31 March 2006

Brand and the markets tech can't touch

This is a rant about, well, about being a hick at heart. I grew up in the country (ish). My family still lives in small-town America; quiet streets, nothing taller than 4 stories, weird laws about alcohol. It's NASCAR country.

I say "NASCAR country" in a nice way as most people (read: anyone who lives on the West coast or on the Atlantic seaboard North of, say, Jersey) just don't get it. And, by get it, I mean of course that they a) haven't taken the time to think about it and b) mock it.

Take, for example (and the catalyst for this post) this continuously updated post on BoingBoing about NASCAR-branded [[insert product]]. They lead off with NASCAR-branded meats. Ok, even I thought it was a little weird, but I'll go with the whole "Grill during the race" thing. But, as the days roll on, the comments that are being tacked onto the post are along the lines of "look at what those silly hicks also buy! Isn't that cute!" You can almost taste the condescending attitude through your monitor (note, please don't lick your monitor).

But, as Darren Barefoot points out, fully 1/3 of North Americans doesn't use the Internet. Those people who are yucking it up over NASCAR branded items are also laughing themselves out of one of the fastest growing audiences in this hemisphere. Ignore for a moment the roots of NASCAR. The modern incarnation of NASCAR is a marketers wet-dream; a solid, rabid fan-base that chooses a heroic character (the driver/team) and buys a shit-ton of their merchandise. How many NASCAR-themed bumper stickers or hats have you seen this week? A dozen? Three dozen? More? You don't get that kind of brand loyalty and repeat business with computers.

The limit of technology branding (often) is who you can drag into your home/office/car to see what you bought. The Internet has obviously expanded that audience, but still misses the nearly 33% of the population not online. NASCAR gear goes everywhere. Hats, jackets, stickers, and shirts are all the traditional avenues that drive around town, go to dinner, show up on casual Friday. NASCAR has been able to extend their brand to places technology can never go. You will never see Apple-branded fruit (ironic as it would be). You will never see Yahoo! chainsaws. Technology branding is limited to what can be shown on television or to the technical elite, most of whom have decided about a product long before it ever officially gets marketed. What, you thought Engadget and Gizmodo and their ilk were enthusiast sites?

BoingBoing readers may think they're having a good laugh at us hick's expense, but they're missing the larger point. I may be taking it personally at a certain level, but I'm also able to step back and see the forest for the trees. NASCAR meat, which I'll grant leaves an odd first impression, isn't idiotic, it's brilliant. Missing the point on that is truly backwards thinking if I ever saw it. Yah here?

Sidenote: For humorous commentary to many BoingBoing related posts, see Xenisucks.com.

30 March 2006

Say Goodbye to Your Rights

I'm sure this will get it's requisite 5 minutes on the evening news, right before the critical update on Desperate Housewives, and then disappear from the headlines, but it shouldn't. Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner at Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Bureau, told the House Transportation subcommittee on Wednesday that:

"We need additional technology to supplement manned aircraft surveillance and current ground assets to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory."


To what was he referring? Unmanned aerial drones. These things.

Excuse me? Did a government official just ask the House of Representatives to allow Homeland Security to spy on Americans? How could that possibly be abused?

In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie "Minority Report," one North Carolina county is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air--close enough to identify faces--and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned.

Wait, what did the motorcycle riders do that warranted surveillance? Was a crime being committed? Had anyone threatened to commit a crime? Is riding a motorcycle now probable cause to have you activities monitored by law enforcement?

This is very, very dangerous territory. Allowing routine flyovers of whatever patch of ground a law enforcement agency wants to watch is basically a blank check to watch anyone in the America, with no warrant. That means they can watch you in your back yard just because. Own a gun? I bet the cops would be very interested in you if you started shooting with a group of friends in a field. Got illegal fireworks? There might be a drone circling on the 4th of July.

Read 1984 and tell me you aren't the least bit concerned about this kind of news story.

Link

29 March 2006

THIS is what's wrong with this country

Unbelievable. Well, if only it were...

[DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT]: But like anything in politics, there are shades of gray. Senator John Cornyn is a Texas Republican searching for a middle ground. He says illegal immigrants should be able to work in the U.S. legally, but only if they return to their country of origin first.

(on camera): How worried are you about the deep divide within your own party over this issue?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I really am not worried about it. I think it's actually healthy.

BASH: You think it's healthy? In an election year it's healthy?

CORNYN: Well, you know, that's the problem in America, we're always having elections.


And then the voice over keeps talking about immigration! This Senator basically said the problem in America is that we too many elections!?!?! Hello, you're (supposed to be) a journalist. For the love of God, if you can't pick out stupid comments in an interview, you need to be fired. No offense to the imigration debate, but I'm pretty sure the cornerstone of our democracy is a bit more important.

Link [via (I can't believe I'm linking to) Atrios]

28 March 2006

Thought for the Day

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” - Nazi Reich Marshal Hermann Goering, before committing suicide at the Nuremberg Trials

[via Seat of the Revolution]

Things You Don't Expect: Email edition

Below is the complete text of an email I received today.

Subject: Grass

The most urine-resistant grasses tend to be Perennial Ryegrasses and Fescues
You can usually get mixtures of those seeds to sow in the spring.


This is to close a loop on a tangental comments from 5 days ago. It took me a second to remember that conversation, which really made the email funny on the first read.

Caspar Weinberger Dies at Age 88

All the politicians that helped me cut my social teeth are passing.

Link

23 March 2006

Chelsea Reduces Water Treatment Capacity In Face of Lawsuit

Chelsea city council decided at their meeting on the 14th of this month to shut down one of their reverse osmosis water softeners in an effort to placate Chelsea Investment Group, LLC in their lawsuit against the City and the City Manager. The full story in the Chelsea Standard explains the reasoning for this in detail, but I'll rehash a bit.

The reverse osmosis process of softening the water has a byproduct that must be disposed. In 2002-2003, the City took a short-cut to comply with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality rules and ran the discharge into the Chelsea Wastewater Treatment Plant and keep the money from the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, which was tied to a schedule. Which was great when the projection for waste to be disposed was a max of 125,000 gallons, but the City is actually pumping out 414,000 gallons at peak, with an average of 250,000 gallons per day. Tied to the Library issue from earlier this year, you'd think the City needs a math tutor. But, I digress.

The net-net of this is that at peak times (or any time the treatment plant can't handle the output), the City will be delivering hard water to residents who paid for soft water. Just to point out what's got me in a huff, they're going to deliver hard water to me when I paid for softened water. I'm not really that upset with it being hard water; I grew up on well water so I know it's not going to kill me. What I do resent is paying for something I'm not getting. I also resent the fact that the City has once again taken what seems like hasty action. The move is obviously an attempt to make the lawsuit go away, but, unless the paper is leaving something out, they didn't even check to make sure the Investment Group would accept the conciliation.

Robert Ponte, a lawyer here in Chelsea, wrote in his Letter to the Editor in the 23 March edition of the Chelsea Standard:

Doing the expedient act got is into this mess. There is no reason to believe that doing the next expedient act will get us out of anything except the developer's lawsuit. My question is, who does the quick fix serve? Does it serve anyone but the developer?


Despite their rhetorical nature, the questions deserve honest answers. I have a hard time believing that the City truly has anything in mind except getting rid of the lawsuit. This move serves no one in the City except those who belong to the lawsuit, who bullied their way into the development in the first place.

Robert has called for residents to support (either financially or in spirit) hiring a qualified professional to look at "getting out of this mess" but emailing him at rponteesq@sbcglobal.net. Sounds like a good suggestion and I would encourage all Chelsea residents to get in touch with Mr. Ponte.

To Buy or Not To Buy - Dyson Vaccuum

So, dear readers (there are more than one of you, right?), I need an opinion.

We have three pets, two of whom shed hair like limbs at a leper convention. The house is, understandably, a little on the hairy side. It's getting much worse than we can take and the vacuum we have just isn't cutting it anymore.

So, we've obviously heard about the Dyson Animal Upright and started doing some reasearch. Amazon has over 200 reviews with a cumulative 4 star rating. J-- found an 8 page review by someone claiming to be a former Rainbow salesman that sounded like it could've been written by a well-compensated advertiser (not saying it was, just was a glowing, well-written review). Aside from the outliers who likely wouldn't have been happy is Mr. Dyson had made a machine that performed certain acts as you vacuum, the machine sounds like the perfect buy.

Except it's a $500+ vacuum. I've paid less, recently, for a computer with a monitor. As much as I want to have something that works, I have a real hard time parting with 500 actual dollars for a vacuum.

So, I turn to you, my loyal 8 readers (according to Bloglines) and ask: does anyone own one of these things? Do you know someone who has one? Do you or they like it? Was it worth the money?

Any and all comments are welcome.

21 March 2006

AOL TV

Miss Pinky and the Brain? Love F Troop? Need to welcome Kotter back one more time? Check out AOL TV; all kinds of classic (and newer) shows available for your viewing pleasure. IE only, however (kind of lame).

AOL Television: In2TV [via TWiT]

20 March 2006

Engadget Busted Stealing Content

Ah, the wonderful world of Engadget. I always forget how unbelievably pretentious Engadget is until they decide to step in it publically. Like today when they got called out for ripping off content from another site (one which they've apparently had a spat with).

Until one of those sites breaks a story. This one is the Ubiquitous Multimedia Informator, aka Brick. DapReview.net got their hands on a unit and broke the story. Engadget originally posted the picture DapReview.net had used and linked to the site. Then, someone got a hold of the post and changed it, cropping the photo to remove the link to DapReview and no link to the original story. DapReview has some pretty damning screenshots.

Digg picked this up and the comments are off and running. Ryan Block, Peter Rojas, and Jason Calacanis all have (apparently) weighed in on the subject but all seem to be missing the point. They're saying this is a "mistake". How exactly did a posted article get revised to carefully remove all reference to the originated article. Mistake indeed.

Others claim Weblogs Inc. has done the same thing in the past (check the comments).

Seems like Jason and Co. are getting pretty good at apologizing.

Update: I didn't know how prescient the previous statement was. Jason and Ryan Block stopped by; check out the comments. Links updated.

Write Your Congresscritter - DMCA Reform (HR 1201)

Take a second, customize this letter, and send it to your Congresscritter. The DMCA is the worst piece of legislation this side of the PATRIOT Act. HR 1201 aims to reform some of that awful legislation by removing and clarifying what is and is not infringing (the current lawsuit-initiator du jour).

EFF Action Center

Now I Really Want a PSP

They have Lemmings for the PSP! Man I love that game.

Lemmings Plunge Onto the PSP - Kotaku

14 March 2006

Abortion 101

Voltaire said, “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” He was right, and both extremes in the abortion controversy demonstrate that. But the ‘pro-life’ side has a worse case of absurdity than the pro-choicers, and that won’t change until (at a minimum) they face up to what they really want.


Say what you want about Eric S. Raymond, and many have, the man makes compelling arguments. I highly recommend reading the entire article; I guarentee pro-abortion activists will remember this one.

Armed and Dangerous - Blog Archive - The Rape Exception

Who says religion is boring?

Today is Purim, the Jewish holiday commemorating the story of Esther (full back story here). Why should us goyims care?

We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is.


....


It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.


Aw yeah. And it's good prep for St. Patty's. See, Irish Catholics, you have lots in common with other religions. Note to Protestants: Seriously, you left the best parts behind, didn't you? No wonder this country is going to hell; all the cool people stayed on the other side of the ocean.

Happy Purim 5766!

*sniff* A Little Slice of Home

So, Frank Turner is a little, uh, touched, which is something I didn't know. Not "stab you on the subway" touched (we don't have a subway... sheesh), but "God has told me to do this really, really silly thing" touched. Frank wants to host a radio show on 1340 WEXL-AM (AM?) and needs the prayers of all Detroiters to do it, something about contracts. DetroitWonk says:

Well, I'm fairly certain Channel 7 may allow him to have all of the time he needs, because the attorneys are most likely working round-the-clock to get him off of their payroll as quickly as possible.


After seeing Frank's website, I believe that's the most accurate statement of the week. Just how bad is Frank's situation with regard to his contract with Channel 7? If you believe Frank, it's downright Biblical.

Didn’t our Apostle Paul suffer threatening, jailing, beatings, near-drowning, false accusations, scorn and ridicule to build the Lord’s first congregations of believers and boldly preach the gospel of salvation even under the most hostile situations? [source]


Scorn and beatings, Frank? Been going to a few too many City Council meetings lately?

Thanks to DetroitWonk for the tip-in

12 March 2006

Free (usually good) music from SXSW

SXSW (that's South by Southwest) is going on. SXSW is a huge media festival, for lack of a better term. It's tons of indie bands, movie makers, and media types (a growing number of which are Web media types) gathering in Austin to be... well.. corporately sponsored.

But, they do draw an incredible amount of very cool, very unknown (to a national audience) entertainers. And, as a bonus, they release all that music for free.

You can now get the torrents for the music here. Last year there was about a months worth of music and I kept a great deal of it. I hope this year is even better.

Enjoy

08 March 2006

Finally a way to recycle polystyrene

"Kevin O’Connor of University College Dublin and his colleagues heated polystyrene foam, the generic name for Styrofoam, to convert it to styrene oil. [...] the scientists fed this styrene oil to the soil bacteria Pseudomonas putida, which converted it into biodegradable plastic known as PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates)." It's about time because 2.3 million tons of polystyrene foam (styrofoam) are dumped in US landfills each year, and over 14 million metric tons of the stuff are produced annually around the world. Since the foam is very light (95% air), 14 million tons takes up lots of volume.


If this is viable, how hard would it be to scale up? Or can someone make money from it? Because if they can, this will take off in a huge hurry. Maybe the local recycling authority will start taking the stuff, too. Oh, what bliss that would be.

Treehugger: Finally Something To Do With All That Styrofoam?

03 March 2006

Professor allegedly shows explicit video

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- A criminal justice professor at Grand Rapids Community College has resigned after showing a video in class of a man having sex with a pig, students and a faculty representative said.


Ah, home. Grand Rapids, that is. Not GRCC or video-making facilities of such repute.

Link

Web 2.0 Meets Beer

I'm not big on this AJAX-y, Web 2.0, pre-bubble 2.0 crap, but I have to admit, Coastr is a pretty clever twist. Think social bookmarking (ala Flickr) crossed with Beer Advocate, plus a better web-designer. While Coastr isn't likely to replace BA or RateBeer anytime soon, it's a nifty little experiment. I've tossed a few of my favorites up there already.. wonder where it will go.

[via Real Tech News]

Update: I've been linked as an example of a "low signal-to-noise ratio with Web 2.0's colloquial usage". Oops. Just to clarify, on this blog, "Web 2.0" is synonymous with "Bubble 2.0". AJAX technologies have opened the doors for some really cool innovations and development ideas. Social sites are cool because they're niche sites created by people who live in the niche. If AOL thinks they're on the cusp of "Web 2.0" innovations, that laughing you hear is the collective voice of the real innovators. You have some cool stuff going on AOL; stick with that (and stop farking with email). You can't monetize everything, and you're less likely to do it by mergers and acquisitions.

How’s my signal to noise ratio now?

02 March 2006

Change Windows

You know, like any decent OS would let you do. (I'm looking at you, too, Apple.)

First, install this (This is the link I used a no nasties for over a month). XP SP2 only. This replaces a DLL that essentially locks you out from changing the Windows UI. Yeah, it's stupid, but at least there's a hack.

Then, head over to deviantART and grab a bunch of styles.

Unzip to \Windows\resources.

Open Desktop Properties, click the Appearence tab, and choose your new style from the Windows and buttons drop-down.

Enjoy the look of Windows for a few more months, at least until Vista screws this up yet again.

Inspired by this LifeHacker post.

Hi, I'm a Stupid Idea

Email + Dance Dance Revolution = dancing through your email? Note to the Washington Department of Health. Please visit One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052 (link to map) and inspect the cafeterias and common areas of the buildings on this campus as an apparent outbreak of some as-yet-unknown contaminant is affecting thousands of workers at this address. Symptoms include delusional behavior, irrational thought patterns, and monopolistic business practices. Highly recommend a Vistectomy and/or application of Ointment SX. Research also indicates that exposure to other interests, such as Origami, may be helpful in recovery.

Link [via LifeHacker]

WoW Hits 6 Million Subscribers

That would explain the damn lag! As one of the new million subscribers since the last report came out, can we get some new servers?

Notice that WoW captured 1 million new subscribers in under 3 months? Those are some impressive numbers.

Link

Bush Knew About Katrina

Was there any doubt?

Story
Video

Ray Nagin should be fun to listen to for the next couple days.