Friday, February 25, 2005

Visions of Profit in Podcasting

I have been a big fan of since becoming one of it's first customers several years ago. So, I was quite interested in reading about the company's plans to leverage podcasts with its download distribution system. Although I have never ordered any of Audible's periodical subscriptions, I have always thought it would be a great customer service if some of the magazines I subscribe to would offer an audio version that I could listen to on my commute since my attention is less divided then than at home where I am usually bustling about cleaning up the kitchen, taking care of my two puppies, tending my husband, trying to read the paper and catching the occasional remark on television.

The New York Times : "Last week,, which in 1994 pioneered the idea of using the Internet to download audio books and other audio material to personal computers, said that it would soon join the podcasting movement. The company, whose business currently includes distributing popular radio programs like 'Car Talk' on a subscription basis over the Internet, now says it intends to make its software and distribution system available to people who want to produce their own podcasts.

'When I started Audible and we started signing up radio partners, people would ask me, 'where does your technology leave radio?,' ' said Donald Katz, Audible's chairman. 'Now it's clear that the creative capacity that is out there greatly outstrips the capacity of the radio pipeline.'"

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sad, Lonely? For a Good Time, Call Vivienne*

The New York Times > Technology > Sad, Lonely? For a Good Time, Call Vivienne*: I see that Artificial Life, the company that produced the software I used to create virtual Caesar, has apparently abandoned their efforts to sell ridiculously priced virtual sales agents and have turned to development of "virtual" friends for lonely cell phone users.

One of the biggest problems they encountered in their original product line, in my opinion, was the amount of time and knowledge it takes to produce a custom virtual agent for a particular company with a specific focus. Now, they are concentrating on producing non-specific "friends" that can be programmed with generic "chit-chat" and used by a much larger pool of potential customers. I suppose this might be a more viable business model but sadly, like the shallow entertainment of "reality" television, it does little to explore the educational potential of their software.

"Eberhard Schoneburg, the chief executive of the software maker Artificial Life Inc. of Hong Kong, may have found the answer: a virtual girlfriend named Vivienne who goes wherever you go.

Vivienne likes to be taken to movies and bars. She loves to be given virtual flowers and chocolates, and she can translate six languages if you travel overseas. She never undresses, although she has some skimpy outfits for the gym, and is a tease who draws the line at anything beyond blowing kisses.

If you marry her in a virtual ceremony, you even end up with a virtual mother-in-law who really does call you in the middle of the night on your cellphone to ask where you are and whether you have been treating her daughter right.

She may sound like a mixed blessing, decidedly high maintenance and perhaps the last resort of losers. But she is nonetheless a concept that cellphone system operators and handset manufacturers are starting to embrace.

Vivienne, the product of computerized voice synthesis, streaming video and text messages, is meant not only to bring business to Artificial Life (she will be available for a monthly fee of $6, not including the airtime costs paid to cellphone operators or the price of virtual chocolates and flowers). But she is also meant to be a lure for the new, higher-tech, third generation, or 3G, cellphones."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Panasonic FZ20 offers challenging options to the digital photographer

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Italy, I have been studying up on the features of our new Panasonic FZ20 Luminix digital camera. I've taken a few shots with it but it seemed to require quite a bit more "fiddling" than my reliable Sony Mavica FD-81. Today, however, I think I identified some of the default settings that may have been causing me some trouble. I noticed that the Auto Focus Continuous setting was not set to on. This meant that there was a slight delay once I pressed the shutter before the camera began it's auto focus routine and may have resulted in some of my earlier images being a little fuzzy. I'm used to the Mavica being focussed almost instantly. I'm hoping that my setting this feature to on will help. I also noticed that the Auto Focus feature was set to only a single point even though the camera is capable of using a nine point focus system. In some of my earlier images, I noticed that the focus seemed less sharp as the image radiated out from the center. I thought it was a result of a shallow depth of field but this may not be the problem after all. I set this feature to the maximum of 9 point focus so we'll see how this affects the overall sharpness of the picture.

I also set the programmable Scene 1 setting to "Party" a setting for obtaining sharp focus in a low light condition. I set the programmable Scene 2 setting to "Scenery" for instant maximum depth of field and sharp focus. These are the majority of types of shots I think I will need.

I have also called our Museum of Art and requested permission to come over and photograph some of their ancient art objects in their exhibition setting so I can determine the best settings for focus and true color reproduction.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Resurrecting a weblog

This weblog was began in September of 2003 using an open source weblog tool called Blosxom that was written in Perl. I really liked the modularity of blosxom and some of the plugins designed for it, especially utilities like the magic link plugin that would recognize a word from your links list and automatically link it to a URL specified in your link list file (Example: Apple would automatically link to However, it became clear over the course of a year that the basic program lacked critical security features that prevented unfortunate events like spammers flooding a blog with advertising through the comments function and code that would prevent the output of an invalid RSS feed or cause internal server errors simply from the use of an international character or reference to a particularly long URL. Therefore, I decided to end my experiment with the tool.

However, I know there are a number of people interested in further development of Blosxom and I wanted to preserve my experiences with the program in the hope that they would prove useful to someone else. Therefore, I transferred all of my posts to this new Blogger blog and, using Blogger's date change utilities, modified the dates of my earlier posts to match the time frame they were actually posted.

I will now go forward with this blog posting my experiences with other technology tools and thoughts about tools in development. Hopefully, other technology enthusiasts will find them helpful as well.