The Saddest Hard Drive YouTube Video I’ve Ever Seen

The video’s title is “Hard Disc – NEED HELP – Can this be fixed?” Um, no buddy, I’m pretty sure it can’t.

[6/24/12 UPDATE: Here is a classic case of a ghost entry. The original video has been pulled from the Internet. It cannot be located. There is a little to do in this redesign but to note that this entry caused at least one person on Facebook some amusement, regret that all known context has disappeared, and move on — assuming, of course, that anyone even finds this entry.]

Inside A Q&A With Kevin Smokler

ksmoklerIn 2006, Kevin Smokler, the speaker and editor behind Bookmark Now, partnered with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, and software developer Adam Goldstein to determine just how information about bookstore events and authors might be collected at an online hub. That central place turned out to be, which purports to make “finding when a favorite author is coming to your town as easy as checking the weather.”

This sunny mission got a much needed dose of radiation back in April when BookTour received a $350,000 cash injection from While the news was eclipsed by the Amazonfail contretemps at the time, the big financial push certainly suggested that wasn’t about to set into the sunset anytime soon.

At the time the deal was announced, nobody had remarked on the grand irony of an online giant like Amazon using events listed at independent bookstores to make a quick buck. Fortunately, BookTour CEO and Chief Evangelist Kevin Smokler was kind enough to take some time out to answer some vital questions.

BookTour is financially supported by Amazon. Isn’t there a conflict of interest here? If, for example, a customer sees the BookTour link on an Amazon Author Page but the customer is encouraged to purchase the book from Amazon (instead of the bookstore at an author appearance), doesn’t this result in a lost sale for the bookstore? What steps are you taking to ensure that independent bookstores are able to secure the sales they require to support the financial burden of an author appearance?

Ed, we’re in the awareness business. Our job is make author events known to the greatest number of people that we can. No doubt that some potential customers who spot an event on Amazon will buy the book there and either (a) not go to the event at all or (b) go to the event with that Amazon purchase in hand. However, there’s an entire other second class of potential event attendees who will go to an event and may wish to reserve judgment on buying a book until they see the author in person. At that point, only the bookstore is in a position to sell the book to them. Also, we must consider whether that person would have known of the event at all without it being listed in such a high traffic place like Amazon.

Bottom line: The level of awareness that an event receives when listed on Amazon, to our mind, far outweighs the potential loss of sales. As to whether a store can financially support an event, that’s up to them. There are plenty of ways to run a bookstore in the 21st century and we believe smart booksellers know much more about this than we do.

Since BookTour is reliant on the Amazon Author Page for its infrastructure, have you worked out a scenario in which an Indiebound link will be available on an Amazon Author Page?

Sort of. Amazon has a corporate policy which disallows any outside linking to anybody. It’s a policy that BookTour disagrees with and which we have made known to Amazon. We hope to change this as our relationship with them deepens and moves forward.

For now, any bookstore may include a link to their e-commerce operation inside the description of any event happening at their store, so long as they added the event to our database. If their store’s website is powered by IndieBound, they need only include that link in the event description and the feed arrangement we have with IndieBound takes care of the rest.

(That link is not a clickable link, only one that can be cut and pasted into a separate browser window.)

We realize this is far from an ideal solution and we have told Amazon as much. We hope to change this going forward.

You say in your press release that Booktour represents the largest database of author and literary events. Do you mean to say that you now have relationships with every publisher? What are you doing to ensure the reliability of this information? Do you have someone on board who is checking the data on your site against the bookstores and the publishers?

Many publishers, but not all. Via our syndication relationships with both chain and independent booksellers, we can assure that we cover nearly every event happening in America in a bookstore. Libraries, universities, corporations, civic institutions and individual authors and publicists all actively list with us as well.

Reliability: Every event that enters our database is checked against several automated scripts and algorithms. We also do an additional level of checking by human eyes. All told, incorrect event data rarely lives on BookTour for more than 24 hours.

Checking: For more than a year, we’ve had syndication relationships with the major bookstore chains and Indiebound. Meaning they send their upcoming events in an automated feed to us which we update every 24 hours. We just set up a similar relationship with Simon & Schuster and we have several such relationships under active development with other publishers.

Is the information on Booktour proprietary in any way?


Are you applying any DRM?


Is Amazon claiming it to be proprietary because it appears on their pages?


If Booktour is open source, do you have a specific agreement in place with Amazon to ensure that the information, as disseminated through their pages, remains open source?

Yes. Part of the terms of our deal with Amazon was that anyone else is free to use our data exactly as Amazon does, now and in perpetuity.

You’ve introduced EventMinion, which will take author tour data in any format and permit professionals to enter it into your database at $1 a pop. Yet users will still be able to add events for free. How are you distinguishing between EventMinion-added events and user-added events?

We’re not. To us, an event is an event is an event.

Will you place greater priority to listing EventMinion events over the user-added events?

No. See above.

TourBuilder gives the author an opportunity to receive an automated itinerary of bookstores. Are you charging for this service?


Are you prioritizing some cities over others for this?

No. Users choose which cities they want to visit. If they don’t, we suggest larger cities with more available venues.

Big box stores over independent stores?


Then what is the methodology behind TourBuilder?

Venues are suggested based on where authors with similar books have toured in the past. Which means that the more authors that use TourBuilder, the smarter it gets.

If Amazon controls the minority stake, who controls the majority?

The three founders and our one employee.

To what extent is the majority committed to not being bought out by Amazon (as they are wont to do with such handy services that it deems valuable)?

We’ll certainly entertain an offer should they put one forward. But that also doesn’t preclude us from entertaining offers from other interested parties.

An Open Source Experiment

In resuscitating my laptop, I’m trying out an experiment. The only applications that I have installed on this machine are open source. While this means keeping Microsoft Office, Photoshop, Illustrator and Sound Forge sequestered to my desktop, their open source counterparts OpenOffice, GIIMPShop, Inkscape, and Audacity (which I was already using to a large degree anyway, along with Firefox, VLC, and Thunderbird) will operate on the laptop.

The prospect of being rid of corporate software appeals greatly to me (which is not to suggest that the above programs, in their Windows incarnations, don’t come with their own EULA strings attached). The problem with the open source movement, however, is that it is populated by quacks who prescribe half-built programs as definitive alternatives to their robust counterparts. Nevertheless, if Firefox and Thunderbird are now bona-fide alternatives, what’s not to suggest that similar remedies might come with the open source responses to Adobe and Company? The big question I have is whether I can get by on the laptop with these programs and, if necessary, find workarounds to some of the things I can do with applications that sell for hundreds of dollars.

I figured if a guy like Mark Pilgrim can make the bold switch from Mac to Ubuntu, then at least I can try this half-assed approach on Windows. And who knows? Maybe I might end up going Ubuntu on the laptop.

For folks who are interested, this is a helpful beginning for open source Windows apps.

On Twitter

I have attempted Twitter and I can’t say that I’m happy. It might help if there was more of a payoff. You see, I had thought this was some kind of social networking application, but aside from a kind friend invite from someone named “hephatitssundae,” who seems, based on her user profile, to be a pleasant pink-haired individual who I will likely never meet, my online ramblings, as far as I know, have been received by deaf ears. Perhaps I’m not meant to communicate in shorthand. Perhaps I’m simply too old.

140 characters? Hell, I can just barely get in a haiku within the box. What possible significance can I offer with such a diminutive limit? I may as well “type” a text message into my phone. At least I know that my text message will go to someone I know and that it will have some actual content value, such as conveying where the hell I am or telling someone I’m running five minutes late or describing a rather strange place I happen to be in. But if I’m typing every thought and I don’t have unlimited space to consider depth or nuances, then the Twitter people are almost ensuring a kind of Sturgeon’s law effect. I could be in the middle of a perfectly fantastic sentence, only to be warned that I have 20 characters left, and then where will I be? Spreading it out across a vast chasm of other text messages? That’s inconsiderate to the other users. That’s ineffectual communication. The problems may very well be mine, since I’m sort of a long-winded guy. But Twitter’s approach suggests that “long-winded guys” aren’t part of the constituency, which suggests, in turn, a kind of conformity masquerading as community.

And that’s just it. Aside from quibbles over meaningless messages, I don’t feel like conveying what I am constantly doing or thinking to random strangers, particularly since I don’t know if this content is being aggregated or data mined or sifted through by a server farm. I feel that the whole Twitter exercise is less of a social experiment and more of a way to rifle through anything I have to say so that people can sell me things somewhere down the line or so “friends” who are less concerned with who I am and more concerned with what I can purchase can form some kind of deranged impression of who I am. I have no proof, of course; only instinct. I do know that Twitter was set up by Obvious Corporation, a corporation led by one-time Blogger head man Evan Williams, who once worked at Google and who likely learned some inside information about how Google keeps track of user data (see, for example, the cookie set to expire on January 17, 2038).

I’m wondering if he is familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mind set shortly before his death. After all, what do you do after you’ve given the world Blogger? Perhaps this is another case of the time-honored tech equation:

1. Twitter
2. ???
3. Profit!!!

Twitter is gaining apparent steam right now. Obviously, this is going to cost bandwidth. And obviously, Obvious is going to need some way to recoup their investment. I can imagine the pitch to advertisers: “You think Google AdSense provides context? Well, not only do we have a user base revealing their immediate impulses online without fear of any of it coming back to bite them in the ass later. But we’re building a community to keep them addicted to this confessional impulse. We all know that nobody cares about privacy anymore and our user base demonstrates it!”

To be fair, Twitter has given you a Trash icon to get rid of your messages. But let’s say that you get on a roll and you have hundreds of messages to sift through. Who’s honestly going to take the time to go through them? A blog is one thing, where you can single out your thoughts by categories and the like. But Twitter offers no easy way to sort through your messages except chronology, which implies, in addition to the meager 140 character cap, that thought isn’t part of this new form of communication.

Of course, it’s very possible that some smart people, perhaps inspired by David Markson’s books, might find a form of free association and interesting expression with this tool.

But without thought and with an ostensible attitude and an interface that collides against the idea of thinking before writing, I’m afraid I have serious reservations against Twitter’s possibilities.

Today in Killer Robot Warfare

theterm3_2.jpgThe Register: “‘Team Warrior’, a killer robot manufacturing alliance led by General Atomics of San Diego, CA, announced yesterday that its Warrior Extended Range/Multi Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System (ERMP UAS) would enter production for the US Army, another step in the US forces’ ongoing effort to automate most military activities….The Warrior will carry a relatively limited weapons payload, typically a quartet of Hellfire II missiles. It will be able to destroy no more than four tanks or buildings before reloading. However, its new General Atomics stablemate, the evocatively-named MQ-9 ‘Reaper’ can manage up to a tonne and a half of varied ordnance, or as many as 14 Hellfires.”

We Pause for a Moment of Geek

The new workstation went operational at 2 AM. Three bottles of beer were consumed during the course of its construction.

asus.jpgMy previous motherboard, whom I had referred to occasionally as “Fred,” had fried. And the reason it took so long for me to replace it was because I discovered that SATA had replaced IDE, PCI-Express had replaced AGP, LGA775 had become the standard Intel configuration (with the pins now on the mobo, instead of the CPU), DDR2 had replaced DDR (and more pins had been added to the memory sticks). Even the needs of the motherboard had changed. Not content to merely process bits of data, there was even a voice recognition jumper just behind the DIMM banks that allowed me to order Thai food.

All this over a matter of three years.

In short, after a fruitless search for a replacement motherboard (“Out of stock,” “You’re still using that chipset?,” et al.), I was forced to start pretty much from scratch. The good news is that this new system will probably last me about eighteen months before it goes completely obsolete.

The new box I built is equipped with a snazzy Asus P5B Deluxe, a 3.4 GHz PentiumD*, and 2 gigs of 800 MHz memory. This probably means nothing to you, but it means a good deal to me. I can’t be content to have someone else assemble a system for me. My tactile contact with the insides might allow the computer to understand me and not crap out on me so much. I took Fred’s death very personally. Who knew that our love affair would end in his suicide? I treated Fred very well. I even sang to Fred. And he decided to fizzle out. Perhaps he couldn’t handle my MP3 collection.

But the new box is much faster. It accesses the Internets. I need to tweak a few things, but it currently recognizes two of my three hard drives (and there’s room for six more). I still miss Fred, who now sits collecting dust in my closet with other obsolete computer parts, but I’m hoping that Natasha (the name I have applied to the motherboard) will provide me with a few years of comfort in the late night hours.

The upshot is that podcast production will begin anew very soon because of these developments.

* — If you think I’m shelling out more than $200 for a Core 2 Duo when the price will bifurcate in a matter of six months, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

To the San Francisco Speakers

Dear San Francisco Speakers:

Hi there! You and I have had a pretty good relationship over the years. I’ve done my best to let pals know that one should not devalue your status in the dictionary, which is often placed just below humans who deliver lectures in front of a crowd. I’ve always thought this definition class was unfair. And I’ve had the sense over the years, with your tweeters and subwoofers and your tendency to surprise me with your performance when I feed something to you that’s too loud, that there was perhaps some consciousness at work.

speakers.jpgPreposterous, I know. You’re just a manufactured construct. And it’s unseemly for a nonreligious man to think these things. I know there’s thousands of you being sold at Best Buy every day, sometimes constructed inside small radios, but all of you pretty much the same. Bless the free market and mass production.

And yet I can’t help but wonder. Over the past four days, I have heard snippets of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” about twenty-seven times. I’ve heard it drifting out of a speaker in somebody’s apartment. I’ve heard it in cars that pass by. I’ve heard it in cafes. I’ve heard it in bars, seeing a tattooed man’s eyes mist up.

Now certainly there are worse songs in the world than this now more than two decades old ballad, a sincere though aloof attempt at sentimentality. But why are you going out of your way to play me this song? Why is it that every time I set foot outside, I hear a speaker playing this song. I simply cannot believe that the entire city population listens to KOIT all the time or that, further, KOIT plays this song endlessly in a four-song rotation or that the majority of my fellow San Franciscans really like Foreigner this much.

So I must believe that it is you who are the culprits and that there might be a great speaker conspiracy. Perhaps there are secret meetings that go on. Perhaps speakers walk away from their cabinets when I sleep and contrive plans to terrify me in dim alleys. Perhaps this is a first wave of sentient speakers unleashed by the government and I’m simply unaware of and it’s all part of a plot to condition me to be a good consumer. Perhaps you communicate on a sound spectrum that I cannot hear, letting another speaker know that I am about to walk by. I really don’t know.

But if you are communicating with me, are you employing this song to tell me that you, the great speaker population of San Francisco, want to know what love is? Are you trying to impute that you want me to show you?

Look, don’t take this personally. I’m really flattered by your attention and you’ve been really nice to me, but I’m involved with someone. Further, even if I weren’t involved with someone, I’d have no idea how to make love with you. Would I need to rip open your fabric with a Leatherman Wave and create an orifice? I know love conquers all, but I suspect this would be uncomfortable for me. Or is the Foreigner song an indication that you don’t know what love is? Perhaps this is your way of communicating that you’ve been neglected.

If so, I understand and I will do my best to whisper sweet nothings in your ears. You’re just going to have to tell me where I can find the auditory meatus.

Very truly yours,

Edward Champion

Perhaps This Explains Why I Pour Salt on My Wrist Just Before a Blog Post

New Scientist: “The US could be rife with ‘internet addicts’ who are as clinically ill as alcoholics, according to psychiatrists involved in a nationwide study….Most disturbing, according to the study’s lead author Elias Aboujaoude, is the discovery that some people hide their internet surfing, or go online to cure foul moods – behaviour that mirrors the way alcoholics behave.”

Technology and Terrified Book Critics

Over at Critical Mass, Ellen Heltzel points (but doesn’t link) to this Terry Caesar essay. Caesar suggests that when a college student sits down to read a book, she might find difficulty looking for a space to read. Apparently, Caesar and Heltzel don’t seem to understand that the United States, which recently surpassed the 300 million population mark, has 3,537,441 square miles, or a little over a tenth of a square mile for each person. For those playing at home, that’s about 528 square feet per person. Do you mean to tell me that with this kind of mutable density, there isn’t anywhere to go to read? There isn’t anywhere to be alone with a book?

Further, Caesar and Heltzel suggest, rather foolishly, that text messaging, instant messaging, and television, in Heltzel’s words, “promote groupthink” and are thus “a dangerous place to be in a democracy.” Caesar (never was there a more ridiculous byline for a generalizer) cites an empirical example. The daughter of one of his friends flunks out of a state university because “she could never actually read anywhere.” But instead of suggesting that this student was not particularly effective at locating a reading environment that suited her (or, for that matter, suggesting that good grades aren’t necessarily reflective of good reading; or, for that matter, considering the other circumstantial factors which might have caused this student to drop out), Caesar makes an astonishing leap in logic, writing that “the girl fell victim to the energies of a text-messaged, i-Poded [sic] and above all cell-phoned American culture.”

First off, even if we assume the unlikely scenario that students are putting down their books to text message each other every paragraph or that these students cannot attune to their surroundings, what exactly about the freeflow exchange of information is “dangerous?”

If Caesar and Heltzel are going to point the finger at technology, why stop there? What about the forms of communication that came before? Why not rail against the letter or everyday conversation, where people (shocK! gasp! horror!) actually talk and thus engage (in Heltzel’s words) in “groupthink?” By what stretch of the imagination does a student sending an IM reading “hey! meet u at party; book great!!! byob lulz” become groupthink? I really wish Caesar and Heltzel would have had the courage to state what might really be on their minds: perhaps it is they who can neither understand nor adapt to the swift beat of technology. But instead of trying to determine how it exists in relation to culture and reading, they rail against it with hasty generalizations and without taking the time to understand it.

And, Dammit, What Happened to That Cute Little Logo Turtle? Restore BASIC to Today’s Computers Or the Terrorists Have Won!

Salon: “But all of this misses the point. Those textbook exercises were easy, effective, universal, pedagogically interesting — and nothing even remotely like them can be done with any language other than BASIC. Typing in a simple algorithm yourself, seeing exactly how the computer calculates and iterates in a manner you could duplicate with pencil and paper — say, running an experiment in coin flipping, or making a dot change its position on a screen, propelled by math and logic, and only by math and logic: All of this is priceless. As it was priceless 20 years ago. Only 20 years ago, it was physically possible for millions of kids to do it. Today it is not. In effect, we have allowed a situation to develop that is like a civilization devouring its seed corn. If an enemy had set out to do this to us — quietly arranging so that almost no school child in America can tinker with line coding on his or her own — any reasonably patriotic person would have called it an act of war.”

Dave Winer to Migrate from Slackjawed to Head Exploding

Wired: “Diamonds are no longer a girl’s best friend, according to a new study that found three of four women would prefer a new plasma TV to a diamond necklace. The survey, commissioned by cable television’s Oxygen Network that is owned and operated by women, found the technology gender gap has virtually closed with the majority of women snapping up new technology and using it easily.”

YouTube Owns Your Content

Filmmakers, Flashmakers and videomakers beware: PuppetVision uncovers disturbing new terms that YouTube has recently added to its site. You may want to think twice about uploading a video, because

by submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

In other words, YouTube can take that video you labored over for thirty hours and sell it to somebody else. And you won’t get a cent.

Violet Blue has a post too noting more of YouTube’s shenanigans.

This is really disheartening news. YouTube was one of the best developments of the Web during the past few years. And now it looks like they’d rather defecate over its community rather than keep it shining.

[7/24 UPDATE: Valleywag has recently challenged this assertion, noting that the terms, as stated, have been up for about a year and that the license is revoked the minute that a User Submission is removed from the YouTube site. This still doesn’t take away from the possibility that YouTube could very well profit off of work before the user removes the Submission from the site, and I know I can’t be alone in hoping for a little bit of clarity here. But this addendum has been posted to reflect many sides to the story.]

Olfactory TiVo?

New Scientist: “Imagine being able to record a smell and play it back later, just as you can with sounds or images. Engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan are building an odour recorder capable of doing just that. Simply point the gadget at a freshly baked cookie, for example, and it will analyse its odour and reproduce it for you using a host of non-toxic chemicals.”

Technology: A Tool, Not A Human Facsimile

This GUI interface is intriguing, but I can’t see how it can possibly replace the tactile feel and natural sensory interface of touching, arranging and shuffling piles of paper. That so much energy has gone into developing a project which reproduces this sensation instead of encapsulating it is irksome and perhaps counterintuitive. It is mimesis, rather than transmutation. And while there are positive things which can be said about recreating human environments and experiences in a computer (e.g., it may permit us to understand instinctive impulses from a binary perspective, which could in turn shift paradigms), why don’t software developers and engineers understand that certain human nuances might be better studied or effected through basic human contact?

This reminds me of a game I often play with friends with Blackberries. When out in the real world, if the friend has a Blackberry and I have a cell phone, I then name a piece of information to extract. It could be a general piece of knowledge (Who popularized the Second Law of Thermodynamics?). It could be something as simple as finding out when the next showing of a movie starts. Each person must then ferret out a piece of information: the friend through Google, me through natural telephone conduits. Certain pieces of information are better extracted through the phone (such as when a restaurant is open). Other pieces of information, such as objective facts and data, are better extracted through the Google connection.

What the results here suggest is that, as dazzling as the Internet and technological conduits can be, there are still basic human impulses and communication patterns which can never be entirely reproduced or advanced through machines. (At least not yet.) Of course, where human contact ends and technological contact begins is a subjective question entirely up to the individual. But technology is a tool: an adjunct to the human experience, not a substitute.

(via The Old Hag)