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Category: Technology

Meme watch

Mr. Sterling — no, it’s OK! This is a technology post, not a review. Read on.

Mr. Sterling, which is continuing to be mediocre, had an interesting little moment last night. Senator Sterling was sitting in a committee meeting tilting at a windmill, while a press conference raged outside. One of his aides was at the press conference, keeping Sterling updated via BlackBerry. No explanation of what was going on, just a flash of one aide typing on a BlackBerry and the aide with Sterling getting the message. You know a technology’s becoming prevalent when it shows up in a TV show without explanation.

End game

AltaVista, my home for several years, has been bought by Overture. I think congratulations are in order.

The price was $60 million in cash, plus $80 million in stock. How times have changed; AltaVista paid $163 million for Raging Bull, a few years back, and of course CMGI paid $2.9 billion for AltaVista back in the day. Still, I hope that the employees will get a small liquidity event (damn, that sounds coy these days).

I learned how to do what I do at AltaVista, and had some of the best mentors I could ever ask for. I’ve missed the place ever since I left, although I’ve never regretted the decision to leave. This, for me, is just the poignant coda to the story of a company that ought to have been one of the core companies of the modern Internet.

Most of the lessons one could learn from AltaVista’s decline are painfully obvious, but here’s one that perhaps isn’t. Brands don’t mean shit on the Internet. It’s not like most brick and mortar businesses. It’s very easy for a customer to get up and move somewhere else. Brand awareness is important, but it will not in and of itself retain customers. It will merely convince them to give your service a try.

AltaVista, at one point, thought that brand was a magic wand. Netcom, where I also worked, thought that brand was a magic wand. Both didn’t make it.

Pod people

CafePress has pre-announced their CD and book print on demand services. They’re hoping to get ‘em online in March. Man, that’s like less than a month away.

The prelim specs for books are pretty decent. They’re gonna be taking PDF files. They’ll probably support a range of sizes for both perfect bound and saddle stitched. Hopefully they’ll support standard book rack paperback sizes.

They’ll be doing data CDs shortly after launch.

The Panopticon

Worth noting: the BBC put out a call for people at the anti-war protests to send their digital snapshots to the BBC. Many responded. The BBC didn’t put up the raw results, which is perhaps a good thing, but I wish they’d filtered it a little less — we wind up with ten pictures. Still, it’s wild to see a major news publication doing this kind of thing.

800 pound gorilla

Google just bought Pyra. Or, to put it in clearer terms, Google just bought Blogger. I, um, yeah.

The bad speculation is that Blogger posts will get indexed in more or less real time. I suspect that won’t happen, because there are certain technological barriers in the way, but it might. It seems more than likely that Blogger will at least be used for page discovery.

The catch-22 is that either Google intends to take advantage of synergies, which would seem liable to give Blogger users an advantage in search results, or Google just bought Pyra cause they’re doing cool things, which is not the sort of thing a canny dot com should be doing. One shouldn’t get an advantage on the search page just because one’s using a certain tool. Well, time will tell.

Sidekick update

L’il Bolt’s training is coming along nicely, but I fear he lacks the fire necessary to —

Oh, sorry, wrong kind of sidekick.

I’m still pretty happy with this Sidekick, with some caveats. The software bugs which prevent it from ringing when Keyguard is enabled are annoying. The battery life is short enough so that I have to recharge it every night without fail. Also, my thumb wheel broke and I had to get the entire unit replaced. All in all, I’d say it’s about 85% of the way there and I still recommend it for people like me who don’t mind being early adopters. Danger is currently claiming that a software update to address known bugs will show up sometime in March, but that’s not a firm date.

Clear as mud

This picture is probably the coolest picture I have seen in years. No kidding. It’s a no kidding high tech not yet perfected invisibility cloak.

Go look. Now. It’s a guy standing in the middle of a park and you can see right through him. It is incredibly science fictional. It’s not Photoshopped.

Smart news

CNN is showing photos that a viewer emailed in. Real time citizen reporting is here. Why did it have to be about this? The picture appears to be the moment of actual explosion; you can see chunks of debris centered on the shuttle. There’s a shot of Mission Control, which is utterly quiet. My god.

Addenda: now they’re asking a caller to hold her phone up to her radio scanner. No good news, although she hasn’t heard anything about injuries on the ground. She has heard that a lot of debris has been found. She’s been deputized to relay from the scanners to CNN.

Reading, texting, 'rithmetic

Sure; when there are easy ways to send text messages around on little tiny devices, students will cheat. I wonder how you keep that from happening in the Steve Mann vision of always-on cyborgs? You’d have to actively jam the devices, since communication inside the classroom is as much a problem as access to the Internet. Or just retool to an open book system, which might be much better.