The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte
 Monday, February 17, 2003

eBook Validation

"Brown University, in conjunction with The Rocket eBook, are offering an eBook validator to check the compliance of your eBook code against the Open eBook standard.

Speaking of Rocket eBook, why in the world do we need a separate device to read eBooks, like the Gemstar eBook, when there are plenty of Palm OS and Pocket PC devices that will do a million things?..." [ReadYourPalm]

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Three Degrees of Separation

Microsoft Aims to Tap 'Net generation'

"Microsoft plans to begin testing a radically new instant messaging and communications product next week aimed at teenagers and young adults who grew up using the Internet.

The new software, threedegrees, creates a peer-to-peer social group where young people can chat, share photos, listen to music and meet friends. Concurrent with the beta, Microsoft also plans to release the Windows Peer-to-Peer Update for Windows XP.

To use threedegrees, prospective testers must be running Windows XP with Service Pack 1, the new peer-to-peer update and MSN Messenger 5 installed on their computer. The software allows users to create groups, where up to 10 people can participate in the same instant messages. Group members also can share animations and photos or listen to music....

In developing the product, Microsoft started first by looking at the computing habits of the age group, which Savage said is radically different from people who did not grow up with the Internet. Only when Microsoft understood their habits, did the company attempt to create a product to suit them....

For NetGenners, Microsoft learned that using the Internet for socializing is a way of life. So the company focused on technologies that would help 'get groups formed and have activities they can do,' Savage said. 'We wanted things that paralleled our customers' priorities, which was hanging out with your friends and having fun....'

Group members also can share photos and, more importantly, listen to music available in a common play list. Savage sees this as one of threedegrees' most important features. 'Music a lot of times is the background for the fun that you have.'

Microsoft used the dinner party as the model for developing the size of the social group and the way music is shared within it....

Group members can create play lists of 60 songs, or about the equivalent of six CDs. The songs are played from the participant's hard drive, rather than being illegally swapped. Songs can be in Windows Media Audio, MP3 or WAV formats.

People interested in threedegrees can visit the product Web site, which right now is merely collecting e-mail addresses for people looking for notification of the beta's availability." [CNET]

It's pretty big when the largest computer company in the world creates a social product specifically for a generation that includes kids that aren't even old enough to have a credit card yet. I'll be interested to see how it fares, and I'm hoping Clare will be my guinea pig!

If you were unsure of chat's future before, set your doubts aside now. It's reasons like this that the current issue of D-Lib is devoted to Digital Reference. If your library isn't on board this wagon now, it's time to learn how to hop.

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Death of a [Record] Salesman

Old-style Radio Dramas Find New Home on Web

"Giant zebra mussels are attacking Lake Huron pleasure boaters and threaten to destroy Bay City. Is this the plot of a bizarre new science fiction movie?

Nope. It's an audio drama, 'Invasive Species,' released over the Internet and now being marketed on CD.
'The Internet is opening doors that we thought were forever closed,' said Bob Parsons of Albion, whose home-based Radiobob production company is behind the new 25-minute program. 'We thought old radio-style theater was gone forever when Top 40 stations took over in the '60s. But we've found a whole new market.'

Parsons, whose day job as news director for Albion's WUFN-FM pays the bills that let him indulge in his Radiobob alter ego, has been a collector of old-time radio shows since he was a boy back in his native Arkansas. They sent him back digital recordings of their lines, which he mixed together on his home computer, adding sound effects and music. Some recorded the audio on Macs, some PC's. Made no difference. Parsons stictched them all together and to sound like everyone was in the same studio. Ampcast, an online service specializing in MP3 music downloads, agreed to stream the production, released in nine weekly installments of about four minutes each.

Click to read the rest of my column on this ..." [Mike Wendland's E-Journal]

It's too bad that the music industry doesn't recognize that there are new niches to be found in the online world. I hope Congress realizes it's the creative innovators (even those that recycle old ideas) that need to be protected, and not the mega-corporations who refuse to adapt.

I hereby nominate the entertainment industry for a Darwin Award.

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World-Wide Walkie-talkie

"Fastmobile today announced that it has successfully conducted the first 'around the world' push-to-talk mobile phone conversation. Using standard Nokia 7650 and 3650 handsets, they talked to participants in Chicago, USA, Kent, UK and Henan Province, China, in a 'walkie-talkie' mode.

Push-to-Talk is suddenly hot.

Sprint and Verizon are on a race to be first with 'push to talk' (after Nextel). SprintPCS is trialing a push-to-talk solution by an Israeli company, Mobile Tornado. Their Push-To-Talk service uses 'IPRS' (IP Radio Service) which delivers two-way VoIP sessions conducted over any packet-based network such as GPRS, CDMA1x, CDPD, wireless LAN and satellite." [Daily Wireless]

What's more instant than cell phones? Walkie-talkie cellphones.

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A Couple of Laughs about the Google-Pyra Deal

eBay Customers' Privacy Not Protected

eBay to Law Enforcement - We're Here to Help

"Without a subpoena, eBay will provide the following information regarding an eBay user to law enforcement:

Full Name, User ID, Email Address, Street Address, State, City, Zip Code, Phone Number, Country, Company, Password, Secondary Phone, Gender, Personal or Business, Shipping information (Name, Street Address, City, State, Zip)

In addition eBay will provide the following transaction information:

Bidding History on an Item, Other Items for Sale, Feedback about a user, Bidding history of a user, Prices paid for items, Feedback rating, and Chat Room/Bulletin Board (!)....

That's all you need, a fax on law enforcement letterhead. No reason, no justification, and eBay starts feeding information to law enforcement. Remember when everyone got excited about the bookstore that was subpoened by Ken Starr in order to determine what books Monica Lewinski purchased? Remember how the bookstore fought the subpoena? eBay doesn't even require a subpoena. eBay would have turned over the info with a mere request....

But it gets worse...." [LawMeme]

Be sure to read the whole post over at LawMeme, because this is serious stuff. They're acting like the anti-librarian (let's proactively give away information about our customers!). I think I'm one of the few people who hasn't used eBay, and I sure won't start now. I do use PayPal, though, so I'll be sending them my thoughts about this (luckily, I very rarely use it). If you use eBay, you should let them know how you feel about this, too.

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In Theaters April 16!!!!

A Mighty Wind

"Those 'Chicago' show-offs aren't the only actors who can vocalize on screen. For their third mockumentary (after 'Waiting for Guffman' and 'Best in Show'), Christopher Guest and Co. spoof folk musicians, playing three '60s acts who reunite for a tribute concert. 'I wanted specifically to do a movie with music in it,' says Guest. 'And I happen to have a background in folk music -- I was in a band called the Bluegrass Partners in 1966.'

Though Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer -- otherwise known as Spinal Tap -- were already musically proficient (their 'Wind' alter egos, the Folksmen, even opened for Spinal Tap in 2001), some of their costars needed schooling in their obscure instruments. 'I don't think I'd ever even SEEN a mandolin,' says Parker Posey, who had the least amount of musical experience of anyone in the cast, of her prop. 'I think I thought it was a ukulele.'

Now, about that title: We're supposed to catch a whiff of flatulence, correct? 'No, that doesn't have anything to do with it,' Guest says. Really? 'No, absolutely not.' Wait...really? 'Nope. I'm dead serious. I would tell you.'

We still don't believe him. " [Entertainment Weekly]

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More Proof that "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"

Smithsonian Folkways Dusts Off Titles With New Technology

"The major music companies may fret over falling revenue, but one label saw its business jump 33 percent last year thanks in part to the recordable compact discs that the industry says are hurting its sales.

The label, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, is using recordable CD's, or CD-R's, to ensure that each release in its extensive catalog is always available. And in doing so, the label best known for dusty recordings by Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly is taking initial steps toward creating a 21st-century "celestial jukebox," where nothing recorded ever goes out of print.

The Folkways inventory includes 2,168 titles dating to 1948. Some of those are collections by familiar troubadours like Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. But many more are obscurities like "Music From Western Samoa: From Conch Shell to Disco" (1984) and "Folk Songs of the Canadian North Woods" (1955)....

Now, music fans hankering for "Burmese Folk and Traditional Music" from 1953 can pay $19.95 and receive a CD-R "burned" with the original album, along with a standard cardboard slipcase that includes a folded photocopy of the original liner notes....

In 2002, 681 million CD's were sold, down from 763 million the year before, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has been using the CD-R technology since 1996 to sell its obscure titles, essentially creating a just-in-time delivery model for record companies. Every time an order comes in, a Folkways employee burns five copies, one for the customer, and four for future requests.

Last year, the company sold 13,467 CD-R's, accounting for 6 percent of its CD sales, said Richard Burgess, director of marketing. Over all, Smithsonian Folkways had net album sales of almost $2.9 million in 2002, up 33 percent from 2001, despite its cutting its advertising budget more than 50 percent....

'Getting rid of inventory, which is what this custom on-demand stuff is about, is a huge step in the right direction toward making even low-selling albums into a business,' said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Industry analysts say it is also a step toward making all music forever available, one the record business has yet to take successfully." [New York Times: Technology]

It will be interesting to see if this company leads the way to skip the middleman altogether and offer digital downloads over the web. I'd love to see them partner with Kazaa for paid downloads of individual songs or whole albums. The market is definitely there.

I'm also noting this in case any librarians reading this want to buy some of these titles for their collections.  :-)

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Maybe I Won't Try a TiVo After All

TiVo Owners Make a 'Discovery'

"Twice a week, TiVo is automatically switching the channel on its receivers to The Discovery Channel. As a result, many TiVo owners have been tuning in to Discovery whether they wanted to or not.

The Discovery Channel is an investor in the Digital Video Recorder service and Discovery CEO John Hendricks sits on TiVo's board of directors.

However, TiVo says the channel switching is not designed to give Discovery a competitive advantage in a 200-channel universe.

The channel switching takes place in the early morning hours every Tuesday and Thursday. TiVo uses the Discovery signal to download company infomercials and promos, such as a recent advertainment for the movie Daredevil. (Discovery does not air regular programming at that time.)...

However, the TiVo receiver must switch to Discovery to receive the infomercial download, which is then stored on the user's hard drive. Consequently, the receiver will stay on Discovery until the owner changes the channel.

The result is that many TiVo owners will see the Discovery Channel when they first turn on their televisions. With satellite and digital cable viewers having access to more than 200 channels, the twice-a-week switch could give Discovery an edge. And it raises the question of whether cash-strapped DVR services might one day offer channel-switching as a revenue source. TiVo now downloads paid advertising to their owners' set-tops....

TiVo owners will not tune into Discovery if they set their DVRs to record another program in between the time the TiVo download occurs and the time they first turn on their sets. In addition, TiVo offers a feature that will automatically record programs based on a viewer's past choices. So it's hard to determine exactly how many TiVo owners tune into Discovery because of the channel switch." [TV Predictions, via The Lost Remote]

Addendum: I've seen comments on my site and elsewhere that say this is a non-issue, but I still disagree. The caching argument comes the closest to anything resembling a legitimate argument. PVRs are still at a price point where I would consider this type of behavior unacceptable, but that may just be because I'm a ReplayTV owner. It's definitely a different philosophy. My ReplayTV hums along, no extra ads, no strange channel changing, no selling of my data. I've never worried about what the company behind RT is up to.

TiVo owners, on the other hand, have to always be wondering in the back of their minds what this company might be doing that they don't know about. Selling their data, downloading programs or files without asking, and selling ad space on your box. How upset (and paranoid) would you be if your refrigerator suddenly starting showing ads, generating coupons, or prioritizing recipes that always include Sara Lee products without asking first, let alone notifying you.

I guess my biggest issue with the way TiVo does business is that PVRs are still very expensive toys. Revolutionary, life-changing, you'll-have-to-pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands toys, but still expensive nonetheless. And twice, not just once. You have to buy the box, and then the subscription, neither of which is cheap. If I've shelled out that kind of money, I've paid to opt out of shenanigans. I've put my money where my mouth is. I didn't buy a $50 box whose monthly service is free to me because it's subsidized by ads. More than likely, I have or will spend in the neighborhood of $500, so to quote Oprah, "Mr. TiVo needs to mind his own business."

And that's the difference between TiVo and ReplayTV, because ReplayTV gets that.

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