Thursday, July 31, 2008

IBM needs help branding Pensieve

So IBM has announced a new "technology" to scan business cards. It sounds like a novel idea, scanning something for digital reference. But take a look at their video:

Techcrunch says it reminds them of the early '90s, but I don't think that's going far enough. Compare the Pensieve video to this one, c. 1978, for RCA Selectavision:

They may have been forged by the same hand. Or perhaps it's actually the same vocal talent, 30 years later. Oddly enough, the Selectavision video is so much more compelling. The Pensieve video (and perhaps, the whole project) rings like a desperate cry for youth sensibilities at IBM. Speaking of 20,000 Leagues Under Sea...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Get a free college education at iTunes U?

Moments ago I just received an email from iTunes, which like most, I was about to delete as typical bacn. But I hesitated just long enough to let the news they were sharing pique my interest:

iTunes: Forever curious.

After going to the iTunes U store, I saw immediately the incredible utility that they were offering: a wealth of multimedia content that could essentially supplant a paid college education. Given, not all topics are covered, and not all covered topics will be in-depth, but the wealth of knowledge there is considerable. And most amazing, it's all free.

I went looking for fine arts, thinking I'd fill in the gaps of my art history knowledge, but the first thing I saw was Steve Martin above "Funny People / 92nd Street Y". Clicking through brought me to three one-hour segments featuring Martin, George Carlin and Carl Reiner talking about their crafts. For a first impression, wow. 

iTunes U: Funny People, 92nd Street Y

The only drawback I can see is becoming overwhelmed by the scope of options to feed your head. In fact, it's kind of like standing in the New York library without knowing a good book. This might be viewed as the kind of public service that the FCC used to require of television for renting our airwaves. This is truly an important moment in digital distribution: the first real global library of digital content. Thanks Apple. You had me at "Get". 

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I dreamt of Neil Young and Bob Dylan

A series of ongoing celebrity encounters that occur, literally, in my dreams.

Last night I dreamed that I was in some summer camp hall and Neil Young was performing for a small gathering of people. I was on next, but I didn't have my guitar. I'd be playing on a piano, which I rarely practice and have scarcely performed on. When it came time to play, I went to check out the piano, a small baby grand with no top. I sat down and noticed the keys were not ivory, but spines of old books lined all up and down the keyboard. When I formed a chord with my fingers and pressed on the corresponding books, the piano would sound. Of course there were no white or black keys to tell notes by, just a bunch of book spines.

I improvised a little rag while my mind raced for songs I knew on piano. The books actually played okay. Bob Dylan was on next, so I thought I'd play a take on "Like A Rolling Stone," which has simple enough chords. At the other end of the room there was a perfectly normal piano, so I asked if we could switch the keys from the good piano for the books - the thought didn't occur to me that I could just play the good piano. The keys couldn't be switched. By now it was getting awkward with the audience.

We found an old Wurlitzer electric piano that had normal keys, and I settled on playing a piano interpretation of Metric's "Combat Baby." But one leg of the Wurlitzer was wonky so it kept falling over backwards.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breaking SAG news from LinkedIn Company Profiles



I do not recommend downgrading from an iPhone

The most awful of circumstances led to me downgrading from an iPhone: I lost mine on a flight from Brussels to Cannes in May, and they would not let me back on the flight to look for it. This was followed by the most awful of announcements by Apple: the 3G iPhone would not be available until July. This resulted in the most awful of necessities: I had to use a Motorola Razr for one month. Aside from the functional retardation this induced, it also enabled AT&T to screw me on the upgrade pricing for the new iPhone.

For quick reference, here's what my old Razr looked like at the end of its productive life, about a year ago:

Verizon Razr V3c, post

Admittedly, the shape it was in was purely my fault. I take pride in taking good care of my electronics, but I beat the Razr senseless out of frustration with its pathetic Verizon software, molasses-slow response, and DRM'ed restrictions. Then I tore it apart looking for the SIM card. There was no SIM card, and you had to subscribe to a paid service to transfer your data to a new phone. Want to use your own USB cable? You can't — the cable is "not approved" and you have to buy one from Verizon. Want to change the boot screen so you don't have to watch an ad for Verizon's Vcast service everytime you turn on your phone? You can't. Want to turn off the annoying low battery sound that beeps every two minutes if you need a charge? You can't — even if you set the phone to silent mode. Want to remove the cheesy default desktops and trashy gifs to save space on your phone? You can't. You can't, you can't, you can't. That's Verizon's idea of a customer's rights to the products they buy.

Having downgraded back to the Razr for a month, I must say: old phones seem positively Cro-Magnon after the iPhone. I was excited when I got a Razr in early 2005. I forgave its fumbly design flaws at first, liking the slim and sleek ideal, but eventually grew to hate fighting against it to accomplish basic tasks. Having now used the iPhone, where basic tasks are simple, complex tasks (like three-way calling and looking up a contact during a call) are logical and intuitive, and extended functionality like Google Maps and websurfing are just a touch away, downgrading to any other device is like regressing to Windows 1.0. It literally feels decades behind, where the simplest task like changing a ringtone, entering contact info or sending a text is a fight against a maze of menus and unlabeled buttons.

In downgrading to the dark ages, the unkindest cut of all came when I tried to return to 2008: AT&T refused to give me the upgrade pricing to my 3G iPhone. This pricing is guaranteed for anyone who bought the first iPhone, $199 for the 8GB and $299 for the 16GB. But because I had to use a loaner for a month, they said there was no iPhone on the account, and thus I had to pay $499 for the 3G. As the guy at the Apple Store said, "AT&T is screwing you." I spent about half an hour on the phone with support, looking for the intelligent person to make the exception. But they blamed "our contract with Apple." Apple, contrarily, said, we can't make any alterations to the price because AT&T controls all pricing.

This is a fight I plan to take to customer service ferociously until I get a rebate. That's right, I bought the 16GB at the inflated price, because I can't go on using a cell in the time of cholera. But for AT&T to penalize me $200 for losing my phone illustrates their basic inclination to screw the loyal customer.

Stealth Burger Reviews, International Edition: Scanburger

It's always a pleasure to sample international fare, particularly when it aspires to the complex chemistry of American fast food. Recently Stealth Burger Reviews reveled in Scandinavia's answer to the cultural hegemony of American hamburger chains: Scanburger.

It certainly was Scan-tastic to find a fast food drive-thru on Finland's scenic byways, though we stumbled on it quite by accident when pulling over for a rest stop. By the looks of the parking lot, the Scanburger phenomenon has yet to catch on over there. That's our Land Rover, and we were indeed the only party partaking of the Scan. I told myself it must've been packed at lunchtime.

Scanburger parking lot Scanburger drive-in sign

The Scanburger menu is a delightful ramble of cultural variations on standard hamburgery. Some highlights include the Ruisburger (hamburger on dark rye), Kebabburger (kebab meat fashioned into a hamburger), and the Kasvisburger (a large onion-ring in place of meat). In addition, it seems Finns like eggs on their burgers, though we didn't venture to try any. Consider the Kerrosburger (kerros meaning floor or story, layer), which appears to be a Big Mac with eggs:

Kerrosburger meal Scanburger menu

We ordered the American Classic burger, but oddly enough, they were sold out. Apparently they really are crazy for American culture over there. We settled on the XXL-ateria (ateria meaning meal), since Americans need everything bigger. What we got was a Big Mac, but in the dimensions of a Whopper. It was huge — as the sign notes, "2x90g patties". And the fries come in an excellent cubical box, meaning more room for more fries.

XXL burger

While the patties were clearly pre-fab and frozen, the pickles were thicker than American fast food, the lettuce was fresh and the flavors were good. The main challenge was managing the delicate principle of patty alignment, by which one patty of a Big Mac is pushed further and further out the back with each bite if not aligned perfectly with the other. By the end of the XXL, the top patty was totally gone with a few bites of the bottom patty left. But other than that, the Scanateria was money. Perhaps it tasted better because we'd eaten liverwurst and Karelian pasties all weekend, but I'd venture to say Scanburger could hold it's own against the big American chains. For a regional variation on the mass culture of fast food, Scanburger might even be considered an improvement.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Are you paranoid about a SAG strike?

There are people who can help.

Check out this informative guide we've put together over at LinkedIn, and download your own copy here.