Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bemoaning the fate of traditional booksellers

In this New York Times article, David Streitfeld blames avid readers like himself for causing the demise of the traditional book industry because he buys bargain books online from either commercial or private resellers.

"Book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them."
I think this is being a bit simplistic. Publishers have complained about used book resellers for years just as the music industry used to complain about used CD shops. If publishers would stop and think about it, its the physical format of a purchased book or CD that actually facilitates its resale by the original consumer. If the e-book industry finally takes off as expected (see my earlier post) with appropriate digital rights management, the resale problem will eventually disappear (except for hard copy "collectors" who can get their fix with print on demand).

However, the loss of the traditional bookstore is not without regret. I must admit that I occasionally enjoy just browsing the aisles of Barnes and Noble. But, when I want to find a particular book and get the best price, I turn to Amazon. It's a simple matter of efficiency and economics.

I also think I have bought a lot more books using online retailers (mostly Amazon) than I would have if I had to physically visit a traditional bookstore and search the aisles myself, because Amazon uses subtle marketing strategies like suggesting other books by the same author, with the same topic, or bought by other customers who also purchased the book you are considering. This process actually makes me aware of other books I may not have heard about and often a $12 purchase from Amazon turns into a $79 purchase by the time I click the check out button. So, I don't think we can blame online sales for upending an industry that, like the music industry, is digging its heels in when it comes to embracing technology advances. Instead, the publishing industry should reexamine its role in the literary process.

I always think about "value added" as a justification for a service to exist. The most valuable service a publishing company can provide is professional editing (something a lot of authors are saying is being neglected by many publishers now), and marketing expertise. However, marketing approaches need to change to take advantage of the new technologically enhanced exposure venues.

Recently, I was asked by Harper/Collins to review Bernard Cornwell's newest novel "Agincourt". The publisher provided me with links to videos they posted on YouTube in which Mr. Cornwell discusses the writer's craft, research, and the history behind "Agincourt". It is these types of marketing efforts that will yield the desired results in the future rather than expecting a traditional bookseller to displace other books to make way for a newly released book. The following video was my favorite:

Visiting with an author in person is always exciting, but even the most avid reader realizes that more people can be reached using online presentations than shuttling an author from bookstore to bookstore. Another online strategy that I recently enjoyed was an author-moderated discussion forum. Sponsored by GoodReads, the forum's featured author was Steven Pressfield, author of the acclaimed novel, "Gates of Fire", who was promoting his latest novel about Rommel. Forum visitors could pose any question they wished and Mr. Pressfield did his best to provide an insightful answer. Several visitors actually became involved in an ongoing dialogue with Mr. Pressfield about the craft of writing or his interpretation of some of his classical resources. These types of discussions would not have been possible in most book signing sessions - at least none that I have ever attended.

News releases and book reviews are also valuable in bringing attention to a new book. But, as Mr. Pressfield pointed out in his discussion forum, traditional media like online newspapers seem to be shying away from including book reviews in their content offerings. Publishers could reverse this trend with targeted marketing campaigns.

So, I wouldn't feel too bad, David, about buying used books. You're actions are serving as the catalyst to get publishers to refocus their business model on the services they should be providing rather than squabbling over who gets the residual value from bits of paper and cardboard. As for publishers like Houghton Miffin Harcourt no longer ordering "fresh meat", in many moments of crisis throughout history there are those who decide to commit suicide rather than face the changes needed to succeed in a newly defined environment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Creating a Holiday Tribute to my Dad for a unique Christmas gift

About a month ago, I was asked by an editor to see if I could find a slide from 1978 that I took of helicopter logging in the Cascade Mountains. While I was looking for that slide I stumbled across a slide of my late father calling a square dance in the living room of their home.

Dad always enjoyed calling square dances and over the holidays we would push all the furniture back after dinner and he would give us a dance lesson. Dad loved music and even after he had to give up square dancing he would play his keyboard for hours. We lost him three years ago after a long battle with Parkinson's disease and miss him a lot especially this time of year. So, I decided to try to give my family the gift of seeing him call one more time.

All I had was a still image but I knew I could animate his face and synchronize his mouth to an audio file of a square dance call using a product called CrazyTalk.

First, I digitized the slide with a Nikon Coolscan slide scanner. Then I discovered his eyes were closed. Dad often called singing calls with his eyes closed. But I knew the CrazyTalk software animated the eyes so I had to give him open eyes. So, I went up on the internet and looked for a suitable pair of hazel eyes that I inserted with Photoshop Elements (I have the full version of Photoshop but find the interface in Elements to be much more intuitive and it performs almost all of the functions I use on a regular basis).

Next I tried to find the Square Dance cue sheet for Jingle Bells out on the web. I found a bunch of them but none with the words I remembered Dad called. So I wrote down the words I remembered as best I could from 30 years ago.

Then I started hunting for an instrumental version of Jingle Bells that would be suitable. I stumbled across a website called Soundsnap that had a database of music loops and sound effects. A free account got me 5 downloads a month. I downloaded the version of Jingle Bells I liked then went up to to customize the song to fit my storyboard. The song started right where Dad would need to start his call but I wanted to a little intro. I selected a few measures of one of the chorus sections for an intro and copied and pasted that to the beginning of the song.

Since I didn't have an audio file of Dad's voice, I decided to use a product called MorphVOXPro to morph my own voice into something more male sounding. So, I hooked up my USB headset and proceeded to experiment with the different male voices that you can download from MorphVOX Pro's website. At first I thought I liked the "old man" voice that was a little higher pitched than the standard male voice. But after making a number of recordings I decided to go with the deeper standard male voice. I must have recorded that audio track 20 times but I still couldn't make it sound quite right. It's hard to carry a tune when your voice is being morphed in real time! (I hope you'll forgive me for that Dad.)

Then I made my first attempt at tying everything together with Microsoft MovieMaker. I did not want to combine the music track and voice during the recording phase because I wanted the music track to play during the introductory graphics & the credits I would add later. But trying to synch the calling and the music separately was not working out. So I downloaded the music to my iPod because I couldn't get my computer to play the song while I attempted to use a mic at the same time. I suppose I could have recorded a karaoke session then split the music track off afterwards but I was in "get-it-done" mode and figured I could get it done faster with my somewhat low tech approach.

So I listened to the song on the iPod through one headset while I recorded the voice through MorphVox Pro with my other headset. Of course then I discovered the morphing software sort of wreaks havoc with someone trying to carry a tune (I really can sing better than that!)

But, after even more recording sessions I finally decided just to go with one of them. I figured Dad would forgive me!

So I launched CrazyTalk and imported the image I had edited and the .wav file I had created with MorphVox pro and it synched everything up. You can go into CrazyTalk and actually tweak the mouth shapes for different words if you don't like the automatic result. But, As the image I was using was not a tight closeup, I figured the automatic result was good enough.

Then I started experimenting with the different video compression schemes to get the best output. I finally settled on Indeo 5.1 with compression filter and a 320X280 frame size since I was using a portrait orientation picture.

Finally, I was ready for MovieMaker. I imported the still image first to serve as the intro and a beginning key frame. Then I added the CrazyTalk video file and the Jingle Bells music track. Then I went up on the web and found a suitable "Happy Holidays" ending graphic. I love puppies so I found one with a little Dalmation. I couldn't find any copyright references so I hope whoever produced it doesn't mind a personal noncommercial use. I added the puppy graphic to the end of the storyboard then used the timeline and playback window to synch up the visuals with the music.

The tempo was right with the voiceover but I had to keep adjusting the duration of the intro graphic to get Dad's calling to match up with the appropriate point in the melody. Then I created a title graphic and ending credits. I liked the animated shadowed Title style best and selected a red background for Xmas. Then I went in and added right wipe transitions between the title and the opening graphic, a heart-shaped transition to the puppy graphic and a fade before the ending credits. That's when I discovered the transitions threw off the music track again so had to go back and readjust Dad's video to the music track again.

I was just about to call it a wrap when I noticed that the background fill default in MovieMaker was black while in CrazyTalk it was white. The switch from black background around the intro graphic to white background around the video frames was distracting so I went into CrazyTalk and found I could change the background there to black too. Which meant I had to reexport the CrazyTalk video, remove the other video from my Moviemaker project and reimport the new video. Which also meant I had to resynch the music track AGAIN! Finally, after over 8 hours of editing, I produced my little 1 minute video and uploaded it to YouTube.

YouTube had a nice way to embed the video into a greeting card and send it to all my family members. So this is how my family received a gift that couldn't be purchased in any store. I hope they enjoyed the memories. I took a day and went to the local mall and did a little "normal" Christmas shopping just to unwind!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Music Games bring new markets to recording artists

By golly, I think the music industry, like the street wench of "My Fair Lady", is finally starting to "get it!" Unfortunately, I can't get an iPhone with Verizon Wireless, but I see that the iPod Touch can play many of the games designed for an iPhone. My old trusty video iPod can't hold a charge beyond about an hour now anyway and I have to plug it into the computer for a recharge after my morning workout. I know I can buy a third party battery replacement for it but maybe I should be considering an upgrade!

Tap Tap Revenge, a free game that challenges players to keep up with catchy tunes by tapping in the right spots on the phone’s screen, was available in Apple’s iPhone application store when it opened in July.

It quickly climbed the store’s charts, and more than three million downloads later, Apple declared it the most popular free iPhone game of the year.

“We went to No. 1 in three days,” said Bart Decrem, co-founder and chief executive of Tapulous. “Within a week, artists reached out to have their music featured in the game.”

Many software companies have jumped on the iPhone bandwagon, seeing promise in the popularity of the phone and the demand for programs for sale or free download through the App Store. They include Smule, a start-up that created a program that turns iPhones into flutes; and giant game publishers like Electronic Arts, which recently released a version of its classic SimCity game for the iPhone.

Tapulous, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was founded in January after Mr. Decrem, a Belgian software executive, and his business partner, Andrew Lacy, came across an iPhone game called Tap Tap Revolution. They sought out its creator, Nate True, and brought him on board as a developer. (A third co-founder, Mike Lee, was forced out in August after the men disagreed over the company’s direction.)

For Mr. Decrem, who earlier helped create a social Web browser called Flock, the low cost and fast pace of making software for the iPhone made it feasible to create a company that focused exclusively on the device.

“It took two years and north of $5 million to bring Flock to market,” he said. “In this case, the longest you spend building an iPhone application is three months, and it takes four or five people. There’s less risk in terms of betting millions and years on something that might not work.”

To keep its game fresh the company created Tap Tap Thursdays, when it releases new music from artists like Michael Franti and the pop singer Katy Perry. Mr. Decrem said those songs regularly inspire a million game plays — and occasionally a lot of music sales, because players can click to buy the song through Apple. In October, Tap Tap Revenge players bought 50,000 copies of the featured track “Hot N Cold” by Ms. Perry.

The popularity of the game led Tapulous to begin introducing paid versions for $4.99 each, aimed at fans of specific artists or genres of music. In late October it released a Nine Inch Nails edition, followed by a holiday version called Christmas With Weezer, for which that band recorded some carols. Tapulous plans to release one of these each month, including a special edition featuring the Dave Matthews Band.

Tap Tap Revenge is patterned after games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which test players’ abilities to keep rhythm with popular songs. Those games have been hits on consoles like the Xbox 360, and strong sales of music through the games have given some hope to a beleaguered music industry. Harmonix, the creator of Rock Band, said last week that the game’s players had bought 30 million songs.

“The gravy train of the old days of having CD sales buffer you as an artist are gone,” said James L. McQuivey, a principal analyst specializing in media technology at Forrester Research. “Artists recognize that and are trying to be in more places at once.”

The British music label EMI, seeking a new source of revenue, collaborated with Tapulous on a version called Tap Tap Dance that includes tracks by Moby and Daft Punk.

“We absolutely feel these games could be the next big Rock Band or Guitar Hero,” said Cynthia Sexton, a vice president at EMI Music worldwide.

Ms. Sexton said she viewed the expansion into games and other outlets as a natural evolution of the music industry, though that revelation was not necessarily an easy one. “For a moment, we hid our heads in the sand and thought this was the end,” she said. “But it’s not. It’s really the beginning.” [FINALLY!!!]

Mr. Decrem said his company saw the opportunity in music sales. “We’re fortunate to be sitting at the intersection of a couple of powerful forces right now,” he said. “The iPhone is a device that is on fire, and artists are looking for ways to reinvent themselves.” - More, New York Times

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Project Possibility yields admirable results

I'm always excited when I see other people willing to develop technology because its needed not just to make money:

ONE computer program would allow vision-impaired shoppers to point their cellphones at supermarket shelves and hear descriptions of products and prices. Another would allow a physically disabled person to guide a computer mouse using brain waves and eye movements.

The two programs were among those created by eight groups of volunteers at a two-day software-writing competition this fall. The goal of the competition, sponsored by a nonprofit corporation, is to encourage new computer programs that help disabled people expand their capabilities.

The corporation, set up by computer science students and graduates at the University of Southern California, is named Project:Possibility. It grew out of an idea two years ago by Christopher Leung, then a master’s degree candidate in computer science and engineering at the university, who was working on a project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The effort is centered at the University of Southern California and led by volunteers, including Ely Lerner, an information systems developer at Amgen Inc.; Elias Sayfi, a senior software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Stanley Lam, an undergraduate business student at the university.

The project also plans to create a worldwide open-source Web site on which disabled persons and software developers can collaborate on new ideas and add to existing programs.

“Imagine a specialist Facebook or MySpace-type social network in which users would be involved in designing the tools they want and need,” said Stephen A. Lee, a British software developer who operates and is a director of Project:Possibility.- New York Times

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Corporate America spurns user generated content but then can't find the key to advertising on social networking sites

FOR some time, Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, has been dipping its big toes into the vast pool of Facebook, now the world’s largest social network.

Independent experts on Web advertising have been watching, however,
and what they see is a myriad of difficulties in making brand
advertising work on social networking sites. Members of social networks
want to spend time with friends, not brands.

When major brands
place banner advertisements on the side of a member’s home page,
they pay inexpensive prices, but the ads receive little attention. Seth
Goldstein, co-founder of SocialMedia Networks, an online advertising
company, wrote on his Facebook blog that a banner ad “is
universally disregard.

And when they try to take advantage of new “social
advertising,” extending their commercial message to a
member’s friends, their ads will be noticed, all right, but not
necessarily favorably. Members are understandably reluctant to become
shills. IDC, the technology research firm, published a study last month
that reported that just 3 percent of Internet users in the United
States would willingly let publishers use their friends for
advertising. The report described social advertising as
“stillborn.”ed as irrelevant if it’s not ignored

I think the problem is advertisers still consider themselves "above" their intended consumers.  The article included this observation:

"companies generally do not like the idea of their brand sharing space
with unvetted material supplied by users. The IDC report said, “Brand
advertisers largely consider user-generated content as low-quality,
brand-unsafe inventory.”

Social networks are all about user-generated content!  Duh!!  Until the big money boys get their nose out of the air, they aren't going to be able to capitalize on social networks!  The article mentions they disdain contests but an article I read last week said contests soliciting user-generated content are quite successful at increasing product awareness.  Perhaps the marketing folks should pay more attention to some of us in IT.

Will Living Dead 4 Become the Ultimate Zombie Extermination Experience?

I naturally thought of my son when I saw this review of Living Dead 4. I never could understand his fascination with the Resident Evil series. He told me "Hey, Mom, after putting up with jerks at the office all day, there's nothing like it to blow off a little steam!"

I live alone these days, but my favorite memento of my old roommate is the 2005 headline from The Onion that is still stuck to my refrigerator three years after she put it there: “Study Reveals Pittsburgh Unprepared for Full-Scale Zombie Attack.”

The line makes me smile every day because the concept of zombie apocalypse is so elemental and yet subtly humorous in its repugnance. And where else but a stolid middle-American city like Pittsburgh (or Cleveland or Detroit) would you want to set down your pack of former insurance clerks and housewives turned ravening undead to hunt down a ragged band of survivors?

It’s difficult to imagine that some developer at Turtle Rock Studios (now part of Valve) hasn’t had the same Onion headline pasted by his desk since work began on Left 4 Dead, also in 2005. Left 4 Dead nails just about every part of the classic George A. Romero “Living Dead” zombie genre in what amounts to a glossy and frenetic homage to every shotgun shell that has ever been pumped into the pustulent maw of the ghoul next door.

Internet Filter Proposed by Australian Government A First Step to Censorship

The following article made my skin crawl. We still have far too many theocrats in government positions in this country that would love to latch onto some proposal like this and start dictating their view of the world to the rest of us!!

The Australian government plans to test a nationwide Web filtering system that would force Internet service providers to block access to thousands of sites containing questionable or illegal content, prompting cries of censorship from advocacy groups.

The proposed filter is part of a $82 million “cybersafety plan” started in May with the goals of protecting children online and stopping adults from downloading content that is illegal to possess in information about Australia." Australia, like child pornography or materials related to terrorism.

But the plan has ignited opposition from online advocacy groups and industry specialists who say it would slow browsing speeds and do little to block undesirable content.

Last month, the minister of communications, Stephen Conroy, invited Internet service providers and mobile phone operators to participate in a live trial of the program, which is set to begin this year.

The proposed system consists of two tiers. Under the first, all Australian service providers must block access to around 10,000 Web sites on a list maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the federal monitor that oversees film classifications.

The second tier would require service providers to provide an optional filter that individuals could use to block material deemed unsuitable for children, like pornography or violence.

The government says the list, which is not available to the public, includes only illegal content, mostly child pornography. But critics worry about the lack of transparency and say the filter could be used to block a range of morally hazy topics, like gambling or euthanasia.

“Even if the scheme is introduced with the best of intentions, there will be enormous political pressure on the government to expand the list,” said Colin Jacobs, the vice chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a technology advocacy group. “We worry that the scope of the list would expand at a very rapid rate.”

The proposal has set off a flurry of anxious chatter on social networking sites like Facebook, where thousands of users have announced plans to attend mass protests on Saturday. More than 85,000 users have also signed an online petition created by the left-wing advocacy group GetUp, which calls the mandatory filter “a serious threat to our democratic values.”

Some industry specialists have also criticized the plan.

“Our view is there are some serious shortfalls in what is being proposed,” said Mark White, the chief operating officer at iiNet, Australia’s third-largest service provider, which has applied to take part in the trial.

Mr. White said the mandatory filter was unlikely to work because it would not monitor illegal activity on peer-to-peer or file-sharing networks, where most child pornography and other illegal content is exchanged. The filter would also slow Internet browsing speeds for all regardless of whether they were trying to access forbidden sites, he said.

This concern has been affirmed by the government’s own research. According to a July report by the communications and media authority, the best filter in tests of six unidentified Internet filtering programs slowed browsing speeds by 2 percent; the other five made the Internet run between 22 and 87 percent slower.

The study found that filtering programs were effective at blocking illicit material around 92 percent of the time, but around 3 percent of legitimate sites were mistakenly caught up in the filters. - More: The New York Times
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Eye-Fi cards add WiFi capabilities to your camera!

What’s Eye-Fi?

Eye-Fi makes Wi-Fi-enabled SD memory cards, which are compatible with the vast majority of digital cameras on the market. You put the Eye-Fi Card into your camera, go through a quick setup process, and any photo you take will be wirelessly sent into your Evernote account. No cables. No docks. Just magic.
This changes everything

Think about it, you own a device (camera) that takes high-quality photos incredibly well, and you use a service (Evernote) that’s really good at recognizing text in your photos and organizing your memories. Now with Eye-Fi, your, formerly, once-a-month camera becomes an essential tool to capture all sorts of day-to-day things. Here are some ideas:

* Got back from a conference with a stack of business cards? Snap a photo of them.
* Just finished a big whiteboard session? Don’t copy it into your notebook, snap a photo.
* Just had dinner? Snap a photo of the receipt for your records.
* Doing some comparison shopping? Go to a store and snap a photo of the sales tags.
* Got a billion dollar idea sketched on a napkin? Snap a photo so you’ll never forget it.

Then, as soon as you come into range of an open wireless access point, or one that you’ve configured, the Eye-Fi card will send those photos into Evernote, where they’ll be processed, indexed, and made searchable and available on every platform and device you use. That’s pretty sweet.

Yes that is pretty sweet! I wonder if they work with a Panasonic FZ8? I'll have to check into it!!

Also noticed that some versions of the SD Smart Cards include autogeotagging. Unfortunately they're using the coordinates of the nearest hot spot rather than the GPS satellite info. If you're out in the countryside shooting landscapes, ruins, or architecture, this approach would not really work well. They are also spendy - $129 for 2 Gb for the Explorer format with autogeotagging.

Eye-Fi Explore includes 1 year of Wayport Hotspot Access. Eye-Fi Explore users will be able to renew Hotspot Access for $14.99 per year after the first year. Wayport offers Wi-Fi access at thousands of locations, including most McDonald’s restaurants, major hotels, airports, and other locales.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

UCLA's Borgman contends that scholarly information infrastructure must facilitate collaboration

Recently, a colleague shared an article in which Christine L. Borgman, a professor of information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, contended that the new “scholarly information infrastructure” must be shaped with collaborative, interdisciplinary research in mind.

I pointed out that Amazon's new Astore object is a commercial example that could be adapted for research purposes. My reply:

We are rapidly entering the age where web-based data structures are becoming extremely important to continue leveraging the intellectual capital that has expressed itself on the web. Although a commercial example, Amazon’s new Astore collaborative Associates program is one example of how this is achieved. Each Amazon associate has the ability to configure an Astore that is targeted to a specific visitor demographic. For example, my blogs focus on various aspects of history. I have constructed an Astore that is a linked compendium of resources (products like books and film) that provide further information about history of particular periods that I have further categorized by civilization and topic.


If you click on the link for History-Rome, you will find links to subcategories for

Romans-Julius Caesar
Rome-The Etruscans
Rome-Early Period
Rome-The Republic
Rome-Julio-Claudian Period
Rome-Hadrianic Period
Rome-The Late Empire
Rome-Weapons and Warfare
Rome-Daily Life

Eventually I will populate the other categories in a similar way as time permits. Just think of how a similar concept could be used to facilitate the identification and retrieval of research materials. Amazon has configured the Astore construction tool to combine a search of the product database with a categorization tool that creates folder categories that you can move up or down in the folder list or indent as a subcategory of an existing category. Each category folder is assigned a unique ID that does not change so you can also call each specific folder as the primary display object for web pages with specific topic references. For example, I also constructed an Astore for a nonprofit arts foundation in California. If you select the web page to view their Historical Figures of England group page you will see a display featuring books that focus on English History:

If you choose a particular figure on the Historical Figures of England page, like Henry VIII, the Astore will display books about The Tudor Period:

I accomplish this by placing the Astore permalink information in the foundation’s filemaker database record for the Henry VIII figure. I then call the information with Php via Filemaker’s Php support facility in combination with a third party scripting tool, FX.php.

Pogue says Fujifilm F60D second only to Canon

I noticed in David Pogue's "Best cameras under $300" article that he ranked the Fujifilm FinePix F60D second only to Canon for overall features and image quality:

"FUJIFILM FINEPIX F60FD ($220). A fast, solid, clearly designed camera. Good exposures, nice work in low light — no doubt because it has the biggest sensor of the contest (0.625 inches diagonally, rather than the usual 0.4). Features you can really use, like one that snaps both a flash and a no-flash picture simultaneously. Manual controls, too. Picture quality very good."

Right after the F60FD was announced I called Fujifilm to find out if the noise reduction capabilities of the F60FD were equal to that of the F31D. I was just told the camera was so new customer service didn't know anything about it !!

I read an article that says the real sequel to the F31D won't be out until Feb 2009 so I'm trying to hold off. I sure would like to take a higher resolution Finepix to Rome with me in March, though, so I hope there's no delay in the scheduled release. I also wish camera manufacturers would keep their product lines consistent. By rights, the F60D should be equal to a F31D with added image stabilization but articles I read said none of the cameras released after the F31D were equal to it in low light performance. Basic features like noise reduction and ISO range should not have decreased in subsequent models. I assume what happened was they simply bumped up the megapixels without incrementally compensating for the resulting increase in noise thus ending up with (IMHO) high resolution cameras with inferior performance in low light situations. At least they're supposed to address this issue with the new model in February

Making Serious Money With YouTube

I found this article particularly interesting. Maybe I should look into it further to supplement my retirement income!

One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site. For some, like Michael Buckley, the self-taught host of a celebrity chatter show, filming funny videos is now a full-time job.

Mr. Buckley quit his day job in September after his online profits had greatly surpassed his salary as an administrative assistant for a music promotion company. His thrice-a-week online show “is silly,” he said, but it has helped him escape his credit-card debt.

Mr. Buckley, 33, was the part-time host of a weekly show on a Connecticut public access channel in the summer of 2006 when his cousin started posting snippets of the show on YouTube. The comical rants about celebrities attracted online viewers, and before long Mr. Buckley was tailoring his segments, called “What the Buck?” for the Web. Mr. Buckley knew that the show was “only going to go so far on public access.”

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why are female Computer Science majors declining?

As someone who has been a rather "rare" female technology professional for over twenty years, I read this article by Professor Randall Stross with interest. Afterwards, I wrote to him to point out something I don't think the article considered, at least, not directly:

Professor Stross, I sometimes think that the reason women are not drawn to a computer science degree is that the discipline deals primarily with the computer as a machine, not as a tool that can be used creatively to solve human problems, enhance human communication, and enrich human lives.

Here is the definition of our Computer Science major from the University of Oregon’s own course catalog:

“Computer science is the study of the computer as a machine, both concrete and abstract; it is the study of the management of information; and it involves the design and analysis of algorithms, programs, systems, and programming languages.”

There is not even a whisper of how the machine is used in a human social context.

Women are still given the primary role of nurturers by our culture and are socialized throughout their education with that overriding expectation. The religious fundamentalism that has dominated society in many parts of the country over the last eight years has further emphasized this cultural stereotype. So it is not surprising that the vast majority of women would find a discipline that approaches computer science as primarily the study of an inhuman machine to be less than satisfying.

Anyway, here's an abstract from the original article.

Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, recalls the mid-1980s, when women made up 40 percent of the students who majored in management computer systems, the second most popular major on campus. But soon after, the number of students majoring in the program had fallen about 75 percent, reflecting a nationwide trend, and the number of women fell even more. “I asked at a department meeting,” he says, “ ‘Where have the women gone?’ It wasn’t clear.” His theory is that young women earlier had felt comfortable pursing the major because the male subculture of action gaming had yet to appear.

Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology & Social Behavior, has written about the efforts in the 1990s to create computer games that would appeal to girls and, ultimately, increase the representation of women in computer science. In commenting as a co-contributor in a new book, “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming,” Ms. Cassell writes of the failure of these efforts, “The girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were ‘boys’ toys’ and that true girls didn’t play with computers.”

She said last week that some people in the field still believed that the answer to reversing declining enrollment was building the right game. Another school of thought is what she calls the “we won” claim because women have entered computer-related fields like Web site design that are not traditional computer science. Ms. Cassell points out that it’s not much of a victory, however. The pay is considerably less than in software engineering and the work has less influence on how computers are used, and whether this actually accounts for the diminishing numbers of female computer science majors remains unproved. - More (NY Times)