Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A New Age For Movies

Irving Wladawsky-Berger at IBM has recently posted a couple of eloquent blogs about how the Internet has made movie-watching just that much more enjoyable. First of all, there are all of the reviews and the commentary--such as as IMDB. Like Irving, I find Roger Ebert's reviews on target (alomost all the time). In fact, though it would probably horrify many in the "Ivory Tower," I think Roger Ebert may well be one of the best essayists writing today. There's something nice about, not only getting input on which movies to see, but after watching a film that really connected having a virtual "discussion" on various aspects of the film. What did such and such mean? How did other people react? It doesn't even require active participation.

Then there's Irving's discussion about Netflix. Walmart is out of the game as I wrote about earlier. The latest buzz is that, although Amazon has a movie rental business in the UK, they won't be following up with a US version. In any case, Netflix provides a great way to invite almost every available DVD into my house, without fuss and without muss. It's partly about eliminating "stuff" from my things-to-do list. (II'll be posting on Getting Things Done one of these days. Don't worry: I'm not evangelical about it.)

But it's also about being able to easily depart from mass market tastes and indulge an exploration or an oddball interest. It's The Long Tail if you want to be jargonny about it. But it's ultimately "On Demand"--when you want, what you want. (Which, perhaps, is why Irving is so fascainated by it.)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Another Wikipedia Data Point

Although I've picked and probed at Wikipedia here and here, I find it a useful tool. But I think it important to understand its limirtations and boundaries. An interesting post from Nathaniel Ward at Dartmouth in that vein:
While doing research for the upcoming issue of The Review, I proposed to Executive Editor Scott Glabe that Wikipedia, a free communal encyclopedia, is a terrible resource. Since anyone can change any entry, a user cannot know whether the current version is accurate. Scott retorted that the encyclopedia's communal nature meant that all errors would be corrected in minutes.

It turns out I was right: it took almost 24 hours for users to notice and correct a deliberate error that made out Benjamin Franklin as the inventor of the printing press.
Although I have somewhat mixed feelings about Wikipedia "vandalism" even for valid research purposes and calling it a "terrible" resource seems overstatement, the data point still seems valid enough. (The "vandalism" in question inserted a common incorrect answer from The Dartmouth Review's recent poll of Dartmouth students about various Western cultural questions.) The highly democratic Wikipedia community implies both profound strengths and significant weaknesses.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dartmouth Review 25th

This will be about as far as I get from IT here. But, given that it's the 25th anniversary of The Dartmouth Review, a newspaper I helped found, and that Dartmouth has just had a very significant trustee election, I guess I should say something.

TDR wasn't the first of the alternative right-of-center or libertarian college newspapers of the early eighties, but it became one of the more influential, if not one of the better mannered. I got involved with the founding through a friendship with Greg Fossedal who was the an editor of The Daily Dartmouth, the campus daily. I wrote about it long ago here. The precipitating event was the election of an "unoffical" trustee candidate. It's thus perhaps more than a bit fitting that we've just seen Todd Zywicki and Peter Robinson elected as the latest slate of trustee candidates running in opposition to the official ones. (T.J.Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor was elected in opposition to the administration in 2004. It has not been a good couple of years for the official slate.) Their positions haven't been political per se. Rather, they've spoken to directions that Dartmouth should take and principles that Dartmouth should have.

I won't go further into the arcana of Dartmouth governance and policies here. Trustee disputes at Dartmouth go back to the Dartmouth College case, argued by Daniel Webster, and a seminal US Supreme Court case in contract law. Suffice it to say that it's somewhat satisfying to see an institution like TDR still involving students 25 years later. It's never been about shadowy outside funding sources-rather TDR has always been supported primarily by Dartmouth's own alumni-but, rather, about students thinking and writing and questioning conventional wisdom. Which seems for the good. Wah-Hoo-Wah.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

New PVR Blog

As some of my readers know, I've been fooling around with building up personal video recorders for quite a while now. In general, I still prefer my TiVo, which just takes less mental energy to use on a day-in, day-out basis than PVR software running on a general purpose computer. However, that said, BeyondTV from Snapstream has matured considerably and is now quite stable and functional. I still don't find it to be the "just works" experience that my TiVo provides but it's a good, if not great, PC-based alternative and is, in any case, the best PC PVR software I've run across.

Snapstream now has a company blog, which is worthwhile viewing if you have an interest in PVRs and, certainly, if you're a Snapstream customer. PVRblog is must reading for more general coverage of the topic.

Now That's An IT Failure!

Not traditional IT to be sure, but an automated system nonetheless--the infamous Denver baggage-handling system. I still remember the first time I travelled through Denver aurport with its new system. You had to find a special line to stand in if you had odd-shaped luggage. Odd-shared luggage like... skis. In Denver. Hmm.

Well, it's no more.

United Airlines has decided to stop using its controversial automated baggage-handling system at Denver International Airport, reverting to a conventional manual system by the end of 2005. The automated system (which began operation in 1995) never lived up to original expectations. It had enormous difficulties in its early days, including construction delays, cost overruns, lost bags, damaged luggage, derailed cars, traffic jams, upgrade problems, political battles, and so on. (For example, see RISKS-17.61 and 18.66). United is apparently obligated to pay $60 million a year for another 25 years under its lease contract with the city of Denver (which owns the airport). However, United expects to save $1 million a month in operating costs by NOT using the automated system. The airport cost $250 million to build (BAE Automated Systems of Dallas, no longer in existence), and the city reportedly put up another $100 million for construction and $341 million to get it to work. [Source: AP item, 7 Jun 2005; PGN-ed] http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8135924/

via RISKS Digest

Friday, June 03, 2005

Recovery through genocide?

Good freakin' Lord. Why not just lay everyone off while they're at it? History may or may not show Sun's acquisition of StorageTek to ultimately have been a good move. I think it's potentially a significant win but won't be easy to pull off. (See my comments at IBD and ZDnet. My Illuminata colleagues have also posted in a similar vein.) But, whatever the doubts and concerns about the StorageTek approach, getting rid of all Sun's employees hardly seems a viable recovery strategy either.
"We do question the rationale of a transaction which reduces Sun's cash hoard by 40 percent, and does nothing to re-ignite revenue growth or profitability," Steven Fortuna, an analyst at Prudential Equity Group, said in a research note. "We would rather have seen the company buy back a billion shares and fire 10,000 people."