I’m an equal-opportunity list basher. Since I’ve already taken on PC World’s “Top 50 Best Tech Products of All Time,” it seems only fitting to take a look at PC Mag’s “10 Useless Firefox Extensions.” Though this one is less sweeping in its ambitions, it still hits close to home, since I pretty much live in Firefox, and can never find enough extensions to meet my needs (which might explain why my browser is so darn slow and buggy). While there’s no question that some of the extensions listed are indeed useless (though, perhaps, fun in a totally geeky sort of way), some are actually extremely useful. Google Icon, for example, takes favicons and adds them to your Google search results. This is a handy way to quickly scan a screen of results and see which come from sources you’ve found reliable in the past (especially if, like me, you’ve changed your Google prefs to display 100 results per page). And Copy Link Text is a handy adjunct to the built-in “Copy Link Location” function. As the developer points out, the tool “also includes a means of copying both a link’s text and URL at the same time. This feature is particularly handy for bloggers, web developers, or anyone else who finds themselves writing links to other places on the web.” Of course, some of the useless extensions listed really are just timewasters, such as Confuscator, which can turn any text into gibberish. Oh, wait. It does pig latin, too? Never mind. I’m downloading it now! [Thanks, Download Squad!]
Archive for April, 2007
At around this time last year, I commented on my surprise at seeing so many otaku at the annual Brooklyn Botanic Garden Sakura Matsuri. This year, I was no longer surprised, though I did notice that their numbers seemed to be on the increase. I didn’t bother counting, but there were definitely a sizable number of teens and twenty-somethings who clearly weren’t there at the behest of their high school horticulture club. The event has apparently gained so much cred among the local animerati that the Metro Anime club moved its monthly get-together to avoid a conflict with the festival. Good thing. Given the fact that the hanami was scheduled poorly this year (most of the blossoms had yet to peak), the kids—some in basic black, some in formal kimonos (or loose interpretations of such) and some kitted out as their favorite anime or game characters—were among the most colorful things there. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, dudes.
Continuing my recent sojourn back into the world of classic scifi, I just reread Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” and found it to be as chilling and remarkable as I first did some thirty years ago. Although Bradbury’s foreshadowing about the results of a recent election is a bit ham-handed, his handling of the story’s denouement is perfect; creepy without being over-the-top (despite the expected election “twist”). What really makes it is the way Bradbury slowly reveals the details of what has happened (and, yes, there’s a spoiler coming, so avert your eyes if you’ve somehow never read this story):
Eckels stood smelling of the air, and there was a thing to the air, a chemical taint so subtle, so slight, that only a faint cry of his subliminal senses warned him it was there. The colors, white, gray, blue, orange, in the wall, in the furniture, in the sky beyond the window, were… were… And there was a feel.
Of course, if you’ve read the story, you know what happens next. If you haven’t, stop everything and read it right now. And, no, the 2005 movie version doesn’t count. Though I haven’t seen it, the reviews I’ve read are enough to convince me that I haven’t missed a whole lot. Maybe next time, someone will step off the path and the insect he stomps on will lead to a future in which the movie version of “A Sound of Thunder” is true to the story.
This seems painfully obvious, and it’s a shame more people aren’t following Harry Shearer’s advice:
What is the possible journalistic explanation for splashing ***’s self-dramatizing poses and self-justifying bullshit over network and cable air? Did we learn anything useful during the spate of interviews of Charlie Manson years ago, except that he was one crazy motherfucker? ***’s pathetic outpourings deserved to be put back where they came from—in a small room, with FBI guys sentenced to read/see and parse them Instead, a hundred thousand self-pitying mentally ill young men (and women?) have just been shown the road to glory one more time. A society in which it’s easier to become famous for killing people than for doing something useful or constructive is one remarkable place in which to live.
And, yes, I deleted the name of the killer from the above quote. I have no interest in mentioning it here and appearing on his already voluminous SERP.
It’s become something of a standard operating procedure for magazines to fold their print editions while keeping the online versions going. Premiere did it. Child did too. And so did Teen People. In all cases, editors or publishers boasted about how the magazines would thrive online. “To effectively reach these girls, we must invest in the media where they spend most of their time and where we see our greatest growth potential,” Hachette CEO Jack Kliger said when ElleGirl folded its print edition. From the start, however, skeptics pointed out that the print-to-online transition sounded more like a ploy than an actual business model. As PaidContent’s Staci Kramer said of Premiere, “dropping print for online only is the new brown. In the past, magazines just disappeared; now they hang around as bits and bytes.” And now that TeenPeople.com has followed its print edition into nonexistence, it looks like the naysayers were right, at least in this particular case (and a quick glance at the Alexa charts shows that TeenPeople has been suffering from low usage levels for years). Of course, that doesn’t mean every magazine that drops print will tank online. But, as Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni points out, “the problem is not with the technology or the method of delivery, the problem is in having a product that is relevant to the reader whether it is in print or on the Web.” Having worked for a number of Web sites affiliated with print magazines, I’d have to agree. Publishers need to focus on creating content that people will want to read, view, listen to, interact with or whatever. The delivery method will, of course, play a big role in the way the content is structured, but in the end, the content itself has to be compelling enough for people to want to access it, and if it’s not, it doesn’t really matter what format it’s in.
I wrote about Gmail’s “Paper” April Fool’s gag a couple of weeks ago, and said I thought the idea of a service to print email on paper “wasn’t entirely foolish.” Turns out I’m not alone. Just a few days after Gmail’s “announcement,” a new service called Postful launched its private beta. And Postful is, you guessed it, a service that will print out and mail any email you send it. Of course, unlike Gmail Paper, this isn’t a free, unlimited ad-supported service. Sending an email by paper with Postful will cost about a buck (for one page; after that it’s 25 cents per page). Postful could be a surefire winner—in 1997. Today, however, there are fewer and fewer people who don’t have email. And some of the uses Postful suggests on its site (using Postful to send letters to soldiers overseas or for business correspondence) seem like a bit of a stretch. Still, I could see using a service like this once or twice a year, and if there are enough people like me out there, this could be a real business, even if it’s not on the scale envisioned for Gmail Paper.
As I spent two hours navigating flooded roads en route to work this morning (at one point I actually saw a police car towing a rowboat), I started to wonder whether this was a harbinger of things to come; whether climate change would lead to more storms similar to this week’s Nor’easter, and flooded highways would be the least of our worries. Then I read Learning to Love Global Warming from the debut issue of Portfolio, and I stopped worrying. Turns out global warming is good for us. Climate change, rather than destroying civilization as we know it, will benefit many industries, including “depressed coastal resorts in northwestern Europe.” Fortunately, the article isn’t really pro-global warming. The shock-value headline leads to a fairly sober discussion of how economists view climate change, and provides a relatively reasonable conclusion, namely that as an insurance policy against a worst-case scenario, committing 1% of global output, or about $650 billion a year, to fighting global warming, “makes financial sense.” That sounds like a good start. As for me, I’ve got my eye on that police rowboat.
I’m unstuck in time.
It’s 1978, and I’ve discovered Kurt Vonnegut for the first time. His writing is like nothing I’ve ever read before. It has the trappings of scifi, but is layered with bizarre situations, stranger characters and primitive line drawings. I burn through “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Breakfast of Champions,” “Cats Cradle” and the rest. I even read “Venus on the Half Shell,” a pulpish Vonnegut tribute written by the one and only “Kilgore Trout.”
It’s the 80s. Vonnegut’s still writing, but his books lack the bite of his earlier work. And I’ve moved on as well, to the grittier work of Ballard, Dick and Gibson—though I still soldier through Vonnegut’s later works (at least through “Galapagos”).
Now it’s the 90s. And Billy Pilgrim’s children are unstuck all over the airwaves. In “Quantum Leap,” Scott Bakula bounces from era to era with Tralfamadorean aplomb. Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek” gets unstuck and discovers that all good things come to an end … or a beginning … or something like that. On “Babylon 5,” Zathras becomes so unstuck that he drags Captain Sinclair about a million years into the past. Vonnegut’s legacy is assured.
It’s 2005. Vonnegut publishes “A Man Without a Country,” his best work in two decades. Not because of the quality (or quantity) of the writing, but because, at 82, he’s still passionate in his beliefs, his anger, his frustration, his despair (and hope) for the human race.
It’s 1978. I’m discovering Kurt Vonnegut for the first time. I crack the cover of “Breakfast of Champions” and begin reading.
This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast. One of htem was a science-fiction writer named Kilgore Trout. He was a nobody at the time, and he supposed his life was over. He was mistaken. As a consequence of the meeting, he became one of the most beloved and respected human beings in history.
I’m unstuck in time.
Diabetes Mine has a great “open letter to Steve Jobs” about why Apple should get into the business of designing insulin pumps and blood glucose meters. While I somehow don’t see Apple jumping into the medical device market, this is definitely in keeping with the point I was trying to make in my post about the “50 best tech products of all time” list. As blogger Amy Tenderich says, “while your brilliant product line enhances the lifestyle of (100) millions, I’m talking about the little devices that keep us alive, the people with chronic conditions.” Way to go, Amy. As a Type I myself (keepin’ it real with pens and needles instead of a pump), I definitely think a lot more can be done to make insulin pumps and other medical devices more user-friendly. And there’s certainly a market opportunity: With over a million Type 1-ers, and pumps going for up to $5,000 apiece, this is at least a $5 billion market. However, it’s not an easy business; this article has some good info about the challenges of manufacturing and marketing pumps: “By their nature, insulin pumps are challenging: they are used by unsupervised patients, and any malfunction could have serious consequences.” Still, if Steve does get on board, count me in. I’ll give up my BD Ultra Fine III’s for an iPump in a hearbeat.
I get a kick out of these “Top x of y” lists that magazines love to compile, since they’re almost always completely subjective, and usually have at least a few head-scratchers mixed in with the obvious wins. The latest case in point is PC World’s modestly titled “The 50 Best Tech Products of All Time.” Leading the list is Netscape Navigator, with the magazine calling it “the reason people started spending hours a day on the Internet.” Well, yes. I was certainly blown away the first time I used a beta version of Netscape in late 1994 (especially that way cool “venetian blind effect” it used to download interlaced GIFs. Oooh). It was light years ahead of its predecessor, NCSA Mosaic. But is it the best tech product of all time? What about some truly lifesaving technologies like pacemakers, dialysis machines or defibrillators? What about products that kicked off the computer era, like the Univac (or even the Antikythera Mechanism)? Instead, we have WordPerfect 5.1 (No. 9) and TurboTax (No. 38). What the list really should have been called—despite the inclusion of a few outliers like the iPod and a couple of digital cameras and cell phones—is “The 50 Best PC-related Products of the Past 25 Years,” which would have been more in keeping with its stated parameters of only including “technology that has arisen since the dawn of the personal computer.” But that wouldn’t sell nearly as many magazines as the “Best of All Time,” now would it?