Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Fri 22 Jan 2010 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Technology

Blippy: You know, for kids.

When I first heard about Blippy, the site that lets you broadcast, Twitter-style, every purchase you make with your credit card, I reacted like any sane person. “Stupid idea,” I thought. Pass.

A few days later, it occurred to me that this is actually a really smart idea. You see, Blippy isn’t for me. But it’s perfect for college students.

I’m about to generalize here, but I think I’m mostly right. Today’s college students love to use credit and debit cards. (Years ago I remember watching in horror as a student in line ahead of me charged a single bagel. Now I get the sense everybody in every college town buys everything with plastic.) Students also love to share every snippet of information about their lives online (see: Facebook). And above all, they love being in constant contact with their parents, who are often long distances away.

Enter Blippy. It’s about charging everything and sharing everything. And you can imagine its usefulness to parents who want to track how their kids are spending their money. It’s tailor-made for college students and their families!

Why is this good for Blippy? Because college is where many consumers begin forming their communications habits. I entered school in the pre-Facebook, analog-cell-phone era, so I’m still a little bit conservative about what I share online, and even how often I call home. I was groomed to think there’s a meter running whenever I make a long-distance call, ticking off a dime a minute. It’s a powerful feeling to shake, even in the age of unlimited long-distance. People just a few years younger than me have adopted radically different habits. They’re more likely to call home several times a day, rather than once a week. Students who started using Facebook in college are now adults using Facebook at work. (Clutch move, Facebook.)

I don’t know exactly what sort of business Blippy will become, but a real-time data stream of what people are buying has obvious value. Potentially, it’s vastly more useful than Twitter. The hurdle is getting a large segment of the public to voluntarily sign up for it. It sounds like the hurdle could be solved first among college students. Blippy just needs to rope in the kids and bide its time.

Wed 20 Jan 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Stray data, Technology

Thought of the day

“An ocean cable is not an iron chain, lying cold and dead in the icy depths of the Atlantic. It is a living, fleshy bond between severed portions of the human family, along which pulses of love and tenderness will run backward and forward forever.”

—Henry Field, writing of the first undersea telegraphic cables, quoted in The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage.

Wed 6 Jan 2010 8:09 am   //   Posted in: Technology, TV

Nobody wants to see “Jersey Shore” in 3-D

Item! ESPN and Discovery launching 3-D TV networks.

There’s lots of buzz this week about 3-D TVs at CES. I don’t buy the hype. Here are 5 reasons 3-D TV is a non-starter.

1. The Internet. Barring any huge leap forward in technology, 3-D video (which requires a steady, high frame rate) is incompatible with Internet streaming (which adjusts frame rates depending on your connection speed). As such, 3-D TV is a naked ploy by the entertainment industry to push viewers back toward buying DVDs and cable subscriptions, rather than enjoying free online video. It won’t work. Trying to steer the freeloaders back to paid video once they’ve figured out Hulu and Netflix and torrents is pushing water uphill.

2. Glasses. Nobody has solved the 3-D glasses problem. Are you and your buddies going to hang around a sports bar watching football, drinking beer, eating wings, while wearing identical sets of flimsy plastic glasses? No. Glasses are for squares.

3. Production costs. It’s waaay more complicated and more expensive to produce TV shows in 3-D than in 2-D. Amateurs can’t do it. But for years, the trend toward digital video has meant cheaper TV shows, often with user-submitted content. This has been both good (CNN’s iReport) and bad (“Jon & Kate Plus 8”) but there’s no sign that really expensive television is due for a rebound.


Mon 21 Dec 2009 1:00 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

How the media broke and how we’re going to fix it

Hey media people: Didn’t this decade suck? So many good brands are out of business, so many good people are out of a job. The media crisis of last two years has been worse than simply a recession-related thinning of the herd. We’re witnessing a famine. Entire species will go extinct.

No serious person expects Denver or Seattle to ever have two daily papers again. Broadcast is suffering (can anyone justify The Jay Leno Show?). Ad agencies are in various states of chaos (BBDO Detroit!). Crowds still flock to the movies and concerts, but CD and DVD sales have evaporated (along with Tower Records and the Virgin Megastore). Online content seems like it’s in the fast lane to mediocrity.

Gone are the “Citizen Kane” days when owning a broadcast license or a printing press automatically made somebody rich and powerful. Fans of good reporting—the hard, watchdog stuff—are standing in shock as we witness the collapse of journalism.

What the hell happened?

To understand, let’s first remember that we are in the early stages some fundamental shifts in human communication. The networked computer represents a social disruption as significant as the oceangoing ship, or the airplane. Historians won’t be able to put this into perspective for some time.

But for now, I think we can look back on the last 10 years and see two important trends that accounted for the implosion of mass media.


Thu 17 Dec 2009 7:59 am   //   Posted in: Technology, Videos

“Friendster was only meant to exist temporarily”

I can’t decide who comes out looking worse in this devastating Onion video—Friendster or archeologists!

Related post: Friendster 2.0

Mon 14 Dec 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Technology

It’s all going to be handheld

Since around 1999, I’ve had my computer connected to my stereo to play music. If I’m having company over and I want to program an evening’s worth of music, I create a playlist. The software and my music collection have both improved in the last decade, but the technology has remained essentially the same.

Until right now. Saturday night I had a holiday party and some friends figured out how to use their iPhones to connect wirelessly to my computer and hijack my playlist. Using DJ mode for iTunes (a feature I didn’t even know existed) they were able to make requests and queue up songs. It just worked.

Using your iPhone as a remote control for a computer might seem like a parlor trick (as if I have a parlor!), but I think it foretells bigger things. For most of your ordinary computing tasks (e-mail, reading the news, playing music), your iPhone is just as powerful—and easier—than your typical desktop or laptop computer. Theoretically, a device like an iPhone could be connected to a larger display and a keyboard and occupy the place on your desk where your computer sits now. When that starts happening, look out. Everything will be smooth scrolling, auto saving, and seamless connections to the network. Hard drives and file trees will go the way of command prompts and IRQ conflicts.

The future of computing is light, fast and collaborative, with users pulling data from the cloud rather than saving it on energy-intensive hard drives whirring away on their desks. It won’t matter where the songs are physically stored, the music will just seem to flow through your iWhatever to the speakers. Which is a little bit scary. I’m not a fan of ceding control of my stuff, and handheld computing usually means trusting companies to store our data. (Will Google, Amazon and Comcast be around forever?) But there’s probably no stopping it. It just makes too much sense.

Apple will keep improving the iPhone, Google is working on its own smart phone, and some viable e-reader/tablet thing is bound to arrive eventually. The handheld device is going to become the machine that connects us to everything. Now, if we could only come up with a name for it that didn’t sound as clinical as “handheld device” or “smart phone.” How about “computer”?

Tue 24 Nov 2009 7:24 am   //   Posted in: Technology

New site is go!


Over the last few days, I’ve been phasing in a new design on and the History Eraser Button blog. Here are some ideas that influenced the changes:

  • I moved everything to a new server.* I now get more storage for less money, and have access to new bells and whistles—notably, the ability to run cron jobs, which are scripts that operate in the background on a timed schedule.
  • On the blog, I wanted a layout wide enough to accommodate the new 853-pixel-wide YouTube videos. The template you see here is exactly 903 pixels wide, plus 25 pixels of padding on each side, for that exact reason.
  • Increasingly, people arrive at individual blog posts through Twitter and Facebook, rather than following links from the blog’s home page or Then they exit after viewing one page. That’s not how most bloggers want it (we want it to be a destination, and we want to be sticky), but readers are not like grazing cattle. They are like bees hopping from flower to flower. This is the reality of the web today. I’d rather accommodate readers than fight them. Thinking along those lines, I removed the top menu bar to make the blog look as clean as possible, and bumped the navigation and other less-important stuff from the sidebar to the bottom of the page. I also removed the Twitter feed from the blog, since it was distracting—and I made it more prominent on my main home page.
  • The old home page, centered around a live feed of headlines, was an impressive build given my limited programming skills. But it was cluttered, clumsy and slow. The new design is simpler. (The font treatment was influenced by New York City subway signage.) I also wrote new code that checks the weather report and Twitter without slowing down the loading of the home page.
  • I was getting tired of blue.

Of course, every web site should be considered always under construction, so more changes are still to come. My travel page needs some fixing up—a map?—so I’m going to tackle that next. You might find bugs and quirky formatting for a few more days while I keep messing around with stuff, trying to make it better. Please send me an e-mail if you notice anything strange. Why do I bother with this stuff? I find noodling with web pages to be intensely relaxing. is a sandbox where I can try new things and learn new skills without really risking anything. Thanks for visiting.

* I’m still using, a hosting company in Connecticut that has provided consistently good service for 8 years.

Thu 15 Oct 2009 11:46 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Internet pollution

This afternoon, I considered writing a blog post about Jaycee Dugard, the 29-year-old kidnapping survivor who’s on the cover of People this week. Pursuing a photography angle, I Googled some phrases related to Jaycee Dugard images.

Do not do this! Unscrupulous web site operators, exploiting the popular interest in Dugard, have seeded Google with stinking heaps of rotten stuff connected to this poor woman’s name. I clicked on a link that looked like a profile of Dugard, but the site launched a cascading series of virus warnings and then tried to transfer an executable file to my computer. (I clicked no and got out of there.) Google Images brought me to a horrific white supremacist message board that happened to have a picture of Dugard on it. And of course, I found all sorts of “news” sites that were just re-posted snips of text from other sites, wallpapered with blinking and irrelevant ads, tapping the gushing sewer pipe of Internet advertising.

I eventually decided not to write the post, for a variety of reasons. But this is a good occasion for another one of my occasional strolls around the Internet media landscape. It looks polluted. We’re having a quality crisis.


Wed 7 Oct 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

The fast and the furious

Yesterday I read an AP story that contained a familiar idea:

“The Associated Press is considering whether to sell news stories to some online customers exclusively for a certain period, perhaps half an hour, the head of the news organization said Tuesday.”

Hey, didn’t I suggest a time-locked pay wall for newspaper sites a few months ago? Yes, I did:

“I propose charging a premium subscription fee for readers who want the news before anyone else. It works like this. All the stories on your newspaper web site that are more than one hour old are free. A subscription fee (say, $50 a year?) grants readers access to the newest stories.”

I won’t repeat my whole post, but if you’re curious you can read it here.

Tue 6 Oct 2009 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Over!, Technology

Death of the telephone

In 2000, I spent a semester as an intern for Accuweather. My job was to call radio stations and read them weather reports in my best radio voice. I often spoke through a clear connection called an ISDN line, which took the form of a black box with a few knobs and buttons, connected to a microphone and headset. A conversation with a radio producer across the country sounded as if we were in the same room.

It was so cool that I knew it was only a matter of time before everyone would talk to each other on high-quality digital lines. Calls would become more personal and intimate—Think of the whispers, the breaths, the inflection of a dry joke. You could play music for friends and family, or share the ambient sound of the birds chirping on your porch. I knew once people had tried it, they would never settle for a regular phone again.

As we now know, I was totally wrong! We’ve grown to hate our phones so much that we’ve reverted back to typing. It’s the revenge of the telegraph.