Friday night stuff

  • The #davos tag in Twitter is yielding very little good stuff other than tweets from @JOHNBYRNE the EIC of Businessweek and @thomascrampton. Sounds like Davos this year is festival of grumpiness. Would have liked to have seen the Turkish dude flip out on the Israeli dude. Temper, temper.
  • Byrne posted a link to this slideshow (I need to blog on the genius of the slideshow model for churning up a site’s pageviews) on “If Google Ran Your Business” based on a Jeff Jarvis meme on those same lines.
  • I had the most interesting headhunter call in a long time for a gig for which I am not qualified, but which, in the right hands, could be incredibly awesome. To the person who anonymously referred me to the “dean” deal, thanks, I am flattered.
  • Churbuck’s Theater-That-Makes-You-Smarter saw two wild showings this week: Häxan by Benjamin Christensen is the strangest flick I’ve seen since John Waters’ early stuff with Divine. 1922 – Danish/Swedish, silent. About witches. Demented and The 400 Blows, Francois Truffaut. The latter is awesome, the former is weird.
  • I am about to be invaded by ten 15-year old boys and girls for a Friday night birthday party for my son. Pray for me. I already have a migraine.
  • I have purchased my 2009 Massachusetts Fishing License and intend to exercise it tomorrow by ice fishing (aka “ice drinking”). Report to follow and yes I will watch my step and a) not break more bones and b) not fall through the ice.

New toy – headset fix

I use a pair of Shure 210 earbuds for listening to my iPod, watching movies on my ThinkPad. Bought them for way too much money a couple summers ago from a kiosk in the US Air terminal at LaGuardia. They have done good service, but one of the channels was shorting out and it was a pain in the ass to keep fiddling with the cable to get true stereo.

I just stopped at a similar kiosk in the new American Airlines terminal at Raleigh Airport. I asked the guy if he carried spare cables. Of course not. But he did have a combo phone/music adapter — basically a microphone with that sits between the ear buds and the device. I am on a call now with the rig and the clarity is the best I have ever had on ANY call, including a land line. Not sure how I sound when I talk, there’s a weird lack of feedback through the buds and the problem with having both ears filled is I feel disconnected from the ambient noise around me (approaching attackers, gate announcements, etc.).

Still, good solution that kills two birds with one store. I get a good phone headset alternative to my flaky Jawbone bluetooth model and I get a fix to my short circuiting issue for DVD and music use. A good $48.

Amazon gets ready for second-generation Kindle – USATODAY.com

Amazon gets ready for second-generation Kindle – USATODAY.com.

Stand by for an announcement in early February.

I took some guff yesterday for remaining a Kindle fan. Then I read this Frost & Sullivan report on consumer electronic in the “economic winter” and this jumped out at me:

“The Amazon Kindle, a wireless reading device was the number one selling item. Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is currently sold out. There is hope for eBook readers (see Inside Mobile, Sept. 8, 2008)”

My compatriot’s beef against the Kindle (other than its semi-plastic crappy design) is its uselessness during takeoff and landing. Hey, I want to crash as much as the guy in the next seat, so I make sure the Whispernet radio is turned off so the pilots’ won’t start reading Grisham on their instruments during the foggy approach.  In four months of frequent flying I have yet once to get told by a maurading flight attendant to turn off the book. Secret is keep it in its leather moleskine-ish cover and act like it is a book and not let the attendant get a good look at it.

Still, with a new model on the way (which I will not buy as I have a year or more before I amortize the hardware cost of V1 through e-book discounts (which generally are 40% off the paper version), I’d say Amazon has finally staked out, with eInk, the elusive electric book. And for that I am glad. Now if they would open up the platform and let other device manufacturers sic their best human factors engineers on the task, we might end with some truly ergonomic advances in reading technology.

Hub Fans Bid Updike Adieu

John Updike, literary lion, went down swinging yesterday at 76. He was a good writer — not my favorite writer, but a good writer, –owner of a certain suburban middle-class zeitgeist that John Cheever couldn’t stake out, a North Shore/Essex County Ipswich-to-Georgetown world of adulterous young mutual fund managers and tired, cranky Yankees. He left us with Rabbit Angstrom, and for that we should be grateful.

He also was a Red Sox fan, and wrote one of the better essays on the game, a elegant New Yorker essay on Ted Williams’ last game in that “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark:”  Fenway Park.

One of the scholasticists behind me said, “Let’s go. We’ve seen everything. I don’t want to spoil it.” This seemed a sound aesthetic decision. Williams’ last word had been so exquisitely chosen, such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution, that already it felt a little unreal in my head, and I wanted to get out before the castle collapsed. But the game, though played by clumsy midgets under the feeble glow of the arc lights, began to tug at my attention, and I loitered in the runway until it was over. Williams’ homer had, quite incidentally, made the score 4-3. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out, Marlin Coughtry, the second-base juggler, singled. Vic Wertz, pinch-hitting, doubled off the left-field wall, Coughtry advancing to third. Pumpsie Green walked, to load the bases. Willie Tasby hit a double-play ball to the third baseman, but in making the pivot throw Billy Klaus, an ex-Red Sox infielder, reverted to form and threw the ball past the first baseman and into the Red Sox dugout. The Sox won, 5-4. On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.”

Retail forecast to decline in 2009

American Express reported its cardholders spent 10% less in the last quarter — that’s my card, I despise credit card balances, I’m a total Membership Rewards miles whore — ten percent less than the previous year’s holiday quarter. That says a lot. Ten percent.

Now retail sales are forecast to also decline this calendar year. The news was delivered on NPR this morning like it was the end of the world, but it begs the question: why do we need to buy more crap each year than the year before? Sure, growth is good, but at some point the world needs to leave the SkyMall catalogue in the seat pocket and not commit credit card seppuku for that solar powered garden gnome or waterproof iPod dock.

What I’m reading and watching

For baseball fans it is hot stove season, the interregnum between the World Series and the call up of pitchers and catchers to spring training. I’ve got my wood stove roaring and my bookshelf groaning with winter reading. Here’s a quick list of what’s in the backpack, on the nightstand, and on the Kindle these days; and then what I’m watching on the DVD player.

What We Had:  A brief memoir by James Chace of life growing up in the southeastern Massachusetts city of Fall River — once the largest cotton spinning city in the world — now a sad hulk and husk of its former self. This is where Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her father forty whacks, but Chace writes an amazingly poignant story of the decline of a Yankee family from privilege to irrelevance. From his grandfather, the former president of the Massachusetts State Senate to his brother, a crazed World War II war hero, Chace tells a elegant story of a family, a city, and a society in decline.

Not on the par of “Goodbye to All That” — but nevertheless a good book about the slide of a Yankee family and one man’s determination to make sense of it.

Going to See the Elephant: Rodes Fishburne’s first novel. He worked at Forbes ASAP when I was at Forbes.com but I didn’t know him. He edited the annual “Big Issue” — a compendium of essays by big thinkers and celebs — and that most shows in his brilliant portrayal of the mad scientist/big thinker that seems like an amalgamation of Dean Kamen, Nathan Myhrvold, Esther and Freeman Dyson, and every other digital visionary to draw breath and haunt a podium the last twenty years. This is a good San Francisco novel — worthy of the canon that includes McTeague and rolls through the ages — but being a comical effort, it may irritate on occasion as it reaches for laughs that are not always (but occasionally) there.

Movies

I decided to dig through my son’s amazing 50 DVD collection — Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films, and have been toting around some discs as I travel. This past week I viewed:

Brief Encounter: 1945 David Lean directed this Noel Coward weepie starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. Listed among the best efforts of all time in British cinema. Amazingly effective, melodrama aside, in terms of Lean camera work and impeccable editing, but mostly in the pre-WWII depiction of adultry and morals in suburban England. I wasn’t boo-hooing in my hankie, but it’s interesting to see how to do a weepie right.

Ballad of a Soldier: directed by Grigory Chukhraj. 19-year old Russian soldier in World War II destroys two tanks, is hailed a hero, asks for a leave to go home to fix his mother’s leaking roof. Makes his way through peril and travail, falling in love along the way with the awesome Zhanna Prokhorenko (with whom I have a crush now). Interesting flick released in 1959 during the post-Stalin thaw, so not a lot of propaganda weirdness. Apparently a major sentimental favorite in Russia to this day.

Richard III: Laurence Olivier as the deformed evil tyrant and usurper Richard in Shakespeare’s masterpiece of treachery and lust for power. All I can say, is whoa, I mean I know Olivier had the reputation, but for some reason I had never full appreciated why (and it isn’t for his role as the Nazi dentist Dr. Zell in Marathon Man). This confirms why. The dude can act. Directed by him, this is considered his cinematic Shakespearean masterpiece. Technicolor makes the sets and costumes bizarrely gorgeous.

I wish I could memorize his “Now is the winter of our discontent …” soliloqy for my next staff meeting. Watch this piece of acting:

M. Hulot’s Holiday: Faithful French readers will doubtlessly say, “Duh, where have you been?” — but this is the funniest movie I have seen in a very long, long time. Jacque Tati, director and star, has to be one of the greatest physical comedians ever — up there with Chaplin and Keaton. The tennis scene made me pee my pants.  See this.

Whereabouts: week of Jan 26

Monday – Jan 26: Cotuit
Tuesday – Jan 27: Cotuit to Morrisville, NC
Wed. – Jan 28: Morrisville, NC
Thurs – Jan 39: Morrisville, NC to Cotuit
Friday-Sunday: Jan 30-Feb 2

Quick trip to North Carolina this week to handle some transitional stuff, Project Mayhem, and then girding loins for some mega-intra USA biz dev travel in February. Domestic travel+Feb.=delays, woes, and coats in overhead compartments.

When video goes wrong

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Randall Stross writes today in the Sunday New York Times about the fine line between camp and hell when it comes to corporate video.

In it he calls attention to the wonderful internal video made by some Microsoft researchers for a product technology called Songsmith — apparently a “song generator” that one sings into and which then infers from the lyrics what the electro-synth soundtrack should be.  It is indeed awesome in its awfulness. Watch the first 30 seconds, get the idea, and skip to the video at the end of this post for its real contribution to society.

The payoff on Stross’ story is the pointer to what some clever souls have done with the Songsmith technology, feeding into it well known head bangers such as Metallica, and my personal favorite, Van Halen. This has made my day, almost as much as the discovery earlier this week of what the acronyms SIaS and FIaT mean in conjunction with Yankee’s owner, George Steinbrenner.

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