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Entries from March 1, 2004 - March 31, 2004


Humorous TV Spots

Turnpike FilmsLast week I read a post at Matt Henderson's weblog about a funny TV spot for Nutrigrain he'd seen at Turnpike films. I had a look at the site, and then happened to check around the site and saw several more funny TV spots hosted there (particularly Budweiser) at the suggestion of my friend Andy.

Hee hee! what are great TV spots! I think they're probably too funny for their respective advertisers to actually use. If you need a good laugh after a hard day, or just a good chuckle, check out Turnpike Films and the TV spots by Justin Reardon.


A Reminder on The Impact of Technology

Today, during lunch I happened to stumble across a very interesting article by Howard Rheingold (the SmartMobs author), called Look Who's Talking. His article was originally published in the July 1999 issue of Wired Magazine, and in it, Rheingold interviews Amish living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania about technology and how they decide to accept, limit or reject it.

Of particular interest to Rheingold was the use of cell phones by Amish in their communities. It seemed almost against my own perceived idea of Amish, who I saw as being against technology. I thought, "How could they accept cell phones?" As it turns out, that's not quite right. In fact, in the article, the Amish approach to technology is actually to weigh any tool's positives against its impact on community and human relationships. They ask:

"Does it bring us together, or draw us apart?"

when deciding on any tool or technology they might consider using. How interesting that was, I thought. I like that idea.

I kept reading and really enjoyed the article. To me, one of the key paragraphs in the article came near the end:

"Though the Amish determination to allow phones at work but ban them at home might seem hard to accept, I appreciate the deliberation put into their decision. In fact, similar reflection might highlight conflicts between our own practices and values. How often do we interrupt a conversation with someone who is physically present in order to answer the telephone? Is the family meal enhanced by a beeper? Who exactly is benefiting from call waiting? Is automated voicemail a dark hint about the way our institutions value human time and life? Can pagers and cell phones that vibrate instead of ring solve the problem? Does the enjoyment of virtual communities by growing numbers of people enhance or erode citizen participation in the civic life of geographic communities?"

This is something along the lines of what I was thinking in a post I wrote almost exactly a year ago, called On Keeping Technology in Perspective. Reading Howard Rheingold's story was a nice refresher — reminding me about those thoughts from 2003, which I felt were worth repeating.

Now, as then, I am not advocating a hermit lifestyle with no tech whatsoever. No, I believe technology can help us greatly, but to do so it requires us to question its role in our lives. Often we, in this very tech driven culture, just accept whatever comes down the pike as somehow useful and worthwhile, and take the hook, line and sinker, never questioning our goals and uses for the thing. I know, because I've caught myself doing this very thing. :-)

I'm reminded how important it is for me to question any new technology thoroughly. If I decide to accept something into my life, to keep it in mind as I use it — making sure it meets with my goals and expectations. And then, to be honest and part company if it fails to meet my goals, or I find it separating me from my family and friends.

This is the case with my use of a mobile phone. I had one for several years, but recently I found it expensive and not terribly useful for the cost. So, I cancelled my account and went mobile phoneless.

However, I have since seen how well a pay-as-you-go mobile phone is working for both my father and my wife. In fact, I've sometimes borrowed one of their phones as needed. And at other times I've experienced cases where I could have truly benefitted by having a mobile phone along. Time without a cell phone has been good, because it sharpened those moments when I realized a mobile phone might be very useful and helpful.

So, now I plan to pick up a pay-as-you-go Virgin Mobile phone of my own in April. It fits my needs well, because the cost is relatively low, compared to my minimal uses. It will be useful for keeping contact with Gail when needed, useful for travel and for emergencies. And to not be bugged, I can leave it off most of the time.

But this realization didn't come until I thought about my reasons for having a $20/mo. plan and a phone that mostly gathered dust. This resolution was much clearer and significant after going phoneless, because it helped me see the real uses of having a mobile phone rather than imaginary uses.

That's just a personal example, and maybe for you a mobile phone is critical for your life. What I'm saying here is, consider evaluating the technologies and tools you accept. Consider thinking about their true usefulness and being aware of their positives and negatives, improvements and energy draws on your life. Really be honest about how important they really are.

I wonder if we did this, what would surprise us as less useful or important than we imagined? What would we see as drawing us away from our friends, families and communities? Would we have the capability to say no to those things if we were really honest?


Free Culture

Free CultureLate Friday night, I happened to read about a new book just released by Lawrence Lessig, called Free Culture (via Boing Boing).

The book is a very nicely written argument that US copyright laws should not be treated like property laws — that owners of copyright should not be able to hold power over copyrights for eternity. Lessig suggests that releasing copyrighted things into the public domain after a reasonable time is key to culture staying creative by building on what has come before.

What's interesting about the book is, it's being released, like Cory Doctorow's novels, for free download. So, Lawrence is putting his money where his mouth is, indeed. :-)

Because Larry has released his book with a Creative Commons license, others have already created multiple format versions of the book (iSilo, Mobipocket, MS Reader, Plaintext, etc. and another in Plucker format, all for free download.

I'm am now at page 130 and I must say Lawrence has a great style of presentation, using stories and examples rather than getting bogged down in lawyerly mumbo-jumbo. In fact, I'm enjoying the read very much. It's got me thinking about copyright, ideas and creativity in a way I hadn't before. That's good, especially as a creative person working in the Internet realm.

If you have interest in this area, I can recommend Free Culture quite highly, even though I'm just 1/3 the way through it. The flow of the book is very good, the structure of the argument is logical (but mot unapproachable) and it's an enjoyable read that makes you think. Can't beat that!

Update 2004-03-29: Now you can hear the book as MP3s read by various folks. Pretty cool.


Three Cool Music Sites

This week I was reminded of one great music site I'd found a year or two ago, a second found about a year ago and a new site I've just found this week. All three focus on independent artists, provide real earnings to those artists and offer lots of samples to hear the music before you buy.
I cam across Epitonic maybe 2 years ago and I forget just how. But when I found it, I was excited with the idea. Here was a site created by music lovers, with a wide variety of tunes to check out. I was particularly interested in electronica and alternative music, but if I had interest in other music styles, they were there too.

What I most liked about Epitonic was access to the music. They have several options for streaming albums by a specific artist, or tracks in a genre of music. The even have little introductory streams of description and tunes for each sub-genre, in case you want to know more about them.

I especially like Epitonic's approach of offering MP3 streams of albums or genres, since I often want to hear variety in a genre of music without the hassle of checking every artist's page for tracks to sample.

Lastly, they even offer MP3s for free download, that you can listen to locally. I've grabbed several tracks for personal listening, and if I choose to buy a CD from the artist, I know exactly where to go. And it's cool stuff. :-)

Some faves include Dune, David Duriez, Brendan Costigane, Llorca and Imperial Teen.
Grassroots Music is a site I found about a year ago or so, focusing on Christian oriented folk, rock, electronica, etc. Basically, good music on many genres with lyrics focused on praising and worshiping God.

The site focuses more on folk/acoustic tunes, but also provides a nice selection of other genres as well, particularly alternative and rock. Samples are offered on the site for each album they offer, and they have a nice MP3 page where you can download selected tracks from their artists.

I need to email GrassRootsMusic about establishing a nice SHOUTcast or other streaming server with samples from their artists. They offer streaming of certain albums with Real Audio, but I'd prefer something closer to what Epitonic offers — streaming by genre. I think this would be a great way to showcase the work of their artists.

I've already located some nice stuff here, like Tree63, The Maccabees and Trent Monk which are on my list of artists to buy CDs from this year.
This week I came across the Magnatune site via my iTunes 'Radio' selector. I was in the mood for some ambient music that doesn't get in the way of my work, and chose a Magnatune stream. I noticed in the info that they also had a site, so when I had a break, I took a look. I was impressed!

Magnatune was created by a husband and wife team (John Buckman and Jan Hanford) who were fed up with the music business and artists getting a pittance from their contract deals. So they started the site and offer 50% of all profits from album sales back to the artists.

Magnatune has a nice selection of music, also heavier on electronica, classical and world music, and they offer streaming of albums, tracks, and genres.

If you like an artist's work, you can buy the CD online immediately with a credit card or PayPal. What's interesting is, you can choose the value of the album, generally between $5 and $18 (from what I saw). You're encouraged to be generous, as a full 50% of that payment goes right to the artist. Very cool.

As for delivery, it appears to be primiarly by download — once the album is purchased, you can immediately download the full fidelity WAVs, MP3s, Ogg Vorbis and other formats from the site. The site suggest that a cable modem downloading an average WAV formatted album, zipped, is about an hour.

Some faves from Magnatune so far: Very Large Array, Solace, Kemper Crabb, Cargo Cult, Belief Systems and DAC Crowell.

Overall, I find this approach to music distribution really refreshing — seeing websites like Epitonic, Grassroots Music and Magnatune working direct with the artists, providing decent cash for an artist's hard work, and offering me great tunes.

So, if you're up for exploring some new musical sounds and artists, check out one or all of these three excellent music sites. Hopefully you'll find some interesting new music and will reward a musician for their art. :-)

Have a great weekend!


Goodbye and Thanks, Bozidar Benc

"I heard the news today, oh boy..."

Bozidar BencThat's just how I felt this morning as I popped over to Palm Addict, after seeing that Bozidar Benc has passed away. My heart dropped while reading those words. No! Not Bozidar! :-(

I knew Bozidar was in an accident this past February, but from the reports I'd read, he was improving. So, it came as an utter shock to me to read he was gone today. While I'm able to go on and work and live today, there is a subtle sadness as well. Bozidar is gone!

Bozidar leaves behind him a wife and children, which is maybe the saddest thing of all, especially being a father and husband myself. Bozidar is gone.

I am a very dedicated user of Launcher X (LX) and was a dedicated Launcher III (LIII) user before that, nearly since my first days as a Palm user. The idea of tabs for managing my Palm apps just seemed so natural, that I immediately took to Bozidar's creation and evangelized others about it too.

Funnily enough, just this weekend I was beaming some apps to friend and T2 user, who saw Launcher X as I was doing this. He was very excited by the tabs and look of LX, so I beamed him a copy, along with an OS X skin (this T2 user was a Mac user as well). I was reminded how wonderful LX really was with my friend's excitement... reminded how I take LX for granted.

Well, I can't take LX or Bozidar for granted any longer. Now I'm very aware of this and his other applications knowing that he's gone.

Thank you Bozidar for your work, but more importantly for your kind nature, always answering emails and graciously. I never met you personally, but I think you embodied the very best of the Palm community with your dedication to fine applications and treating your customers as friends and human beings, rather than dollars and cents. Thank you! You will be missed!

If you would like to send a donation to Bozidar's family in his memory, pop by PDA 24/7 and make a donation. Shaun says all donations for the nest 2 months will be sent to the Benc family.

Goodbye Bozidar, we'll miss you greatly.

Update 2004-03-25: Arthur noted that I'd spelled Bozidar's first name incorrectly as Bodizar. My apologies. This has now been fixed. (Thanks Arthur!)

Update 2004-03-28: Shaun has a dedicated page where you can get info on sending money to the Benc family. Thanks for handling this Shaun.