Saturday, January 30, 2010

Heads bowed in silent prayer to the fish gods

Heads Bowed in Silent Prayer to the Fish Gods
Winter fun in Madison, Wisconsin.

I sent my grouchy email to Amazon today

I let Amazon know what I think of their delisting Macmillan. (After having such a hard time finding their email thingie that I needed to use Help to find it.)
I'm a long-time Amazon user and rely on it not just for books but for consumer products like electronics and photo equipment.

I'm outraged by your delisting of Macmillan books. I don't care how you and your corporate partners wrangle among each other, but don't take it out on your customers. I'll be shopping elsewhere until I receive some assurance that this ridiculous negotiating strategy has ended -- AND WON'T BE REPEATED.

And meanwhile, I'll hold off on any e-reader purchase until after the iPad is available for purchase.
Let Amazon know you expect them to keep their customers in mind while they fight with their suppliers.

Amazon sure picked a weird way to try to top the iPad in electronic publishing news

At the end of a week in which e-publishing news was dominated by laughter at the iPad's name and amazement at the capabilities of the new Kindle competitor from Apple, Amazon sure pulled a weird stunt in the face of the new competitive threat.

With no fanfare and more or less in the dark of Friday night, they punished Kindle owners who might try to download books from Macmillan and its subsidiaries. The publishers' books had mysteriously disappeared from the Amazon database. What was behind the move was the disagreement about e-book prices between Amazon ($10) and Macmillan ($15). John Scalzi, one of the affected authors, commented:
This asinine jockeying over electronic book prices has very little to do with what’s actually good or useful for anyone other than the manufacturer of a piece of hardware… who also happens to be a book retailer. I understand Amazon’s desire to corner the electronic book market with the Kindle, which requires publishers to bend to its will on pricing, but I’m not notably sympathetic to it. In one of those grand ironies of life, I’ve been here before with the iPod, a thing for which I buy music not from Apple but from Amazon, which sold DRM-free mp3s and earned my music purchasing dollars because of it (and who, if memory serves, allowed for some flexibility in pricing). Now my iPod touch is filled with music not bought from Apple. If these companies’ relative positions flip because of books, well, now. That would be funny.
E-books are already rather insubstantial and distressingly virtual, especially the DRM versions like Amazon's that can't be passed on like a print book. This hardly seems a good time for Amazon to be be making sudden capricious moves that limit their customers' choices.

It just seems to guarantee that more people will say, Guess I'll just wait on the whole e-book thing until I get a chance to try out an iPad.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Perigee Moon: If the full moon seemed bigger and brighter than usual tonight, it was.

Perigee Moon
Nice night for vampires and werewolves. If the full moon seemed bigger and brighter than usual tonight, it was -- 14% larger and a full 30% brighter than your average moon. It's the perigee moon -- the time in its elliptical orbit that it's closest to the earth, as opposed to apogee, when it's the farthest.

Tech Note: Two exposures, one for the moon, another for the sky and trees.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mere laughter or prior usage never kept Steve Jobs from using a name he really wanted

All the laughter and all the commentary about Apple's monumental blunder of naming their new tablet computer after a feminine hygiene product are really beside the point. Steve Jobs knows that every laugh is an ad for the iPad. The laughter will die down as people get tired of the joke and move on, but the name will remain and if a little frisson of the transgressive still clings to it, so much the better.

Of course, Apple was not the first major company to use the name iPad. Fujitsu, STMicro, and Siemens all got there first. And since 2008, Coconut Grove Pads has held the rights to the name for padded bras.

But Steve jobs has never let a little matter of prior usage deter him. Like many creative geniuses, he is a creative borrower and visionary adapter. Xerox invented a revolutionary (and expensive) computer workstation with "desktop" icons controlled by a mouse. Jobs turned it into a consumer product and brought computer mice to the millions.

He seems especially good at recognizing a good name. The fact that the Beatles had a little record company they called Apple did not strike him as an obstacle when naming his computer company. If anything, it just seemed to validate his choice. Years of legal wrangling followed, but he held onto the name. When Apple announced the iPhone, it was deja vu all over again. Cisco Systems owned the name and sued. But the phones are still called iPhones.
Apple may face a legal battle with Fujitsu of Japan and STMicroelectronics, Europe's largest chipmaker, over use of the iPad name for its tablet computer. STMicro trademarked the name for its proprietary semiconductor technology in 2000 in Europe and has been using the name since.

Fujitsu has made a handheld computer called the iPad for use by shop assistants since 2002, and has an outstanding trademark application for the name.

There are other owners of iPad trademarks, including Siemens, which has the right to use the term for engines and motors; and Coconut Grove Pads , which since 2008 has the right to the term for padded bras. The situation is reminiscent of 2007, when Apple first announced the iPhone and Cisco Systems owned the rights to the name. Cisco launched a lawsuit against Apple that was settled when the two companies agreed to share the name. Terms of the deal were never disclosed.
The irony here, of course, is that Steve Jobs is a leading advocate of protecting intellectual property -- especially through Digital Rights Management technology. Doubtless he will prevail in any legal and financial wrangling about the iPad name. In doing so, he will underscore an important reality about intellectual property, especially in the areas covered by trademark and copyright law.

Whatever one's legal rights, ownership of a name or other intellectual property is only as lasting as the resources that can be brought to bear to defend it. When there's a conflict, the rights almost always end up with whoever has the deepest pockets and the best lawyers.

Recalling my favorite car ever while thinking about the deathtraps in the driveway


I'm in an extreme state of cognitive dissonance. For years now we've bought used cars with our heads, not our hearts. We put our trust in Toyota's legendary quality and reliability, ignored the bland styling, and our trust was rewarded. Both the Corolla and the Avalon have provided many years and miles of trouble-free driving. Eight years ago, I bought the Avalon with 97,000 miles on the odometer and drove it another six times around the earth as a commuter with never a problem. I'm still driving it.

Now Toyota informs me that both cars are potential deathtraps because of the sudden acceleration thing. It's not that I'm particularly worried. The problem is rare. I've been in other cars with stuck accelerators and know what to do -- forget about the brakes, throw the car into neutral and pull over, and if you can't do that, just turn off the ignition. But not everyone reacts that way, and people who should be alive today died through no fault of their own.

The way Toyota handled this has been terrible. It seems their lust for market share led them to compromise their quality standards. Coverups were followed by obfuscation, which were followed by halfhearted recalls, which were followed by this week's draconian production shut-down. In just a few months they've thrown away the trust they built up over decades. If you can't trust Toyota, who can you trust?

When I was younger, I didn't take such a functional approach to cars. As I look at the deathtraps in the driveway I think about my favorite car ever -- the old Peugeot 403 I owned in the Sixties (Colombo later drove a convertible version of the same car on the TV series). It was far from reliable. It had a twitchy, hypersensitive electrical system that often failed to start in wet weather. But Peugeot was thoughtful enough to provide a perfectly logical French solution -- a hand crank with which to start the car.

It was a wayback machine that transported me back to the early days of motoring. I loved those days when the car wouldn't start and I had to get out the crank, careful to hold it properly so it wouldn't come back and break my arm. It might have driven some people nuts, but I found it a lovable quirk, not to mention a practical one.

It was by far the most comfortable car I ever drove. There was something about the seats that made for a perfect driving posture in great physical comfort. The car handled beautifully for the time, with precise, European steering and a nice road feel. The design, by the great Italian design firm Pininfarina, was my idea of the ideal car design. Sheer grace in sculpted steel -- neither bland nor too flashy, just perfect.

Maybe it's time to follow my heart again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

“Liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”

Barack Obama's proposed 3-year spending freeze is channeling the worst economic advice given to Herbert Hoover. Paul Krugman comments on the lunacy of the freeze in a blog post titled "Obama liquidates himself."
It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)
We did not go to the polls in 2008 to elect a dead Republican. Contact the White House and let them know what you think of this plan for political suicide.