Still chugging..

I’m still chugging on a logistical project (it’s not webspam related). Sorry that I’ve been quieter on the blog as a result; the logistical stuff cuts into my free time, which causes a direct decrease in the time available for blogging. :)

In the mean time, here’s a few things that I thought were interesting:

- Erik Selberg, a search/information retrieval person at Microsoft who worked on the original MetaCrawler, has left Microsoft for Amazon. Greg Linden, an ex-Amazon engineer, is shutting down Findory on November 1st. Gary Price noticed that LookSmart has shut down WiseNut. I suppose the only constant really is change.

- I don’t always agree 100% with everything she writes, but I did really enjoy this article by Jill Whalen. I also thought Eric Lander did a comprehensive, concise sum-up of Google’s webmaster tools. Read it to discover what features you’ve been missing.

- Every time I read Eric Goldman’s blog I feel little smarter. In his latest post Goldman writes about a court decision that favored Ask.com:

Based on this presentation, the court says Gunzburger didn’t defame Murawski even though (because Ask.com and other search engines don’t show line breaks in the search results) search results may contain the words “Communist Political Organizer Bill Murawski” in that order. But per 47 UC 230, Ask.com isn’t on the hook either because its search results are based on content from another information content provider (politics1.com). Murawski also asked Ask.com to stop indexing politics1.com, and Ask.com’s decision not to do so is an editorial judgment protected by 47 USC 230.

This case reminds me a little of the Maughan case, where Google’s automated compilation of site descriptions in the search results allegedly created new semantic meaning by remixing the indexed words. It’s nice to see this court recognize that search result presentations and search engine indexing decisions are completely protected by 47 USC 230. This result reinforces the broad discretion given to search engine choices about how to gather and present third party content.

There’s more interesting reading in Goldman’s full post, including how Yahoo is a private actor, not a state actor. Makes sense to me, but it’s nice to hear a court say that.

Anyway, I’m about halfway done with my logistical project, so I’ll still be doing light posting for a few weeks.

Update: OUT-LAW posted a copy of the specific court decision (PDF document). The exact wording from the court decision was “Deciding whether or not to remove content or deciding when to remove content falls squarely within Ask.com’s exercise of a publisher’s traditional role and is therefore subject to the CDA’s [Communications Decency Act] broad immunity.” Again, it makes sense that search engines get to decide how to rank/remove content in their own index, but I’m sure Ask.com was still happy to see a court agree. :)

My favorite pedometer: Omron HJ-720ITC

Omron recently introduced a pedometer with a USB connector that can upload your step data to your computer. I’ve wanted something like this for years, so I ordered one from Amazon for 33 bucks and started testing it.

My verdict? It’s the best pedometer I’ve tried. It’s accurate, and because it has two inertial sensors you can wear it in your pocket instead of on your belt. The built-in software works great on Windows XP, and lets you slice your data in several ways:

Omron pedometer software graph

Plus you can export your data as a CSV file. Overall, I love this pedometer and always carry it with me.

So what keeps this product from being perfect? First, the pedometer has a 41-day memory. Memory is pretty cheap these days, so why not a 90 or 120 day memory? Next, the Omron software only runs on Windows. If you have use an Apple or Linux computer, you’re out of luck. In January 2007, Greg Kroah-Hartman offered on behalf of the Linux kernel community to provide free Linux device drivers for any hardware device:

All that is needed is some kind of specification that describes how your device works, or the email address of an engineer that is willing to answer questions every once in a while. A few sample devices might be good to have so that debugging doesn’t have to be done by email, but if necessary, that can be done.

In return, you will receive a complete and working Linux driver that is added to the main Linux kernel source tree. The driver will be written by some of the members of the Linux kernel developer community (over 1500 strong and growing). This driver will then be automatically included in all Linux distributions, including the “enterprise” ones. It will be automatically kept up to date and working through all Linux kernel API changes. This driver will work with all of the different CPU types supported by Linux, the largest number of CPU types supported by any operating system ever before in the history of computing.

That’s a pretty great deal. Whaddaya say, Omron? All we need is your permission and a tiny bit of info about the protocol; heck, I’d pay for 2-3 kernel developers to get the pedometers myself. If you’re not willing/able to document your protocol, here’s a suggestion for your next iteration: make the pedometer look like a little flash drive, and create a special text document on the pseudo-drive with the user’s step data. Then anyone could read their data, regardless of the type of computer they used.

These are small nitpicks though — the kind you offer when a product is so close to perfect that you start to root for it and push for perfection. It’s a great pedometer and quite affordable at $33.

Now I just wish every health device could connect to a computer. Omron offers a blood pressure monitor that also connects to your computer using the same software as the pedometer (it’s all seamless). I’ve tried it, and the blood pressure monitor works well. If Omron ever offered a scale that connected to a computer, I’d immediately get one of those, too. :) In the meantime, I’m not aware of any other pedometers or blood pressure monitors that connect to a computer, so it’s a good thing that they’re both solid products. :)

Talk like a pirate day!

Don’t forget that it’s “Talk Like a Pirate” day! Arrr!

Startup idea: Make My Music Legal

I was reading all the TechCrunch40 coverage and I asked myself: “If I had five minutes to come up with a startup idea completely outside of search, what would it be?” This is more of a fun exercise, but feel free to pull apart the idea — or propose a better startup idea in the comments.

Wal-Mart has started selling MP3s from some artists on Universal and EMI. Here’s the idea: a company that would scan your music collection and offer to convert file-shared MP3s to legal MP3s with much higher quality, cover art, lyrics, etc. Lots of people have MP3s from Napster/Kazaa/wherever, and now that you can buy the legal MP3 versions of some songs, at least a fraction of people would convert chunks of their music library to be completely legitimate and much higher quality.

How would you make money with this? I could imagine several ways:

- offer people ringtones of songs on their hard drive
- charge a penny or two for each song that is converted to “legitimate.”
- run some banner ads or AdSense
- anonymize the data and license the anonymized data to various businesses
- get people to sign up with Pandora, Last.fm, or Rhapsody.
- don’t make any money on it. Use it as a way to build brand recognition or positive karma.

Why do I like this idea? Well, music labels are hesitant about selling songs without digital rights management (DRM). If this startup was even moderately successful, labels would see huge numbers of unprotected tracks being bought, which would encourage other labels to offer their music without DRM restrictions.

Sure, there’s little bits to be worked out. How would you upload the list of songs on your hard drive? Maybe you’d offer a tiny open-source download to scan the drive and make a list of MP3s. For the people who are too worried to download anything, you could say something like

Okay, you paranoid folks. Here’s how to upload the list of MP3s on your hard drive if you don’t want to download anything. Open a Windows command window and run these commands:
cd c:
dir /s | find /i “.mp3″ > mp3list
then upload the file C:mp3list to us and we’ll take it from there.

TechCrunch is showcasing 40 startup companies this week. I believe this idea has to be better than at least 1-2 of those forty. :) There’s also at least a few places to set yourself apart (e.g. recognizing songs from mangled/ugly filenames or noisy audio fingerprints), but it would be easy to get started. Or it would be an interesting side-project for any startup already in the music space.

If anyone who wants to try this idea, have at it. I’m too lazy to tackle it myself. Anybody want to rip the idea apart, implement it, or offer a better start-up idea? :)

Lots o’ news

Quite a busy day today:
- Yahoo bought Zimbra for $350 million dollars.
- AOL decided to move their headquarters to New York.
- Microsoft got a decision in Europe.
- Lots of TechCrunch 40 coverage is up on techcrunch.com.
- The New York Times is opening up large quantities of its premium content for free.
- Apple is hosting a press event in London tomorrow.
- Oh yeah, SCO filed for bankruptcy on Friday. Not to editorialize, but… personally I’m glad.

So a pretty busy day. Oh, and Nathan was among the first people to spot something new from Google: the ability to make presentations. Also, Google Docs and Spreadsheets has been renamed to Google Docs. You can check the official posts about the new presentation software from Google. I’m playing with it now; it looks like it can import PowerPoint. It’s available in 25 languages, multiple people can collaborate at once, and it’s got Google Talk built-in to allow people to chat.

On days like this, it’s best to just hunker down until the blogstorms subside. :)

Update: Be sure to watch the video on the official “Presently” blog post. It’s lo-fi and funny, but actually explains why it’s good to store docs in the cloud so you can collaborate. If Ze Frank made a video for Google, it would probably look like this. :)

Update: A few people are chatting over on Nathan’s document and Drew’s document. It’s kinda fun. Nathan has a slide like this:

Presently loves lemurs

So some people are over on the side going:

Chat on Google Talk in a presentation

Update: Chatting in Nathan’s presentation, we figured out that you can embed a presentation on a web page using an iframe. I have no idea what the security implications are, so don’t complain to me if it causes a problem, but it’s pretty fun. :)

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