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Saturday, 05/31/03

NYT op-ed articles, long exempted from the online edition's shifting policies of availability, are now apparently subject to the paper's absurd per-article pricing once they become a week old. I missed Paul Krugman's "Fear of a Quagmire?" liquidity trap column last week, and only noticed it via Brad DeLong's blog. I can't get it from the NYT site anymore. Fortunately DeLong tends to quote his sources in their entirety.

The Times' editorial archive used to contain the last four or so articles by each writer, next to a snapshot. That's gone too, replaced by a link to a generic editorial category in the paper's search engine.

Tim Bray recently explained why newspaper archives tend toward uselessness, but I still can't believe there isn't a flat-rate business model here somewhere. 07:04PM «

Friday, 05/23/03

Tim Bray:

My CEO is always grumbling about how his #1 competitor is NDI: No Decision, Inc.

NDI are my initials. Today, though, my favorite initials are JXTA. 07:29PM «

Thursday, 05/08/03

The New Pornographers' second album is out, and the irresistable single, "The Laws Have Changed" has been getting just enough KEXP airplay to embed itself in my brainstem. Mint Records, their Canadian home label, put out a high quality MP3 of "Laws". It's the kind of pop song that would rule the earth if we could figure out how to hurl Clear Channel and everyone age 9-14 into a volcano.

In any event, your mission for today is to think good thoughts about little record labels, though I was immensely pleased to belatedly read in the Monitor yesterday that as a group, they're doing very well all by themselves. 10:09AM «

Tuesday, 05/06/03

Paul Graham, "Hackers and Painters":

I've never liked the term "computer science." The main reason I don't like it is that there's no such thing. Computer science is a grab bag of tenuously related areas thrown together by an accident of history, like Yugoslavia. At one end you have people who are really mathematicians, but call what they're doing computer science so they can get DARPA grants. In the middle you have people working on something like the natural history of computers-- studying the behavior of algorithms for routing data through networks, for example. And then at the other extreme you have the hackers, who are trying to write interesting software, and for whom computers are just a medium of expression, as concrete is for architects or paint for painters. It's as if mathematicians, physicists, and architects all had to be in the same department.

Steve Lohr, "Technology Hits a Midlife Bump" (NYT):

[A]n article published last week in The Harvard Business Review does question corporate America's faith in the value of technology. Titled "IT Doesn't Matter," the article argues that information technology is inevitably headed in the same direction as the railroads, the telegraph, electricity and the internal combustion engine.

All of these industrial technologies aged from their boom-time youth to become, in economic terms, ordinary factors of production, or "commodity inputs," the article noted. "From a strategic standpoint, they became invisible; they no longer mattered," wrote Nicholas G. Carr, editor at large of The Harvard Business Review. "That is exactly what is happening to information technology today."

Hurry up, already. 11:52AM «

Paul Graham, I belatedly realize, is another entrant in my evolving category of Gladwell-Shirky writers. 11:51AM «

Saturday, 05/03/03

I should mention that I did eventually get iTunes Music Store registration to succeed, by signing up from a different computer with a virgin iTunes installation. Afterward I could sign in successfully from my main machine. A couple of people have now told me that they saw my "invalid card number" error until they input their numbers without spaces. I tried that and other forms of credit card voodoo (even going so far as to call my bank to make sure I was formatting my address correctly), but none of it did the trick. 11:00AM «

Thursday, 05/01/03

The second CSI episode penned by my dear old friend Sarah Goldfinger airs tonight. I think about the process of making TV a lot more since she got her start there a few years ago as a writer's assistant.

Last night on The West Wing, a key piece of evidence comes in the form of a White House phone log. Before the scene ended, I was wondering about the poor production assistant who had to make up pages of fake phone log records, which would then have to be submitted for approval by a studio lawyer to ensure none of the names belonged to people who could sue.

I went back with the Tivo to take a closer look at the log. Sure enough, halfway down the first page there's a call from someone named "Monica" to someone named "Hillary", one line above a call from someone named "Bill". In addition to confirming my visualization of the bored production assistant, it also supports my theory that Aaron Sorkin and his writing staff do not have their heads in the current administration. (Not for the first time, this episode's story credit was shared by Clinton press secretatry Dee Dee Myers.) 12:08PM «

John Gruber, ace critic of Apple's font minutiae, suggests that my problem with iTunes 4's unpleasant new fonts is only that iTunes 4 shifts from 10-point to 9-point text. He correctly guessed that I'd raised my global font-smoothing preference (the threshold at which I think text is too small to be usefully anti-aliased), and surmised that setting the threshold back to the default of 8 points would properly anti-alias text in iTunes. He's quite right. Jolly good!

To expand on my question about when exactly charges from iMS purchase activity shows up on a credit card log: I'd test this myself, but I haven't been able to sign up for the service yet. I started trying yesterday, and I consistently see this error when asked for credit card details:

The credit card number you entered is not a valid number for the type of credit card you selected. Please correct your credit card information. The credit card you entered is not a valid credit card number.

Which is bollocks, of course. So far I'm just getting back boilerplate from Apple's email support. 11:30AM «

Jon Rentzsch has an insightful theory about how Apple's credit card processing in the iTunes Music Store might work, and keep the company from being eaten alive by nickel and dime authorization fees. (Some people are calling 99-cent tracks "micropayments", a mythical animal whose name I would reserve for payments well under a dime; Rentzsch calls them "minipayments".)

I'm curious about the the authorize/capture strategy he proposes -- at what point do I see a transaction wind up on my register? Because plenty of black-helicopter types will instantly cause problems, by tying up customer support or with chargebacks or both, if they ever see a debit larger than they incurred (even if it's going to be corrected subsequently).

It's also worth pointing out that one of Apple's help pages for iMS claims to "consolidate purchases of up to $20".

In other productive iMS pondering, Tim Bray has some very sound ideas about future directions for store on the web. If Apple ever finds room in their profit margin for an affiliate fee, I've got a couple of good ideas already. 07:54AM «

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