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Archive for December, 2007

Another Lesson: How to Turn Public Into Sort of Private in Google Reader

Posted by Fred on December 28, 2007

Are you among those who think Google has invaded your privacy by publicly sharing the items you have elected to publicly share via Reader?  As you know, I think the whole thing’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing (other than that many people are idiots).  Google has suggested a workaround for those who want to kinda, sorta share items. Use tags instead.  Here.s how to do it:

Step 1: Create a new tag (aka folder) for items you want to kinda, sorta share.  Google doesn’t make it easy to create a new tag, but one way to do it is to click the Edit tags button at the bottom of an item in Reader. If it’s a post with no tags, type one and click save.  If it’s a post with one or more tags, add a new one to the end (separate tags with commas):


Step 2: Click on Settings, then Tags.  Find the tag you just created and click on the icon next to the word Public to change the tag from Private to Public:


Step 3: You’ve now created a kinda, sorta shared items list that acts like the old Shared Items functionality. You can click to view the page or email the link to your (real) friends:


Step 4: You’re done. You now have a page that your (real) friends can see if you tell them the URL, or they can subscribe to the feed in their RSS reader of choice.  It’s still not private or anonymous, but you can feel kinda, sorta secure in your newfound Googley obfuscation:


To add new items to your kinda, sorta shared page, just click Edit Tags instead of Share.


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Benazir Bhutto assassinated: what now?

Posted by Fred on December 28, 2007


A nuclear power plunged into absolute chaos, falling apart before our eyes. Makes our concerns seem minor, doesn’t it? We worry about whether to choose Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, wonder where to score a Wii, complain about the writers’ strike depriving us of The Daily Show.  Pakistanis worry about police with orders to shoot to kill, assassins targeting an opposition leader in the same city in which her father was murdered by a previous military dictatorship, and a regime with nuclear weapons that either killed its primary electoral competition or stood by and permitted terrorists to do it. Yikes.

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Apple to Offer Movie Rentals? About Time.

Posted by Fred on December 28, 2007

Among the many things I missed yesterday while stuck on an Amtrak train to nowhere: Apple is apparently set to offer movie rentals via iTMS, starting with Fox:

In an effort to jump-start the market for online movies, News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox and Apple Inc. are preparing to announce a deal in which Fox movies would be available for rent digitally through Apple’s iTunes Store, according to people familiar with the matter.Apple has for months been trying to persuade the Hollywood studios to agree to a digital rental model, in which consumers would be able to download movies through iTunes that could be played for a limited time. Until now, no studio has agreed to such a deal with Apple, and some companies have continued to resist Apple’s pitch.

In a related move, Fox also plans to release DVDs that use Apple’s digital rights management system, a move that would allow consumers to make legal copies of the disc that could be played on an iPod or other device, such as a computer. The moves were reported by the Web site of the Financial Times.

I for one hate, hate, hate the idea of music rentals, but movies are a different matter.  How many movies does one really need to own on DVD?  Schlepping down to the Blockbuster is a pain, and both Blockbuster’s online offering and Netflix are too expensive, expecially if your movie viewing is intermittent, like mine.  Downloadable rentals seem to address all of these issues – you pay only when you rent (no monthly fee), you don’t need to drive to the store and deal with the surly teenagers behind the counter, everything is always in stock, and there’s nothing to return.  Win-win-win.

The biggest downside to the arrangement is getting the movie from iTunes to the TV.  I have little interest in watching a movie on either my PC or the tiny screen on my nano.  Perhaps this service will jump-start Apple TV, which has always been an idea without a market.  Apple will need to make the box cheaper and more Windows-friendly first.  What a movie rental service would be great for, of course, is travel.  Download a big stack of movies to a laptop and you’re set until the battery dies.

The bigger news may well turn out to be not the service itself but that Apple is finally licensing FairPlay to a third party, with Fox to release FairPlay-encoded DVDs of the same movies available for download.  It’s about time.  Scrapping the FairPlay DRM entirely would be better, but maintaining it as a wall around the iPod ecosystem garden never made much sense.  Now if Apple will only license it to Sonos, Netgear, Linksys and Belkin, we’ll have something.  Better yet, let me stream from iTunes to my existing set-top box and skip yet another piece of plastic in the entertainment center, or even download directly from Cupertino’s servers to my DVR.  So long as the movie is playable only on a computer, iPod or an Apple TV box, the market will be limited.

Just don’t turn iTunes into a music subscription service, and all will be good.

[via Apple 2.0]

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Today’s Lesson: Public Doesn’t Mean Private, Even at Google

Posted by Fred on December 26, 2007

Google recently combined some of the functionality of Google Talk and Google Reader, making it possible for items you’ve chosen to share via Reader to automatically show up on the feeds list of your friends who also use Reader.  Here’s how Google describes it:

So, we’ve linked up Reader with Google Talk (also known as chat in Gmail) to make your shared items visible to your friends from Google Talk. Once you’ve logged into Reader and been notified of the change, these friends will be able to see your shared items in the Reader left-hand navigation area under “Friends’ shared items”. We’ve provided an option to clear your shared items in case you don’t want your friends to see what you’ve shared in the past. We’ve also added a Settings page so you can choose which friends you see and invite friends who aren’t yet sharing to try it out.

And here’s what it looks like (I don’t have a lot of Google-style “friends” because I tend to think social networking is kind of useless):


This feature really has people up in arms, with lots of loose comparisons to Facebook’s ill-fated beacon feature being thrown about.  Reader users in the Google Group thread announcing the feature call it “the worst ‘feature’ [Google has]ever introduced” and “a major privacy problem.”  Scoble says that Google screwed up and needs to introduce granular privacy controls as soon as possible. Mashable’s running a poll asking if the new feature violates privacy (although currently “not a privacy problem” is beating “hands off my data” fairly handily). TechCrunch says “there is a creepy surveillance aspect to this that might also turn some people off, or keep them from sharing anything at all.” Slashdot readers are doing what Slashdot readers do, and overreacting to everything.

reader_icons.pngI just can’t see what the issue is.  A month ago, if you clicked the Share icon on one of your feed items, it got added to a page that anybody with a web browser could read, or anybody with an RSS reader could add as a feed. Now, if you click the Share icon, it gets added to a page that anybody with a web browser can read, creates a feed that anybody with an RSS reader can subscribe to, and adds a link to your shared items for the subset of people who (a) are your “friends” as Google Talk defines them and (b) also use Google Reader.  Google certainly defines friend more broadly than I do – although Tyler is probably a good person and fun to have a beer with, I “know” him only because we exchanged a couple of e-mails a year ago. The people on my Google friends list who I actually care about don’t use Google Reader.  But your shared items have always been public to the world.

The problem for Google seems to stem from two things.  First, Google provided some modicum of privacy through obscurity by obfuscating the shared items URL – Scoble’s is, which is hardly obvious.  But privacy through obscurity is no more private than security through obscurity is secure, so the idea that shared items used to be private but now are not is kind of silly.  Second, people are idiots.  Google should know this, and should have baked in privacy controls that really didn’t do anything but made people feel better anyway.  They already half did this – I can hide items shared by my friends but can’t hide my shared items from my friends.

Ultimately, however, people are still idiots. Don’t click a button labeled “Share” without expecting the item to be, well, shared.  Don’t use a shared item feature as something it is not, such as a way to “back up” RSS feeds (all you’re doing is duplicating one bit of bits on a Google server as another bit of bits on a Google server).  I love privacy as much as the next guy, but the idea that you ever had an expectation of privacy in the Google shared items feature is just silly.  This isn’t at all like Beacon.

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Happy Belated [insert holiday here]

Posted by Fred on December 26, 2007

Here’s hoping your Hanukkah/Christmas/Festivus/Winter Solstice/Kwanzaa was a happy one (that last one hasn’t happened yet, but you get the idea).  We carried on a family tradition and probably started a new one.  The old tradition, which probably doesn’t have too much time left, was tracking Santa with Norad.  We’ve been doing this since the beginning, and times have changed since it was a few videos accessed via dial-up. This year, we tracked Santa in Google Earth, which was updated every 60 seconds using the Google Earth fly-over animation. This had the added benefit of teaching the kids more world geography and keeping their attention (no more waiting five minutes or more for updates).  The latter being especially important with a five-year-old that really didn’t want to leave presents under the tree for another day.

The new family tradition, which is really an old Richmond tradition, was a trip to the Byrd Park Carillon for the Richmond Community Nativity Pageant.  This half-hour production began on the steps of the State Capitol in 1924, and has been around so long that Douglas Southall Freeman (b. 1886), former editor of the Richmond News-Leader and Pulitzer Prize winning historian, was the original narrator.  This was the 76th production of the pageant, which since 1987 has been sponsored by a non-profit community foundation since the city acknowledged the obvious church-state conflict.  It’s a nice production, complete with orchestra, choir and a cast of about 300.  The weather even held out long enough for the show to go on.

The materialistic side of the holiday was a hit as well.  The eight year old got his Wii, which dutifully reported to us that it was played for eight hours and 55 minutes on Christmas Day.  Wii Sports got the inevitable workout, but Mario Party 8 was a bigger hit. He’s off to the target today to get Madden NFL 08 at the after-Christmas sale.  The five year old was pretty thrilled with everything, but three teddy bears and three new Webkinz were particular favorites.  The Webkinz site was hammered all day, so only one of the Webkinz was actually added to her account successfully.  The Gorilla and the Pig will have to wait.

I got some clothes, which is nice considering that fatblogging has depleted my wardrobe in a good way.  I also have a new Philips digital photo alarm clock that I’m keen to play around with, and will be going to see Ira Glass at the Modlin Center in February.  My big present won’t come until I’ve traded in gift cards and cash, however.  I’m torn between a new laptop and finally going hi-def with an LCD.

I got the wife some jewelry, and she received additional jewelry from family.  Her favorite presents, however, may have been glassware – some Luminarc from her parents and glasses from Anthropologie from me.

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Gizmodo Year-End Report Card: A, for Apple rulz and MS is teh suck!

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007

Gizmodo’s doing a bunch of “year-end report cards,” rating tech companies’ performance for 2007. Today they gave Apple an A.  And in other news, the Pope is Catholic, the sun rose in the east, and I like pie. Steve Jobs could shut downApple and spend the rest of his life rolling around in the screw-the-consumer payola he gets from the record industry and Gizmodo would give Apple an A. Apple had a good year, but remove the fanboy glasses and you still have a company that gets media fawning disproportionate to its success.  I love my nano, but Apple TV is less than useless, existing only to pimp for iTunes.  Apple still hasn’t produced a low to mid-range desktop. They still stick it to their customers with things like the iMac, a bunch of laptop parts crammed into an monitor case that results in travesties like $600 for $100 worth of RAM.  The iPhone is pretty but non-functional if you actually want to get work done.  they make shiny, happy products for shiny, happy people, but giving them an A devalues the A.  But what would you expect from Giz, whose idea of hard-hitting criticism is to say “don’t buy an iPhone yet”?

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Insurer says ‘nyet’ to transplant, patient dies

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007

Hate your insurance company? Don’t read this.

A 17-year old died just hours after her health insurance company reversed its decision not to pay for a liver transplant that doctors said the girl needed.Nataline Sarkisyan died Thursday night at about 6 p.m. at University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks, said her mother, Hilda.

“She passed away, and the insurance (company) is responsible for this,” she said.

Nataline had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a complication, however, that caused her liver to fail.

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to CIGNA Healthcare on Dec. 11. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant.

No, we don’t know all the facts. Yes, it is possible that Nataline would not have lived even had she had the transplant.  CIGNA deserves the criticism it’s going to get – when doctors for a child battling cancer say she needs a liver transplant, the insurer should just get out of the way.

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Wii in stock at Amazon

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007

Lord knows how long they’ll last, but Amazon has Wiis in stock as of this moment.

Inevitable update: Now they don’t. They lasted for about 20 minutes.

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Free App Friday: Fizz Weather

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007


Today’s free application at Handango is Fizz Weather for Smartphone.  This is a $16.95 value for, well, free.  Features include 7 day full forecasts, 2 day forecasts, 6 hourly intervals, and current conditions for 58,000 cities worldwide.  You can also get weather maps that you can zoom and pan, ski reports, airport delays and weather alerts (US only).  You can access all this information from your home screen or via an application.  I used Fizz Traveller on my Blackjack and found it useful – Fizz Weather provides more weather information, while Traveller provides basic weather info (forecasts only – no current conditions) plus alarms, currency conversion, to-do lists, etc.

The one downside I ran into with Traveller was that there were lots of times that weather information for a location was unavailable.  This is undoubtedly a problem with Fizz’s upstream weather data provider, CustomWeather. In all, it’s a nice piece of software, and a good alternative to paying AT&T a monthly fee for MyCast Weather, which comes installed in the Applications folder by default. I have a religious objection to paying AT&T for the services they try to push, and this includes MyCast ($3.99/month), TeleNav ($9.99/month) and XM Radio Mobile ($8.99/month).  You can get most of the same functionality for free by using Fizz Weather, Windows Live Search or Google Maps, and XStreamXM Mobile.

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Top AT&T Ringtones For 2007, and Some That Don’t Smell Like Butt

Posted by Fred on December 20, 2007


AT&T has released a list of the Top 10 ringtones purchased from the AT&T Media Mall, and it reads like a playlist the CIA may have used in the deleted-recording interrogation:

  1. “Party Like a Rockstar” by Shop Boyz
  2. “This Is Why I’m Hot” by Mims
  3. “Crank That” by Soulja Boy
  4. “Rockstar” by Nickelback
  5. “Don’t Matter” by Akon
  6. “Buy You A Drank” by T-Pain
  7. “A Bay Bay” by Hurricane Chris
  8. “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston
  9. “Pop, Lock & Drop It” by Huey
  10. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie

Of course, these are the songs people dumb enough to pay $2.49 for a ringtone purchased, probably mostly teenagers downloading ringtones and charging them to Daddy’s Family Plan bill. Here’s a Venn Diagram to illustrate the problem:


Virtually all phones can use MP3s as ringtones, so if you have a digital music collection, you can easily make your own for free. Copy the whole file to the phone or use Audacity to trim it to 30 seconds. If you must buy a ringtone, here’s my list of songs that are far more worth your two-and-a-half bucks than anything on AT&T’s list (all links are to the Media Mall – if you click from a regular browser, you can get the ringtone via SMS).

  1. Summertime – John Coltrane
  2. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down – Miles Davis
  3. Drunken Lullabies – Flogging Molly
  4. London Calling – The Clash
  5. Just One Fix – Ministry
  6. Lips Like Sugar – Echo and the Bunnymen
  7. Dirge Inferno – Cradle of Filth
  8. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
  9. The Sportscenter Theme
  10. Charlie Brown Theme – Vince Guaraldi

[via CrunchGear]

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