Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why are walled gardens so popular for social networking?

The raw beauty of blogging as a tool for social networking is that anybody can "converse" with anybody else anywhere simply by posting and linking. And anybody can start a blog. No membership is required. Who could want anything more? Well, it seems as though quite a few people actually prefer the elitism of closed "Members Only" social networks. In many cases anybody can "join", but unless you agree to the terms of each of these social networking "walled gardens", you are out in the cold and not a "member of the club."

Now I do understand the raw motivation of the proprietors of these private "clubs", which is simply to give themselves a monopoly over the monetization of the "eyeballs" within their walled gardens, and also to permit themselves to enjoy the thrill of exerting control over their fellow citizens.

Evidently, quite a number of people actually enjoy the thrill of being an elite "member" and being a part of a "special" community. The odd thing is that people are free to make their own communities with blogging tools, but for some reason the exclusiveness of the proprietary walled garden appeals to them.

Without even thinking about it, I do belong to a few of these communities. I have a profile and "connections" on LinkedIn, a page on MySpace, a username on Twitter, etc.), but I rarely use those "communities." I personally prefer the sense of raw freedom of "open blogging" over retreating to the "community" du jour walled garden. I could get an account on Facebook now that they are "open", but... yawn... why bother?

What about Pownce? Well, I haven't been invited yet. Even if I were invited, I would probably turn it down as a matter of principle. For amusement, I actually did request an invitation. I am interested in keeping up on technology, even if I don't have any need or desire to use it myself.

Nonetheless, I do respect that a lot of people have a "need to belong" that is satisfied more from closed, tight communities rather than open communities as are found with blogging and email lists.

Alas, so many of these "hot" social networking "communities" are destined to turn into online ghost towns or at least the online equivalent of "sterile suburbs", but while they are still hot, community-seekers will flock to them.

-- Jack Krupansky

Yikes!!! My mouse pointer is stuck!

This has actually never happened to me before, but on the off chance that it happens to someone else, here's what happened and what to do when your mouse pointer (sometimes called "the cursor") locks up on you. I'm using a Toshiba notebook computer, and the specific techniques will vary with other models and brands, but at least you know the general problem and can try similar solutions.

So, everything was fine and then I hit a control key sequence and things went crazy.

First, I meant to hit Alt+Space+X to maximize a window and accidentally hit Fn+Space, which magnifies the screen. I had never done that before, so it really freaked me out visually. It took me a while to figure out which key I had actually hit since I had thought that I hit the Alt key. It turns out that simply hitting Fn+Space two more times restored the magnification to its normal view.

But before I figured out how to resolve that minor problem, I had noticed that my mouse pointer (sometimes called "the cursor") was stuck. No matter how I moved my finger on the touchpad, the pointer simply wouldn't budge. The combination of this problem and the preceding problem (I'm not sure which I encountered first since they occurred right after each other), I tried the trusty technique of shutting down (using the keyboard since the touchpad was a no-op) and rebooting. It didn't help. The mouse pointer was still stuck.

I was fairly confident that the mouse pointer stuck when I was trying to type some Ctrl key sequence and must have hit Fn rather that Ctrl. So, I tried all the Fn keys, which are labeled in gray on the keyboard, but I didn't see any affect on the mouse pointer. Thinking that maybe there could have been a coincidence and maybe some hardware glitch occurred at the same time as the other problem, I power-cycled again. No help.

I even tried accessing the control panel applet for the Mouse using the keyboard only and even went through the troubleshooter, but still nothing.

Then I examined the system tray in the Start bar since I know there is some touchpad control feature there. I found the box-like system tray icon that controls the touchpad and noticed that it had a red X through it, strongly suggesting that the touchpad was indeed turned off. But without a working mouse, I could see no obvious way to get to that control and turn the pointer back on.

Convinced that it was an Fn key sequence that got me into trouble, I went back to examing the gray Fn key labels looking for something that looked like that touchpad icon. None of the box-like key labels seemed to control the touchpad. Then, I noticed that the gray key label on the F9 key actually looked like an upside-down two-button mouse. Actually the icon is even more confusing to figure out since it consisted of two of those inverted mice with a slash between them a slash in a circle over them. Looking back, I can see the "logic" of that key symbol, but without careful thought, visually it didn't look apparent at first glance. I took a deep breath and tried it... it worked! Toggling Fn+F9 toggled the red X over the touchpad icon in the system tray. I think I missed it before because I basically hit each Fn key twice to see what it toggled and then to return the toggled value to what it was before it was toggled and I hadn't looked at the touchpad icon in the system tray to notice its state when I hit the key.

I was getting rather freaked-out there for about five minutes, but everything is fine now.

So, even if you are "a Mac guy", you could really become someone's "hero" if you're on a plane or in a meeting or coffee shop and somebody accidentally hits Fn+Space or Fn+F9 and is now dead in the water and only you know the magic secret key sequence to restore their sanity.

And you Mac guys... no need to comment about how you never have these kinds of problems... this kind of thing rarely happens to me and now that I made it through those five minutes of hell, life is wonderful again, for now.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blogger is now a very reliable service

Knock on wood, but I can't remember how many months it has been since I had any service problems with Blogger. I just realized today that I it has been the longest time since I felt the need to cross my fingers when I email a new post to any of my Blogger blogs.

I did run into a minor bug earlier this month, but it wasn't anything that interfered with service.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Really bogus story on high gasoline prices in NY Times

I'm still generally supportive of news coverage by The New York Times, but they do manage to print way too many really misleading and biased stories. The latest was an article by Jad Mouawad entitled "Gas Prices Rise on Refineries' Record Failures" which provides a very misleading account of why retail gasoline prices are so high and overall is more of a mouthpiece for the promoters of energy and commodities speculation and merely repeats the promoters' "story" that high prices are due mostly to refinery outages (and higher crude oil prices.) The story is grossly superficial, not really new news anyway, and does absolutely nothing to dig down and challenge the veracity of the "stories" being touted by Wall Street "analysts" and others who have a financial vested interest and conflict of interest in having people believe the stories.

Rather than pick the story apart line by line, I'll highlight one data point which essentially proves that refinery outages couldn't possibly even come close to explaining the dramatic rise of retail gasoline prices at a national level. Here is what the article says:

As a whole, refining disruptions have been considerably higher than in previous years: they averaged 1.5 million barrels a day in the first quarter, compared with 700,000 to 900,000 barrels a day from 2001 to 2005. In the days after the hurricanes, refiners were forced to briefly halt as many as five million barrels of production.

To anybody who knows nothing about the business, a shortfall of "1.5 million barrels a day" in refining capacity might sound like a really big deal, except for the fact that available inventory levels of retail gasoline (as reported weekly by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) having been running consistently above 200 million barrels for this entire period, way more than enough to cover even a 1.5 million barrel a day shortfall. If inventories weren't able to cover the shortfall, we would see inventories declining dramatically over time. Yes, inventories are 4.5% below a year ago (but only by a mere 9.5 million barrels), but that further proves that refinery shortfalls are not causing inventories to be drawn down in a dramatic way. Multiply 1.5 million per day by 90 days and you get 135 million barrels. The EIA data proves that gasoline inventories have not been depleted by 135 million barrels. In other words, the loss of production due to outages did not result in a shortfall of available gasoline. In other words, there was no supply shortage. Sure, demand is rising, but only at a low annual rate (the latest EIA report says "Over the last four weeks, motor gasoline demand has averaged over 9.6 million barrels
per day, or 1.3 percent above the same period last year.

The Times article cavalierly states:

Many factors have led to the rise in gas prices, including disruptions in oil supplies from places like Nigeria and Norway. But analysts say the refining bottleneck in North America has been one of the main drivers of higher energy prices this year.

But they make no mention of the role of speculation on the futures markets. They reference "analysts", failing to mention that the firms employing most of those "analysts" have a vested interest in perpetuating "stories" to incite higher levels of speculation in energy futures.

Curiously they refer to the "refining bottleneck" as only "one of the main drivers." Well, either this so-called "refining bottleneck" is the main driver or it isn't, and if it isn't the main driver, then what is and why doesn't the story focus on it instead? I suspect that when pressed, they would point to higher crude oil prices. But if higher crude oil prices are the main driver, why even bother mentioning secondary or even tertiary drivers that may only account for a few pennies a gallon at most? The bottom line here is that the whole story (both the "analysts" story and the Times story) is rather fishy to say the least.

Even if you buy the story that high crude oil prices are the main driver (which isn't the story being peddled here), that raises the question of what is really going on with regards to both supply and price of crude oil. The quote above does blame part of the rise in gasoline prices on "disruptions in oil supplies from places like Nigeria and Norway", but even that is simply yet another "story" being peddled by "analysts" and others who have a financial vested interest and severe conflict of interest in perpetuating "stories" that even when true paint a very misleading big picture. Once again, we can consult the weekly EIA data and prove that the so-called "disruptions" have had no detectable impact on the overall availability of crude oil as an input to refineries or other uses. The EIA weekly reports have reported domestic crude oil inventory levels of well over 300 million barrels for an extended period of time, way more than enough to cover any Nigerian or Norwegian "shortfall" for an extended period of time. Not to mention the fact that the U.S. has 690 million barrels of crude oil sitting in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve precisely for any significant "supply disruptions." In fact, the current crude inventory level is 5.4% above a year ago, at 352 million barrels. This is very compelling proof that even if there is a shortfall from any number of individual suppliers, there is way more than enough oil sitting in inventories to make up for any shortfall. If the so-called "shortfalls" were truly significant, there would have been a dramatic drawdown of inventory levels, and there has been no such drawdown. This is truly compelling proof that there is no fundamental reason for high crude oil prices and hence no fundamental reason for high gasoline prices.

There is in fact a single "culprit" behind higher energy prices: "the world is awash in liquidity." Put simply, there are too many people with too much money and the stock and bond markets are not providing high enough rates of return, so vast amounts of money are flowing into the commodities markets. Even individual investors are seeing stories chiding them that commodities should be a part of any investor's "portfolio." ("Oil is going to $100! [or is it $200?]) It is that money which is bidding up the price of crude oil and gasoline. And Wall Street and so many of the so-called "analysts" are providing the drumbeat and siren song urging people to put their money into these commodities, exactly as they had done with MBS leading up to the so-called "subprime crisis."

Why the Times does not cover that story is rather baffling. I simply do not know whether they are knowingly participating in the obfuscation of the true story, or merely suffering from incompetence, negligence, and basic laziness. Either way, we readers and consumers suffer the consequences. Ditto for Congress, a Democratic Congress no less, for their turning a blind eye to this sad story.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Does Microsoft really no longer matter as a technology company?

It wasn't that many years ago when Microsoft was considered one of the top technology companies. Now, not only has Microsoft been eclipsed by Google as far as media attention, but it has gotten to the point where Microsoft tends to not even get mentioned in passing other than to disparage their "attempts" to compete with Google. I write this after reading an article in The New York Times by Conrad De Aenlle entitled "A Peek at Tech's Strength" which focuses on "two pairs of high-profile tech companies announce second-quarter earnings." Yes, Intel, AMD, Google, and Yahoo are indeed important technology companies that are reporting earnings this coming week, but it seems rather mind-boggling that one could consider Intel "high-profile" and not even give a passing reference to Microsoft reporting earnings this coming week as well (Thursday afternoon.) How did we get to this sorry state of affairs?

Granted, Microsoft's performance over the past few years has been somewhat "uneven", but the company is still quite a powerhouse in terms of raw revenue and earnings and delivery of new products and services, and Windows-based personal computers continue to deliver vast legions of "eyeballs" that drive all of those "hot" Web 2.0 sites, including blogs, social networking, and search engines.

Personally, I do think that there is a certain amount of anti-Microsoft bias in the media. I'm not prepared to speculate at length why that is, but simply note that it is there and is a real problem when trying to get a clear picture of the technology sector from the media.

For the media to act as if Microsoft hardly even existed anymore is rather bizarre. I can't imagine any better explanation other than that the media has some deep bias. The media has an obligation to its readers and viewers to at least make an attempt to be "fair", "unbiased", and "objective", and to paint a complete, full, and honest picture of the technology sector, but for whatever reasons, those criteria don't seem to apply anymore to media coverage of Microsoft.

The referenced story is not the first time I have seen evidence of such a bias, only the latest.

I am only speaking "in general"; certainly I have seen any number of stories mentioning Microsoft that were reasonably fair, unbiased, and objective, but the problem is that in the past couple of years the apparent ratio of biased to unbiased coverage has grown alarmingly high.

One excuse I've heard anecdotally is that a lot of journalists prefer "the Mac" and supposedly that is a big source of their disinterest if not bias in anything to do with Microsoft. That could be one factor and it could be a significant factor, but I personally do not know it for a fact. I only know the effect that I see in the media.

On the off chance that I am completely wrong and mistaken, does anybody have any evidence or rationale or even speculation for what reasons the media might have for considering Microsoft to be effectively no longer relevant to media coverage of the technology sector?

Disclosure: I am in fact an employee of The Evil Empire. I joined Microsoft in May 2006 in a software development test role, but my views aren't significantly different than before I joined when I was independent for about 20 years.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blogging vs. New Media

Aside from the fact that we may not have a solid consensus on the meaning and scope of the term New Media, I think it is safe to say that it is an umbrella term that does cover blogging, social networking sites, wikis, podcasting, video, and even photo sharing. My question is whether blogging really does belong under the same New Media umbrella as podcasting and video or whether the textual conversations of blogging are inherently different in nature and gain no particular benefit from being lumped in with podcasting and video which are inherently un-conversational.

To me, blog posts do a much better job of engaging people in the sense of an intellectual dialog (conversation), whereas podcasts and video have more of a feel of presentation media rather than conversational media. Sure people talk about them, but those forms of media themselves do not enable conversation in the kind of way that blogs both invite and enable two-way and multi-way conversation. Sure, you get a lot of interesting and even conversational coments on a YouTube video, but once again they are comments about the video and not a conversation with anybody in the video.

There is an added distance between the consumer of a podcast or video and who is in that media that doesn't exist when we consider blogs.

And even if an actual conversation does not occur immediately with a blog post, the opportunity is not immediately lost and comments and links and email could occur weeks or months or even years later. It is the opportunity for conversation that is the big bang of blogs.

The chasm between blogging and the rest of New Media is also illustrated by the fact that Old Media mavens can and do readily adopt to the non-text new media (e.g., podcasting and video), but struggle mightily when faced with figuring out how to deal with "blogs."

The real truth is that only conversational media such as blogs and multi-person chat and social networking sites (and email) are the Really New Media, and that audio, video, and photos are really simply old wine in new "bottles."

To be clear, it is not text that is new, but the conversation that it enables that is so new and open-ended.

That said, I'm wondering if people are getting bored with blogging and rather than look for ways to further enhance the conversation and conversational features they are falling back to more of a couch potato mentality that is inspired by the old forms of media (radio and television and movies.)

Personally, I'm not attracted to podcasting and videos as an alternative to spending my time reading news (and some blogs) and email and posting on my blogs. What might podcasting and videos offer me that I might value?

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Are you an expert on social media?

Tell the truth now, do you really think you're some kind of an expert on "social media", whatever that really is? Seriously, because if you are, you should head over to the Wikipedia and help craft a useful article on the topic. I myself still have only a vague conception of the term, so I decided to read what the "authoritative" Wikipedia had to say on the topic. Not much, it turns out.

The article text define the term as:

Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media itself.[1]

Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. The social media sites typically use tools like message boards, forums, podcasts, bookmarks, communities, wikis, weblogs etc.

The article gives little more than that and a few sparse examples and a link to Robert Scoble, but the real highlight of the article is that it has a big official Wikipedia editorial banner across the top which says that "This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject." So, experts, go to it!

Other than as a replacement for the term Web 2.0 (or social computing or social networking), I'm not sure what social media should entail.

I understand the "social" part of social media, which simply means that we're talking about people and something about them interacting in some way.

The part that baffles me is the sub-term "media." Sure, I know what media is in general, but what specialized meaning is it intended to take on in this context? I understand media in the sense of newspapers, magazines, books, television, and radio, and even the Web, but is that really how the term "media" is being used here?

Is "talk radio" by definition "social media" because of its caller participation?

Is a magazine that invites reader submissions and letters to the editor also social media?

Do letters to the editor and the Op-Ed page make The New York Times social media?

I gather not. There is nothing in the term "social media" that suggests or even hints at a dependence on the Internet or Web, but I gather that the arrogant proponents of the term are trying to define "old" media out of existence or at least out of "relevance." I personally do not approve of such brutish use of language, but it's not so uncommon.

Why not simply call it the "Social Web" and then people can instantly recognize that "Oh, it has something to do with the Word Wide Web"? Makes sense to me, but then one of my biggest problems is that I'm always try to make sense when that doesn't seem high on the priority list of most people. The main problem with the term "Social Web" is that it simply doesn't convey the raw arrogance of "social media" and arrogance is very important for a lot of people, particularly those who seek to command very high consulting rates or to marginalize other people out of the "picture."

There is one context where "social media" seems to make perfect sense (to me), the use of blogs and online reader comments on the web sites associated with "old" media. The Web-based media directly parallels the real-world media and now offers a "social" interaction component. This makes perfect sense to me, but somehow I don't think this is precisely what the proponents of "social media" really had in mind.

I just really wish those social media experts would update the Wikipedia article, or maybe the Wikipedia simply doesn't fit their conception of a "social media." Maybe it needs to be renamed Wikimedia.


BTW, see how annoying these tag things can be and how little value they add:


-- Jack Krupansky

Is tagging really worth the trouble?

I've played with tagging a bit, including embedded Technorati tags and explicit tags entered using Blogger's post editor, but I think I've all but concluded that they aren't worth the effort. You already get most of he benefit of tagging due simply to the way search engines index your web and weblog pages. Explicit tagging does provide a little extra oomph for raising the ranking of your content, but not very much, and it is debatable whether you get any noticeable benefit at all. My conclusion is that it is doubtful that an average blogger will get any detectable benefit at all.

There may be some niche situations where explicit tagging does provide significant benefit, but it seems clear that those would be the exception rather than the rule.

I actually haven't bothered to do any explicit tagging at all in the past few months. I'm content that people may only find my content by searching for tag terms in a search engine.


-- Jack Krupansky

Blogger bug: Displaying too many posts on the main page

In theory, Google's Blogger lets you specify how much of your older blog content is displayed on the main blog web page, but that limit seems to have a problem. I specified 45 days for my I Say - Jack Krupansky blog, which should go back to around the third week of May, but I'm seeing posts from back in November and December. Oops.

Originally I had the setting at 90 days, but today I noticed that the main page displayed all of my posts way back into August 2006. I changed the setting to 45 days and now the oldest posts fell off the main page, but I still see posts back to November 15, 2006.

I hate to say it, but apparently Blogger doesn't now how to count, or more specifically, take the difference between two dates.

I haven't notified Google of this problem yet because they make it so bloody difficult to content them directly. It takes me about twenty minutes to track down the feedback form or email address to use. They hide it well. They have a nice "Blogger Help - Resources" page, but not even a hint of how to provide direct feedback to Google. Their "message" seems to be that they want to discourage people from providing feedback. That sucks, but when you're Google you can get away with that. I thought Google's motto was "Don't be evil." Sigh. I will track down the feedback form or email address eventually, but right now I want to go to a movie.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, July 01, 2007


I wandered by the Apple store here in downtown Bellevue, WA yesterday and today to check out the "scene" around the new iPhone. There was definitely a fair number of people hovering over the eight demo units they had near the door, but not so big a crowd that I couldn't sneak in to take a peak and even try it out. It is an interesting packaging of technology into a gadget, but I'm not enough of a gadget-geek technosexual to be tempted to lay out $499 plus $60 a month for this latest "cool" toy.

I tried out a number of the apps and the various touch screen "gestures", including the two-finger zooming and unzooming. It seemed to work as advertised.

The on-screen keyboard was fine for low-volume text like URLs or names.

Loading of Web pages seemed a bit sluggish, probably due to the limited bandwidth of AT&T EDGE service. In theory, you should get speedy page loading if you have Wi-Fi connectivity and maybe EGDE should be considered more of a backup rather than the primary Web browsing method.

Various reviews note both great features and shortcomings, but ultimately the value of the gadget comes down to the collection of features that are highest value to you personally. Or, maybe you simply need a hot new status symbol.

Personally, I did notice the fingerprint smears on the display. Not where the graphics was bright, but there are plenty of times and places where portions of the screen are dimly-lit enough to make the smears obvious. After I finished playing with the phone for a few minutes, the first thing I wanted to do was go wash my hands. Of course, if you buy your own phone you can keep the screen clean yourself.

I wouldn't say that the iPhone was flying off the shelves, but it was clearly "the" hot, cool, hip, new toy. I continue to expect that it will be a very successful product.

This probably ends my interest in the iPhone. I gave it the requisite 15 minutes (of my time) of fame.

-- Jack Krupansky