Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.
"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist
E-mail me: pmurray [at] despammed.com
Sunday, March 31, 2002
Yahoo've got spam. If you're a Yahoo member (with an e-mail account, etc.), you'll be thrilled to know that Yahoo changed the default "marketing preferences" to indicate that yes, you want to receive advertising e-mail. Read about it here, and change those preferences here.
Stop this now. Thomas Friedman explains why the Palestinian tactic of using suicide bombers must be be stopped. (In a nutshell: because if it works for them there...)
Busted? A guy in Sacramento has done some digging, and claims that 95% of all the annoying "work from home" signs that you see on telephone poles, etc. can be traced back to Herbalife. He then proceeds to demonstrate what an incredibly bad idea it is to be business with them. (via camworld)
Friday, March 29, 2002
Cha-ching. WSJ reports that as consumers, we are developing a taste for upscale things. Cheap still works too. But anything in between, forget it.
CRM-114. As part of a series where people in the movie business watch and comment upon their favorite movies, The New York Times sits down with Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men in Black) to watch Dr. Strangelove. You gotta love a man who likes to end letters to studio executives by quoting General Ripper.
Sen. Hollings, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Federally Mandated Digital Copy Protection. Salon points out that even technology experts who really want to protect intellectual property think built-in copy protection is a lousy idea, in U.S. prepares to invade your hard drive.
Thursday, March 28, 2002
Democrats vs citizens. Regular readers -- both of them ;) -- know that I take potshots at a lot of Republicans. Not all of them; usually just the hard-core conservatives. Just thinking about Rep. Tom DeLay makes my blood pressure soar.
(I identify with neither party. I am soundly in the middle. I believe in the most profound thing Jay Leno ever said: "Every time I think I'm a Democrat they do something stupid, and everytime I think I'm a Republican they do something greedy.")
Well, it is time for us to call Democrats on the carpet for a hideous piece of legislation currently in the U.S. Senate. Four of the five Senate sponsors of the "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA)" -- which is really about sacrificing your rights and mine as consumers for the benefit of copyright holders -- are Democrats (Hollings, Feinstein, Breaux and Inouye). (The lone Republican is Ted Stevens.) Not incidentally, that list in is order of of the contributions that they received from the entertainment industry in 2000. All of this is pointed out by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, who concludes his article this way:
If the Republicans have any sense, they'll be making an issue of this in the next elections, painting the Democrats as hypocrites who have sold out to Hollywood, and who are trying to reach, Big Brother-like, into the hearts of American televisions and computers. But even if they don't, a lot of Web denizens will be saying it, and it's likely to have a lot of resonance. Because it's true.
I'm thinking of starting a new page devoted solely to slaying the atrocious CBDTPA.
Update: Now Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents Burbank, CA (surprise!) has introduced a House version of the CBDTPA.
Billy Wilder, R.I.P. Check out the list of incredible movies that he wrote and directed. He will be missed. (NYT obit, NYT special section, WP obit, Hollywood Reporter, WP appreciation)
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
Castaway. Read about the real inspiration for the tale of Robinson Crusoe.
An endorsement, of sorts. Some Republicans I can live with. I mean, look at who's criticizing them. ;)
Tick... tick... tick... Hopefully you noticed the new banner at the top of the page. I have become a fan of Internet radio ever since (thanks to deregulation) a New Jersey company bought Detroit's only classical music station and changed its format. Now the U.S. Copyright Office has authorized such exorbitant fees that virtually all Internet broadcasters (except the big ones, of course) will have to shut down. Read more in this Salon article, and click on the banner above to find out what you can do.
Read it. Think about it. San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor raises the same questions and concerns that I've been talking about.
Senatorial stupidity. How dumb yet absurdly all-encompassing is the Hollings-Feinstein CBDTPA bill (requiring anti-copying measures on virtually all electronic equipment)? Declan McCullagh demonstrates.
By the way, where does Sen. Hollings think we live? Cuba?
Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Arrrrrrgh. Are ads like this really intended to endear the company to me? It can't be brand awareness -- it's for Intel, for crying out loud, not some little start-up.
Alfred E. Newman follow-up. Reader Don Hosek pointed me to this cartoon in Salon.
I overheard my brother reading this page last night; he was quite disgusted when he followed the link to the LA Times article and saw the Land's End catalog cover. I think it had more impact on him than me -- a generational thing, I suppose. But I'm getting to the point where nothing surprises me about marketing anymore.
It was too good to last? PC prices are starting to rise. This is particularly true of anything using a flat-panel display.
As long as we're on the subject, read about the biggest PC company you've never heard of, in Taiwan.
Friday, March 22, 2002
AOL DOH! AOL Time Warner is retreating from a corporate policy that required its 82,000 employees to use the AOL mail system at work, after months of complaints about lost and misdirected messages, inability to handle large attachments, kicking users offline, locked out, etc.
The e-mail problems have led many staffers to resume pre-Internet habits. Employees say they are faxing and using Federal Express more than before. They also are picking up the phone or wandering down the corridors in search of human contact. “If all goes well, we’ll never have to use e-mail and we’ll have to start talking to each other again,” says one magazine writer.
Indiana 74, Duke 73. So I suppose Duke will be canceling the reception they already had scheduled in Atlanta on the first day of the Final Four (snicker). Yes, it's schadenfreude on my part; I don't even watch sports, but I've heard about how obsessed with basketball Duke is. Maybe now they'll worry about more important things, like learning. (via fark.com and Metafilter)
Thursday, March 21, 2002
Truth in advertising doesn't apply to Congress. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-SC) has introduced his bill doing the bidding of Hollywood and the music industry.
The bill, called the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), prohibits the sale or distribution of nearly any kind of electronic device -- unless that device includes copy-protection standards to be set by the federal government.
Even copies for personal use that you are legally entitled to make.
Another reason to loathe the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA): The Church of Scientology™ has used the DMCA to force Google to censor its critics. Google has stopped indexing pages of a leading anti-Scientology website. Why? Indexing the pages means they are cached on Google's servers; the material is dispute has been copyrighted, so Google could apparently be sued for infringement -- and the CoS is a track record of being quite litiguous. (Ironically, the CoS uses the same "Googlebombing" strategies as its critics to artificially boost search results for its main site.) This has huge implications; as someone observes, it's the censorship that you don't see that is the most worrisome. (Here's a CNET report and a Wired News report on the same story.) Don't mess with my Google!
Update: In case you're wondering, here are the pages that Google was forced to remove (code courtesy of boingboing):
Don't let the door hit you on the way out. A respected older host has been evicted from the long-running and pioneering evening TV show that he created many years ago. The show was never flashy, and has always been basically a bunch of talking heads for 30 minutes. So the host is being replaced and the show retooled in an effort to attract younger viewers. Ted Koppel from Nightline? Nope, Louis Rukeyser from PBS's "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," produced by Maryland Public Television.
Wednesday, March 20, 2002
So that's why I get lost. The magnetic North Pole is moving by 10-40 km per year; if it continues at this rate, it could leave Canadian territory by 2004 and end up in Siberia in about 50 years. Or not.
Bud Selig runs amok. If this article about Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's recent actions is accurate, baseball is doomed. (via rc3.org)
Rashomon. Read Michael Moore's account of what happened at a booksigning event to promote his new book Stupid White Men in San Diego. Read it all. Then read this account (via MediaNews) (be sure to finish it, too). Apparently Mr. Moore's penchant for sensationalism is alive and well. Update: Moore must really get under the skin of James Lileks. I can't find much to disagree with here. (via TVBarn2) And Moore has reportedly e-mailed a "former fan" that "everything [columnist Peter Rowe] wrote was a lie, and i plan on taking action." We'll see. Update 2: Here's an account with photos by a fan who was there. (via Metafilter)
The Soviet moon rocket. New photos have appeared of the N-1, the massive rocket that the Soviet Union hoped would enable them to beat the U.S. to the moon. 10 were built, of which four were launched, all unsuccessfully.
It seemed like a good idea at the time... Business 2.0 magazine describes The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.
Arnold "Remake" Schwarzenegger. On the heels of the news that Ahnold will be in the remake of 1973's Westworld comes news that he will also be in a remake of Charlton Heston's 1971 film The Omega Man (under the novel's original name, I Am Legend). I'd say this makes it official: Hollywood and Arnold are both out of ideas.
Commercializing the Smithsonian, cont'd. "The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has quietly removed the name of aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley from its movie theater and renamed the facility for the Lockheed Martin Corp. The change comes weeks before the global technology company is giving the museum a gift of $10 million."
Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Alan Keyes vs the First Amendment. While the point he was trying to make was understandable, editorial cartoonist Ted Rall's "Terror Widows" cartoon did a pole vault over the line of good taste. (Read Rall's defense here.) In his syndicated column, Alan Keyes labeled it "a kind of pornography" (why must so many conservatives use this this term so loosely?) and suggested that censorship was not out of the question ("when serious and sustained attempts to undermine public opinion on a matter genuinely essential to national life cannot be resisted by other means, governmental action may be necessary."). You would think that of all people a talk-show host and columnist would argue to protect the First Amendment, but no. And this man wanted to be President. (via MediaNews)
What, me sell out? Guess who's become a hot advertising pitch man? Hint: he has help from the usual gang of idiots.
Rough justice for a poor school board. When a Kansas high school teacher flunked 28 students for plagiarism, parents complained and the school board changed the grades. The teacher resigned in protest. But the backlash has begun. Teachers are talking about quitting, students are booed during attending sporting events at other high schools, and the principal (who had backed the teacher) is resigning. The deans of Kansas State University have criticized the decision. Best of all, the school board is being investigated for violating the state's Open Meetings Act, and may face a recall vote. While it's unfortunate that so many innocent people are being affected, I'm glad to see this weak-willed school board catching heat for their pathetic decision.
Monday, March 18, 2002
Hallelujah. Michigan state Rep. Marc Shulman (R - West Bloomfield) has introduced an antispam bill. HR 5777 would target bulk e-mail with deceptive subject lines and return addresses, and using third party resources without permission; it's modeled after a law in Washington state. I'm not sure how much good it will do, but we need to start somewhere, and we're getting no help from our federal government.
Sunday, March 17, 2002
Be careful what you ask for. NYT presents the clearest picture yet about how Arthur Andersen got into so much trouble so quickly.
Saturday, March 16, 2002
Note to self. Don't steal author Hunter S. Thompson's work. Or else. (Sensitive readers beware.)
Strict Islamics at it again. This story from BBC News is truly incredible:
Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.
Can anyone in their right mind defend this?
Windows, no ®? Microsoft is suing Lindows.com, a company that's trying to make Linux run Windows applications, for trademark infringement. Microsoft was seeking an injunction, but a judge has denied it, saying there are "serious questions regarding whether 'Windows' is a non-generic name and thus eligible for the protections of federal trademark law." Whoops. (via /.)
Not too much disclosure, please. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) has introduced S.1940, which requires companies that issue stock options disclose them in financial statements if they want to take the (already existing) tax credit. Companies could choose not to disclose them, but they would give up the tax credit. He has four bipartisan co-sponsors: Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
It's a laudable goal. Legendary investor Warren Buffett, former SEC chairman Arthur Leavitt and many others have criticized companies that make extensive use of stock options, because they are incurring financial liabilities without disclosing them. Think about it: how can you and I make intelligent investment decisions when we don't know all the facts? We can't. So why is the Senate's Republican "High-Tech Task Force" trying to stop it?
The past and future of recorded music. Kevin Kelly presents an rather optimistic view of the future of recorded music in the Sunday NYT Magazine. His main point is that while copies can be free, there will be things worth paying for; those things are just vastly different from now.
Friday, March 15, 2002
Another unnecessary remake. Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to star in a remake of Michael Crichton's 1973 film Westworld. While I would never claim that the original is a cinema classic, I thought it was quite fun, even the last time I saw it (maybe two years ago). I don't see how they can improve on it, other than the special effects. Ahnold will be playing the Yul Brenner part (you're not really surprised now, are you?).
Thursday, March 14, 2002
Help protect your fair-use rights. DigitalConsumer.org is trying to get Congress to pass a six-point Consumer Technology Bill of Rights to protect the legitimate rights of honest consumers who buy copyrighted content legally. You can easily send a fax from their site to your representative. You can read about the issue and the group in Walt Mossberg's WSJ column.
Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Wait until Wrigley hears about this. British scientists have found that chewing gum can improve memory.
Ghost in the machine. Some people using Office XP on PCs equipped with Windows XP are observing strange behavior, such as unexpected words appearing in their documents. There is an explanation.
Dissed by William Shatner. I've always wanted to take a stab at writing a movie, which may explain why I enjoyed this account by the original screenplay writer of the movie Showtime, who was (and is again) a newspaper reporter (via Obscure Store)
Cue the Psycho music. Like the "dead" villain at the end of cheap horror movies, Netscape appears ready to pop up and reignite the browser wars. AOL is reportedly testing its 8.0 software with Mozilla/Gecko (aka Netscape 6) as the underlying foundation, instead of IE. We all knew this was coming when AOL bought Netscape -- they did cough up almost $10 billion for it, after all -- but I think we just forgot. Or moved on. And since AOL has 34 million users (pause while I roll my eyes), anybody who coded their web pages for IE only is looking at self-induced headaches.
Mozilla, btw, leaves out all the corporate synergy crap that the Netscape 6 browser includes. You can try version 0.9.9 if you like.
Yawn. So Yahoo is launching some big wonderful but mysterious thing in 2 hours, according to this page. That would be 3:00 am ET. Makes sense to do it in the middle of the night, I guess. But with every new "this will be HUGE" spin campaign that comes along, I become more jaded. It seems like most of the truly useful things on the net were launched quietly, if for no other reason than to make sure they worked. I suppose that Yahoo expects the big thing to make them money, so they want to hype it. Whatever. Update: It's a sale from their merchants. Gee, let me try to contain my excitement.
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Lobbing a hand grenade into the Apple camp. We have friendly Windows vs. Macintosh debates at my office; I use Windows because it is so dominant and that's what I've learned, but I respect the Mac. (Well, not the cartoonish look of OS X, but that's another story.) My more serious problem is that PC Magazine testing awhile back showed that Macs display web pages slower, and that's what so many PCs are used for today.
Anyway, Apple has argued that its computers are actually faster than Windows PC running Intel or AMD processors with significantly faster clock speeds. Now a German computer magazine is challenging this; in some of its tests a relatively old 1 GHz Pentium III was faster than a dual processor G4 Mac. Here's The Register summary and the original source article.
Product (cough, cough) placement. Tobacco companies arranged for their cigarettes to be prominently featured in hundreds of movies released from the late 1970s to late 1980s. Yet predictably, Jack Valenti "said nothing he had heard about it led him to believe there was any evidence of continuing efforts by tobacco companies to pay to place their brands on screen. And he scoffed at the idea that Hollywood stars could be bought for the price of a carton of cigarettes."
Monday, March 11, 2002
The rules are different for big executives. In his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett criticizes corporations that make sure executives make money with stock options. And he's absolutely right.
Saturday, March 09, 2002
Good news, bad news. Drug maker Schering-Plough has decided to make Claritin available over the counter. (They didn't have much choice; the patent protection ends this year, and two other companies had already announced plans to produce generic versions.) So I won't have to make my annual trip to the allergist just to get a prescription renewed, but the cost won't be covered by insurance. While my actual costs won't change much, I'd say this is a net good for me (and many others) because it will reduce the hassle factor.
Friday, March 08, 2002
Interesting. Here's a quirky link. IBM research engineers have created the glass engine, which enables you to explore (i.e., listen to) the music of composer Philip Glass in a wide variety of ways. You can select music by it's name (as you would typically do), by category, or by one of four different moods. (The moods were assigned to the works by his longtime producer and sound designer, Kurt Munkacsi.)
It's intriguing for several reasons. I first encountered Glass' music when I saw the film Koyaanisqatsi in the early 1980's. (Someday I'll put down my thoughts about that, too... probably when the DVD comes out this fall.) I like a lot of his compositions -- although other people have been known to run screaming from the room -- and this gives me a way to try out pieces I haven't heard. Even if you don't like the music, play with the interesting interface for a few moments and see what you think about it. If you do find the music interesting, browse the rest of the site while you listen.
The glass engine only works with IE 4.5 and later, and they recommend a medium- to high-bandwidth connection. And read the directions!
Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire? Paramount is going to remake the classic film The Manchurian Candidate. I simply can't imagine it being better than the original (currently #59 on IMDb's Top 250 Movies).
Hmmmmmm. Is it from Scientology or the Weekly World News? See if you can tell the difference.
Two-Face. Not a Dick Tracy villain, but MPAA chief Jack Valenti, who alternately cries poor or brags about profits when it suits him.
Copyright running amok. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft. You've probably never heard of it, but as lawyer Chris Sprigman puts it, "the issues at stake in Eldred are vitally important to anyone who watches movies, listens to music, or reads books." I could try to explain it, but he does a much better job here.
Thursday, March 07, 2002
Yikes. You've undoubtedly Googled yourself or someone you know (i.e., you've searched the web for a name using the Google search engine). So how would feel if you Googled yourself and the only listing to come back was a page in Russia that contained your name, address and credit card number? It happened.
Tuesday, March 05, 2002
A neat story. The producers of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack have found the man who, when imprisoned in 1959, recorded a song that was used in the movie and CD, and given him a big royalty check.
Bowdlerizing, 21st-century style. ABC digitally added a bra to Lana Wood in a short scene of the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever Saturday night. See for yourself. What's odd is that there were no "naughty bits" (to use the Monty Python phrase) visible in the original movie. (And this is from the network that brought you Dennis Franz's butt on NYPD Blue, and the Victoria's Secret fashion show in prime time.) Where will this technique stop? At what point does digital manipulation of entertainment go too far?
Where do I sign up? I have allergies (ragweed is a big one) that make me truly miserable in Spring and Fall. I've considered allergy shots, but the regimens take a shot a week for 3-5 years to complete and are not always effective. Now Johns Hopkins researchers have an experimental ragweed treatment that appears to work with just six weeks of weekly shots. More trials are in the works; if they succeed, the FDA approval will take a few more years.
Monday, March 04, 2002
Musician... actor... inventor? Harry Connick Jr. had an idea. Why not replace the paper sheet music his orchestra uses with computerized displays? Apple was no help. But he has friends who helped him work it out. And ta-da, now he has a patent. Read the NYT story... and make sure you get to the last two paragraphs.
Sunday, March 03, 2002
Hollywood the bully. I may sound like a broken record when I rail against entertainment companies that want to take away our rights, but I'm not alone. Columnist Dan Gillmor's observations after last week's hearings: "What Hollywood wants is to embed technology into every digital device, including software, to guarantee that no bit of copyrighted content could move from machine to machine. Say goodbye to fair use. Goodbye to privacy (they'll monitor every reading and viewing and listening of every bit of content). Goodbye to libraries, and so on."
Hey, what say we check out who owns Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-SC), who ran the hearing and has introduced a bill to require the use of electronic systems on computer hardware to enforce copyright?
Top industries contributing to his re-election:
Top individual companies:
News Corp. (Fox, etc.) (#6)
Time Warner (#12)
Walt Disney Co (#13)
Friday, March 01, 2002
You asked for it! Metaphorically, anyway. Plus, I liked that reference better than "That's Incredible!" But I digress. You have to see the series of pictures about a tugboat. Trust me. (This is likely a mirror, because I seem to recall reading that the original poster was overwhelmed with traffic and way over his monthly limit.) (via Doc Searls)
California Secretary of State sends spam - again. Bill Jones, who's hoping to become the Republican candidate for Governor of California, has used spam a second time. A spokesman says it's not spam, it's free speech. So why did they send it from a Korean company's open relay? Please dump this idiot, California voters.
Making sure the Federal government survives.WP reports that President Bush has ordered 100 employes to live and work at two secret locations outside Washington... just in case.
Oh, the irony. So ABC is talking to David Letterman, and Ted Koppel is furious. ABC may find itself in the same position NBC did years ago: trying to keep two people who want the same timeslot. But Letterman has always insisted that he would never want to bump Nightline. Hmm. But the real question is, how could CBS be so dumb in its negotiations? (And who leaked this to both Bill Carter and Howard Kurtz? Someone's trying to send a PR broadside!)