We've detected that you're using an ad content blocking browser plug-in or feature. Ads provide a critical source of revenue to the continued operation of Silicon Investor.  We ask that you disable ad blocking while on Silicon Investor in the best interests of our community.  If you are not using an ad blocker but are still receiving this message, make sure your browser's tracking protection is set to the 'standard' level.

   PastimesCrazy Fools Chasing Crazy CyberNews

Previous 10 Next 10 
From: ms.smartest.person11/18/2006 9:39:56 PM
   of 5140
Apply funding where it can do the most good

November 18, 2006

Regarding Marcela Sanchez’s Nov. 10 column, U.S. aid to Colombia could very well spread both coca production and civil war throughout South America. Communist guerrilla movements do not originate in a vacuum. U.S. tax dollars would be better spent addressing the socioeconomic causes of civil strife in Colombia rather than applying overwhelming military force to attack the symptoms.

We’re not doing the Colombian people any favors by funding civil war. Nor are Americans being protected from drugs.
Destroy the Colombian coca crop and production will boom in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Destroy every last plant in South America and domestic methamphetamine production will increase to meet the demand for cocaine-like drugs.

The self-professed champions of the free market in Congress are seemingly incapable of applying basic economic principles to drug policy. Instead of waging a futile supply-side drug war abroad, we should be funding cost-effective drug treatment here at home.

Robert Sharpe, Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Arlington, Virg.

Copyright 2006 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read

To: ms.smartest.person who wrote (5103)12/5/2006 12:51:59 AM
From: ms.smartest.person
   of 5140
&#9658 Monday December 4 Edition Free

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last ReadRead Replies (1)

To: ms.smartest.person who wrote (5107)12/15/2006 12:26:15 PM
From: ms.smartest.person
   of 5140
&#9658 Friday December 15 Edition Free

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read

To: ms.smartest.person who wrote (5051)12/30/2006 2:08:52 AM
From: ms.smartest.person
   of 5140
:•) I, Cringely

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last ReadRead Replies (1)

From: ms.smartest.person12/31/2006 2:48:31 PM
   of 5140
Say Good-Bye to $4 Prescriptions at Costco
Costco Executives Say They Lost Money and Announced the End of the Program

By Kari Hamanaka

Costco officials announced they will stop the $4 drug prescription plan at all Costco stores saying that the company had lost money as a result of the program.

The $4 program filled prescriptions for a 30-day supply of selected medications for only a $4 cost to consumers. Many drug stores and other retailers attempted to mimic the $4 prescription program from Wal-Mart, the first company to implement the pricing plan.

Instead of the $4 deal, Costco will offer its customers 100 pills for $10 which amounts to a couple cents more in expense per pill as opposed to the $4 prescription plan.

When Wal-Mart first announced plans to charge $4 on prescription drugs in September, many analysts suggested that Wal-Mart would be doing major damage to the prescription drug sales of other retailers, but so far stores such as CVS have said the program has not really affected them adversely.

According to officials at Costco, the cost of pharmacists at Costco, the bottle and maintaining records did not amount to $4, which is why the company ended up losing money with the plan.

Target, along with Costco, was one of the Wal-Mart competitors that attempted to match the program. Target's $4 program is still continuing, but with Costco dropping out of the race one wonders whether copying someone else's marketing plan is really the best way to go. It was not obviously the best way for Costco.

The company realized that it will be losing some of its $4 customers to Wal-Mart or Target who are not able or willing to pay more than $4 for their prescription, but the hope is that the $10 for 100 pills incentive will be enough to keep customers coming back to the Costco pharmacy.

While many said that all other retailers would have to follow suit with Wal-Mart's $4 prescription program in order to survive, that is not necessarily true or even a wise business decision.

It is true that no one may be able to beat Wal-Mart's prices, but at the same time there are people who choose not to shop at Wal-Mart for all sorts of reasons and instead, pay slightly higher prices to shop at other discount, drug or grocery stores for what they need.

Too many stores and industry analysts tend to think that all businesses in the same category as Wal-Mart should be following in the giant company's footsteps every time it makes steep price cuts. Other businesses should not be doing that because Wal-Mart is too big to compete with. This statement is not meant to be cynical, but it is meant to be realistic in terms of how some of these stores do business. Costco cutting its prices to mimic Wal-Mart doesn't make sense because they are two different companies.

Instead of simply matching competitors' prices, stores should just focus on factors that are unique to that store and that brand. While people do like to bargain shop, there are others who are willing to pay slightly higher prices if the store is smaller, easier to navigate or sales associates are more accessible to the shoppers.

Perhaps, if Costco had realized this before following suit with the $4 prescriptions, the company may have saved some money.

More resources

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last ReadRead Replies (1)

From: ms.smartest.person1/20/2007 11:35:26 AM
   of 5140
UglyRipes prevail in tomato growers spat

Friday, January 19, 2007 10:52:47 PM

It's the Rocky of tomatoes, lumpy but loved by fans.

But consumers clamoring for juicy UglyRipe tomatoes this time of year have trouble finding them because of an industry pact that largely bans their sale outside of Florida.

Sunshine State growers say the rule ensures that Florida tomatoes – the only state where winter tomatoes are grown commercially in the U.S. – are sufficiently round and smooth.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted Philadelphia-based Procacci Brothers a waiver from the rule, which will put more of the weirdly bulbous fruit on store shelves.

"When it comes to a product as innocuous as a tomato, it's a no-brainer – let the consumer decide!" ardent fan Dan Wire of Reading, Pa., wrote to the agency during last year's public comment period.

The pleas came from dozens of UglyRipe supporters ranging from a Wal-Mart produce manager to a winter-weary Ohio woman to a Plutarch scholar at Brown University.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said a waiver would give Procacci Brothers an unfair advantage. Other firms have to meet size and shape standards set by the Florida Tomato Committee to sell the typically hard, round winter tomatoes known as Florida Rounds outside the state from mid-October to mid-June.

"Every grower has some percentage of its crop that is flat, elongated, ridged etc., yet they are still required to adhere to the minimum grade requirements," Bush wrote in his August letter to the USDA.

Reginald L. Brown, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee, objected in a 26-page letter.

The marketing rules are designed "to assure that during Florida's growing season, wherever you buy a tomato in this country you always get a consistent product that is of the highest quality," he wrote. Brown did not return a phone message Friday from The Associated Press.

Joe Procacci said he spent 20 years and $3 million developing the hybrid UglyRipe to meet consumer demand. He grew the first 100-acre crop in Florida in 1999.

"We've been in the tomato business around 50 years," said Procacci, 79, who started peddling produce with his father and brothers when he was 8 years old. "All we heard from consumers was the (winter) tomatoes taste like cardboard."

His company, which introduced grape tomatoes to much of the U.S., is perhaps the largest seller of Florida Rounds, with 8 percent of the U.S. market, he said. The Subway sandwich chain is his top customer.

But if the machine-picked and -packed Florida Rounds serve one market, a growing number of consumers want other options, and are willing to pay for them, Procacci said.

The UglyRipe, which has to be picked and packed by hand, typically sells for $3 to $4 a pound, but can go up to $7 in some grocers.

The Florida Tomato Committee allowed Procacci's Santa Sweets division to sell UglyRipes from 1999 to 2002, when it was considered a new product in search of a market. But as demand grew, and Procacci increased his acreage, the board reversed course.

In 2003, with 700 acres of UglyRipe seeds already in the ground, the board said he would have to start meeting the Florida Round standard.

While perhaps a fifth passed muster, Procacci had to dump most of the crop. Some of it was fed to cows. He lost $3 million.

"I guess the cattle were eating better tomatoes than humans," he said.

Procacci's lawyer ultimately appealed to the Agriculture Department under a new program that allows waivers for premium specimens with unique DNA structures.

On Jan. 12 – shortly after Bush left office, Procacci notes – the agency granted the petition.

The UglyRipe became the first product registered in the department's Identity Preservation Program.

"I think it's going to grow to be a large part of our business. Consumers want taste. Once they taste something good, they'll keep buying it," Procacci said.


On the Net:

Santa Sweets:

Florida Tomato Committee:

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read

From: ms.smartest.person1/20/2007 12:59:53 PM
   of 5140
Here Comes the Amero

Posted: 2006-12-03
By: Lee Rogers

The story of the past couple of weeks has been the meltdown of the U.S. currency. The U.S. Dollar Index which should actually be referred to as the Federal Reserve Note Index has now fallen to 82.42 as of this Friday. The Index appears to be breaking down and will probably test the all time low which is around the 80 mark. If we see the Index fall below this mark we can expect to see it fall much further.

There is no question that we could very well be on the brink of a major slide in the value of Federal Reserve Notes. One of the reasons why I believe this to be true is because the mainstream media is now introducing the public to the idea of a new currency called the Amero. The Amero is a proposed fiat currency that will replace the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican currencies as all three countries are merged into a North American Union. Even though the idea of a North American Union and the Amero has been talked about for quite sometime, there are still people who believe that these are conspiracy theories. For any skeptics, let me assure you that the possibility of a North American Union and the Amero currency is very real. Below is an excerpt from a World Net Daily article that quotes a CNBC interview with Steve Pervis, Vice President at Jefferies International Ltd where he urges a move to the Amero and a North American Union.

London Stock Trader Urges Move to Amero

In an interview with CNBC, a vice president for a prominent London investment firm yesterday urged a move away from the dollar to the "amero," a coming North American currency, he said, that "will have a big impact on everybody's life, in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico."

Steve Previs, a vice president at Jefferies International Ltd., explained the Amero "is the proposed new currency for the North American Community which is being developed right now between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico."

The aim, he said, according to a transcript provided by CNBC to WND, is to make a "borderless community, much like the European Union, with the U.S. dollar, the Canadian dollar and the Mexican peso being replaced by the amero."

Previs told the television audience many Canadians are "upset" about the amero. Most Americans outside of Texas largely are unaware of the amero or the plans to integrate North America, Previs observed, claiming many are just "putting their head in the sand" over the plans.

More proof of the coming North American Union comes from a publication written in 2005 by the communists at the Council on Foreign Relations. The publication talks about building a North American Community by the year 2010. Don’t be fooled by the politically correct terminology, they go into considerable detail about building a North American Union with governing agencies that will set policy for all three countries. This is the CFR’s official plan and it is being implemented as we speak.

Building a North American Community

Getting back to the main point, I don’t see why CNBC would bring somebody on to talk about the Amero if things were going so great with our present currency. I believe that the value of Federal Reserve Notes is going to be manipulated in such a fashion that it makes it easy for the central bankers to implement the Amero. If they continue to inflate the currency and escalate a currency crisis, they can more easily gain public support to introduce a new currency.

Either way, the Amero is a terrible idea. It is going to be an entirely fiat currency which will help further consolidate power to the banking cartel. It will give them control over the entire North American region through their power of currency creation.

Besides this public introduction to the Amero, all of the fundamental factors driving the devaluation of U.S. currency remain. We still have a huge mess in the U.S. housing market, a government debt in the trillions, a huge trade deficit with China, foreigners diversifying into other currencies, out of control inflation, a mess in Iraq and of course the fact that our currency is no longer backed by a tangible asset. Federal Reserve Notes as of this past Thursday were trading at 15-year lows against the pound sterling. With all of these fundamentals to consider, I would be very surprised if we don’t see a currency crisis take place within the next few years.

All of this has been extremely bullish for gold and silver the past few weeks. Gold is now trading for $645 an ounce and silver is trading for $13.97 an ounce. I’m very bullish on both precious metals but I continue to see much more upside with silver.

I’m also fascinated with what’s going on the in the zinc market. Zinc is now trading over $2 a pound and the warehouse stocks at the London Metals Exchange continue to plummet. I remember just a short time ago when Zinc was trading for $0.60 a pound. If this sort of stock depletion continues, we could very well see zinc approach the $3 mark in the short term. I own four stocks that have zinc exposure, Metalline Mining and Canadian Zinc being the riskier plays and Lundin Mining and Hudbay Minerals the more conservative plays.

Metalline Mining (MMG)

Canadian Zinc (CZN.TO)

Lundin Mining (LMC)

Hudbay Minerals (HBM.TO)

On a short term basis, I suspect that the Federal Reserve will try to defend the currency from dropping below the 80 mark. However, if the index breaks below the 80 mark with any sort of conviction we could see panic selling driving the index much lower. These markets are going to be very interesting to observe over the course of the next couple of months. If we start seeing the Amero talked about regularly on CNBC and other mainstream news networks than I suspect a currency crisis with our Federal Reserve Notes might be coming sooner than later.
Disclaimer: I own Canadian Zinc, Metalline Mining, Hudbay Minerals and Lundin Mining and none of these companies paid me to promote their stock.

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read

To: ms.smartest.person who wrote (5104)2/23/2007 11:31:28 AM
From: ms.smartest.person
   of 5140
:•) I, Cringley . The Pulpit . Just Say No:

Just Say No: David Harrison wants to replace your Internet.

February 22, 2007

We have trouble. After 40 years of development and almost 20 years of commercial use, the Internet is getting clogged up. We have more spam than legitimate e-mail, more advertising than content, and a few not very well-behaved protocols making trouble for all of us (more on this part next week), with the result that real utility is beginning to drop for many Internet users, who have to buy more and more bandwidth in order to effectively keep the same service level. Yes, we have trouble, and it is compounded by the current popularity of Internet video, which has knocked Moore's Law on its ear through the willingness of whole cascades of companies to lose money to show us dogs dancing and children falling off bikes.

But what's to be done? With tens of billions invested in Internet infrastructure and services, we can hardly shut the darned thing down and start over, can we?

Yes we can. Or at least David Harrison thinks so.

You don't know David Harrison, but I do, sort of. David, who has a Ph.D. from the University of London, lives in the UK with his retired Mum, dabbles in rare old books, and spends a LOT of time thinking about computers and the Internet. I can attest to this because David is a longtime correspondent of mine who likes to run by me his new ideas. And we're not talking about just a few ideas -- an idea here or there -- we're talking about a LOT of ideas. David has sent me at least an idea per week for the last decade, which works out to about 500 well thought-out and sometimes even feasible concoctions, most of them inventions.

That's a lot of reading and a LOT of writing, but this week's column may be the payoff, since this is the first of those ideas I have yet written about, at least to my knowledge. Maybe in my day job all I really do is channel David Harrison, but I don't think so.

Back to the Internet, David says to shut it down! Or maybe it would be more correct to say he wants to shut it OUT. And I have to tell you that his argument is growing on me. David wants to essentially hijack the current Domain Name System and replace it with something better. The Internet backbone and your ISP wouldn't have to change, so that expensive infrastructure would remain in place. Only the way we use it would be different. David's replacement for the Internet is called the Independent Network, or Inet. With David every new invention gets a clever name.

David, who is not American, sees the U.S.-controlled Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as an imperialist tool, which is also pretty much the way the Bush Administration sees it, too, though the Bushies are proud rather than upset. So David wants the Inet to first unseat ICANN from power. If users want to participate in the Inet, they have to accept the Inet's Terms and Conditions, which say that ICANN has no authority here, thanks.

Inet would operate its own DNS system parallel to the one run by ICANN. That's not really such a big deal, you know. Certainly a different DNS with different rules would not be hard to build from a technical or even a financial standpoint, and it could exist on the current network right alongside the current DNS system. The big question is why people would use it. They wouldn't at first, because without traffic and participating servers such a DNS would be useless, and that's why David proposes an Inet DNS filter as a crossover between the old/evil system the new/good one.

A free browser patch would install a virtual switch. Click on the switch, and you route your calls through the Inet DNS Filter, and if appropriate, Inet's own DNS system.

The Inet DNS Filter would operate for a transition period. During this time, any reputable domain name holder owning an Internet domain could ask for free registration of those same domains on the Inet system. Their site would be checked to see that it complies with Inet's Terms and Conditions, and if so, they get it. After an initial year, they must re-register for a 5-year period. This costs a nominal fee for private individuals, and a slightly larger fee for commercial entities. When you register a trademark as a domain on Inet, you automatically get all of the global alternatives in one go. So when Wal-Mart registers, they'd get all the similar domains automatically. But no one can block critique sites that include a trademark name within them, so if Wal-Mart had upset a customer, and that customer set up, Wal-Mart could not block it under the rules. Domain squatting would not be permitted, either.

Domain dispute resolution would be rapid: one week for evidence presentation, 24 hours to decide, and 24 hours for appeals. At which point the Inet DNS system would block the loser. Domain transfers would be fast and low cost. All domain activity would operate through Inet, not be farmed out to resellers, since the system is too important, and has proved to be difficult to police on the Internet. Inet domain holders would be expected to maintain control over the content of their users on sites with Inet domain registrations. Repeated failures to rapidly do so would result in the temporary or permanent loss of their Inet domain.

Inet DNS registrants would have a real name, address, and contact details (not a PO Box), and any communication from the Inet DNS system to the named registrar must be answered within 24 hours or the registration would be terminated. Inet DNS calls would route the user's browser requests to websites operating on the Internet. Duplicate sites would not need to be produced. The Inet registration procedure would permit an Inet domain to match an Internet domain, or to be automatically translated to a deep-linked Internet URL.

Inet DNS calls to servers would be flagged by a bit in the call courtesy of the browser patch. This could be read by website servers using server-side code, and consequently a call via the Inet could result in a different response to a browser call than if it came via a straight check on ICANN's DNS. This means a site can be visible under, or generated for an Inet call, but invisible or not generated for a straight ICANN call, or vice versa. Using the basic, extant Internet infrastructure, both surfer and web server could use either system easily. From one site, content could be configured differently for users of either system, as the website maintainer wishes.

Pornography sites could only register using the .xxx top-level domain scuttled not long ago by ICANN. Inet’s Terms and Conditions would prohibit child pornography, phishing, fraudulent commercial services, spam, denial of service attacks, and zombie networks.

The Inet's e-mail service would incorporate centralized anti-phishing and anti-spam techniques, and would block known spambots. All known spammers or phishers would, where identified, be banned from the system for five years or life. Anyone operating on behalf of a known spammer or phisher would receive the same punishment. Spam is not a free speech issue, it is a digital pollution and fraud issue and would be dealt with as such. Any fraudulent commercial service offered through Inet would similarly be dealt with (this relates to non-existent lotteries, selling properties that do not exist, multilevel marketing scams, etc.).

I like it.

Bob Kahn, the co-inventor of TCP/IP, said in NerdTV episode 012 that one of his great regrets is that DNS turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, where it could have been a simple automated service run for less than $1 million per year. Maybe Bob Kahn would prefer the Inet, too.

What David Harrison is proposing isn't all that different from what happens when a nation replaces its currency, eliminating overnight through the substitution of new paper the counterfeiting, theft, and improper distribution of wealth that had come to characterize the previous currency. If you do it once you'll have to do it again, of course, but even if the changes happen only every decade, wouldn't it be worth it?

In other news, I've been moonlighting lately at the Technology Evangelist web site (they are my new partners in NerdTV) and posted there last week a two-part blog entry concerning possible criminal destruction of evidence on the part of Microsoft with some potential involvement by Hewlett-Packard. I had expected this information to become public as part of the Comes v. Microsoft class action lawsuit in Iowa, but that suit settled recently with this tidbit still hidden.

Whether this lack of apparent disclosure was simple coincidence or part of what compelled Microsoft to settle, we'll probably never know, but I'm pretty determined to get the facts into public discourse. That happened to a certain extent thanks to Technology Evangelist and Slashdot, but then the traditional news media didn't pick up the scent. So you'll find the two posts among this week's links, where I am hoping a different audience will have a different response.

Hey, isn't that one definition of insanity?


Due to the fluid nature of the web, we can't guarantee these links will work past the original posting date.

David Harrison's Inet External Link
David Harrison's Inet essay in all its glory.

Bob Kahn on NerdTV
NerdTV #012 with Bob Kahn, who regrets to some extent the way the DNS system turned out.

Currency Explained on Wikipedia External Link
When is money not money? When it is scrip.

Bob on Comes v. Microsoft, Part 1 External Link
The first of my two Microsoft Dirty Tricks posts on Technology

Bob on Comes v. Microsoft, Part 2 External Link
Microsoft Dirty Tricks part II.

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last ReadRead Replies (1)

To: ms.smartest.person who wrote (5113)3/4/2007 4:48:36 PM
From: ms.smartest.person
   of 5140
:•) I, Cringley . Just the Facts Ma'am: iReader finds meaning whether we want it to or not.

March 1, 2007

Computing interfaces last a long time. Though a thousand readers will correct me with their superiorly nuanced views of the past, let's say we generally began with punched cards, went to command lines, then to text-based graphical interfaces, followed by a true graphical interface and for the last decade a lot of people have viewed that graphical interface a least in part through a browser. But what if you have a computer interface that doesn't follow these broad lines, what do you do? Syntactica's iReader may show us.

IReader (which was called Speed Reader until a moment ago) started life a year ago as a search product called ePrecis, an application that could look at an article, book, or a web site, and give you its meaning in a prioritized list of short sentences. If you allowed ePrecis to return enough sentences, it would eventually return the entire object being searched. But if you limited the number of sentences, it returned the best possible approximation of the TOTAL content that's possible within the space constraints.

I'd love to write here that ePrecis told me the meaning of Moby Dick was "sea mammal obsessions are bad," but it doesn't work exactly that way, or at least not with that much fun. It doesn't matter anyway because ePrecis lived precisely three days before being effectively shut down by Google. You see, to most effectively search the Internet, ePrecis took the shortcut of searching the best Internet proxy -- Google -- which was NOT a good idea.

While the product got some good press last year, it didn't last of course, and a lot of that good press came AFTER ePrecis was effectively dead.

But did it really have to die? I would have just switched the search target to the Internet Archive and expected the same or better results, but of course ePrecis, by scraping Google, was effectively riding on Google's PageRank algorithm, which gave greater relevance to the results. If I were Google I wouldn't like it, either.

So now a year has passed and the same folks are back with iReader, another approach based on the same underlying technology.

Instead of being a web search engine, spiders and all, iReader is a tool to create synopses of content based on browsing, not searching, and on mousing, not clicking. These distinctions are important, in large part for legal reasons intended to keep the Googlers at bay. Searching pretty much requires scraping the Internet for content that is then indexed, while iReader's new browsing metaphor doesn't kick into action until the user mouses over a URL (no clicking required, hence no stepping on the toes of Google or any Google competitors). Only then does a Syntactica server take a quick look at the URL, process it through the same linguistic engine used in ePrecis, then spit out a short synopsis of the content. The fact that this can take place in real time with a lot of people online at any one time is pretty darned impressive.

IReader, which functions as both a Word macro (great for compiling abstracts and indices, I suppose) and a plug-in for Firefox or Internet Explorer, is amazing and fascinating. It can also be annoying.

The underlying process is what I find fascinating, perhaps because of my personal involvement with one of the earliest search engines -- Architext, later called Excite -- that also took a statistical linguistics approach.

Most traditional search engines prior to Excite used Boolean keyword searches or Boolean search augmented with a thesaurus or so-called topic-tree searches. This is all old stuff. And so too was Excite's "vector-based searching," which was invented almost 40 years before, but never quite worked right. Vector-based searching uses no Boolean operators, thesauruses or topic trees. It doesn't even matter what the words mean. All that matters are the words themselves.

Vector-based searching begins with making an index of words in a document. Using this column as an example, the software would examine all the words I have written here, throw away words that carry no real information -- words like "the," "and" and most verbs -- then count the instances of each of the remaining words. Each word in the column becomes a vector in a multidimensional space. If I have used the word "Internet" 15 times in this column, then "internet" defines the direction of the vector and 15 is its length. Adding all the vectors in this column yields a single vector that represents the entire column in a multidimensional space defined by all the words in all the articles in the entire database.

Doing a search using this system is simply a matter of entering a natural-language query, which is parsed and indexed in exactly the same manner, yielding another vector. This search vector is plotted in the multidimensional space and the search results are those vectors (those articles) that are nearest in space to the query vector. The closer to the query vector an article vector lies, the more likely that article is to answer the question posed in the query.

EPrecis and now iReader use a similar approach, but where the actual words didn't matter to Excite, they matter a LOT to these new products. The magic here is a so-called "intelligent dictionary" or lexicon compiled over more than 20 years beginning at Control Data Corp., which was headquartered, like Syntactica, in Minneapolis.

The great problem with obtaining meaning from text is understanding the context in which that text appears, and this is where Syntactica's lexicon shines. This lexicon is a compilation of a meticulous word-by-word analysis of Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary, unabridged. This compilation considers the many different meanings and contexts of each individual word in the lexicon, and assigns a set of values to each word, which is a heck of a lot of work and explains why most competing products (there turn out to be a bunch) don't have it.

IReader turns out to be an adjunct to browsing. Run your mouse over any live URL and iReader pretty quickly returns three to four sentences describing the contents of that URL without your ever having to visit that web site. It's really useful. But as I wrote earlier it can be annoying, too, which is why I assigned a function key to turn the darned thing on and off, keeping it out of my face most of the time.

I wish the Syntactica people well (I do not own stock). They've done a good and difficult job, published parts of iReader as open source, created some useful APIs and built the whole darned thing as a web service that can be built into all sorts of gizmos. They also seem to think that iReader will become a popular alternative to browsing, especially since it comes minus the ads. I just don't see that.

My guess is iReader and Syntactica will be snapped up soon by a Google or Yahoo or one of the other usual suspects. And if not, then I predict the product will be used to create a whole new class of annoying web denizens -- web pages made up only of such abstracts as a kind of meta-search in the same way that so much of the web is now clogged with meta-ads meant to sucker us into clicking on them.

Personally, I prefer my web content -- like my women -- real, not inflated.

Just kidding, Mrs. Cringely.


Due to the fluid nature of the web, we can't guarantee these links will work past the original posting date.

ePrecis External Link
ePrecis still exists, sort of.

Syntactica External Link
Syntactica, what ePrecis became.

Syntactica, iReader White Paper
A whitepaper on how Syntactica and iReader work

Scraping Google To See What Happens External Link
An interesting, if old, thread on the many implications of scraping Google.

Microsoft's Answer to PageRank? External Link
Microsoft's search for a path around PageRank.

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last ReadRead Replies (1)

To: ms.smartest.person who wrote (5114)3/9/2007 10:53:49 AM
From: ms.smartest.person
   of 5140
:•) I, Cringley . The Great Apple Video Encoder Attack of 2007: Cupertino plans to add H.264 hardware support to its entire line. Also, Snapster lives!

March 8, 2007

Maybe you have wondered, as I have, why it takes a pretty robust notebook computer to play DVD videos, while Wal-Mart will sell you a perfectly capable progressive-scan DVD player from Philips for $38? In general, the dedicated DVD player is not only a lot cheaper, it works better, too, and the simple reason is because it decodes the DVD's MPEG-2 video stream in hardware, rather than in software. They won't run a spreadsheet, true, but DVD players are brilliant at doing what they are designed to do over and over again. And if the expedient here is a $7 MPEG-2 decoder chip, it's a wonder why such chips didn't appear long ago in PCs.

Well they are about to, after a fashion.

I'm not sure of the real reason why we haven't seen widespread video-decoding hardware in personal computers, which have largely used decoding software, instead. Maybe the reason is economic (save the $7) or maybe it is political (Microsoft or maybe Apple are for some reason opposed to hardware decoding). But like a lot of real reasons, I think it probably comes down to hubris and the simple fact that by decoding video in software, road warriors have another incentive to buy a more expensive -- and more powerful -- computer.

Now comes the rumor I have heard, that I believe to be a fact, that has simply yet to be confirmed. I have heard that Apple plans to add hardware video decoding to ALL of its new computers beginning fairly soon, certainly this year.

Why Apple would do this is fairly clear to me, but first let's clarify what I mean by hardware video decoding, because it isn't implicitly the MPEG-2 format used in present-day DVDs. I'm not saying Apple's video-decoder chip won't also decode MPEG-2 (it may or may not -- I simply don't know), but the chip's primary codec is H.264, which is at the heart of both Apple's QuickTime software and its iTunes video downloading service.

WHY Apple would add H.264 video-decoding hardware to its entire line of PCs comes down to supporting iTunes and any similar video distribution efforts Apple may spring on us. By going with a chip, Apple ensures the same base performance level from every machine it sells, from the lowliest Mac Mini right up to the mightiest four-core Mac Pro. Up until now it took a multi-core machine with a lot of memory to support real 1080p (HDTV) decoding, but soon you'll be able to do that easily on a Mac Mini while leaving the main CPU to handle other chores like networking, running the graphical user interface, or perhaps integrating in real time a variety of video ad streams.

Apple's new policy, if true, will turn on its head the whole notion of forcing users upmarket if they want better video support. THE POLICY WILL COST APPLE MONEY, not just for the video chip, but also for the lost sales of higher performance machines.

So what's in it for Apple? Potentially a lot, because the chip Apple has chosen doesn't cost $7, it costs more like $50, and it doesn't just do hardware H.264 decoding, it does hardware H.264 ENCODING, too.

This will change everything. Soon even the lowliest Mac will be able to effortlessly record in background one or more video signals while the user runs TurboTax on the screen. Macs will become superb DVR machines with TiVo-like functionality yet smaller file sizes than any TiVo box could ever produce. In a YouTube world, the new Macs will be a boon to user-produced video, which will, in turn, promote the H.264 standard. By being able to encode in real time, the new Macs will have that American Idol clip up and running faster than could be done on almost any other machine. Add in Slingbox-like capability to throw your home cable signal around the world and it gets even better. Add faster video performance to the already best-of-league iChat audio/video chat client, and every new Mac becomes a webcam or a video phone.

It's an aggressive play that fits perfectly with Apple's traditional role as the hardware platform of choice for new media development. And I am sure the company will have at least one new service or application that will uniquely support this new chip upon which Apple is placing a $500+ million bet.

Remember, you read it here first.

Something else you read here first, well, years ago, appears to be finally coming to fruition. Maybe you remember Snapster, my harebrained scheme from back in 2003 to create a company to buy up one copy of every music CD (of course it would work for video DVDs, too) and share them using a group ownership model not unlike fractional ownership of business jets. The record companies would hate it, I predicted, since they might sell just one copy of any given CD, but it would be a great -- and nominally legal -- business, or so I thought at the time.

Snapster and the bug-fix version Snapster 2.0 got a huge reader response, and several people even vowed to build the darned thing, which I would never have done, coward that I am. Well four years later, something darned close to Snapster is finally entering beta testing and might just work, which is to say generate legal bills for its developer.

The new service is called NetTunes (it's in this week's links) and was built, according to lead developer Robert Stromberg, by combining my ideas with his. The major difference between NetTunes and Snapster is that while Snapster was based on joint ownership of the music, NetTunes is based on a music-lending model.

There is nothing in U.S. copyright law that says you can't lend your DVD or CD to a friend or neighbor to watch or listen to. They aren't supposed to copy it, of course, but the concept doesn't preclude multiple physical copies (backups are allowed, remember, as is redeployment on other media like tapes or iPods) so much as multiple simultaneous USES of the content. So if you lend your copy of Led Zeppelin IV to some buddy with a hot date, you'd better not play it that evening at your home, that is unless you bought a second physical copy of the record or CD.

NetTunes virtualizes the whole music-lending function. You join the service, then either upload your music just like to any other music locker service, or you just register the albums and songs you own and link to them through NetTunes in much the same way that you did in the pirate heyday of Napster, the original P2P music-sharing sensation.

If you've registered your copy of Led Zeppelin IV and some other member wants to play Side A (the money side, believe me), here's what happens, according to Stromberg:

"When a user wants to share a music file, the player application encrypts it on the user's computer and makes one more copy of it available for use by all of the users in the system. It can then only be played with the NetTunes player, until the user decides to un-share it. When a user wants to play a song, the player checks with the NetTunes service to see if any copies are available at that time. If one is, the "key" is checked out to that user for the duration of the song, and no other user can use that copy. Users can upload the shared songs to the NetTunes service, where they can be downloaded and played by other users."

It will be interesting to see how NetTunes fares. From a technical standpoint I see no huge problems with it, though, of course, the music labels will hate NetTunes, sending lawyers in suicide attacks whether they have a case or not. I hope it succeeds, frankly, because I think of NetTunes as my baby, even if I didn't have either the brains or the guts to make it happen, myself.

Links from Bob

Due to the fluid nature of the web, we can't guarantee these links will work past the original posting date.
H.264 Hardware vs. Software Decoding External Link

Hardware- vs. software-decoding performance for H.264 video.
Apple's H.264 FAQ External Link

Apple's current H.264 FAQ, which I think will have to be edited a bit in coming months.

I, CRINGELY: Son of Napster
My original Snapster column from 2003.

I, CRINGELY: Snapster 2.0
My follow-up Snapster column based on reader feedback.

NetTunes beta External Link
Almost four years later, something very much like Snapster is finally ready to go.

Share RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read
Previous 10 Next 10