Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Memo to Steve Jobs: Sell Ipods preloaded with music

Last week while in San Francisco we stumbled across the Apple store, and I told my wife I'd like to give it a visit. She agreed. Next thing I knew, she was plugged into an Ipod, listening away to sample music.

The Ipod clearly caught her attention. She loved the sound -- and Apple cleverly had a nice sample of music, including songs she liked.

A couple of years ago I bought her an original Ipod for Christmas, and it didn't work out:

  • The Ipod was too big. The new Mini, she feels she could carry.
  • The software for Windows, at the time licensed by Apple from Musicmatch, didn't suit her.
  • There was a hardware problem with the unit; the disk skipped periodically.

But now I'm thinking maybe it's time to try again. As I wandered the Apple store, I stumbled on the U2 Ipod, co-branded with the band, featuring autographs of U2 band members on the back. Hmm, I thought -- why are there no U2 songs on this unit? Wouldn't you ship the U2 Ipod with U2 music?

As we left the store, Judy joked that she'd have to hire a teenager to load all the songs she loves.

Lightbulb! Many people who buy Ipods want to load new music. But many folks want to load their favorite songs and albums from the past. And for many folks, those albums are on scratchy LPs in the basement, for which they have no turntables to play.

And even if you have your 100 favorite albums on CD, it's going to take time to load them all to your Ipod.

So here's the idea, Mr. Jobs: combine the Ipod and Itunes ideas. Let me order an Ipod over the Web, and let me buy the songs or albums I want up-front. Offer a sliding scale: if I buy 1000 songs, sell 'em to me for a fraction of your 99 cent fee. Offer special deals for older material, so I don't have to spend big bucks to get my favorite Allman Brothers material.

I can easily imagine someone spending $300 for an Ipod and $300 to get the 100 albums of all time they love pre-installed. As they discover new music, they buy it from Itunes.


Sunday, November 21, 2004

Interesting critters we found in Monterey

We strolled to see the sea lions our last day in Monterey, and found a place on the Coast Guard station where you could get quite close. A volunteer docent explained some of the behaviors of these highly-social creatures. One of the critters struck a pose for me...

We encountered another highly-social creature on our walk, and we found him again later, back at the hotel:

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Great quote from a Google guy re the new MSN Search

Today at Internet Librarian, Greg Notess hosted a panel disucssion with representatives from Yahoo, Google, and AskJeeves so they could brag about improvements and answer a few questions. At the end Greg put up a slide with the new MSN Search, bringing laughter, and asked each rep to comment. The Google person, whose name I did not catch, was introduced as a member of the Crawl team at Google. His answer was short and sweet:

“Microsoft has a history of getting a lot better when they enter competitive markets. I expect to see lots of improvements in MSN Search.”

There were a few titters in the audience among those of us who recognized a deliciously backhanded compliment.

I buttonholed the Google person to ask him why Google over-emphasizes the importance of an entry when it's on the main page of my Blogger blog, then loses track of it altogether when it falls into the archives. I think I know the answer to this: when an item is on the main page, PageRank sees the various links to my blog, some from popular sites. But when the article falls into the archive, it's no longer deep linked from anyone prominent, so PageRank disses the deep page.

Here's an example: Google for:

radioactive cat

... you won't find my article on this from the archives in the top 500 hits:


... but if you had done the same search when my radioactive cat posting was on my blog's home page, Google served my article as the number 1 hit. It went from the most important article on the planet related to radioactive cats, to nearly non-existent. Why?

Yes, you could argue that older items in a blog deserve a lower ranking -- after all they are older. Still, I claim this is a PageRank failure: it over-emphasized the article's importance just because it was on my blog's home page, and now it under-emphasizes it. Since Google owns Blogger, they could think of ways to fix this.

This is an example of a more fundamental flaw in PageRank: it measures the popularity of each Web page -- each URL -- and doesn't take into account that the page is part of a site whose popularity should be measured as a whole.

I gave him a business card and he said he'd get back to me. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why cell phone providers will render mobile Wi-Fi meaningless

This week I'm in Monterey, California, attending the Internet Librarian conference. The conference is -- surprise -- at the Monterey Conference Center, which is served by two connected hotels, the Portola Plaza Hotel, and the Marriott.

So we check into the Portola, and they offer in-room high-speed Internet access via Ethernet. So I sign up -- ten bucks a day. To prove my geekness, I then go to a nearby Staples and buy a Netgear access point and set up my own Wi-Fi access. Takes a little finagling to clone my laptop's MAC address, but soon I've got Wiggins Wireless Monterey operational.

Next day, I find that the conference center -- connected to the hotel, a 50 foot walk from the lobby -- offers Wi-Fi, which they want me to sign up for. Another $10 per day.

Then, I go to the adjacent (connected by hamster trail) Marriott, where some sessions are held -- and they have their own Wi-Fi network, available for -- you guessed it -- $10 a day. So they collectively want me to spend $30 a day for high-speed Internet access, when one event spans a few hundred feet of conjoined conference space. Four days at the conference, times $30 = $120. Give me a break!

What would it be like if you had to sign up with a local cell provider every time you moved 100 yards? The cell phone industry figured out the roaming problem 20 years ago. My Verizon phone works just fine in any of these buildings -- or anywhere in California. Wi-Fi access on the road, by contrast, is a Balkanized market, with each local hack provider making deals with each building or space. It's a friggin' mess. Wi-Fi is much talked-about, and very useful -- in environments where an organization controls the airspace on a corporate or university campus. Road warrior Wi-Fi is a hit-or-miss hodge-podge, more suited to ham radio operators than serious business travellers.

And the cell providers are going to eat those local Wi-Fi posers for lunch. My old 1xRTT service from Verizon offers ubiquitous Internet access -- anywhere the Verizon network works -- for $80 a month. T-Mobile offers a similar service, albeit with much poorer coverage, for $30 a month. I don't have to whip out a credit card and sign up with the Cannery Row Tin Can Wi-Fi Company every time I move from building to building.

Suddenly it dawns on me: the cell providers will be the winners when it comes to mobile Internet access. Wi-Fi is for someone you have an ongoing relationship with: your employer, your public library, or the sysadmin of your home network.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Wonderful graphic in Washington Post explains Red vs. Blue -- county by county

The TV networks and major news rags concentrated on which states went for Bush and which went for Kerry. If you read serious newspapers, e.g. The New York Times, you saw coverage and maps that teased out demographic details. But the Washington Post came out with a graphic that really depicts that the electorate is split fundamentally urban vs. rural, merely by showing which counties across the country went which way. The graphic shows the margin of victory county-by-county nationwide (click for full size):

Observe how few counties nationwide Kerry won! A very small number of counties with large populations totaled up to Kerry's popular vote, nearly equalling Bush's. Virtually every rural county in the nation went for Bush.

As they say, you do the math. I'd like to see charts like this for other recent Presidential races, including Clinton's two wins. This is much more informative than the by-state Red vs. Blue maps.

Locked out of Gmail

Twice today for about 20 minutes I've been unable to log into my Gmail account. Most of the time I saw this error:

...but a few times I saw this more worrisome error:

No service can be perfect, but Gmail is so good that many people I know rely on it for all their e-mail, personal and professional. Since it doesn't store any of your mail on your own computer, when it's down, you are dead in the water. "Please try again in a few hours" does not inspire confidence.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Feeling bummed? Try some comfort food. How about some meafloaf?

Bummed by the election results? Gray weather got you down? It's time for a little comfort food.

Meijer, the local grocery giant, is trying to branch into upscale frozen foods. (Um, OK, oxymoron.) I bought their meat loaf offering a couple weeks ago:

But when I went to open the, um, er, delicacy, the side panel revealed that this was something really special, a culinary delight I'd never heard of before:

I have to confess, it was the best meafloaf I ever ate.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The New York Times hands election day commentary to bloggers

The old media continues its fascination with the new media, specifically the world of bloggers. Today's New York Times literally gave one column each to its regular columnists, David Brooks and Paul Krugman, and polled a bunch of bloggers for their thoughts on the election.

It's neat that the Grey Lady pays so much attention to the unfolding blogosphere, but on the other hand isn't it odd to pick your commentators based on their medium? "The Times polled the anchors of the major TV networks." Or "The Times asked talk radio jocks for their comments." Or "The Times asked tabloid editorialists to comment."

Note how much real estate the broadsheet print edition gave the bloggers, compared to what's allocated on nytimes.com:

Paradoxically, the bloggers jump out in the print edition, and are obscured in the online one.

In any event, you can expect The Times and the rest of the old media to continue to watch, quote -- and perhaps envy? -- bloggers.