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May 31, 2002

Latest Slash Install Reveals Discrepancies Between Documentation and Practical Advice

Dave Aiello wrote, "For the past couple of days, I have devoted myself to building a new Slashcode installation using Slash version 2.2.5. At times, this has been frustrating because I have found a couple of situations where the available documentation suggests one course of action, while experienced Slash users recommend something completely different. Here are a couple of examples:"

  • Installing mySQL: The book Running Weblogs With Slash says: "Though MySQL makes binary distributions for most operating systems, building it from source avoids several hassels." I took this to mean that I should build mySQL from the source code. As I noted in an article I later submitted to Ask Slashcode, the mySQL documentation suggested that I use the binaries that they provide on their web site instead of building from the sources.

    Feedback on this question clearly indicated that I could use the mySQL-compiled binaries quite safely.

  • Perl Module Installation: The Slash INSTALL file suggests using the CPAN shell to install Bundle::Slash. What the documentation doesn't say is that you have to choose specific options in order to get Bundle::DBD::Msql and Template-Toolkit to build successfully.

    The Template-Toolkit build problem is documented on Slashcode. The simplest way around it is to choose not to perform the DBI tests when doing the build tests for this module.

    I resolved the Bundle::DBD::Msql problem by choosing to only install the mySQL DBD and not include the legacy code to make older Perl programs work. I have not found another posting on the Internet that specifically addresses this problem.

Dave Aiello continued, "This experience indicates that people doing new Slash installations still have to be resourceful and look for some of their answers on the Internet, not just in the book or the distribution documentation."

May 30, 2002

Wordless Ceremony Marks Symbolic End of WTC Recovery

At 10:29am today, the World Trade Center recovery effort ended with a simple, wordless ceremony. An empty, flag-covered stretcher was carried by representatives of the organizations participating in the recovery. The stretcher was placed in an FDNY ambulance for a procession to Canal Street, 15 blocks away.

The ambulance was followed in procession by representatives of the NYPD, FDNY, and PAPD Emerald Societies. Next, a tractor trailer removed the last remaining steel column from the World Trade Center. When the truck passed the reviewing stand, Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, and other politicians joined the procession. Hundreds of recovery workers brought up the rear.

May 29, 2002

New GPRS Blackberry Devices Face Several Obstacles to Wide Deployment

Martin O'Donnell pointed out this CNET News.com article that reports on the deteriorating outlook for the new RIM Blackberry mobile phone and Internet devices. These devices are designed for GPRS networks, the high speed data service that piggyback on GSM cellular networks.

According to the article, the Blackberries are hindered by the delayed deployment of GPRS services by the major mobile phone carriers in the United States. But also, and perhaps more ominously, there are serious issues with the price of GPRS service itself. The article says: "...carriers are still figuring out how to price data services for their new networks, which adds uncertainty for customers who have grown accustomed to the original BlackBerry and its $40 monthly fee for unlimited e-mail use." So far, no major cellular provider has offered a flat rate data service for devices like the Blackberry.

Ironworkers Take Down Last Structural Steel at WTC Site

The Associated Press reported that the last girder standing at the site of the World Trade Center was taken down overnight and placed on a flatbed truck for removal during another ceremony Thursday morning. According to the article, "Tuesday's ceremony was the first of three for construction workers, rescue workers and families that make up a gradual farewell to the round-the-clock recovery operation."

Electronic Freedom Foundation Uses Innovative Means of Combating CBDTPA

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has produced a short animated cartoon called Tinsel-Town Club that attempts to educate non-technical people about the changes that the entertainment industry is trying to make to limit its own cusomers' legal rights. The focus of this cartoon is the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), a bill which would make the following activities illegal:

  • playing your CDs on a desktop computer,
  • creating legal copies or mp3s of the music that you own to play in your car, or listen to while you exercise, and
  • creating mix CDs of music you've paid for.

What do these activities have to do with either broadband Internet access or digital television? Lobbyists for the entertainment industry have convinced some members of Congress that the Internet is not suitable for entertainment as we know it today. And, in order for the entertainment industry to expand its use of the Internet, individuals must not be able to copy digital entertainment from one computer or one media to another. In the lobbyists opinion, many Americans will violate existing copyright law if given the chance.

The EFF believes that the CBDTPA amounts to a substantial reduction in citizens' property rights. Their web site says, "This is not the way copyright law is supposed to work." The site goes on to suggest that the people contact their representatives in Congress and indicate opposition to the CBDTPA.

May 28, 2002

NY Times Publishes Huge Article on Conversations with People Trapped in WTC

On Sunday, The New York Times published a lengthy article that pieced together the telephone and email conversations that friends and family had with victims of the World Trade Center attack. This is part of a series of articles, collectively called "102 Minutes," that were published simultaneously.

In a way it's unfortunate that these articles were published on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, because many people who are interested in these pieces of contemporary history probably missed them.

May 24, 2002

USA Today Chronicles Armstrong's Role as Ambassador to Cancer Community

Earlier this week USA Today published a long piece about Lance Armstrong and his inspirational role within the cancer survivor community. The article was undoubtedly published to coincide with Armstrong's appointment by President Bush to a special panel on cancer, but it spends more time discussing his role in the community.

Armstrong spends time at nearly every public appearance, including bike races, visiting with cancer victims and survivors. Some of the people whose lives have been touched by cancer treat the opportunity to see or speak with Armstrong as a sort of pilgrimage that might help them overcome the disease.

In the book It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Lance Armstrong and his co-author Sally Jenkins refer to Armstrong's sense of responsibility to the cancer community, but the book doesn't really relate the magnitude of Armstrong's ongoing commitment in the way this article does. It's possible that the importance of Armstrong to the international cancer community has increased with each Tour de France victory. Certainly, his Lance Armstrong Foundation and the annual Ride for the Roses charity event have garnered increased support in the past few years.

Nevertheless, this USA Today article has a tremendous impact on the reader because cancer survivors other than Armstrong are interviewed about their impressions of Armstrong's importance to people living with cancer.

HBO to Broadcast "In Memoriam: New York City, 09/11/01" on Sunday

The New York Times reports that HBO will air a documentary about the attack on the World Trade Center on Sunday night. The documentary, called In Memoriam: New York City, 09/11/01 will air at 9:00pm Eastern and Pacific times.

According to the article, much of the program consists of a review of the activities of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on that day. He narrates a large part of the program.

Mr. Giuliani narrates his day from start to finish, his words intercut with scenes of what took place, yet the documentary has the feel of a community-made mosaic. Its images have been compiled from 16 news organizations and 118 ordinary New Yorkers, each identified on screen as his or her work appears. That unifying spirit and sense of reflection makes "In Memoriam," which has its premiere Sunday night on HBO, different in tone from the Naudet brothers' "9/11" film on CBS, with its focus on firefighters and astonishing images inside one of the towers; the terror attacks affected so many people that each new work adds a fresh perspective, just when it seems we must have exhausted every one.

May 23, 2002

Digital Photography Redefines Some Family Photo Albums

In the Circuits section of The New York Times, Katie Hafner describes how digital cameras has changed the way many Americans take photos and show them to friends and family. The article estimates that 9 million digital cameras will be sold this year (versus 15 million non-disposable film cameras). The widespread use of digital cameras has changed the way photos are handled: "Those crossing over to digital are beginning to use cameras in ways they would not have considered with film. One of the biggest changes is the end result: just 12 percent of digital photos are ever printed...."

However, many people are steadfastly holding to the traditional way of using and managing photographs:

Lisa Brinton, a project manager for the city of Watsonville, Calif., bought a digital camera while preparing for the birth of her first child, Sierra, nearly six months ago.... Yet the desire for the tactile experience has driven Ms. Brinton to order three hardcover albums one for her and one each for her mother and sister.... This is a common rift that digital photography engenders: the desire for photographs printed on glossy paper versus those stuck on a hard drive, available for viewing only in front of a screen.

Personal Video Recorders Have "Crossed a Popularity Threshold" in America

In a front page article, The New York Times reports that personal video recorders have "crossed a popularity threshold" in American households calling into question the economics of commercial television. At issue is the ability to use the fast forward feature on devices from TiVo and SonicBlue to skip over most of the advertising content that underwrites the broadcast. This means that PVR users can watch a one hour recorded program in about 40 minutes.

Another issue that causes broadcasters and advertisers angst is time-shifting, where PVR users regularly watch shows that are supposed to be viewed on a specific evening at some more convenient time. This has technically been possible for decades, since the introduction of the Video Casette Recorder (VCR). But the PVR, a hard disk drive-based recorder with a computer generated user interface, makes high quality broadcast video recording absolutely effortless.

Dismissed until recently as too expensive and complex for the average consumer to set up, {PVRs} are now a fixture in more than a million United States households about 1 percent of the total a number expected to grow to 50 million over the next five years, according to Forrester Research....

"We've trained people that you can buy things at 3 in the morning in the nude on the Internet and make a call to anyone from anywhere on a cellphone, and the idea that CBS is going to determine when I watch 'CSI' flies in the face of that trend," said Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research. "TV networks are going to have to figure out how to make money from a TV viewer that is not nailed to the chair waiting for the commercial to end."


Wall Street Journal Reviews TreoMail Version 1.0

In his Personal Technology column, Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg reviews the first production release of TreoMail, an application that delivers copies of email messages from an existing email account to a Treo so that the Treo user can take action on the email while on the road. CTDATA has used TreoMail throughout the beta test program, and we found TreoMail Beta 2 particularly useful.

The most interesting aspect of Mossberg's review is the fact that he seems to have missed or ignored the SMS notification feature that alerts a Treo user that messages are waiting to be delivered to the device. This feature was not available to VoiceStream customers until the Beta 2 release, but is now available to Treo users on all Treo-compatible mobile networks in the United States.

Mossberg also suggests that "...heavy e-mail users may want to wait to buy a Treo until this summer, when Sprint's version will come out. It will work on Sprint's forthcoming high-speed network, providing a nearly always-on experience for downloading e-mail, much like the BlackBerry does, eliminating the need to constantly place calls to get e-mail." This makes us wonder what happened to GPRS support in the current (GSM) version of the Treo? And, although he ultimately expresses satisfaction with TreoMail, how could Walter Mossberg have missed the SMS notification feature in the TreoMail software, when it is so important to the application's current usability?

Microsoft at War with Open Source at Pentagon

The Washington Post reports that Microsoft is lobbying the Defense Department to reduce its use of Open Source software. According to the article, "...the effort may have backfired. A May 10 report prepared for the Defense Department concluded that open source often results in more secure, less expensive applications and that, if anything, its use should be expanded."

May 22, 2002

Worm Targets Insecure Installations of Microsoft SQL Server

CNET News.com reports that a new worm is targeting Microsoft SQL Server and can successfully take servers over that are not configured according to the installation instructions. According to the article, "If the software hasn't been patched with a fix released by Microsoft in late April and has no password on the administrator account, then the server is vulnerable."

Further research into the problem indicates that SQL Servers can be protected simply by ensuring that the administrative password has been changed from the factory default.

As is the case with many network worms, the biggest problem with this software will probably turn out to be a huge increase in network traffic, as successfully installed copies of the worm try to locate other vulnerable systems. It would be a good idea to review firewall rules to ensure that incoming traffic from the Internet to TCP port 1433 is blocked to all servers and workstations.

Anti-DMCA Group Splits Off from Linux User Group in NYC

Linux Journal reports that free software advocates broke away from the Linux user group community in New York City to lobby for the repeal of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Representatives of the new organization, NY Fair Use, reportedly go door-to-door in certain Congressional districts within New York City explaining the threat posed to individuals and public libraries by the planned use of Digital Rights Management Systems.

The most interesting aspect of the entire NY Fair Use organization is their legislative agenda that says, among other things:

...we need a law which explicitly makes clear that a normal
retail transaction for a physical copy of any media gives possession
as property of that disk to the purchaser of the disk, just like it
does with a pair of shoes.

If you thought that buying a VCR tape or a DVD at Wal-Mart meant that you "own" a copy of the movie, you probably should. But, the producers of the movie are fighting hard in Washington DC to change copyright law to take away most of your ownership rights.

May 21, 2002

Morgan Stanley Research Says U.S. Companies Wasted Billions on Technology in Last 2 Years

USA Today reported that economic researchers have concluded that major companies in the U.S. have spent billions of dollars on technology that is later determined to be wasted. The article emphasizes rather spectacular estimates made by a brokerage house and an IT consulting firm:

Morgan Stanley estimates that U.S. companies threw away $130 billion in the past two years on unneeded software and other technology, according to its study of 25 years of tech spending. Worldwide, companies waste as much as 20% of the $2.7 trillion spent annually on tech, estimates research firm Gartner, which is based in Stamford, Conn.

This is probably the passage that will be quoted most frequently, but it's not the articles most salient point. The article goes on to say: "{The companies waste the money because} they stampede into the wrong technology, experts say. They buy too much and don't implement new tech properly. They also underestimate the time needed to make it work. And CEOs, especially during the go-go years, often spent too quickly without clear goals."

These have been the key problems since the dawn of the PC era, and they will not really be solved by cutting corporate IT budgets to the bone. The answer is not dramatically less buying, it's dramatically smarter buying. It's not banning consultants, it's using consultants where performance savings or increased profits can be predicted and successfully measured.

Not Every Used Book Sale Goes Smoothly

We are continuing our experiment in selling surplus books via the Amazon.com Marketplace, an idea we got from reading an article by Fred Bernstein that appeared in the New York Times on April 11. Today, we experienced the most unusual situation yet. Apparently, a book that we had shipped to a buyer in Quebec had cleared Canadian customs in Montreal, and was subsequently stolen out of the Canada Post Corporation mail stream.

Read on for more details....

The email we sent to Amazon.com seller services is self explanatory:

This is regarding an Amazon Marketplace transaction where I was the seller and the buyer had a shipping address of Sainte-Adele, Quebec, Canada.

Today, I received from the U.S. Postal Service a shipping envelope that had been ripped open with a letter from the United States Postal Service International Claims and Inquiries Office in New York dated May 16 that reads:

Please inform your customer of the contents of the attached communication from the foreign postal administration, and advise him/her that the United States Postal Service makes no provision for the payment of indemnity for the loss, rifling, damage, or delay of ordinary mail.

The attached letter from Canada Post in North Sidney, NS, dated May 2 says:

Dear Customer: The enclosed item of mail was found without contents in our processing stream.

It is always a matter of concern to Canada Post Corporation when mail entrusted to our care is found without contents in our processing plants.

Be assured that we are constantly striving to improve our processing methods to offer better service to our customers.

For further enquiries contact your local Customer Service.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this incident we have caused you {sic}.


I must conclude that the contents of my shipment was lost or stolen while en route to my customer in care of Canada Post. Apparently, I have no recourse because I did not ship the contents with insurance.

I would be glad to provide facsimile copies of these letters to Amazon and/or the buyer.

Would you please tell me what my responsibilities are under the terms of an Amazon Marketplace transaction in this case?

Dave Aiello

Chatham Township Data Corporation

Amazon.com essentially told us to either ship another copy of the book to the buyer or credit the buyer for the loss. We decided to ship another copy of the book. This cost us less than you would expect, because we had a second copy of the book in the first place. (Remember, we are normally selling the second copy of books that we no longer need.)

This is the first time in the history of our company that we have ever had a shipment completely lost in transit. It's hard to believe that Canada Customs would have cleared the package if it was empty. So, we must conclude that Canada Post either damaged the package in transit, or had its contents stolen.

We point this out because a lot of people selling surplus goods on-line mistakenly assume that their liability for delivery of goods ends with the act of shipping. But, one way or the other, the customer really needs to receive the goods.

When Businesses Install WiFi Networks for Customers, Nearby Competitors May Benefit as Well

Martin O'Donnell pointed out this interesting article from The Seattle Times that explains how Tully's Coffee "borrows" wireless Internet access service from Starbucks. It is able to do this because it has "pursued a real-estate strategy of opening stores close to Starbucks outlets" and WiFi service leaks from those locations to the immediate surroundings including, in some cases, Tully's Coffee bars.

This is one of the better illustrations we've seen of the unintended consequences of installing public access WiFi networks for use by a business' customers.

May 20, 2002

Apple's Embrace of UNIX Winning Converts

Doc Searls has been noticing a lengthening list of technically-oriented webloggers who are using Apple Macintosh computers running OS X. He says that OS X, a BSD UNIX-based operating system with a good (and steadily improving) user interface is winning converts. Searls says: "Apple is doing a lot of things right (or close enough), and their circle of the development Venn diagram is overlapping hugely with the UNIX community, including committed open source folks, commercial 'solutions' developers and all those science types for whom UNIX is simply a universal environment...."

From our perspective, the biggest problem with the Macintosh as a general-purpose computing platform right now is that it is not Intel-based. Therefore, it doesn't run VMware. This is still important to us, and will continue to be important until our consulting customers no longer run any server-based apps on Windows that don't run on any other OS.

PR Agency Exec Sees No Problem with Spam

On Friday, CNET News.com published an opinion piece by Barry Dennis entitled Why I Love Spam. In it he suggests that "Spam is the 'junk mail' of a few years ago. There is still 'junk' mail, although I prefer to think of it as marketing mail--searching for new customers and reinvigorating established clients."

It's important to read opinion pieces like these, because they demonstrate the profound lack of understanding of the Internet that still exists among some senior business executives in America. Barry Dennis obviously does not understand that the problems with Spam have nothing to do with legitimate businesses marketing their products by using the company's own mail servers to send email to willing recipients.

Most Spam is sent using email servers that have security flaws that
are being exploited. This means that the senders of Spam are, in effect, breaking and entering. CTDATA had its main mail server exploited by spammers for a period of three or four days several years ago. To those of us who had to clean up the problems that resulted from this unauthorized use of our server, our disk space, and our bandwidth, it felt like our business had been vandalized.

Of course, we have not mentioned the effect that Spam has on individual Internet users throughout the world. To many of them, Spam is like a tax on the time they allocate to electronic communication. Many email users now get more unsolicited email than they get from family, friends, and co-workers. Although we doubt that most individual Internet users incur the kind of costs that server operators do as a result of Spam, the rights of the individual Internet user are probably the ones that will receive the greatest protection in the future.

May 16, 2002

Hindsight is 20/20 in New Disclosures of 9/11 Hijack Warnings

CBS News was the first to report that President Bush was briefed in August about the possibility that terrorists might attempt to hijack U.S. passenger planes. A few media outlets, like CBS, are focusing their coverage on the shock expressed by some members of Congress (who all happen to be Democrats) that the government did not react more aggressively to these warnings. The Associated Press seems to have issued two different stories by the same correspondent: one simply reporting that a briefing had taken place, another reporting that a briefing had taken place and relating the critical aspects of the Congressional reaction.

Some have already rushed to ask the standard, post-Watergate question: "What did the President know and when did he know it?" This implies that a cover-up has taken place, and that the President was told that there was a possibility that multiple groups of terrorists would coordinate hijack attempts, and crash any planes that they successfully hijacked into major U.S. landmarks.

In the next few days, many people who are seeking to do political damage will be severely critical of the U.S. Government. But we wonder how anyone can step back in time, look objectively at what was known prior to September 11, and come to the conclusion that administration should have put out an unprecedented public warning? Although we have become used to this type of warning in the aftermath of September 11, they didn't happen too often before the attack.

We remind our readers of the last words of an article that we posted on CTDATA.com on September 12:

No one could have assumed that both strikes on the World Trade Center would be successful, considering the complexity of the events. This is undoubtedly the most daring kamakaze attack in world history, and possibly the biggest tragedy in American history.

Mossberg: "StarOffice 6.0 has a long way to go"

In this week's Personal Technology column in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg reviews the latest version of StarOffice-- the office suite that Sun Microsystems sells to compete with Microsoft Office. He is a stickler for ease-of-use, which means that his reviews are often an important reality check when a new version of a software product or a new electronic gadget is shipped. Therefore, no one should be surprised that Mossberg doesn't like StarOffice 6.0 very much.

Mossberg says that although StarOffice is much improved over previous versions, it costs 80 percent less than Microsoft Office, and its registration processes are less intrusive, it doesn't do so well with Microsoft Office compatibity. He says, "StarOffice 6.0 is fair. It's usable, but it's definitely inferior to Microsoft Office. It's harder to use, less intuitive and sometimes unable to render properly certain documents in Microsoft's formats."

This is a tough review, but not as bad as some reviews that Mossberg has given to long-awaited technology products in the past. Considering the substantial changes that Sun has made to StarOffice since it acquired it, we suggest that people keep an eye on the product to see if it continues to improve at its current pace.

It's hard to know whether StarOffice will ever achieve total Microsoft Office file compatibility, unless the judge presiding over the Microsoft anti-trust case orders the company to document its file formats. Yet, many of the issues Mossberg has with StarOffice have to do with idiosyncracies of its user interface, and these are fixable. On the other hand, we would be lying if we didn't admit that we're praying every day for a viable competitor to Microsoft Office. So, perhaps we are a little guilty of wishful thinking.

May 15, 2002

EPIC Asks Federal Court to Protect PVR Users' Privacy

The Washington Post reported that an electronic civil liberties group has asked a federal court to deny media companies' requests to analyze the activity of SonicBlue ReplayTV 4000 Personal Video Recorders (PVRs). Several media companies had previously pursuaded a magistrate judge in the Central District of California to order SonicBlue to install software on all active ReplayTV 4000s in order to surreptitiously collect statistics to help the media companies demonstrate that the owners of the units were violating U.S. copyright law.

The article says, "...studios and broadcasters claim in a now-consolidated case that ReplayTV 4000's ability to detect and skip past commercials threatens their revenues. In addition, they say the device's broadband connections could be used for unauthorized distribution of television programs and movies...." As a result the magistrate judge ordered SonicBlue to begin collecting "...all available information about what works are copied, stored, viewed with commercial omitted, or distributed to third parties (and) when each of those events took place" within 60 days and to share that information with the media companies as part of the legal discovery process.

As far as we know, this is an unprecedented order in the American legal system, both in the bredth of information sought and in the surreptitiousness methods permitted by the judge. It would be easy to conclude that the judge's order treats the mere use of a ReplayTV 4000 as an indication of likely illegal activity. In our opinion EPIC is right to join SonicBlue in demanding that the original judge's order be vacated.

May 14, 2002

UseIt.com Publishes Top 10 List for Homepage Usability

Earlier this week Jakob Nielsen published a list of ten ideas to increase the usability of the home page of corporate web sites. This is part of the Alertbox series on his web site, UseIt.com. We continue to be very impressed with the advice Nielsen dispenses for free on his site. All of these design tips are excellent ideas.

Media Insiders Doubt Bill O'Reilly's Staying Power in Radio

WorldNetDaily published an op-ed piece by Geoff Metcalf which suggests that Bill O'Reilly is not succeeding in his quest to extend the "No Spin Zone" to radio. Much of the point Metcalf made in the article was based on O'Reilly's behavior in an interview on Don Imus' radio show. During the interview, O'Reilly said that "there is no other cure than to kill Matt Drudge". He said this in response to Imus' question about the disclosure by Drudge that Westwood One is paying a New York radio station $300,000 to broadcast O'Reilly's program on a tape-delayed basis.

The most interesting part of this column, however, is the explanation of the radio business as a vehicle delivering audiences to advertisements. This is a fairly insightful analysis, in our opinion.

May 13, 2002

Sears Announces $1.9 Billion Take Over of Lands End

Julie Aiello pointed out that Sears will buy Lands' End for $1.9 billion or $62 per share. This is an interesting development because it instantly redefines the competition between Sears and companies like Target and Wal-Mart.

May 12, 2002

Families of Illegal Aliens to Sue over Deaths in Arizona Desert

Yesterday's Washington Times reported that the families of eleven illegal aliens who died in the Arizona desert in May 2001 plan to sue the U.S. government over their deaths. According to the preliminary complaint, the government should have placed 60 gallon water coolers strategically in the 860,000 acre Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

It's situations like this that cause us to wonder if our elected representatives in Washington will ever attempt to enact tort reform.

NY Times Asks If Recollection of 9/11 is Too Much, Too Soon?

An article in today's New York Times reviews the large number of special programs about the attack on the World Trade Center and asks "Are we in danger of a 9/11 overload?"

Television has long been the defining medium for great and terrible national events like war, assassinations and presidential elections. But nothing in the past has generated this sheer volume of reportage and commentary, because Sept. 11 was an unprecedented event occurring in an age of unprecedented media exposure. (The Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy's assassination became so crucial because it was the only one.) The variety and quantity have been staggering-- valuable (much of it), but also alarming.

May 10, 2002

Economist: Are Wireless Email Devices Merely Niche Products?

In light of the fact that only 32,000 Blackberry mobile devices were sold in the first quarter of 2002, The Economist asks whether email devices such as the Blackberry are niche products or the proverbial Killer App for wireless Internet access?

Martin O'Donnell quoted the following passage when he pointed out this article: "So far, {Research in Motion} has had most success in specific vertical markets, such as financial services, where the ability to respond quickly to events is worth paying for. For consumers, the {RIM} BlackBerry's main benefit-- integration with a corporate e-mail system-- does not apply." This point is very important because RIM's middleware only works with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, two email systems that are generally used by very large companies.

This article discusses Good Technologies GoodLink product and G100 wireless device. It also briefly mentions competing products and services from Palm and Handspring.

Good Technologies Releases Handheld to Compete with RIM Blackberries

Martin O'Donnell pointed out that Sunnyvale, CA-based Good Technologies is challenging Research in Motion with a handheld device that competes with the Blackberry Model 957 and a software system that competes with RIM's messaging middleware used to route email from Exchange and Lotus Notes mail systems into these wireless devices.

Not much information has been available about the Good Technology products before this week. At this point, it is difficult to say how Good intends to differentiate itself from Research in Motion. We are reading everything we can get our hands on, and we will report our findings as soon as we can.

May 9, 2002

Circuits Coins the Term "Entertainment Server" for Devices Like TiVo

Today's New York Times Circuits column talks about the future of the Entertainment Server in America's Living Room. What's an entertainment server? It's the latest name for devices like TiVo and SonicBlue ReplayTV, although it may also be what evolves from the current Xbox and a few other devices that no one has yet.

All of the anticipated functionality already exists. What the article talks about is convergence of some or all of these functions into a single box: personal video recording, digital asset management, video game play. The article foresees the Entertainment Server as the second peripheral attached to the TV in the living room or family room. The first peripheral, of course, is the set-top box for cable or satellite TV.

NY Times Reviews Blackberry 5810

David Pogue wrote a review of the RIM Blackberry 5810 for the New York Times that was published today. In it, he suggests that the PDA/mobile phone hybrid is well designed for its target audience, but too expensive for the vast majority of mobile phone users who would like wireless internet access. Pogue makes a number of good points about subtleties of the product, and does his best to compare the 5810 to the Handspring Treo 180, its most obvious competitor.

Allchin Says that More Disclosure by Microsoft Could Further Compromise OS Security

The Associated Press reports that Microsoft executive Jim Allchin made the unbelievable claim that Microsoft should not have to make more detailed disclosures of APIs to its operating systems because such disclosures "would make it easier for hackers to break into computer networks, for malicious individuals or organizations to spread destructive computer viruses and for unethical people to pirate". Nine U.S. states are still pursuing an anti-trust suit against Microsoft and one of the remedies they propose is that Microsoft be forced to provide detailed interface documentation so that others in the software industry can make software that interfaces with Microsoft operating systems as seemlessly as do other Microsoft products.

This is one of the more disingenuous pieces of testimony heard in this phase of the anti-trust case. The article points out, "A lawyer for the states, Kevin Hodges, pointed out that many of the most destructive computer attacks in recent years have targeted Microsoft products regardless of whether Microsoft disclosed particular technical data."

Microsoft's profits on its operating system are so great that it ought to be required to provide the same documentation to the public that it does to its own developers. Microsoft application developers should out-innovate their competition, not out-smart them solely by virtue of inside information.

May 8, 2002

Handspring Offers Discount on Treo for Owners of Other PDAs

Yesterday, CNET News.com reported that Handspring is offering a $100 discount on the Treo 180 and 180g to owners of other PDAs. In a way, this discount is comical because it comes about a month after a $50 price increase had been instituted for units that were purchased without a service contract. Supposedly, the increase was only going to affect American customers who already had service contracts with Cingular and VoiceStream, but, it seems that Handspring became unsatisfied with the sales rate.

The most recent article says that Handspring has sold about 47,000 Treo units. That seems like a good rate of sales to us, considering the issues that people might have with the product, such as the fact that it can only be used on a GSM-compatible mobile phone network.

Consumer Groups Oppose Transfer of Cable Franchises to Merged AT&T-Comcast

CNET News.com reports that several consumer rights groups are using cable franchise hearings to oppose the AT&T-Comcast Merger. According to the article, the groups believe that the merger will result in poor service and potentially create an anti-competitive situation with respect to internet access and broadcast content.

May 7, 2002

Medical Students, Residents Sue over Residency System

Martin O'Donnell told us about this article in today's New York Times that discusses a class action suit filed on behalf of medical students and young doctors challenging the legality of the residency system. At issue are the match process, the means of assigning 80 percent of all entry-level jobs for medical doctors in the United States, and the salary and benefits packages offered through the match process.

The article does a good job of illustrating the arguments on both sides of the case, for example: "Critics compare the residency matching program to early decision programs at colleges. They say that colleges accepting applicants through early decision can offer less attractive financial aid packages because there is no competition for those students, just as hospitals can pay residents low wages because they have nowhere else to go."

ITAA Says There's Still an IT Worker Shortage

Our friend Art Iger from JPMorgan Chase pointed out a brief article in InformationWeek called Hear the One About the Lack of IT Workers? The report says that the Information Technology Association of America believes that there is still a shortage of IT workers, in spite of the fact that "unemployment is up and the workforce is down by a half-million since last year".

A column appears nearby in the same publication called Welcome To The Age Of Absurdity. In it, Lou Bertin touches briefly on his relationship with Harry Arouh, who once worked for CBS News and later became his college journalism professor. After pointing out a number of recent business news stories that could only be called improbable, he says: "With facts like these, who needs fiction? Harry Arouh likely wouldn't have believed a single word of any of this, but he surely would have been saddened at the utter demise of common sense in this Age of Absurdity."

AOL Merger Assets Now Valued at $0

Today, we find retrospective criticism of the AOL Time Warner merger in The Globe and Mail. Mathew Ingram says that the assets that AOL brought to the merger are now discounted to the point where they are worth nothing because the AOL Time Warner stock price has fallen to the book value of the Time Warner media assets alone. Ingram says:

If anything, AOL has made it even more obvious in recent weeks that most of the reasons for the merger have vanished with the same dot-com breeze that blew them in. For example, one of the main strengths of the combined company was supposed to be the marriage of AOL's on-line content and branding with the high-speed cable network run by Time Warner, a win-win situation that would take AOL's traditional dial-up customers to a whole new level, producing plenty of growth and hefty profit margins.

Instead of this magical world full of rainbows and sunshine, however, AOL Time Warner has wound up with the exact opposite. Not only has AOL failed to sign up new cable partners who can deliver its service through their broadband pipes, but the company can't even get that many users of its own Time Warner cable network to sign up for AOL. So what does chief operating officer Bob Pittman do? He tries the old 'sour grapes' argument: we don't really want those high-speed cable and DSL users anyway.

May 2, 2002

Chairman of Turner Broadcasting Calls Typical TiVo Use "Theft"

Cableworld is carrying an interview with Turner Broadcasting Chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner. This is an interview about the state of the cable business and AOL Time-Warner's cable networks business. But, midway through the interview, Kellner calls typical use of a device like a TiVo theft. Kellner is quoted as saying:

I'm a big believer we have to make television more convenient or we will drive the penetration of PVRs {Personal Video Recorders, such as TiVo} and things like that, which I'm not sure is good for the cable industry or the broadcast industry or the networks... {Interviewer: Why not?} ...Because of the ad skips.... It's theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming.

The interviewer then asks, well, what if you have to go to the bathroom or you want to get up and get a Coke from the kitchen? Exactly. The extremists in the broadcast industry probably think that typical use of the channel changer on the TV remote control is theft, too.

This interview is a must read, if only to help understand how extreme some broadcast executive's sense of ownership of his television signal is. Kellner obviously doesn't believe in anything close to the Fair Use provisions that the Supreme Court defined in the Betamax case, which defined viewers' right to use a VCR.

May 1, 2002

Dallas Morning News Prohibiting Direct Links to Stories on Its Web Site

Wired News is reporting that Belo Media Corporation, the company that owns The Dallas Morning News, is trying to enforce a provision in The DallasNews.com Terms of Service that prohibits direct links to web pages that contain individual stories on its web site. The paragraph receiving new emphasis is:

4. Links to, and frames of, the Site. If you operate a Web site and wish to link to this Site, you may link only to the home page of the Site and not to any other page or subdomain of us. You may not frame or utilize framing techniques that involve any Marks, copyrighted material or other proprietary information (including images, text, page layout, or form) of any portion of the Site or suggest any relationship between our Site and you without our express written consent. In addition, you agree not to decompile, reverse engineer or disassemble any software or other products or processes accessible through the Site, not to insert any code or product or manipulate the content of the Site in any way that affects the user's experience, and not to use any data mining, robots, cancelbots, spiders, Trojan horse, or any data gathering or extraction method in connection with your use of the Site.

Makes us wonder whether pointing this fact out is, in their lawyers' minds, a violation of their intellectual property rights? It doesn't really matter because we haven't linked to them in a long time, and we're glad to comply with their wishes by never linking to them again.

Venture Capital Investments Fall Substantially Across the Country

Martin O'Donnell pointed out that The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that venture capital investments in Washington State have fallen to 1997 levels. That's about a 78 percent drop from the same period last year. The article says, in part, "The Pacific Northwest {region as a whole}... also was hit hard as venture investments tumbled 71 percent. Only the New York metropolitan area, which reported a 72 percent drop, and the Alaska/Hawaii/Puerto Rico region, a minor venture capital market with no deals in the first quarter, fared worse. Just five states posted bigger quarterly declines than Washington."

In our view, this is exactly the kind of purge that was necessary in order to cause a fundimental re-evaluation of the businesses that get funded. This will be good for the technology industries over the intermediate term, but try telling that to the entrepreneurs looking for capital today.