    If you fly Southwest or one of the other economy airlines you're not going to find much different on Skybus. You have to walk out on the tarmac and use a set of stairs to get on/off the plane, which may be a little problematic during bad weather. On the other hand, that's what generations of passengers did into the late `60s, and still do in many locations. The jets are brand-new Airbus jets. Since they were just recently FAA certified and are flying a new fleet with experienced pilots, Skybus is as safe - perhaps safer - as any other airline. Peggy commented that it's the first time she ever was on a plane with a "new car smell." Seats are three across throughout the cabin. Leg room is good, maybe a little above standard.

    As I mentioned, the attendants come through the cabin, pushing a cart with all the things they have to sell. There's no hard sell. They ask. If you say, "No," they move on. But I have to say that was the only part of the Skybus experience I found disappointing. While I wasn't expecting a carnival - or maybe I was - I was kind of hoping for some kitsch; Skybus t-shirts, caps, key chains, stuffed animals, that sort of stuff, all the bling they have for sale on their site, in fact. Instead, I was presented with Toblerone candy, iPod accessories, and watches. Personally, I think Skybus is missing the march on this. If I'm brave enough to fly a no-frills start-up, I'd like to have a souvenir, not something I can get anywhere.

    The flights were - again - standard flights. The flight into Columbus left and arrived on time; the biggest hassle was getting through the tiny security section in Portsmouth, which is not set up to handle getting a 100+ people through security screening in any timely fashion. The flight back was delayed about an hour-and-a-half because of some computer glitch, in this day and age, not unexpected. The only - minor - criticism I had was the the Skybus personnel were obviously new at what they were doing, not bothering to announce the gate, flight destination, or number of the delayed flight to Portsmouth, almost causing us to miss the plane, not bothering to change departure signs (our departure gate said our flight was bound for Pasadena further adding to the confusion), stumbling through the announcements, forgetting to deliver coffee. Minor stuff as I said, and all could be chalked up to birthing pains, considering we flew on the airlines' third and fifth days of operation.

  6. Would we fly Skybus again? Definitely yes, especially if it matches up to our travel plans. Skybus currently flies to only a handful of destinations (map above), and like Rome, all Skybus roads lead to Columbus, Ohio. While it's possible to work out a multi-point itinerary (say, Portsmouth to L.A.), it probably won't be the easiest thing to do. You have to pick up and re-check your baggage, for instance, and expect a lengthy layover in Columbus.
Skybus promises more routes are opening soon. But for now, if you're planning a trip to/from one of their destination cities, looking for an economical flight, can book well in advance, and are willing to be a little flexible for the savings, I'd recommend taking a look at Skybus.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Answering the Question That No One Has Asked

What if Charles Schulz had created Watchmen?

Now You Too Can Send Mail to the Past



An idea whose time has come... yesterday.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fading Away

You could claim as one of the casualties of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) the poker blogging community, although that wouldn't be entirely true. The UIGEA certainly did serious damage: it's become more difficult to move money in/out of online poker sites, and perhaps more importantly, to transfer money between various sites. Many poker players - including me - used something like NETeller as a waypoint to move money from a healthy bankroll into a dwindling stake at another site or to create a new account if there was interesting tournament happening somewhere we weren't registered. Can't do that now, and the consequence was that many people just focused on one or two sites, and if/when their bankroll faded at a site, why so did they.

But while the UIGEA probably deserves the lion's share of the blame, you could probably also chalk up the rapidly shrinking poker blogger community to such things as the community getting older - not in the graybeard sense, but in the "growing up and having kids" sense. Two of my favorite podcasts, Card Club on Lord Admiral Radio and PokerDiagram both went down because kids and responsibilities overwhelmed the weekly poker game, which in turn was what drove their respective podcasts.

And, like all fads - and the Texas Hold `Em craze was a classic fad - at some point it seems like everyone suddenly wakes up and says, "Exactly why was I investing in tulip bulbs again?" A lot of people - including on occasion, this person - thought that they might have what it takes to make scads of money from poker, but instead found that whatever it takes to be a consistently successful poker player was beyond them. Me, I found out I was a hobbyist.

Wil Wheaton lost interest in online poker, PokerStars laid him off, the Wheaties collapsed (although several other games sprung up to take its place); and more and more poker bloggers started to cash in - some officially calling it quits, like Maudie, some just fading away, like PokerDiagram. Maudie, btw, has broken cover, come out of the closet, taken off her mask, opened the kimono, or whatever revealing metaphor you prefer, and officially announced her Yes, a blog blog, where she's no longer Maudie, but yes Herself, Kym. I've known about that "other" blog since she started it, but now that Kym has made it public, I can talk about it. Go and visit.

The only other poker blog I regularly followed was Iggy's Guinness and Poker site which has seemed to be in the throes of ugly self-destruction for the past several months. As someone noted...

"... [Iggy] has now basically reduced himself to three things: Quoting in full (although usually not linking) the occasional newspaper article on something poker related, quoting in full articles related to the US presidential race, usually with a very obvious slant of pro-Obama, con-Hillary, and posting poker stories by Johnny Hughes. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of his posts are in the second category. And if you’re wondering what exactly it is Iggy writes himself in all of this, you’re touching a good point. I think my post here today contains more words than he’s written himself in the past year...."
Iggy sheepishly admitted to the truth of the criticism, and then blithely continued on with the same stuff. As far as I can tell, the only reason he keeps G&P going is for whatever income the various affiliate links he has on the site still bring. It's certainly no interest in poker.

I did a quick tour through Maudie's and Iggy's blogrolls to other poker blogs I occasionally visited. A few are still gamely going on - some seem to be writing about things other than poker, the poker players seem to write more about bricks-n'-mortar play than online. Some claim the reports of their death are greatly exaggerated and that they'll be back. A few are - or have - winded it up.

Life goes on.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Standing on the shoulders of giants


Dreamtime has hit episode 52, a very difficult one to produce, as it turned out. I had a touch of the flu last week but still needed to work on the podcast to keep to my "one every couple of weeks" schedule. I decided to do a compendium of Dylan's Season 1 TTRH poetry readings, figuring it'd be easier than creating/researching/writing a completely new podcast, as those take a good 3-4 days to accomplish, even when I'm feeling well. In total, I put maybe 4-6 hours of work into any given Dreamtime, but since I have to do it around paying work, those few hours stretch into several days of real-time.

Anyway, as it turned out going through 52-odd hours of TTRH episodes, some segmented, some not, some with easily found poetry readings, some not, was a much more daunting task than I had planned, and took much longer than I had wanted. I was still working on the podcast this Monday when, for the first time in 52 shows, Audacity completed corrupted the 30-minute audio file to the point of non-recovery. I ended up starting from scratch, but, with the poetry readings now categorized at least I was able to repeat the work much more quickly and eventually posted the podcast on Wednesday.

As of right now Poetry Readings with Your Host Bob Dylan has already broken the Dreamtime record for downloads in a 24-hour period - well over 700. The traffic was so heavy for awhile that it brought down my cheap lil' GoDaddy podcast site for a couple of hours. Episode 52 is already on its way to becoming my most popular show ever if the numbers hold steady. I've also had over a thousand visitors to the site within 48 hours - comparably, I usually get on the average of 1,000 visitors a week.

This is all very pleasing, but it's also a bit humbling, since none of the content for Episode 52 is my own. Of course, I know, and have known from the beginning ,that Dreamtime lives and dies by Bob Dylan and Theme Time Radio Hour - my audience was cut in half almost immediately after TTRH went on hiatus last year. It's to be expected. It comes with the turf. Mr. D. has a much bigger fan base. And all in all, it's not total woe is me. I do get regular fan letters from people who like the background, the trivia, the history I provide through Dreamtime. Episode 52 seems to be a rising tide lifting all Dreamtime boats, too. I've had an increase in downloads of all shows over the last few days, and many new subscribers to the podcast/blog.

So, I have nothing to complain about. But it'd sure be nice to write a Dreamtime that only passingly referred to Bob Dylan and still get that amount of traffic.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"We're FlockdUp: Friend Me!"



The great Merlin Mann's winning proposal for the "worst website ever" at SXSW: the imaginary but very realistic flockdup.com.

I really like the ability to add comments to a video. But apparently it only works as a Wordpress plugin. Another reason to consider migrating the Dreamtime blog over to WordPress at some point.

REALLY Do Not Reply

You know those automated emails we all get from banks, insurance companies, utilities et al;? Many of them use a "donotereply.com" return address because a lazy IT department doesn't want to 1) deal with replies and 2) doesn't want to deal with bouncebacks.

Now here's the scary thing... someone owns that "donotreply.com" domain, and gets all those replies/bouncebacks. Why is that scary? Go and read his blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

If Summer Glau was any hotter, would she explode?


Title and photo courtesy of i09, which is reporting that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will, ahem, be back. We pause for a moment...

YAY!

... TTSCC isn't perfect by any means, but it ain't no Bionic Woman either. Like the little girl with the little curl when it's good, it's very, very good. It deserves a chance to find an audience now that the Writer's Guild strike is over and, if nothing else, at least we're not going to be left (this season at least) with a cliffhanger never to be answered.

One recommendation for Season 2, O TTSCC writers:

1. More Glaubot!

The Last Giant Falls

Arthur C. Clarke, the last of the "Big 3" classic science fiction writers, died early Wednesday morning in Sri Lanka. Clarke was 90.

Like his peer, Isaac Asimov (but unlike his other peer, Robert Heinlein), Clarke wasn't all that good a writer in my opinion. His characterization was terrible, with protagonists so wooden that you'd risk splinters if you had brushed against them. And many of his plots were simply there for Clarke to hang scientific speculations on. But it's that last where Arthur C. Clarke outperformed nearly every other science fiction writer.

"A radar pioneer in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clarke wrote a 1945 article in Wireless World magazine in which he outlined a worldwide communications network based on fixed satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 22,300 miles -- an orbital area now often referred to as the Clarke Orbit.

Clarke's seminal article, for which he received $40, was published two decades before Syncom II became the world's first communications satellite put into geosynchronous orbit in 1963." LA Times Obituary
Besides the communications satellite, a strong argument can be made that Clarke also predicted space stations, moon landings using a mother ship and a landing pod, cellular phones and the Internet.

Thanks to a bout of the flu last week, I've been feeling a bit too mortal and of my age of late. It hasn't been helped by the fact that Dave Stevens - younger than I - passed away, or that a co-worker's cousin - younger than either of us - had a massive stroke over the weekend and passed away a few days ago. Nor that one of my literary heroes, Harlan Ellison, who I knew fairly well when I was a teenager and he he was in his mid-30s has somehow turned 73 - reminding me that I'm in my mid-50s.

Clarke's passing marks another milestone. So many of the giants that shaped my sense of wonder - Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein most of all, Alfie Bester, C.M. Kornbluth, others - have fallen.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Rocketeer Falls


Not the best of news to greet you when you're not feeling all that hot yourself. via Mark Evanier:

"...Illustrator Dave Stevens, best known for his "good girl" art and The Rocketeer, died [Monday, March 10] following a long, wrenching battle with Leukemia...The Rocketeer made Dave's reputation and also spawned a resurgence of interest in fifties' figure model Bettie Page, whose likeness Dave used for the strip's heroine."
The Rocketeer was one of the books that that got me back to reading comics in the `80s, and was, I think, the first independent - published by Pacific as I remember - comic book I ever bought. Stevens, as Mark and I'm sure all other obituaries will note, was not prolific by any stretch of the imagination, but he was one of the best illustrators ever to work comics in my opinion. Sadly, from Mark's report, producing The Rocketeer wasn't particularly rewarding for him... at least financially. I had heard he had moved from comic books to the more remunerative movie storyboarding, including, I believe, the storyboards for one of the Indiana Jones movies. Mark notes that he also did private commissions. Would that I had had the money to commission a Dave Stevens work.

Stevens was also directly responsible for the resurgence of interest in `50s pin-up gal Bettie Page and would later, as Evanier reports, become friends with Page.
"Bettie Page who, though once thought deceased, turned out to be alive and living not all that far from Dave. They met and Dave became her friend and, though he was not wealthy, benefactor. Deciding that too many others had callously exploited her likeness, Dave voluntarily aided Ms. Page financially and even took to helping her in neighborly ways. One time, he told me — and without the slightest hint of resentment — "It's amazing. After years of fantasizing about this woman, I'm now driving her to cash her Social Security checks."
Stevens was 52.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

World's Oldest Animation?




Maybe, maybe not. As the X-Files has it, I want to believe, because it's so cool.

The story of the animation on the piece of 5,200 year-old pottery has been around for at least four years. It's recently been getting a bit of press again because of a new 11-minute documentary the bowl, which was discovered in a grave in Iran by an Italian archaeological team in the late 1970s.

So, did a potter watch images swirl on a wheel in front of him and realize that he could create an animation? Or did s/he just create a set of sequential images which coincidentally happen to animate well?

Monday, March 03, 2008

When is a fake not a fake?

Damn it, we like Robert Irvine!

No graduation from the University of Leeds.

No 360 lb wedding cake for Princess Di

Never cooked for Bush (or any U.S. President)

No knighthood.

No castle in Scotland.

sigh. And the sad thing is that Dinner Impossible is a great show.

Link to BBC story.

Today's Productivity Buster



and new internet meme, via Brainiac...

"... A couple of weeks ago, a Los Angeles-based Flickr user who calls herself Karakrio (Occupation: Live Concert Production) started a Flickr group photo pool titled "CD Cover Meme." She challenged other Flickr users to "make your own CD cover" using the following formula:

1. Generate a name for your band by using WikiPedia's random page selector tool, and using the first article title on whichever page pops up. No matter how weird or lame that band name sounds.

2. Generate an album title by cutting and pasting the last four words of the final quote on whichever page appears when you click on the quotationspage's random quote selector tool. No matter what those four words turn out to be.

3. Finally, visit Flickr's Most Interesting page -- a random selection of some of the interesting things discovered on Flickr within the last 7 days -- and download the third picture on that page. (Even better: Click on this link to get a Flickr photo that's licensed under Creative Commons.) Again -- no cheating! You must use the photo, no matter how you feel about it.

4. Using Photoshop (or whatever method you prefer), put all of these elements together and create your very own CD cover, then upload it to the CD Cover Meme photo pool.

As of this writing, over 1,000 CD covers have been generated by 650 Flickr users."

The weird thing, as the Brainiac columnist, Joshua Glenn, notes is how much these random, made-up elements resemble real CD/record covers. The French theorist Baudrillard called this the "precession of simulcra" problem, where the original seems like a copy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Expendable


So, imagine my surprise yesterday when the lil man from the Post Awful drives up with a big package, which I just assume is something that Peggy ordered until I look at the label. "Think Geek?" I think to myself. "Where do I know that name from?"

And then I see that it's addressed c/o me to "Jack Bals" at "the fhb blog" and I start laughing.

"Yeah, crewman. Just go back behind that rock there while Bones, Spock and I go in the other direction, okay?"

"Y---eeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

"He's dead, Jim."


THANK YOU, MIMI!

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