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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for January, 2006

A little surprising to see the arrogance of this Congressional Committee

Posted by direwolff on January 31, 2006

How’s this for spin…

Tech companies won’t attend D.C. meeting

By FOSTER KLUG
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

WASHINGTON — Representatives from several powerhouse technology companies say they won’t attend a congressional briefing Wednesday meant to shine a spotlight on U.S. Internet businesses operating in China.

Critics have been blasting American companies for helping China’s communist government enforce censorship and silence dissent in return for access to a potentially lucrative market.

If you read this story, one possible and perhaps likely response to this might be that it’s outrageous for such companies as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft to be supporting censorship and other harsh regulations being imposed by the Chinese government in order to do business there.  It’s an outrage isn’t it?  Look, even Rep. Chris Smith, Republican chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on global human rights is quoted in an interview as saying:

“This is not benign or neutral,” the lawmaker said of companies acceding to China’s demands. “They have an obligation not to be promoting dictatorship.”

Given that I don’t actually know the opinions of the other members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, I’ll only direct my comments at Rep. Smith, as I find it reprehensible for him to dare to make such comments when the very country we live in today is now riding dangerously close to similar behavior under the guise of freedom and democracy.  Was it not only weeks ago that we found out that our government was spying on its own citizens in the name of terrorism but against our nation’s laws?…even with secret courts already in place to maintain the covert nature of these investigations?  Was it not only two weeks ago that the Justice Department requested usage information from Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft without offering any significant legal justification for these requests?  Was it not Google that fought this request?!  Is it not the U.S. Patriot Act that requires any requests by our government for information on any person in this country must be kept secret and violating this secrecy is punishable by law?  Where does this guy get the balls to make his comments?  It’s arrogant and inappropriate given our own situation.

Doesn’t China have a right to regulate what its citizens see in the same way that the U.S. is now regulating pornography online using child pornography laws that beg the question?  What about our own White House administration prohibiting journalists from publishing pictures of the returning caskets of our fallen soliders based on some false moral indignation?  Whatever the right thing is, it’s applicable to both countries, not just China.

In my opinion, the tech companies have put themselves in the position to act as utilities and in so doing are not participating in the political agenda of countries.  Having said that, I’m not happy when they disclose American citizens’ information here, no more than I like it when Chinese citizens’ information is disclosed there, but having said that, our government officials need to behave with greater humility, and develop an appreciation for resolving those issues in our country before throwing stones at another, and rebuking the companies who at least in some cases are doing their best to keep these political interests in check.  Google for example, does tell Chinese users when information has been censored so they are aware of it.  They were also the ones to push back on our government’s information requests.  I’d love to see Rep. Smith’s list of donors and special interests to get some more insight into his character.

From every one I know who has been to China, specifically to their biggest cities (ie. Shanghai, Beijing, etc.), they come back enthralled that these are bustling metropolis’ with all of the diversions found in our cities.  Who do our elected officials think they are in reproaching how the Chinese goverment runs its country?  There’s much to be done in our own country and much to do to help the people here gain trust in their government.  They should probably focus more on this before going around dictating how other countries ought to regulate their citizens.  Enough is enough!!!…do I sound mad?…I’m not, just a little frustrated at seeing culturally incensitive behavior being espoused in the context of morality…again.

***2/1/06 UPDATE:  We can now welcome two more congressmen to the hypocrite/arrogant hit parade (where the hits just keep on comin’):

CA Rep Tom Lantos
——————–

“Companies that have blossomed and make billions in this country, a country that reveres freedom of speech, have chosen to ignore that core value in expanding their reach overseas, and to erect a Great Firewall to suit Beijing’s purposes,” Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, told the caucus.

AND

OH Rep Tim Ryan
——————

Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, said the companies were “squandering their leverage and U.S. moral authority” with compromises that allowed them to operate in China’s fast-growing market.

Read about it here.

Posted in Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Google on mobile devices, ready for prime time

Posted by direwolff on January 29, 2006

Since the week before Christmas I’ve been putting my new crackberry 8700c through its paces. Part of this has meant getting on the Web and seeing if there were enough utlitarian applications that actually helped me deal with every day tasks. More importantly, how these apps translated into mobile use.

While John Battelle in his book “Search”, has coined Google as being the “Database of Intentions”, my every day Web searching really doesn’t help get clarity on this matter. Sure, I find what I’m looking for, but I’m not giving much thought to intentions during those interactions. However, on a mobile device it’s altogether a different story. While today was not the first time that I had this feeling and experience, it was certainly noteworthy.

Lil’ Pinot & I were out and about having decided that we would go get a couple of board games to play with dinner guests. Scrabble would be in the mix as well as one or two others. After going to two malls in Corte Madera and coming up craps for game stores I decided to pull up my trusty RIM device and go to Google.

My first query was “games, Marin”. As you imagine, got lots of noise back on the results.

Second query was “”games store”, Marin”. This was getting closer but still the 1st 3 results were a bit off still.

Third query was “”games store”, Marin, “board games””, which resulted in a top result (as seen poorly in the picture above) of “San Francisco Bay Area Board Game Resources – Spotlight on Games”. In clicking through on this result, the listing that came back from the destination site read: “Marin County (north of San Francisco): Gamescape, San Rafael, 1225 Fourth Street”, followed by other listings in different parts of the SF Bay Area. The address was hyperlinked to Mapquest (unfortunately, that part didn’t work).

This blew me away. In 3 queries I got to exactly what I was looking for and it was within 10 minutes of where I was. Here was a simple use of the gneric search engine in a mobile situation where time was of the essence, where I wasn’t accessing any of the designated “local” features, but was able to resolve what I was looking for quickly and effectively. While there are a lot of efforts to add a local flair to search, I can frankly say that if you know how to use the engines today, you probably don’t see what the issue or the need for further localization is. Content owners are also getting better at making sure that location information makes up part of the sites. Suffice it to say, this was useful and when combined w/Google Local for Mobile which provided me a perfect interactive map, I’m sold that these devices are now ready for prime time.

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Technorati test: “http://technorati.com/claim/9sn29i85ev

Posted in Just Fun, search & categorization, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Choicepoint settles with the FTC for $15M. 162K people should be saying “are you kidding me?!”

Posted by direwolff on January 28, 2006

In case you have been following this story, Choicepoint, who according to their Web site is the “nation’s leading provider of identification an credential verification services”, sold 162,000 people’s information from their database to an identity theft ring…oops!  Here’s the press release on the settlement between the Federal Trade Commission and Choicepoint.

For a solid review of the issues here checkout Marc Rotenberg’s (Executive Director and President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)) testimony before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives.  This testimony is not for the feint at heart.

If you’re so inclined, you can also access the FTC’s complaint and stipulated final judgment here.

What’s insane about the settlement is that at $15M results in less than $100 per illegally sold identity.  Already 800 people have suffered identity theft from this fiasco.  For any of you that have been a victim of identity theft, do you believe that $100 would relieve the actual cost to get your life back in order as well as the real costs of the fraud committed in your name?  Not to mention the anxiety this causes.  Leaving this later issue aside, the real costs of identity theft to any single individual are generally significantly more than $100, and while only 800 people have had this happen from this incident, to allow Choicepoint to have violated so many people and breaching the law to such an extent and basically get less than a slap on the hand, is frankly preposterous.

The scary part to me, is that with a little more investigation, I just may find out what Choicepoint’s campaign contributions to those involved in determing their fate was made last year, which would make me really sick (so I’m not gonna look).   While I despise what Choicepoint stands for, I despise even more that it’s not about trust since no one has ever willingly given the information they hold on all of us, but it’s purely about greed.  If nothing else over the next decade, what our populus has be educated on is the need for individuals to have control and ownership over their own information.  It may not prevent this type of thing from happening, but at least we can decide the terms under which we provide our information to data vaults.  As well, we would also get to benefit in the use of our information in ways that do not happen today….as it should be.

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Not for the performance anxious… :-)

Posted by direwolff on January 24, 2006

Now how’s this for a public toilet in Houston, TX.  The picture on the left side is the view from the outside, and the one on the right is obviously from the inside.  Crazy…  Go here for for more info on this.

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Domestic spying goes beyond the NSA & Shrub’s activities…

Posted by direwolff on January 22, 2006

  Had to curtail my glee and enthusiasm from today’s earlier Steeler win after reading the following story from Newsweek…

The Other Big Brother
The Pentagon has its own domestic spying program. Even its leaders say the outfit may have gone too far.

This is all reprehensible, and any one stating that U.S. citizens now live in anything less than a police state merits to have their heads examined.  If this doesn’t infuriate the whole populus, then we’re in for a scary ride.

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GO STILLERZZZ!!!

Posted by direwolff on January 22, 2006

Yes, this afternoon the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos to become the only 6th seeded team to ever make it to a Superbowl.  Until 1993, I lived in Pittsburgh for 11 yrs, far from the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steeler dynasty of the ’70s.  Many of these years were the franchise’s darkest, but Steeler fever is infectuous and you can’t live there without really loving what they represent to the community and becoming a fan, even when they weren’t very good.  I’ve heard the same about Green Bay Packers and their community, but having lived in Pittsburgh I can only speak for what I witnessed and felt there.

Anyway, I feel invigorated by this win and how well they played, and though my first loyalties have remained with the New York Jets, I’m really really happy to see the Steelers going all the way.  With so many life friends of mine in Pittsburgh, I also know the jubilation that they’re all experiencing at this time.  This win also brings back fond memories of my time in Pittsburgh getting to learn about the cultures there, the history of the steel mills, and the revitalized white collar industry.  It was a great place to live with good hearted people and I will never forget it.  Thanks to the Steelers for creating a situation to bring me back, if only vicariously.

Now win the Superbowl in memory of Art Rooney!!!

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The Department of Justice (or is it Injustice) is at it again…

Posted by direwolff on January 19, 2006

These child porn fears that the DOJ has been polluting our nation with seem analogous to the Intelligent Design scam being perpetrated by the religious right.  It’s like using a little misdirection, or a disingeneous means of attaining a whole different set of reprehensible goals than what is being espoused.  In this latest case it’s about the extension of a police state where all dissent can be quashed and privacy lives as a figment of our imagination, not the reality we were taught to believe in (though that’s long been gone).

Anyway, enough ranting, read it for yourself, government is now coming after our online information

I wonder if this post is violating some law tied to something that might be harmful to a child?

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Perspectives and business models for Entrepreneurs

Posted by direwolff on January 18, 2006

Lately I have been spending a lot of time on the matter of perspectives and how they influence our thinking.  But more importantly perspectives also drive behavior.  Business process re-engineering consultants when considering ways of changing employees’ behavior know to consider how employees view the situation, otherwise said, “tell me how you’ll measure me and I’ll tell you how I’ll act”.

In that vein, I want to give an example of the impact of perspectives on business models.  I also want to end by suggesting that fee-based business models are far from dead on the Net, it’s just a matter of perspective.

Let’s consider a market that as of late has been fairly well understood and concentrate on two of its participants.  Blogging applications.  Today, one of the dominant players in providing end-users with blogs is Six Apart.  They offer three products, two of which were developed in-house, Movable-Type & Typepad, and the third came through a recent acquisition, LiveJournal.  Movable-Type is a software application which one installs on their own server and generally used by a more sophisticated user needing to better control their environment.  Typepad is a hosted solution, but with a number of very elegant capabilities which tends to be choice for those sophisticated bloggers interested in a high quality product but don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing a server.  Finally, LiveJournal comes in as a slightly lower-end hosted offering starting for free, but with an upsell option to paid accounts with enhanced features and capabilities.  It’s the perfect starter platform from which to grow into a more sophisticated environment as the blogger gets more comfortable that this is a worthwhile activity.  Some people never grow out of the free the service, but that’s OK too.  It also has some very nice family friendly privacy controls for who can view and access the blog content.

So what we see in Six Apart is a tools company.  They have focused on providing a quality product for content producers and are willing to lay out a clear value proposition that they believe people should pay for.  Even their lower end LiveJournal starter platform on the free side, is merely the hook to get people upgrading to their fee-based versions of this product.

Now let’s contrast this with Google and their Blogger product.  Blogger, like LiveJournal provides a free service that enables the lower end of the market to enter the blogging activity with little to no barriers.  It’s feature set is rich, but falls significantly short of those from Six Apart’s products.  However, for the masses that want to experiment or perhaps remain at an amateur level sharing primarily with their friends and family, their product is adequate.  As most of us understand today, Google is a media company, and their business model is derived from advertising.  Hence, for Google, Blogger presents yet another fertile environment on which to place advertisements.  They have been savvy enough to position this as a shared revenue proposition with those blogging, but the fact remains that the business model here is advertising.  The object of their game is to get as many people up and running and creating blogs on which they can place ads.

Does Google have to compete on the rich feature set needed for A-list (or even B & C-list) bloggers?  Not likely as it’s not catering to them.  Actually, Google is catering to a user that would not likely have ever paid to access a blogging platform because they weren’t making a business of it.  They’re catering to the masses and there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, the reasons for the value proposition differences between their platform and Six Apart’s also become clear.

Of course, in Google’s model it was easy for splogs (spam blogs) to find a home especially since it was in Google’s interest to have these emerge (more blogs with more ads).  It’s also easy not to find many must read blogs using that platform.  Whereas no self respecting A-list blogger would be caught dead using Blogger because it doesn’t meet their needs.

So where does that leave us?  Back to the idea of perspectives.  In other words, when evaluating Six Apart’s blogging offerings versus those of Google’s one has to consider that given their differing revenue models and the incentives and features are driven from these perspectives the two will head in very different directions.

Now from the perspective of a prospective customer, more specifically a dedicated blogger, artist, merchant, or professional content provider of any sort, Six Apart would have to be the primary choice even at the low-end.  Because regardless of the current feature set both companies offer, you would know that Six Apart is focused on providing high quality tools for content producers given this is the core of their proposition.  Google, would be more of a neat-o service for messing around or getting a few friends to share stuff, kinda like MySpace.  To quote the co-founder of Pyra Labs who developed Blogger who more recently co-founderd Odeo, Evan Williams, at a recent presentation, “it’s really the difference between the “Long Tail” of content (professional content providers) and “Personal Expression and Communication” (people sharing w/friends and family)”.  This is dead on what’s happening on MySpace as well.

What I like about the Six Apart perspective and corresponding business model is that they’ve shown that in a world where every one wants it free, and if asked will tell you they wouldn’t pay for it, providing a quality product that truly serves a need and solves somebody’s problem, can garner a fee.  All of the Six Apart customers I’ve spoken to, whether it be Movable-Type, Typepad or LiveJournal users, have all said they were very satisfied with the services they were receiving.  Can’t say the same for all Blogger customers.  This also means that Six Apart is not affected by cyclical trends or advertising industry recessions since they garner a stable monthly fee.  Even if their revenues were to stop growing, unless attrition out-paces growth, they’re not ever likely to receed.  Can’t say the same thing for Blogger (good thing they’re part of Google).

So for all you entrepreneurs out there exploring businesses in user-generated content, keep in mind that in applying perspectives, understand that the advertising model isn’t the only one out there…it’s just the one if you don’t think you have an offering valuable enough that any one would pay for it.  It may also be a good model if you have some magic formula for generating tens of millions of page views because at eCPM (effective cost per thousand) rates floating in the sub-$1 range off of AdSense you’ll need over one billion page views to generate $1M…yikes.  Note also, that when people don’t pay for it, the quality of the content can suffer and the advertising dollars are of commensurate low quality. Don’t forget, you can always introduce an advertising model to a highly valued product, but its not as easy to introduce fee service to a low valued product.

Posted in Entrepreneurship | Leave a Comment »

Madonna’s “Confessions on a dance floor”

Posted by direwolff on January 10, 2006

Growing up as a club kid in New York City, has kept me into the dance scene well beyond my contemporaries (as Chris Rock tells it, “the old guy in the corner, you know the one, he’s just a lil’ too old to be at the club”).  While I’ve always dug the underground scene I also liked some of the more “poppy” type disco music.  House music was derived from this and electronica, with Trip Hop being the slowed down version which I also love.

To this day, the clubs with the best DJs mixing up the most solid beats in these genres have been gay friendly clubs that focus on a good mix of folks, have a solid multicultural distribution of people, with people that really get into the music and can move to the beat.  It’s with this heart that this new Madonna album totally catches my imagination.  Don’t know who helped produced this album for her, but it totally throws me back to a cross between Studio 54 days in NYC and dancing to heavy House club beats with reckless abandon.  Mix in that trippy feeling and a couple of the mixes were tough for me to drive to without letting go of the steering wheel to throw my arms up in the air and start jamming in my seat.  Something about Madonna’s voice that makes me knock ten to fifteen years off my age (at least in my mind).

She’s obviously not for everyone, just as club scene wasn’t for all of my friends over the years, but for those who get into moving to some awesome dance grooves, just throw this album on and let it run through to the end.  You won’t regret it.

Posted in Just Fun | Leave a Comment »

Cingular scam or post office disdain…hmmm

Posted by direwolff on January 7, 2006

  So it’s been about 16 days since I purchased the new crackberry from Cingular.  Like most phone deals these days it came with a $50 rebate offer.  What’s strange however, is that the rebate process, in addition to requiring the serial number information off the original box to be cut out and included along w/a copy of the purchase receipt, also requires all of this be “snail-mailed” to a special Cingular address.  To any one accustomed with rebate offers, this doesn’t sound so strange, but let’s think of what’s going on here and whether this rebate is indeed a good faith act on the part of Cingular (OK, I can see heads nodding, “dude, they know some percentage of the people are never going to go through the trouble…they’re not trying to make it easy”).

In order to deal with this issue, let me go down a slightly different path.  With all of the encouragements, both in terms of practicality and in terms of bill providers marketing this, I no longer get most of my bills by snail-mail.  I also no longer pay them that way, using my bank’s BillPay service.  In other words, I now have very little interactions with our postal system.  I still have a batch of stamps, but since my last use, postal rates have gone up twice.  This most likely because of the very actions that I’m describing here given that now the postal service has to sustain itself on much fewer people using them.  You may notice that the envelope in the picture is a bit beat up and has no stamp.  The reason for this is that I’ve been carrying it with me every day to the office in hopes of making it to the post office 1 block away to get it stamped and mailed.  Given that I’m writing this 16 days into my purchase, you can tell that I’ve been very unsuccessful in these attempts.

Last week, I actually made it to the post office one day, and to my amazement, during the peak lunch hour, there was only one teller working and a line of some 20-30 people.  Wha-wha-what?!!!  So not only are postal rates climbing but less personnel is being deployed.  You can imagine that I wasn’t waiting in line for the hour it was going to take.  Looked over at the automated stamp machines, and the two that were there carried handwritten “Out of Order” signs on them.  This couldn’t be happening.  Now there are less repair people to fix the post office stamp machines…all this because I no longer use the postal service.  And given the depth of the cut in services, it appears that I’m not the only one who’s reduced usage has so deeply affected their ability to continue to provide a quality service.

Which brings me back to Cingular.  If it’s getting harder and harder to mail in a rebate offer, are they truly scamming us here with these offers.  As I thought about it, at the time of my pruchase in the store everything required to satisfy the rebate offer could have been determined and provided without incurring any additional costs to their system, while making me a much happier customer.  At this stage, they just come across like scammers.  In past such experiences with cell phone companies, they some times go so far as to explain that they need this info to go to another department (or subcontracting company who handles rebates), but considering that they have all of the info they’re asking of me, who are they kidding here?

Anyway, any one facing a rebate offer that requires a snail-mail component and doesn’t offer a Net-based way of addressing this, know that you’re being scammed.  It’s dishonest and goes to the heart of what it means to violate people’s trust.  Trust is an issue that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to and hope to cover in a future blog posting, but suffice it to say, this plays a role in its erosion.

What’s ironic here, is that the device I bought is a direct contributor to my reduced use of the postal service…doh!

Posted in Just Fun | Leave a Comment »

 
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