SnagFilms Film Widget

I’m testing out the new service called SnagFilms.com.

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This is just a test of a new online service that promotes documentary films that I heard about on the Audible.com edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Watching the films at their site is slick, but I’m not sure about the snagging part.  Basically, you watch a film, and if you like it and want to promote it on your blog you hit the snag button and SnagFilms logs into your blogging site, creates a post and puts a graphic advertising the film and allows you to tag it with a little comment.

I would prefer how I put YouTube videos online, using commands within WordPress that embeds the video player in my post.  SnagFilms’ method is more viral, pushing people to their site.  But it doesn’t allow me to write my blog and introduce the video.  I’m writing this after the fact, so the initial RSS feed will just be icon for the video.  In the future I won’t use the snag feature and just post a link.

The current selection of documentary films at SnagFilms is small, but high quality.  There’s a review process, so you can’t just upload your masterpiece like at YouTube.  The video I’m testing is from PBS and narrated by Brad Pitt.  It’s a fascinating story about how China works to be environmental.  The film quality has been excellent so far, and the aspect ratio is HD.  Annoyingly, the second line of the subtitles for the foreign speakers and people identification is covered up, at least for this film – so parts are meaningless because all the interviews with Chinese speakers are missing half the translations.  Of course, they are in beta.

SnagFilms makes its money by playing a commercial before the film starts, and between each video segment, and the segments are about 15-25 minutes long.  You can also order a DVD from the site, and part of the money goes to the film maker.

I love documentaries, but most documentaries do not get wide distribution.  A few famous ones are shown in the movie theaters, and some of the rest get spots on TV, but many are only seen in art houses or on college campuses.  SnagFilms hopes to make documentaries more easy to see, which is a good thing.  Hulu.com, another video distrubtion site, has some documentaries, but mostly TV shows.  I’m getting to like watching video online because I can put one up in a window and watch while I’m working at my desk paying bills or other light duties.  Both of these sites have nice size videos that are smooth playing and have good sound.

Online videos are good for sharing with other people, and great for catching a missed episode of a favorite show.  They are starting to get good enough to bypass the old TV set.  Damn, I bet we all end up like the people in Wall-E – fat slobs reclining 24×7 in floating lounge chairs with our face always in a video screen.

Jim

Roping A Wayward Mind

In the excellent essay, “The Myth of Multitasking,” Christine Rosen opens up with this 1740s quote from a Lord Chesterfield to his son that I can’t stop thinking about:

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.

I wished my kindergarten teacher had started every day of class with that lesson because it’s obvious that I have never accomplished anything significant in my fifty-six years because I’ve always been trying to do two things at once.  I’m a jack of all trades, master of none kind of guy, and it annoys the hell out of me.

This morning’s activities will well illustrate my need for focus and the pitfalls of multitasking.  After my shower I started ripping CDs with my second computer, rolled out my exercise mat and started doing my yoga-like back exercises while daydreaming the opening scene of a novel I’d like to write, while another part of my mind kept reminding me to work on the short story I had been fleshing out in my imagination yesterday while exercising, and thoughts of three or four blog ideas buzzed like bees around these main ideas hoping to get more bio-CPU cycles themselves, while I was also trying to remember who I wanted to see today, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do with my Saturday.

If I followed Lord Chesterfield’s advice I would have had a single-minded Zen-like focus on my exercises and my back would be much better for it. (I just jumped over to put a new CD into the burner and ran to the kitchen to feed our cats.)

After my exercises I got up and checked my email and stats on this blog page and followed a link to a web site that mentions John Scalzi’s comments on fame, followed the link to Scalzi’s site and then found a link to Wil Weaton’s site where he discusses fame and then I found a link to Stephen Fry’s site, also about fame, but a very long well thought out essay.  This gave me an idea to write a blog post about how it’s more rewarding to read a famous person’s blog than to actual meet them for a few minutes.

(Next CD to rip, which requires getting up and using the computer on the opposite side of the room.)  Before I could start writing that blog, while doing a previous CD change, I got the idea I wanted to reinstall my Roku SoundBridge, so I could play MP3s on my computer through my stereo in living room, and got up and went looking for it.  While tearing through two closets trying to remember where I put the Roku, I got ideas for several projects dealing with organization.  I have boxes and boxes of wires for stereos, computers, televisions, DVD players, etc. that I really must organize one day.  I was slightly distracted by the tight squeeze of clothes hanging in the closet, making it hard to get to all the boxes and remembering my promise to my wife to throw some worn clothes out, when I finally found the Roku.

(Next CD)  I was surprised by how easy it was to put the Roku back into service but I discovered something interesting.  The Roku was listing the music from both my computers, iTunes on the main machine, Windows Media on two machines, and FireFly media server on the second machine.  This revelation inspired me to write a blog about the most efficient way to serve up MP3 files in a home network.  (Next CD)  I wondered if I booted up the laptop if it would see that machine too.  (A pause to go pet a sick cat and think about a blog about the pet healthcare crisis.)

As you can see my mind is very far from Kwai Chang Caine’s focused mind in the old Kung Fu TV series.  (I’ll stop the annoying interruptions about the CD changes and other diversions while writing, but you get the idea about how I’m constantly trying to multitask.)  If I was a Kung Fu master, I wouldn’t own a wall of CDs and be trying to convert them to my computer library because I wouldn’t be into owning things.

If I was a real writer, with a focused mind, I would get up each morning, work on my novel and not think about about a dozen blog ideas, or another dozen short story ideas, or even worry about organizing a CD collection, or care about my clothes closet or boxes of wires.  I never finished a novel because, like Lord Chesterfield says, I’m trying to do more than one thing and there’s not enough time in a lifetime to do all that.

On the other paw, I am pretty good at multitasking if I’m willing to accept that I do so many things in a half-ass way.  I have four clunky websites (not counting several I manage at work).  I read about fifty books a year, and see a hundred movies on DVD and at the theater, and watch several hundred TV shows and documentaries.  I have a big collection of computers, books, magazines, CDs, gadgets, and other crap that I maintain and help do my part to keep the economy going.  I read a zillion web pages every year, and my Karma level is excellent on Slashdot.

Task Switching

Now over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann offers his opinion in a podcast also called The Myth of Multitasking.  Mann’s take is multitasking is impossible for humans, that people aren’t parallel processing machines like supercomputers, and the best we can do is be very good at task switching.  Furthermore, it’s his belief that some people are good at task switching and others are not.  The implication being that some people can easily bookmark their place when they switch tasks.  Mann also believes once you discover you can’t multitask, you will lose the anxiety over getting so much done and focus on getting the job at hand accomplished.

My theory is the human brain is a fantastic bio-computer that parallel processes on vast scales, but the conscious mind is just one thread that runs on top of everything else that can’t really multitask, but like Mann suggests, can task switch.  Whether this is a good feature of Human 4.0 is yet to be proved.  Maybe multitasking will be a prominent feature of Homo Superior 1.0, but for now we have to decide what’s the optimal operating expectations for who we are now.

Attention Span

Should I trade all that fun chaotic juggling to be just a guy focused on writing a novel?  Is it even possible for me to be Mr. Zen Lit Man?  This brings up the second lighthouse beacon of an article I read this week,  “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic Monthly, that only fuels the fire of my desire to seek a simpler focused life.  Mr. Carr confesses that Google and the Internet living has reduced his ability to read long works.

If we could multitask, the length of any working process could be infinite, but if we can only task switch, then the critical factor is the time segment devoted to each task.  What Mr. Carr is suggesting is the Internet is making us used to living with short task segments and we’re losing our ability to process longer tasks.  This is an interesting idea, but I have to ask:  Did people have the knack for focusing on longer tasks before the Internet?

Long before Google, magazines and newspapers were featuring shorter articles with lots of side-bars, and short attention getting blips of information.  Television, with sitcoms and more and more commercials started dividing up our attentions starting back in the 1950s.  The car radio has long had buttons to quickly switch between shows for those weak of attention.  Imagine what the television clicker has done to our minds?

I too have found that I can no longer read hours at a time on a single book or long essay.  I had a different theory as to the cause of this, and assumed I had been corrupted by audio books which allows me to listen to other people read long books.  I justified my laziness by pointing out that those people are much better readers than I am, and that I learn so much more when I can concentrate on their readings.

So now I have two theories to test.  There might be many reasons why I can no longer read books hours at a stretch.  One that comes to mind is comfort.  I get back and neck strains, and my eyes weary quickly.  Large print helps, but to be honest, I genuinely prefer audio books.  After reading Carr’s article I will strongly consider my continual effort to multitask or task switch as a cause of attention deficit.  I will admit that when I read too long on anything I get antsy for new input.  The Internet might support my addiction for keeping multiple threads of thought going.

Conversely, if I’m going to be a real writer, as opposed to a blogger, I’d need to focus on one piece of writing at a time, and keep focused on that piece, draft after draft until it’s perfect and I could sell it.  In other words, I’d be forced to do ONE thing for weeks at a time.  I don’t know if I could handle that.  Task switching might be natural, and the ability to focus on a single task may be a special talent.  My friend Mike who is also a programmer says when he programs he feels like he’s in a deep well and all distractions are far away.  I truly envy him for that gift.

I can’t take a crap without reading a magazine while thinking through a handful of ideas about what I’ll do when I pull up my pants.  What if I got up this morning and just worked on writing that short story I’ve been meaning to finish for years.  The one I come back to the most often?  And what if when I needed to consume or evacuate I’d continue to think on that one story.  It certainly would help if I lived in a studio apartment with little beyond a bed, desk, writing equipment and four white walls.  No wonder Pride and Prejudice was so great, there just wasn’t that many distractions back in Jane Austen’s time.

I guess the real question is whether or not I could do the focused thing just one hour a day?  It’s an obvious compromise of where to start.  However, I think real writers probably sacrifice a giant pile of fun diversions to get a quality book finished.  Maybe I just don’t have that kind of mental makeup.  If I found a magic lantern and the Genie granted my wish to concentrate, would I be happy trading in a year’s worth of active diversions to produce one science fiction novel?  That scares me.  It sounds boring and lonely.

Dedication to Details

Last night I saw an episode of Nova about making Japanese samurai swords, and Friday night I saw a documentary that included a piece about a Chinese guy making traditional bows and arrows.  In each case, these were complicated skills handed down from the past and required the artisan to devote his life to his work.  Both documentaries pointed out that these acts of devotion to extreme details were being destroyed by modern culture.  Few people in our society dedicate as much of their time to a single-minded objective, but there are some.  Olympic athletes, classical musicians, and other successful people in any discipline.

There is always the chance that multitasking and Googling is common in society because that’s how the brains of most people work.  If I had a brain for single minded focusing I would be a person pursuing something very focused.  We see all those enchanting martial arts fables, like Kung Fu Panda where a slob of a mind can be polished into a diamond-point jewel of focused attention.  Is that really possible?  Maybe such training is possible if we start as children, but I doubt it for middle-aged adults.  Can I and others improve our minds with incremental improvements, especially late in life, well I think there’s plenty of evidence for that.

We know that doing the crossword puzzle or the sudoku will exercise our brain, so I would imagine reading long articles from The New Yorker and The Atlantic will condition our mental focus towards longer attention spans.  I would also assume we could follow Lord Chesterfields’ advice by starting the day by making a short list of things we want to do, and then work on them one at a time.  My closet is still a mess, but if I stuck with it, focused my mind, and only worked on my closet, it would be finished with an hour’s effort.

A New Theory of Multitasking

I think some kinds of multitasking are possible and aren’t bad.  I wouldn’t want to sit and burn CDs until I had finished all 1500 of them.  I think I could safely work on cleaning out my closet, listen to an audio book and burn CDs and be a success if I finished the closet in a reasonable amount of time and did a perfect job.  Actually, this may be a form of true multitasking, because my mind would be focused on the audio book story, and my body would be working to organize the closet and rip CDs.

People can do two things at once physically, but it’s uncommon – like rubbing your abdomen in a circle with your right hand and patting your head with your left.  I can’t sort speaker wire and switch out CDs, so that would be task switching.  But is it task switching or multitasking to listen to a book and do something physical that doesn’t require much mental processing like walking, doing the dishes, sorting wire or swapping out CDs?

The Good Old Days

I think many people would like to return to the good old days of a less hectic life.  They feel that life would be better if they didn’t have so many programming events demanding time slices.  Makes me wonder what my Main() loop looks like.  The belief is we’d be happier with fewer function calls and more time where our CPU usage falls to 0%.  Personally, I’d be philosophically happier if my log files showed more completed jobs, and fulfilled if I routinely shipped some fine 1.0 products.  I have learned that achieving a zero email inbox is very satisfying.  I don’t think we need to become Amish or Tibetan to find happiness.  I do think that learning to tame the mind is a worthy goal and all these mental lessons that are a byproduct of computer usage and Jetsons-fast living is helping us evolve.

I am reminded of some odd advice.  A modern day guru, or maybe it was a comedian, suggested getting up every morning and pistol whipping yourself if you had crippling fears of being mugged.  I wonder if I got up every morning and focused my mind intently on any kind of mental exercise, if I wouldn’t build up some focusing muscles?  If my flitting attention ever settles down to allow me to pursue such an experiment, I’ll let you know the results.

Jim

Learning About the Web

I’m not a kid anymore, and I find myself trying to keep up with the fast-paced world of the Internet that seems built for kids who need Ritalin.    I’m doing okay, even though I’m a slow learner.  I still don’t understand the value of FaceBook, MySpace or Twitter, and there’s always something new that’s coming out that increases the pace of information processing.  I’m 56, and so far I haven’t had any luck getting my circle of friends to follow along with me into this new world.  Hell, my wife doesn’t even read my blog.  I tell her I often write about my girlfriends, but she doesn’t bite.

Yesterday I stumbled across a video series that explains many of the current social networking technologies that I thought I should post here.  I’ll see if I can get my old fart friends to stop by and watch them, hoping they might catch onto these newfangled ideas.

The videos are from a company Commoncraft and are an excellent example of educational videos for the web.  You can stop by the Show page and see their catalog.  Or just jump over to YouTube and search on “in Plain English” and you’ll find them so you can send them to your friends or add to your blog.  I’m going to embed a couple here to show off.

 

R.I.P. – The Good Ole Days

Let me start out by saying I don’t want this essay to be doom and gloom.  Also let me just remind you about the Yin and Yang nature of the world.  Creation also means something gets destroyed.  Old folks are always crying about how things aren’t the way they were when they were growing up at the same time the young’uns run wild, gleeful embracing every new fad coming down the expressway.  I’m a glass half-full kind of guy who enjoys wearing rose colored specs while examining the philosophies of those dark clouded guys proposing the half-empty theories.

As I mentioned previously, I’m listening to The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen.  I just finished his eulogy for the music store and I just can’t help tossing out my two pennies worth of monkey typing.  I know most bloggers pretend to barf when they hear the name Andrew Keen, but I actually think his book should be read by everyone.  He’s done much cogitating and turned up a lot of ideas to think about.  Only I’m not sure I’m thinking about his vital issues in the same way he does.

When Keen started lamenting the demise of the record store I was reminded how I used to love record shopping.  From 1965 through 1998 I bought a damn lot of LPs and CDs.  I averaged buying two to four albums while shopping in two or more records stores each week.  I loved record stores.  Hell, it was a stab to the heart when LPs disappeared, with their great 12″ venues for fantastic cover art.  To me the good ole days of record stores was from 1965-1975 – from Byrds to Bruce.  Okay I do love those little dinky little CD albums, but never as much as the big beautiful LPs.

Now Andrew Keen wants us to believe that the Internet is murdering the music business.  And that is true for the old way of business.  I believe stealing music is stealing, and P2P does cause lost sales.  However, I’m not sure that music thieves are the only suspect holding a smoking MAC-10.  I never stole music when it became a fad, but around 1998 I stopped buying CDs by the handful – so I’m sure my kind hurt the industry too.  I don’t know how many baby boomers are like me but the damn music industry just stopped selling music I wanted to own.

There are other factors.  I’d say part of the music boom of the 1980s and early 1990s was us old guys re-buying all our favorite LPs on CDs, as well as trying to discover everything great back to the 1910s as we got older.  As the price of CDs reached the point of kissing an Andrew Jackson good-bye I got wary of buying CDs just because of one good tune – or even no good tunes at all.  For years I kept buying all my favorite artists whenever they churned out a new CD and it took awhile to learn that great music often is created by the wild at heart – a state of being hurt by age and success.

Mr. Keen, I’d love to have the good ole record store days back again, but for me that means recreating 1965 and not 1995.  I think Andrew Keen’s ethical issues are spot on and pointing out the music industry has a long history of being unethical is no rationalization to steal by.  His theory about big music companies are the patrons of great artists and without real investment great music in the future might not get made as well, does have some merits, but that is a hard case to make.  Would I have discovered Bruce Springsteen if Columbia Records hadn’t promoted him?  I don’t know.  Would his first five albums been as fantastic if the Boss had made them on a computer as MP3 files?  I don’t think so, but I really don’t know either.

I also agree that the music business is hurting and hurting bad, but so did the buggy whip makers when people started buying cars.  And I strongly believe all those ethical issues Mr. Keen brings up regarding the Internet are happening and they are critical issues we need to work on.  But even if we fix those problems we’re not going to bring back the record store or see CD albums sell in the tens of millions.  Those good ole days are gone.

When Fleetwood Mac sold albums in the kazillions, kids didn’t have to choose between buying cell phones, $60 video games, computers, iPods and so on.  Junk food was still budgeted with pocket change and you could see a major rock band live for $7.50.  If I was in the lamenting business like Mr. Keen, and I often am, I’d wail about what happened to those days when several touring bands came to town every week.  I’m also desponded that sharing music isn’t like it used to be – see my “Why Has Listening to Music Become as Solitary as Masturbation?”

I’ve spent many words on crying over the dwindling subscriptions of my favorite SF magazines.  And there are numerous hobbies that are fading from existence because kids have new interests, and there are lots of Dads sad to see cherished pastimes of old ignored by their sprouts.  Things change and that’s tough.  I actually love Rhapsody.com and having millions of albums to listen to for $10 a month.  Sure, it ain’t as fun as shopping for LPs, but I can live with instant gratification.

Someday, some kid who read this blog will write a blog, but it won’t be called a blog, about how sad it is that iTunes is going out of business, and he’ll have a lot of teary feelings to try and put into words.  Maybe he will even remember reading this essay and note the kids of his time have found something exciting to move on to.  As long as there are people there’s going to be music.  The creation of a new system to promote music will always destroy the previous system.  BFD.  Move with the times or rust, because Neil told us that decades ago.  I bet there are plenty of people out there still crying over the 78 era.

I’m writing to myself as much as you Mr. Keen.  Yes, Andrew, it is a dirty rotten shame that the way we bought music is fading into our dim memories.  Sure, these young whippersnappers won’t know what their missing, but then I haven’t a clue as to what they are jamming on now.  I’m sure it’s something hot, maybe as hot as the Beatles, but I’ll never now.  That’s just the way things are.  I admit I don’t get Rap or Brittany Spears – but I assume that’s just payback for forcing my Dad to listen to rock and roll when he kept screaming for me to shut off that goddamn noise.

Mr. Keen, the good ole days are always passing.

Jim

Inventions Wanted 006 – The Data Bank

I’ve worked with computers for decades and backing up has always been a hassle – both at work and at home.  I used to have a tape system for home but it became impractical years ago when hard drive space far outpaced the expense of tape drive technology.  In recent times I’ve been using external USB drives, but they’re not backup paradise either.

Unless your backups are frequently taken off site there is always the problem of your house burning down, blown away by tornados, submerged in a flood, or invaded by thieves.  In the early days of personal computers valuable home data was limited to word processing files, spreadsheets and financial records.  Most of that stuff could be saved to floppies.  Now I need 63 gigabytes of space to preserve my digital valuables.

Since our parents died, my wife and I have became the librarians of family photos.  We have boxes and boxes of photos that we’re scanning to digital files.  I’ve also converted dozens of old cassette and CD audio books to MP3 files.  And I converted LPs and CDs to MP3s.  Now I have an every growing expanse of valuable binary data.

The weight of all these digital files is becoming a burden.  Last year I bought Second Copy and two USB 250gb drives.  I made a copy of my files to one drive and took it to work.  I then connected the other drive and let Second Copy replicate my hard drive activity to it in real time.  My plan was to switch drives every week so I’d always have a fresh backup off site.  I never developed the discipline to follow this plan more than a few switch outs.

So this week I subscribed to Mozy.com, an online backup service for $55 a year.  My plan was to create a Mozy backup and then restore it to a drive at work to test it out.  When I purchased Mozy I knew it was going to be slow but I had no idea how slow.  The first backup I set up with 63gb of data was predicted to take 5 weeks.  I have the third fastest DSL from AT&T.  High speed internet access is built around downloading speeds not uploading speeds which are a fraction of downloading speeds.

I called AT&T and asked about getting their fastest DSL service but they told me it wasn’t available in my neighborhood.  I even considered switching to Comcast high speed cable internet but I’m living with slow uploads for the time being.

The next thing I did was stop the current backup and cut it down to 7 gigabytes of essentials.  I was able to upload this data set in a couple of days.  At work today I ran the restore to test things out.  Mozy.com offers different ways to restore your data.  The fast way for large backups is to have them burn DVDs and express mail them to you, but this costs extra.  I used the free web restore method.  You log into Mozy, request a restore and wait for them to email you when the files are ready for downloading.  It took about an hour to be notified.

Mozy makes one or more compressed .exe files for you to download.  I assume they divide your backup into the same DVD size chunks as they do for when they actually burn DVDs.  I got two 3gb files that I downloaded in less than an hour.  Download speeds were 1.1 – 2.2 megabits per second at work. 

I discovered that my backup had no .mp3 files in it.  I then read Mozy’s manual and discovered you can configure your backups with all kinds of filters.  The basic data set of My Documents files were set up to filter out .mp3 files because I had unchecked the Music backup set.  But I was expecting to get my audio books, which are also in .mp3 format.

In other words you will have to play around with the settings to get exactly what you want.  If you don’t have much to backup I’d just backup everything at once.  Mozy is light on documentation so I’m guessing at some of their methods.  I emailed Mozy several times and got answers, but for other things I just speculated about how to do things.  It’s easy to use, but you have to second guess them at times.

One problem with online backups is how and when to copy files.  My Second Copy program patiently waits and every ten minutes copies any newly created files to the USB drive.  That’s great as long as I don’t mind an ever growing backup because it never deletes files on the backup drive.  That’s great if you want to fetch a file you’ve accidentally deleted last week, but bad because your backup contains all those files you thought were deleted.   

Mozy works by creating backup sets.  Each set is a snapshot of the moment.  If you make a backup with Mozy one week, clean up your hard drive and reorganize your files and make another backup the next week and that backup will reflect your new system.  That doesn’t work with my USB system.  Working with the Second Copy method I’d have to wipe the folder on my USB drive and start Second Copy running fresh.

What I would like is an online backup that copies files as I make them but waits one week after I’ve deleted a file on my hard drive and then delete it off the online backup.  In other words I want backing up to be totally automatic and without backup sets.  Mozy doesn’t work that way, but the way it works is best for the technology we now have.

All this begs me to put on my wishing cap and imagine a perfect service.  What I would like is a Data Bank that protects my digital wealth the same way a normal Bank protects my money.  I want to feel totally confident that my data is always protected, maybe even with government regulations.  I’ve read horror stories about online backup companies going out of business.  Online backups is a fantastic concept.  It would be nice to know that Mozy or companies like it replicate their stores to multiple cities and I’m 99.999999999 percent sure I’ll be able to restore my files in case of a catastrophe. 

I’d also like my Data Bank to work with a standardize filing structure so I can easily find my files.  Mozy copies Windows My Documents’ structure and appears to use Vista’s new structure with my Vista machine.  Mozy is starting to support Macs and I hope they follow on with Linux.  It’s a shame that all the OSes don’t use a similar filing structure so people could learn data organizing principles.  I think it’s great that Microsoft started segregating music and photo files.  I wish the OS could tell the difference between music and audio books.

Because we can’t trust online backup companies yet, its important that you restore you files to a computer not in your house.  I did mine at work, but if that’s not possible you might want to find some backup buddies to trust.  It would be wonderful, that in the future, Data Banks do become a reality and they are guaranteed 100% trustworthy.

What I also want from the dream invention is perfect access from any computer I’m working on.  Just as I can log into my money bank from my work machine I want to be able to log into my Data Bank and have easy access to my home files.  For instance, as I rip my CD collection I’d like to copy it to my work computer to play songs there.  Or if I start a project at home on the weekend I’d like to get it out of the Data Bank on Monday.  Mozy isn’t set up like that.

I’d love to log into my Data Bank and see two folders at the root level:

/data

/library

Data would be where I go for any files I created and Library would be media files like music, photos, audio books, video, ebooks, Acrobat files, etc.  It would be very cool if the Data Bank worked like a network drive and I could just play my media files from that location.  However, I don’t know if that’s practical.  If a Data Bank had six hundred thousand customers could they handle such a load?  Maybe in the far future where everyone has fiber optics and gigabit bandwidth.  But for the near future I think causal access for backing up and retrieving should be practical now. 

Even that is beyond Mozy at the moment.  Mozy is designed to backup your files and then in an emergency restore them.  I think I’m pushing their system when I plan to backup my home system and then restore it on my work computer a couple times a year.  Since Mozy could go out of business I don’t trust them yet to hold my files without having them on a second computer.  I’m mainly using Mozy to eliminate messing with the USB drives.  That’s another source of saving electricity for those wanting greener computing, but I’m also getting tired of hearing my USB drive grind away.  Mozy should make my life simpler, and that’s good.  It will take a year or so of living with Mozy to really decide how they do.

Jim

Has Google Become King of the Spammers?

Every time I use Google, especially when I’m trying to find a product review, I’m overwhelmed with sites that are trying to sell me something.  Any word in my search term can set off a signal to bombard me with results from vendors.  I don’t mind the Adsense listings in the right column, but the paid rankings is getting out of hand.

Google seems to be invading my life even more with sales pitches when I visit blogs and web sites.  Everyone is seeing a gold rush with Adsense.  But I’ve got to wonder just how many bloggers make money using it?  It makes their pages look ugly and uninviting.  It’s one thing if you’re making a living off your site, but it’s another thing just to junk up your layout because you have get rich quick fantasies.

Spam is the word for unwanted email, but I’m now wanting to broaden its definition to include all ads.  Some web sites are looking like the hoods of race cars.  Magazines are so filled with ads that publishers practically give subscriptions away as sales catalogs.  I go to the movies and have to sit through an ever growing review of ads before the previews as well as having to overlook numerous ad placements being forced into the show.  Trucks and buses are becoming roving billboards.  I quit listening to radio years ago because of the obnoxious ads.  If I didn’t have a DVR I wouldn’t be able to watch many of my favorite shows.  Computers now come with crapware which is only a new form of advertising. 

Spam is overwhelming our lives.

Microsoft seems to be going nuts trying to find a way to compete with Google.  When is the ad boom going bust?  What we need is the HBO of search engines – but would people pay for better search results?  I’d pay $19.95 a year for a great search engine that found me what I wanted to know instead of sales pitches.

The trouble is a great non-ad search engine will be defeated if it only takes me to web pages full of ads.  How often do you end up at web pages or blogs that are honey pots that tricked you into seeing a page full of ads?

If the free Internet is going to be ad-powered I’m not sure we don’t need a new Internet.  I find most of my answers now at Wikipedia, which still uses the PBS model of financing.  Strangely enough I’ve paid for the online Encyclopedia Britannica which uses the HBO model but I prefer the results from Wikipedia.  Open source enterprises combined with subscriptions and donations could the way to go.

What I want when I go to the search engine is usually something specific.  Not only is the information I want specific, but I also have a exact idea in mind for how I want my answer formatted.  I want to buy a new HVAC, so I turned to the Internet for help.  I want How-Tos, Tutorials, Product Reviews, Consumer Reports type articles, etc.  What I would like in my dream search engine is a box for my query and a checkbox list of formats for how I want to receive the information.  For example:

  • Bibliography
  • Essay
  • Blog
  • Newspaper story
  • Encyclopedia entry
  • Definition
  • Photograph
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Travelogue
  • Lesson
  • Tutorial
  • Book
  • Journal
  • Magazine article
  • Peer-reviewed academic journal
  • Product Review
  • Comparison shopping grid
  • Sale offers

And so on.  Sure, sometimes I do want to find a place to shop.  Most of the time I don’t.  Using Google now is like visiting a poor country and stepping off the plane to be mobbed by hundreds of hucksters and beggars.  And as long as Google is free this is how it’s going to be.  They have to make money to pay their overhead.  Can’t blame them on that.  But, I’m sick of ad-generated enterprises.

I’m not expecting a free lunch, but that’s what people have come to expect from the Internet.  I think the businesses and advertising firms of the world need to think of ways to market their wares other than buckshot spamming.  I know the current system is working for them and I tend to think most people accept things the way they are, so change is unlikely.  I believe we have a whole generation of people used to being walking billboards with their clothing, and they have lived and breathed advertising their whole life and can’t think of anything different.

I’m not against shopping.  I’m not against technology helping me find things to buy.  I am tired of spamming, and I believe the world of advertising has become spammers.  Google has succeeded magnificently in this method, so everyone is following them.

Recently I started researching social networking and found tons of sites about how to increase ranking or visitors.  Everyone wants to manipulate Digg.com to increase their traffic and thus their ad revenues.  In fact, some of the sites with the largest traffic are those that teach people how to generate large traffic – in other words, the Internet is becoming a giant pyramid scheme.  Hordes flock to the Internet to make their fortunes only to learn that to make money requires getting other people to flock to their sites.

Google has unwittingly become the tool of this madness.  Digg.com offers one method to overcome Google’s Achilles heel but only if you’re looking for what’s popular on the net at the moment.  Ad driven sites are now trying to find ways to manipulate Digg.com.

During the early years of the World Wide Web it was promoted as a super Library.  Mixed in with all those billions of current pages are ones that offer genuine information, the kind of data you go to a library to find.  Wikipedia has become the shining light that draws people seeking knowledge.  What we need is other information enterprises that are like Wikipedia and Digg.com that circumvent the ad generated gold rush.

One idea would be to create a Digg.com for long term ratings of web pages.  Google does that by measuring how many links point to particular pages, but I assume this feature is overridden by paid rankings.  Google could offer a non-ad version for a fee if they wanted and even combine Digg.com voting.  The early form of Yahoo was based around a subject tree index of human reviewed web sites.  That worked when the Internet was smaller.  It might work again to make the Internet seem smaller and manageable by filtering out the noise.

I tend to think all gold rushes, like this ad generated one, eventually go bust.  Pages will start disappearing when ad revenues don’t grow.  Super sites will consolidate services.  I think blogs will evolve and like personal web pages before the blogging era, will lose their appeal to most people.  Blogging will succeed as a form of personal communication but I don’t think many people will ever make money at it. 

Jim