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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can the Kindle Replace Textbooks?

I've been a strong advocate of eliminating text books for years. Why do people always frame the discussion at the college level? Do you have any idea how much money is spent in our local school districts just buying and replacing textbooks?

The Kindle is a good idea, but it's not much more than an overpriced piece of crap. For $389 you could buy a laptop or tablet that would do all that and more. The Kindle can't highlight relevant text and it also has no means of making notations. It's just not practical for educational purposes. There are better approaches available today, but like the Kindle, they are hampered by outside forces.

One of the problems here is the entrnchment of the publishing and printing industries. Much like the music and movie industry, publishers are very set in their ways. They can see the world changing around them, but for some unknown reason, they are loathe to do anything about it. All one needs to do is examine the decline of the newspaper business and it's easy to see where publishing is headed. The educational publishing segment is perhaps the part of the industry that has buried their collective heads in the sand the deepest. Having a captive audience to dictate terms to, they have become so accustomed to their way they can't envision things working any differently.

I would rather see my tax dollars go to paying for IT employees to run the network at the school than pouring money down the drain on textbooks or useless things like the Kindle. In addition to the obvious benefits of replacing textbooks, every student would be learning valuable computer skills as well. Each school would aslo be perfectly set up to teach IT classes and computer repair classes. Adults displaced from their printing or paper mill jobs could be retrained at the schools to transition to tech jobs.

I'm very suprised that we haven't seen any of the computer manufacturers or software giants (ahem! Microsoft, Google, Apple, Dell etc...) step up to the plate and make school districts around the country an "offer they can't refuse" to put their products in the hands of every student in the country. Wouldn't this be the Holy Grail of marketing coups? Imagine the customer base you could build if you started grooming potential customers when they start school? One could easily envision a business model much like the cell phone industry. They subsidise the initial cost of the equipment to get you under their umbrella and the money is made by offering additional services and upgrades. A shrewd lobbyist could probably get the Federal government to kick in toward the cost of the equipment so the school district and the company aren't stuck absorbing the initial costs. We may have to trim the dfense budget or stop paying midwest farmers to not grow crops, but it would be a good use of Federal tax dollars.

If you want to look at the issue from another angle, consider the environmental angle. Think about the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping millions of textbooks every year. If you look at the entire process from the lumberjack who cuts the tree to the bookstore clerk that delivers to the customer, there is an enourmous carbon footprint involved to distubute that book. Now consider the environmental impact of digital delivery and susequent updates. There's no comparison.

We can land spacecraft on Mars and bomb the crap out of anyone we see fit, but we're no closer to the promise of an interactive classroom than we were 15 years ago. I'm sure we'll continue on this un-eco-friendly path until we're out of trees and then some genius will come up with an idea to put a laptop in the hands of every student.

Report: A Kindle for college kids? Crave, the gadget blog - CNET

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Stoners in the Mist

This hillarious anti-marijuana website was actually put together by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. I hope this isn't a taxpayer funded organization. This appears to be a modern day version of "Reefer Madness". While the over the top exagerrations of "stoner" behavior are highly amusing to adults, it migh just send the wrong message to kids.

I came accross this while reading about the useless prohibition of marijuana in the United States. There is a marijuana arrest every 38 seconds in the US. Most of them are for possesion, not trafficking. We spent over 10 billion dollars last year on these arrests. Did it make a dent in the marijuana use? Nope, in fact it stayed about the same. We could spend another month or two in Iraq for that kind of money!

Imagine what we could do if we didn't spend 10 billion dollars a year in marijuana law enforcement. We could do a lot. Then imagine the amount of tax revenue that could be generated. We would certainly want to spend some of that money on education and rehabilitation. You could also add in the revenue and taxes generated by hemp products and hemp agriculture.

We're missing a huge opportunity because of archic laws that were created by people who were threatened by hemp. Primarily the cotton industry. After 72 years of inneffective prohibition, it's about time we pulled our collective heads out of our asses and end the prohibition. It's just stupid....

Stoners in the Mist

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Electric Airplane Makes Its Debut

Take your everyday metal moni motoglider, trick it out with a custom battery pack and you've got the ElectraFlyer C, a small electric airplane that debuted at the AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, last week.
The plane, which received its airworthiness certificate in April, features a 5.6 kWh lithium battery with a projected life cycle (the number of times it can be depleted and recharged) of 1,000 cycles. The battery has a max weight of 78 pounds and can be custom-built to fit the available space in an airplane. It provides juice for a motor driving a 45-inch superlight PowerFin propeller made of a foam core surrounded by an outer shell of carbon fiber and glass fabric.
Once in the air, the ElectraFlyer C cruises at 70 miles per hour. Top speed is 90 mph and the stall speed is 45. The plane can fly for 90 to 120 minutes before the battery needs recharging. When the battery winds down, just plug it into a 110V outlet -- your house is full of them -- and you're good to go in just more than six hours. Bump the voltage to 220 and you're flying again in two hours.

The Battery-Powered Plane Makes Its Debut

See the Photo Gallery!

This is a great idea! It's economical and environmentaly friendly. It would make small airstrips much more agreeable to neighbors. No noise, no aviation fuel storage...it's a win-win.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kite Power Could Generate Energy for 100,000 Homes

If we told you that a free-flying kite could provide enough energy to power your house, you might consider us crazy. How about all the homes on your block, or even an entire city? Scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands recently tested just such a technology, tethering a 10 square meter kite to a generator to produce 10 kilowatts of power (enough energy for 10 homes). They are currently planning to scale the experiment with a 50 kilowatt kite and a 100 megawatt array called the Laddermill that could potentially power 100,000 homes!

What an amzingly simple concept to generate electricity with almost no environmental impact. What will tree huggers complain about? It will probably be concern for the flight paths of rare migratory birds or some crap like that. Others will complain about their view being "ruined" by kites....

All kidding aside, this technology is one worth watching as it develops!

Kite Power Could Generate Energy for 100,000 Homes

Is Yahoo Crushing the Oldest For-Profit E-mail Publication With Poor Filtering?

I don't make a habit of promoting anything on my blog. But, when something I really enjoy for free is on the brink of becoming a paid service, I tend to cringe. Randy Cassingham has been putting out his "This is True" newsletter since the early days of the web. He is also the founder of the annual "Stella Awards" given for the most outrageous and ridiculous lawsuits.

Cassingham collects and reserches real stories about stupid people and unbelievable series of events. Beyond just regurgitating what is available in feeds around the web, Cassingham injects his own dry wit and priceless sarcasm into the story.

I remember subscribing to "This is True" from my Web TV system (yes, I am a magnet for products that seem like a good idea but just suck and disappear. I also owned a 3DO game system) back in the mid 90's. I was an AOL subscriber then. When I became a real computer user (bought a PC) I switched to Yahoo, Hotmail and now Google. The "This is True" newsletter has followed me with every change and has been delivered every week for free.

Looking back, Cassingham could be considered a web pioneer of sorts. He has managed to turn his newsletter and website into a living by providing quality, verified content. His site has survived through many tech changes over the years. It would seem that this whole scenario (described below) is a huge black-eye for Yahoo. One of the things consumers count on from companies like Yahoo is that they will filter out most of the junk and help us get only the information that we want. Anyone who knows much about content filtering would also know that whitelist/blacklist filtering is the most basic and least effective form of filtering. It would seem that there would be an algorythm that could sort this mess out before it ever happened. A huge company as old as Yahoo should have been on top of this problem.

Read on to get the details in Randy Cassingham's own words:

YAHOO ALERT: I've given up trying to work with Yahoo, which represents the largest domain subscribed to TRUE. There are more than 20,000 addresses within simple Yahoo.com domain on TRUE's distribution (plus a couple thousand more on variants such as yahoo.co.uk, yahoo.ca, etc.) But MOST of them are not getting TRUE anymore: Yahoo has blocked us. Why?

Because of idiots (dare I call them "yahoos"?) who ASK to be put on this distribution, then CONFIRM that request, and ...then click the "This is Spam" button when they don't recognize the mailing or simply don't want it anymore. Yes, those yahoos have screwed thousands upon thousands of others who really DO want this newsletter. Too bad: Yahoo is listening to the yahoos instead: they're blocking it. To them, we're "spammers" and no protestations from "spammers" count. As far as I can tell, there's only one group of people with Yahoo addresses who are still getting their issues: those who have at one time found TRUE in the "spam folder" and clicked the "Not Spam" button. But for the rest it's too late: we're now blocked, and you will NOT find issues there so you can hit that button.
As of now, about 70 percent of the Yahoo addresses are blocked. That's more than 15,000 folks. That's MORE than 10 percent of my entire distribution. And that's catastrophic: it has the potential to kill this newsletter. Nearly 15 percent of my audience, as of this week, which means 15 percent of my revenue, including 15 percent of my ad revenue, has suddenly stopped. It's the biggest crisis in TRUE's more than 14 years online. And it's (sigh) right in the middle of a worldwide economic slowdown. What lovely timing.

Yahoo is over-represented in my distribution because TRUE is so old: We've been publishing since 1994, when Yahoo was a little collection of links. They didn't get their millionth page view until late 1994 (according to Wikipedia), well after I had over 100,000 online readers every week, some of whom had to go through a lot of effort to get their issues (through BBS gateways, UUCP bang addresses, and other now- archaic means). Yahoo mail opened to the public in 1997 (when it acquired Rocketmail). That was AFTER I first editorialized on what a problem spam could become -- what's now http://www.spamprimer.com/ .

I take no solace in the fact that I was right about spam; it has grown so much that the world's first for-profit e-mail publication is having massive delivery problems because its shiny little jewel can't stand out among the garbage. Yeah, I'm mad: it's MY OWN READERS who have done this. Addled idiots can't click "unsubscribe" after they asked to get these issues, lumping the white hat guy who warned them about spam in with the criminals who send spam. But they're gone now: they don't see the carnage they caused, even if they liked, even loved, TRUE. It's like shooting a gun into a crowd of people, then walking away before seeing what happened.

I've had occasional problems with other big mail sites too, like AOL, Hotmail/MSN, and more, usually because of those same false "this is spam" complaints. Currently, I *think* all those other problems are cleared up, but I'm already seeing a revenue slide. It will likely get worse over time. Can I reverse it and keep TRUE going? I'm not sure. It's possible TRUE will become Premium-ONLY (plus the few newspapers who carry it), which would certify you all as victims of the spam war.
CAN YOU HELP? Yes. Complain to your provider EVERY TIME you miss an issue. Tell them you ASKED to get TRUE *and* responded to a verification request, and that no one can get on the distribution without BOTH of those steps. Spammers don't do that: they add you whether you want their mail or not. (And when was the last time you WANTED spam?!) If you complain, maybe they'll get the message that their customers really want TRUE and other legitimate e-mail publications. But if they don't listen, give your business to someone else!

I encourage you to check out Cassingham's newsletter and choose a paid or free subscription and pass it along for your friends to enjoy. The stories will put a smile on your face and give you some interesting topics for conversation....

Thanks for indulging me on this...now back to our irregularly scheduled programming.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Judge Hints at Mistrial in RIAA v. Jammie Thomas

The federal judge who presided over the nation's only peer-to-peer copyright-infringement trial announced from the bench here Monday that he is likely to declare a mistrial.

"Certainly, I have sent a signal to both sides of where I'm headed," U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said during a 70-minute hearing in which lawyers for the Recording Industry Association of America and defendant Jammie Thomas sparred over whether a jury verdict against Thomas should be overturned.
At issue is whether the RIAA needs to prove that copyrighted music offered by a defendant on a peer-to-peer network was actually downloaded by anyone. During Thomas' trial last October, Davis, on the RIAA's recommendation, instructed (.pdf) the jury that no such proof was necessary; if Thomas had the music in her Kazaa shared folder, where it could be downloaded, she could be found liable "regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown."

But in May, long after Thomas had lost the trial and was dinged $222,000, Davis developed second thoughts. He wrote in an order that he may have committed a "manifest error" with that instruction. "I think I surprised everyone," Davis said at the outset of the Monday's hearing. As the hearing wrapped up, there was little evidence that the RIAA's lawyer had changed the judge's mind.

Judge Hints at Mistrial in RIAA v. Jammie Thomas

At this point I will pause to pat myself on the back. I was asking this very question about "availability" being the same as distribution about three years ago. As I've said before, it will be a painful lesson for the RIAA/MPAA goon squad to learn. There's no winning when one tries to pull the wool over the collective eyes of Judges accross the country. The manner in which they slid in the jury instructions regarding availability was underhanded and surely didn't go unnoticed.