Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Blog About Blogs About Blogging...

Maybe the web is reflecting the people who use it. It's always been something of a head-scratcher that, with all of the fun and entertaining stuff out there, many of the most popular blogs are tips on how to blog. The blogosphere has become introspective, and maybe that's a sign of maturity in the space. Regardless, not to be outdone, here is a quick blog on the best blogs that talk about blogging (a.k.a. - "blogging blogs").

(Sick of this yet? Need a Tylenol already?)

  • ProBlogger - Helping Bloggers Earn Money. Blog Tips and News for the Professional and Hobby Blogger.

  • Copyblogger - Copywriting tips for effective blogging and online marketing.

  • Shoe Money - A blog/diary from a person who makes a living online. It contains thoughts and opinions based on real live experiences.

  • Business Blog Consulting - Devoted to demonstrating how effective weblogs can be for communicating with customers and marketing to new customer prospects.

  • Carlocab - Discover what a 13-year old can teach you about making money with your blog.
  

Must Download Programs for New PCs...

One of the more cathartic experiences in this technological age is getting that brand new computer. It's a hopeful time - we're giddy with how many music and video files we can store on our 200 GB hard drive, and envision becoming a hard-core gamer with all that sparkling new RAM. But a funny thing happens once we boot up for the first time - the machine is basically empty and we don't know what to do with ourselves. How can you make your computer your own, for free and in under an hour? Here's a list of must download programs for new PCs.

  • Pidgin - formerly called GAIM, it's an instant messaging client that allows you to connect to your AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and other IM accounts all at the same time, and minus any annoying ads or spyware.

  • Ad-Aware - great utility to occasionally scan your PC for adware programs which slow down your computer's processing speed and take all the fun out of having a new machine.

  • Limewire - a peer-to-peer application that lets you download content from all over the internet. Though it's often used to illegally download music and movies, not to mention pornography, it also has very legitimate uses like sharing files and documents.

  • Skype - if you're new machine has a webcam (or if not, than for an extra $20 you can get one), this program lets you use your computer for free video conferencing and to make free telephone calls to any other Skype user on the planet. Definitely essential for anyone with long-distance contacts.

  • iTunes - the most common music player out there. Personally, I have serious issues with iTunes and prefer to use Songbird instead, but begrudgingly I always end up installing it on friends' computers as requested. If you're going to use it though, make sure you keep backup copies of all your music files BEFORE putting them into iTunes, and never buy music from the iTunes store if it is DRM encrypted.

  • Firefox - the open source web browser that's an alternative to Internet Explorer. And better.

  • Spyware Guard - perform an occasional scan of your hard drive to delete malicious spyware files.

  • Registry Mechanic - perform an occasional scan to fix your registry, which will seriously boost your computer's performance when it's been slowing to a crawl.

  • OpenOffice - only needed if you do not have Microsoft Office, but if that's the case then OpenOffice will provide you with a word processor, spreadsheet and other essential common applications. It's also free, as compared to the several hundred dollars that Microsoft charges.

Feel free to offer some other recommendations by leaving a comment.
  

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Rise of The iPhones War...

Saul Hansell has a great piece in today's New York Times where he reports on how Apple's "propensity for control" is leading it to fight a war with its own most passionate supporters.

The iPhones War can be summarized like this: Apple decided to release the iPhone to much hype and fanfare, creating a gigantic market demand well before the product ever became available for purchase. Then, once it was, customers could only use the iPhone if they signed up for a two-year cell phone agreement with AT&T, leaving all other subscribers of Verizon, Sprint, etc. in the dust. Then over the summer, a New Jersey teenager hacked the iPhone so that it could be used with those other cell phone service providers as well, and other hackers have since come up with other ways of doing this as well. Now, in retaliation, Apple has released a software patch that turns any hacked iPhone into a "brick", disabling applications and rendering the iPhone little more than an expensive piece of plastic that doesn't do anything.

Hansell makes two strong points. First, since many would-be iPhone users would prefer to keep their cell phone provider who's not AT&T, Apple should sell an unlocked iPhone for, say, $300 more than the locked version. This would still allow them collect serious money from AT&T, while at the same time also let them collect it from other providers like Verizon. Virtually everyone in the industry concedes that Apple would make much greater profits from doing this, plus they'd be expanding their market share AND keeping their own customers happy.

Second, "since the iPhone is a very sleek, capable handheld computer, people are going to want to run programs on it... It's a law of nature. And Apple might as well be fighting gravity."

As I've mentioned over and over again in this blog, in the Internet Age, the desire to create strict systems of control is not only practically impossible, but also bad business practice. As Apple wages battle with its most devoted fans, the iPhones War - still in its early stages - is sure to inevitably alienate customers, erode potential profits, and when the dust settles, will have caused enough headaches to make everyone wonder if the fighting was ever worth it. This cyber arms race is a no-win situation for Apple, and they would be wise to simply meet the market demand for their product.

What a novel concept!
  

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

If You Fix Someone's Computer, What Can You Get in Return?

In the free Metro newspaper today, there is a short blurb titled, "Nerds offer tech skills for sex thrills". It describes how a computer club at Washington State University will be holding a "nerd auction" - the idea being to trade their computer skills with sorority girls for a makeover and even a date.

What a fantastic idea! Which got me thinking what else might computer skills be traded for?

  • Book dedication (as in I fix your computer, you dedicate your next book to me)
  • Hunting lessons
  • Facebook friendship
  • Dental work (true story, happened to my dad)
  • Invitation to Girls' Day at the beach!
  • One-sided fantasy football trades
  • Promises to never call you for computer help again


Seriously, to those of you who have computer skills, what's the most unusual compensation you've received in exchange for fixing someone's computer or network?
  

Monday, September 24, 2007

Midnight!
  

  

Tv coverage all over the place.
  

Waited in line since last night.
  

  

Mobile Blogging the Halo 3 Launch...

One of the most promising aspects of blogs and personal websites is the potential for citizen journalism - people reporting on events to the rest of the world in real-time, avoiding having to wait for the next day's newspaper and relying on major media corporations to act as a gatekeeper in choosing for us which stories we will be interested in.

Mobile blogging makes this even more relevant. Not only can people write about events as they occur on their computer, but technology also lets anyone blog "on-the-move", using their cell phone to immediately post blog entries with text and even pictures from wherever they're located (as long as their cell phone has service).

So as an excuse to learn how to do all of this myself, tonight starting at approximately 10pm, I will be mobile blogging from the Halo 3 video game launch in New York City. Some serious computer nerds (friends of mine) have asked for this considering I'm in a somewhat unique position, actually being an employee working the event. So with my exclusive access, I'll be posting pictures and text to this blog all from my mobile phone tonight. Check back starting at around 10pm for the first images, but keep in mind the launch itself is not until midnight, which is when things should really get interesting.
  

The NFL and Media Control...

The National Football League is by far the richest and most successful of the major sports leagues in America. But as this USA Today article explains, the NFL is taking bold steps to increase its control over what type of media coverage is reported. This control grab is not only counter-productive when considering the financial bottom-line, but will also alienate fans and drive them away from the game.

In short, the NFL has set out new guidelines this year for how independent journalists may cover NFL-related events. This includes "interviews, news conferences and practice footage" - limiting journalists "to 45 seconds of video/audio clips a day of team personnel at team facilities".

The reason for this crackdown on journalistic coverage is that the league is trying to direct more traffic to its advertising-supported website, NFL.com, and to its subscriber-based satellite television channel, the NFL Network. They figure that limiting independent journalists to brief clips will make people that much more anxious to go to the official NFL website and subscribe to its satellite channel, where people could view much longer and comprehensive coverage of the NFL.

This case serves as an example of how attempting to increase control in the age of Digital Media is completely counter-productive. First of all, how many football fans were already outraged last season when Thursday night games of their favorite teams were not viewable unless somebody they knew subscribed to the NFL channel? More importantly, did that policy of exclusivity send anyone running to their satellite TV providers to immediately sign up? Not a chance. The NFL did more to alienate its fans with those NFL Network Thursday night games than it did to serve any type of market demand.

And there's no reason to believe the same won't be true with its website. By limiting how much football can be covered by ESPN, NBC, Sports Illustrated, etc., fans won't flock to the NFL.com website. They'll just get annoyed as hell, and it won't be long before full-length clips start being made available illegally all over the internet for download.

And let's not even discuss the merits of a free press and independent journalistic reporting, as compared to an Iranian-style system of granting The Official Message of the NFL such privileged status. One has to wonder if the league is doing all this to prevent so many stories reaching the public about its players' criminal activities (see Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, etc.).

Ultimately, where does this leave us? By attempting to seize control over media coverage, the NFL will alienate devoted fans who cannot view their favorite teams on television anymore, and rather than collecting shared revenue with news agencies like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, they'll be pushing fans down the path of illegal downloading and won't receive any revenue at all.

There is an alternative. Look at what Major League Baseball has accomplished with its more open media policies. Over the last decade, baseball has made its product available to practically all-comers, and allows them to get creative and do almost whatever they wish - make their own highlight reels, edit and share them with others, to name just a few. As a result, baseball is generating tremendous revenue streams that didn't previously exist, and have become the model for how a major sports league can use the media and internet to market its product for them.

Think about it: they've actually been encouraging media coverage of its league, rather than penalizing it. Doesn't that sound logical?
  

Monday, September 10, 2007

An American's Observations on the European Internet...

To all my loyal Nerfherder readers - and a particular shout-out to John McGill who offered some rare words of encouragement recently - I have returned from my two week trip abroad, and feel refreshed and filled with a renewed vigor. Lucky you :-)

Rest assured, I've been stockpiling new ideas to blog about during my brief hiatus, and will be pouring them out of my brain in the form of binary ones and zeros beginning immediately. But quickly, just to kick start the new academic year, here are a few observations on the state of the European Internet from the perspective of an American who just returned to Europe after a five year absence:

1) What happened to all the internet cafes? A few years ago they were sprouting up quicker than Starbucks and became more ubiquitous than leiderhosen. But I noticed a striking lack of commercial internet cafes, and more reliance on private sources of internet access. You can decide whether or not this is a positive development.

2) Facebook is king. As opposed to here in the United States where a variety of popular social networking websites vie for users, in Europe there is only one major player - Facebook. MySpace and others of their ilk were scoffed at in terms of their relevancy by the few people I talked to. Why is that? Is there some fundamental difference we should be paying attention to?

3) Cell phones are light years ahead of America's. I commented to my girlfriend how everybody was listening to a portable MP3 player, yet almost nobody had an iPod. Cell phone technology is probably four years ahead of that in the States, and this is no better demonstrated than seeing Europeans using their cell phones as music players at levels that iPhones only hope to one day achieve.

4) Different keyboards. Seriously, what's going on here? You're telling me we can instantaneously translate huge websites and other documents with a single mouse-click, but we can't all use keyboards where the letters are located in the same places?! I felt like I had sudden dyslexia (and this was when I was NOT in Amsterdam)!