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July 19, 2006

OT: Requiem For An Elm [9:29 pm]

When Karen and I moved into our current home a few years ago, we were surprised to learn that the stupendous tree that essentially owns the backyard of our row house is an elm tree. It is estimated that it was probably planted when the house was built in 1861.

Given the prevalence of Dutch elm disease in the Northeast, I really would not have expected that there were any elms of this size in the city and we looked upon the care of this tree as an important responsibility. The tree surgeon who came to take care of the tree this fall indicated that there are probably about 60 trees still in Cambridge (mostly at Harvard), and that this one is probably among the oldest.

Well, I learned today that our tree is now infected — “flagging” is the term used in the links above to describe the state of the tree, indicating that the tree canopy is infected and dying. And the tree surgeon says that, given the heat and the wetness of this summer in New England, we can probably expect that the tree will be dead within 4 months.

Even though the surgeon waited until November to treat the tree last year, I can’t help wondering if we wouldn’t have been better off leaving the tree alone. Care of a tree like this can only take place when it’s dormant; otherwise, the sap of the cut tree attracts the beetles that are the primary vector for the disease. Even though this fall was colder than normal, the winter overall was noticeably warmer than other years, with a really stunning warm spell in January that led to some trees budding really early.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, it’s only a tree, I know. But it’s still something awful to be so helpless in the face of what the experts seem to feel is an inevitable outcome. While it’s always possible that the tree might weather this infection, the fact that my untrained eye got me worried enough to bring in an expert suggests that it’s not doing very well.

Intimations of our mortality, despite what Ray Kurzweil expects….

(MIT’s Tech Talk on this year’s loss of an old elm at on Killian Court)

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What To Make Of This? [8:24 am]

Maybe We Should Leave That Up to the Computer

I read this article yesterday and couldn’t really decide what to say about it. Is this techno-fetishism at its worst? Or a suggestion that, maybe, a little more analysis and a little less intuition might improve (business) decisionmaking? Or a recognition that, in the end, we don’t trust machines to make some decisions for us? (Recognizing, perhaps, that the machines are only implementing the decisions, or possibly the meta-decisions, of someone. )

I wonder what Katherine Hayles would have to say about this — is this just a declaration that we should get on with becoming “post-human?” Or a call to arms to remember, as she puts it, the “body?”

Do you think your high-paid managers really know best? A Dutch sociology professor has doubts.

The professor, Chris Snijders of the Eindhoven University of Technology, has been studying the routine decisions that managers make, and is convinced that computer models, by and large, can do a better job of it. He even issued a challenge late last year to any company willing to pit its humans against his algorithms.

“As long as you have some history and some quantifiable data from past experiences,” Mr. Snijders claims, a simple formula will soon outperform a professional’s decision-making skills. “It’s not just pie in the sky,” he said. “I have the data to support this.”

And this notion of “simple formula” — am I supposed to be reassured by that?

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TimesSelect Working? [8:10 am]

Or is the revenue from somewhere else? Times Company Profit Flat; Internet Revenue Increasing

The New York Times Media Group, which includes The New York Times, nytimes.com, The International Herald Tribune and IHT.com, continued to post slight gains while the New England Media Group — primarily The Boston Globe — continued to be a drag on overall results.

[...] The company’s total costs were up 2.9 percent in the second quarter, to $759.7 million, mainly because of the costs associated with newsprint, which rose 7.4 percent. The higher prices for newsprint were partly offset by lower consumption, the company said.

Internet revenue continues to increase and now accounts for 7.7 percent of total revenue, up from 5.8 percent in the second quarter of last year. The Internet-related businesses generated $66.1 million in revenue, up from $49 million.

From yesterday’s 8-K filing:

News Media Group

Total News Media Group revenues increased 0.5 percent to $800.2 million from $795.9 million. Advertising revenues decreased 0.7 percent, mainly due to weakness in print advertising at the New England Media Group partially offset by higher online revenues across the News Media Group. Circulation revenues were up 0.6 percent due to growth at The New York Times Media Group and the Regional Media Group partially offset by declines at the New England Media Group. Other revenues increased 12.3 percent largely because of the introduction of TimesSelect and higher commercial printing revenues.

[...]

About.com

About.com’s second-quarter revenues increased 62.7 percent to $19.4 million from $12.0 million. Operating profit increased to $7.3 million from $2.5 million. The Company expects that About.com will add to earnings this year.

[...]

Internet Revenues

In the second quarter, the Company’s Internet-related businesses generated $66.1 million in revenue, up from $49.0 million. Internet-related businesses include our digital archives, the Web sites of our newspapers and broadcast properties, and About.com. In total, Internet businesses accounted for about 7.7 percent of the Company’s revenues in the second quarter versus 5.8 percent in the

same quarter a year ago.

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OT: Surprised? [8:02 am]

I wish I were.

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“Inducement” Argument Reappears [7:56 am]

Apparently, this is the “inducement via ease-of-use” argument — if it were difficult to do, would that not be infringement? Or am I missing something? Reporter sues YouTube over copyrights - pdf

An independent news reporter sued the popular video-sharing service YouTube Inc. for copyright infringement, claiming the Web site encouraged users to copy his protected materials.

Robert Tur, who gained fame with his helicopter-based coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and 1994 freeway chase of O.J. Simpson, filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court. It alleges the footage was posted and circulated on YouTube without his permission.

[...] The suit alleges Tur’s images of the beating of trucker Reginald Denny during the riots have been downloaded thousands of times. The practice is ruining the market for his work while attracting lucrative advertising revenue to the Web site, Tur said in an interview.

The complaint alleges that YouTube encourages infringement by allowing the easy uploading and viewing of footage.

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Aaron Sorkin’s Woes [7:47 am]

More on content production in the Internet Age: Pre-buzz buzz - pdf

“The Internet has created something that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago, a direct dialogue with the creators or actors of a show,” said “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof. “For fans, they feel they have this access and they are empowered. When we do our podcasts, and we explain what we’re doing, they disagree with us and they tell us, ‘Well, it’s my show too.’ “

It would seem to be a network’s dream to have people identify so closely with a show, to hear them debating the finer points of a pilot episode around the water cooler. But in the case of “Studio 60,” the premature analysis is making an already struggling network’s job even harder.

Related: More on “Snakes on a Plane”

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Venturing Into The Water [7:36 am]

DVD Deal Lets Films Go From Web to TV - pdf

Hollywood studios will cross a significant technological and psychological frontier today when they offer the first downloadable movies that can be legally burned onto a DVD.

Four major studios struck a deal with online movie service CinemaNow Inc. to offer more than 100 mainstream titles that can be copied to a disc and played on almost any DVD player or television set. Prices will start at about $9 a movie.

[...] Today’s launch also previews a likely agreement between the major studios and Apple Computer Inc., which is expected to expand the offerings on its popular iTunes online store to include big-studio movies. Several studio executives Tuesday confirmed that they were holding talks with Apple but did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

Apple declined to comment.

See also Downloading Service to Allow Film Watching on TV Screens

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Net Neutrality Fight Defined In 2 Short Paragraphs [7:23 am]

Intel, MySpace woo leaders of cable as TV and Net collide - pdf

“The appetite is growing, not just snacking,” said [Brightcove's Jeremy] Allaire. “The consumer demand for video is so great that they are just pirating and ripping it. There’s so much passion that consumers are saying, ` . . . We’re going to slice it and dice it our own way.’ ”

It’s a predicament that cable executives fear because it raises the prospect of content producers bypassing cable and selling directly to the consumer, [consultant Jonathan] Hurd said.

At worst, cable companies could become solely wholesale vendors of broadband, focusing on cost-cutting rather than building value-added services like the current video-on-demand, he said.

With the policy question being, what instruments will the vendors of broadband be allowed to employ to avoid becoming wholesale vendors, and what to do when content producers are also broadband providers?  (Note: no use of “trucks” or “tubes” in the description)

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