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Monthly Archives: May 2008

Geek-Out Moment: Batteries are included

Childhood toys often featured bright lights, loud noises, and disappointment when you realized you forgot the batteries. Lithium-ion batteries got rid of the “batteries not included” madness that destroyed Christmas mornings and birthdays. With these included and long-lasting, rechargeable batteries consumer electronics have leaped forward with portability, powering mobile phones and laptops allowing us to remain constantly connected, far away from power outlets. All that with no AA or AAA to keep track of.

Geek-Out Moment: Hiro in New York City

hiro_in_nyc The idea of super heroes in the “real-world” is nothing new, but the hit TV show Heroes brought the idea to the mainstream. Many comic books have tackled the political and ethical questions many spandex heroes ignore and Heroes aimed to be the window for geeks and non-geeks alike. Normal people began discovering their extraordinary abilities with varying results of shock, fear, and accidents. The breakout star, Hiro Nakamura, a geek like us, discovered he could stop time and teleport, accidentally shooting himself from Japan to the middle of Time Square, screaming “Yatta. Hello New York!”

Geek-Out Moment: The strangest super-heroes of all

x-men Being a teenager’s tough, but being a super-powered mutant sucks even more. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the strangest super-heroes of all time in 1963, a group a genetic freaks just trying to make their way in the world. The X-Men challenged racism and feelings of social alienation, making it captivating reading for geeks who no one loves. It took almost a decade, though, for the X-Men to conquer the comic book world. After barely escaping cancellation, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum launched the all-new, all-different X-Men in 1975 with a multicultural team. Chris Claremont took over the series for almost two decades, building the X-Men into one of the largest comic book franchises, penning the team’s greatest stories and defining its greatest characters.

Microsoft only planning short term: it needs Google Calendar

Microsoft ruled desktop computers but now can barely get people to visit its website without paying them. Tim O’Reilly effectively sums up Microsoft’s problem:

Microsoft was once motivated by its own Big Hairy Audacious Goal: “a computer on every desk and in every home.” They achieved that goal, and ever since, they’ve drifted. Now their only goal seems to be to stay on top of the heap. They need to stop focusing on eating other people’s lunch and start thinking deeply about what kind of goals might stretch the company once again.

This past month has show Microsoft’s tunnel vision when it comes to the web. The company failed to acquire Yahoo (which was probably a good thing for both companies). Then, Microsoft offered cash back to users of its product search, feebly thinking this would steal customers away from Google. Microsoft ignored the fact that its product search is inferior to Google and didn’t offer enough money to make the step down worth it.

More subtly, Microsoft announced it was ending its book scanning project, leaving the endeavor to Google. Alex Chitu explains:

In other words, the book search engine didn’t make enough money and Microsoft decided it’s better to focus on areas that are more profitable. Instead of improving their search engine with valuable content from books and offering better search results, Microsoft chose to make decisions based on the shortterm profits.

But that’s not all. Microsoft also decided to remove several games from its Xbox Live store because people couldn’t find the games they wanted. Apparently, Microsoft’s never been to Amazon.com or it would realize the benefits of the Long Tail and maybe fixed its user interface instead of depriving itself of additional revenue.

This is a lot of mistakes for one company to make. None of these seem like poor ideas over the short term, but they show Microsoft can’t look past its next earning’s report. Google, in comparison, lets its ad service support a research factory of innovation where products are unleashed with the idea for monetizing a distant thought for the future. Google News, Docs, Apps, Notepad, and Reader all have no advertising.

O’Reilly suggests Microsoft needs to define its long term goal, something that doesn’t put it in direct competition with Google, even outsourcing search. I don’t agree Microsoft should give up on search, mostly because I don’t want Google to have a monopoly on search (competition good, remember). But it’s true Google’s already doing well with the “Organize all the world’s information” goal.

Microsoft needs something new, that doesn’t rely on the walled gardens that made it the powerhouse it is. The next stage in computing won’t allow Microsoft to live off overpriced software like Windows and Office; not when free, open-source and online alternatives offer compelling alternatives. Buying Yahoo or Facebook isn’t a strategy unto itself, but needs to be part of a long term goal that recognizes both short term and long term benefits. Microsoft itself needs to change, and that change will happen over the long term.

Finding the six degrees of Wikipedia

I’m a fan of the game Six Degrees to Bacon, so when I find a new linking game to play I get excited. Stephen Dolan has put together the Six Degrees of Wikipedia, a handy gadget to see what Wikipedia pages link to each other. For instance, it takes four clicks to get from Batman to Law and Order:

BatmanFox Broadcasting CompanyCatherine CrierSusan PolkLaw and Order

Or Pringles to Hillary Clinton in three clicks

PringlesCincinnati, OhioNovember 7Hillary Rodham Clinton

The system gets an easy route since Wikipedia keeps articles on every date with 2007 being the center of everything Wiki (3.45 average clicks). After all the lists, United Kingdom is the most centered article (3.67 average clicks) followed by Billie Jean King and the United States. No idea why.

More fun statistics, it takes 4.573 clicks on average to get from one article to another. Kevin Bacon averages 3.98 clicks.

Post some of your favorite links in the comments.

Another patent Prodigeek has to fear

Almost every website on the web has a new patent to fear. A Singapore company, Vuestar Technologies, claims to own a parent on “Internet searching via visual images” leading the company to sue thousands of websites that use images to link to other pages, Slashdot reports.

According to the company’s website, Vuestar wants other sites to license the technology and pay more than $3,500 in fees from most sites excluding, governmental agencies and charities. The company also says it will specifically target Microsoft and Google.

This patent is another ludicrous patent (and likely a publicity grab that I am helping out with) and another example of an abuse of the patent system. Linking through images is very basic HTML technology. Even if Vuestar has some creative way of doing this, the prior art of just about every web page ever should be enough to invalidate this patent. But thanks to the USPTO’s insane efficiency, this could take a couple of years. I’ll be in regular touch with my lawyer until then.

Geek-Out Moment: You’ve Got Mail

aol The world may forget AOL the company, but we will always remember AOL the voice. That gruff, manly voice always welcomed you to the still young and unexplored World Wide Web. And to shrieks of joy (what, just me), that same boom of masculinity would reveal “You’ve Got Mail.” Those thrilling words showed you someone cared enough to forward you some joke or chain letter they found amusing and you too would sent it to dozens of unknown mashups of random letters and numbers (you weren’t allowed to use real names back then). These three words were so memorable, Tom Hanks decided to make a movie about them. It has Meg Ryan and she smiles when she finds out “You’ve got mail.” And if it makes Meg Ryan smile, you know it’s golden.

Geek-Out Moment: Get your stinkin’ paws off me, you dirty ape

planet_of_the_apes Monkeys rule the world? How silly. The bizarre evolutionary reversal classic, Planet of the Apes, featured an underdressed Charlton Heston sent through a vortex without a change of clean underwear. And since monkeys already have fur, they couldn’t offer him anything. The film pioneered special effects and makeup and twisted viewers assumptions with the shocking ending that it was Earth all along in the 40th century. With monkeys.

When your company struggles, maybe you’re doing something wrong

square-enix Video game developer Square-Enix deserves credit for giving credit where credit’s due. The makers of the blockbuster Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises, has released disappointing 2007 financials, leading the company’s president, Yoichi Wada, to say his developers need to “stop making games that only they wanted to play.”

Square-Enix’s profits dropped 20 percent and it ceded significant North American market share to competitors. Most of last years sales game from Final Fantasy spin-offs.

Square already seems to have a strategy in place involving new, innovative properties as Wada says, “We need to go beyond traditional Square-Enix.” Instead of shaking the Final Fantasy-tree to economic death, Square released The World Ends with You, an amazing, creative, and deep game that plays to Square’s longevity as the premiere RPG developer while expanding include a myriad of genres in one game. Upcoming new franchises like Infinite Undiscovery and Last Remnant could be Final Fantasy-lite or rejuvenating franchises. The company doesn’t need to do away with RPGs or even focus on other genres. Diversity and innovation in any capacity can feed the industry and be rewarded with rejuvenated fans.