Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New on the Soapbox: What Hillary and Barack Said about John's Departure

I have a new post up on the Soapbox comparing the statements that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have issued following the news that John Edwards is dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination.

Naturally, both of them are intent on scooping up as many Edwards supporters as possible. Both have issued gracious statements saluting John and Elizabeth. But Obama's statement is masterful in its ability to both echo and embrace John's language, his passion, and his cause.

Mickeleh's Take: Dave Winer has latched onto a comparison that Chris Matthews used last week on MSNBC: Clinton is Salieri—a workmanlike technician; Obama is Mozart—an inspired master. Comparing what Clinton and Obama have to say about Edwards is yet another example of how apt the comparison is.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

MacBook Air: John Mayer Nails the Positioning

Just before he stopped blogging and deleted his archives, John Mayer posted a one line review of MacBook Air which nails the product's positioning:
"Macbook Air... Yes, it really is as cool as it looks. Lean, mean lifestyle workstation..."
(As of this writing, there's a clone of Mayer's site still available on

When I lived in L.A. I was shocked that for somepeople "working on my tan" is considered a career. But that career is just a by-water of the larger industry, "working on my lifestyle."

By calling it a lifestyle workstation, Mayer captures the essence of MacBook Air. It's executive bling. It's what every consultant would like to whip out at a client meeting, what every status junkie would like to brandish at a conference or executive airport lounge. So what, if features and functionality are compromised to squeeze it into a lust object? "You can't be too rich or too thin." (Google tells me that might have been said by the Duchess of Windsor, but it isn't sure.) Now that there are millions and millions of iPhones out there, you need something to turn heads.

Mickeleh's Take: I bought a New Beetle the first week they went on sale in 1998. It was fun to take a hot and rare product out in public. I'm still driving it and somehow it's not drawing quite the same crowds. But I have my memories. Do I really have to purchase another dose of coolness? I'm cool enough. I'd have thought Mayer was too. Maybe that MacBook post triggered a shock of sanity and he got out of the blogging business and back to work.

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Such A Review! Newsweek's Steven Levy Starts with a Mohel Metaphor

Three of the four popular press computer mavens have just published their reviews of Apple's MacBook Air. Surprisingly, they say more or less the same things that the bloggers said right after the keynote based on the specs. Go figure.

I'm sure that Ed Baig (USA Today) and Walt Mossberg (WSJ) have valid points of view on Apple's oh so thin sub-notebook. But only Steven Levy (Newsweek) is worth reading. Because only Steven starts his review with a mohel metaphor (Mohel is Hebrew term for ritual circumciser). I believe this is unprecedented in tech reviews.

Mazel Tov, Steven. I'm kvelling here. I want to give your cheek such a pinch.

Update, Turns out the fourth pezzonovate reviewer was actually first; David Pogue, devoted a piece of his Macworld Keynote roundup to MacBook Air last week. See comments.)

Mickeleh's Take: I know this is a just a short post. But if you rub a little...

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Dave Winer and Jason Calacanis at Gnomedex. Again.

Dave Winer today revisited his clash with Jason Calacanis at Gnomedex last August. I'll take that as an excuse to revisit it myself.

One residue of the long long years and late, late nights I spent trying to learn stand-up comedy is that I rarely take sides with a heckler. Except when it's a really good heckle. And last August at Gnomedex Dave Winer popped off with a pretty darn good heckle. Dave's timing was perfect. And he caught a good laugh. Jason was rocked back, but recovered well.

What followed was a heated series of back-and-forth blog posts between Dave and Jason that made it clear this was much deeper than an off-hand heckle. The ripples spread in one of those weekend Techmeme kerfuffles. In the aftermath, Dave and the TechCrunch20 conference parted ways, and then it died away.

Until late September, when Gnomedex host Chris Pirillo posted video of the Jason's session. With the video online, I've been able to confirm my memory—and my point of view—about the event. Here's how it played out for me:

Jason clearly created the opportunity for the heckle by mislabeling his presentation.

The title of the presentation was, "The Internet's Environmental Crisis." The description read:
"The internet is being destroyed by selfish polluters and we can stop them. Jason talks about all the garbage that is being thrown into our internet, and taking a stand against those spammers putting it there."
When Jason took the stage, he amplified that by saying he had asked Chris for the opportunity to speak because Gnomedex was not venture-capital-driven or press-driven event, but people-and-idea driven. (implication: I'm not here to pitch, but to share a POV). OK, I'm naive. And I don't know Jason Calacanis. So I took his title and description at face value.

The first eight minutes of content matched the labeling: a straight-forward historical review and a problem statement about how various Net applications were hijacked by marketers who polluted them with spam--beginning with email and moving through blog comments and search. What Jason called "selfish polluters" were folks who intruded on the user's intent to blast through their own message.

Up to that point, title, blurb, and speech were entirely congruous would have been a great setup for calling us to the barricades in some generalized solution: a movement, a technology, a platform that could end spam in our time (You know, "taking a stand against those spammers.")

But without warning, the grand cause of "taking a stand against those spammers" suddenly devolved into OK, now let me tell you about my new project, Mahalo." Maybe folks who know Jason, guessed that was coming. I don't. And I didn't.

I can't know if Dave was lying in wait for that pitch (pun intended), but he knocked it out of the park. The instant Jason made his left turn at Albequerque, Dave popped off, "what about conference spam?" Boom! there it is.

I thought was both funny and insightful (good funny is insightful, bad funny is just inciteful). From the laughs, the line clearly resonated with others in the audience. (I don't have polling to know how many others.) From the gasps, some folks were annoyed.

Jason seemed stunned and deeply wounded. Or as he put it in a post the next day, he felt "thrown under the bus."

I think I get why Dave's wise-crack hit him so hard. As he recounted, he had given this talk, in pretty much the same form many times before, but only when he had Dave Winer in the audience did he get slammed for it.

Except this wasn't a controlled experiment where Dave Winer's presence was the single changed variable. The context of Gnomedex was an even larger difference, as Jason acknowledged when he first took the stage. At a venture or press conference everyone would have gotten from the purpose of the event that Jason is here to pitch us.

And even at Gnomedex, had the talk been billed as "Here's Jason to tell us what he's been up to lately." or "Successful serial Web entrepreneur recounts his quest for the next big idea". or even "Jason talks about Mahalo, a new, spam-proof approach to search," we in the audience would have been fully immunized against Dave Winer's objections. I can't say Dave would have liked the talk any more. Given what he has consistently said about the product (including today), he would not.

But, he'd have been out of bounds to call it spam.

Mickeleh's Take: The lesson Jason took away was don't speak when Dave is in the audience. The lesson I wish had taken away was be upfront and call a pitch a pitch.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good Career Move. It is So Scoble To Explain It All In Depth

Robert Scoble announced and explained his next career move: heading to Mansuetto Digital to serve as Managing Director of a new venture, FastCompany.TV.

Having spent more than a year at PodTech doing video interviews of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Robert chose not to start a new company but to continue being a wage slave.

What is most valuable about what he shared on his blog is a frank analysis and explanation of why he chose to hire on rather than strike out on his own. Mazel Tov, Robert, on the move. And thanks for the insight into how you thought it through.

Mickeleh's Take: To spend more time with my family" is usually the lie that accompanies a resignation. To say it and mean it in connection with a new job is very menschy. The lure (and lucre) of the startup is so dominant in Tech culture, resisting it in favor of just getting a job is sometimes the braver choice. "

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A New Apple Pricing Firestorm? $20 to Upgrade Touch

Keynote Good News: iPod Touch has five strong new applications which were previously iPhone exclusives: Mail, Google Maps, Weather, Notes, and Stocks. They're included, with a bunch of other enhancements, in all new purchases.

Bad News: If you're an early adopter, hand over twenty bucks to get the new apps. I'm picking up a little grumbling out there. Clint Ecker on Ars Technica says the crowd went wild--and not in a good way. "A unified gasp was let up as well as a rowdy round of jeering." Uncle Speedo on Twitter just gave Steve the Cheney salute. The comments on Engadget are seething.

Look, there's always an early-adopter tax in tech. Moore's law forces it. But with the iTouch app fee coming on the heels of the iPhone price drop, isn't Apple learning to be extra abrasive about irritating its fan base. I wonder if they could have skated with $10?

Mickeleh's Take: Don't gloat, fellow iPhoners, about having these apps for free. We're already paying Apple a monthly tax through AT&T. And we'll get our app fees for sure when the third party apps show up.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Macworld Predictions: What's in the Air?

So, Apple put up a banner in Moscone Center with the line: Something in the Air. In a refreshing blast of sanity, Macworld is still only number six on a Google search of the phrase (as of now, anyway). It's still beat out by an Australian soap opera and songs by Thunderclap Newman and Tom Petty.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere is buzzing with speculation about Wi-Max... really, really light PowerBooks... untethered services and movie downloads for Macs, iPods, and iPhones, and AppleTV.

Maybe. But I'm betting on one of these:

1. Steve Jobs will not appear in person onstage for the Keynote, but will webcast live from overhead as he buzzes San Francisco in the Gulfstream V that the Apple Board of Directors gave him in 2000.

2. Apple will finally offer an aerosole version of Steve Jobs's legendary "Reality Distortion Field." Spray it and get people to believe anything and buy everything.

3. Apple is going to bring us the great Tesla promise of electrical power transmitted through the air. We'll never again have to change or recharge a battery in any remote, phone, camera, toy, or iPod.

4. Apple will announce a strategic alliance with Wham-O to deliver MacBooks shaped like Frisbees. Steve will launch 50 of them out into the keynote audience. One will be caught by a German Shepherd.

5. Steve will have a vegan meal served to folks waiting to get into the keynote which will later induce the entire audience to re-enact the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles.

Mickeleh's Take: In the savviest co-branding stunt since he brought the iTunes store to Starbucks, Apple will join with Cirque du Soleil to replace all the Mac Geniuses with flying trapeze artists who will offer service and support while dangling upside down.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Turning off the Screens, Accoustic Version

Walking in the neighborhood, I saw an acoustic version of the briefly famous stunt blacked out some of the HDTV displays at CES.

My local prankster used hand-cranked methods to flip a bunch of bulletin-board postings face to the wall.

Mickeleh's Take: Not famous, but funny. BTW, the next day all the notices were facing out again.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Last Word on Gizmodo v. CES

Acres of big shiny glass—in the form of large-scale high-definition video displays—are the visual signature of CES.

If you were an anti-consumerist or environmentalist group looking to lodge a protest, make a statement and gain attention, contriving to turn that glittering glass black might get your cause some attention. Of course, you'd be ready to take the heat and proud to stand in the long tradition of civil disobedience running past Martin Luther King, Jr. through Gandhi, to Henry David Thoreau.

Oh wait... they opposed government actions. Never mind. Okay then, the short tradition of Robert Scoble scraping Facebook for email addresses of his friends. ("Mr. Zuckerberg, tear down this wall.")

But if you're a reporter for Gizmodo, you do it for the comedy and the bragging rights. If you're the editor of Gizmodo post video to the Web and wait for the laughs and applause. Some laugh. But the grownups are appalled. If you're the publisher of Gizmodo, you tut-tut the whole thing.

The Gizmodians pulled a dumb, hurtful prank that embarrased presenters, devalued the investment companies made in CES, and, naturally, sparked a Techmeme-storm that's now subsiding.

Shout out to Rafe Needleman and Shel Israel for getting the public shaming going... to CEA for responding well--reported by Rafe: No collective punishment for bloggerville. They guy who did it is banned... to Dave Winer for reminding us that the bozo pranker isn't a blogger but a reporter working for a publication. (He was right. Turns out Gizmodo actually had business-class press credentials, not the coach credentials afforded to bloggers.) For those who were alarmed that the stunt tarnished bloggers everywhere, I say, "Huh?" Might as well say it tarnished twenty-somethings everywhere.

Mickeleh's Take: For those who say, lighten up and get a sense of humor about a dumb prank, I say this: I'll tell you what it was. It was heckling, that's what. Two Gizmodians walk into a club—comped no less—and try to impress their dates by talking back to the comics. As Lily von Schtupp said in the old west, "Are you in show business? Then why don't you get your fwiggin' feet off o' the stage." (Madeleine Kahn, I miss you. Mel Brooks, please stick around.)

Personally, I took this up a notch from where CEA had it. I've unsubscribed to Gizmodo in my reader. Brian Lam, I'll miss you. Not as much as I miss Madeleine Kahn, but I'll miss you.

Related: an acoustic version of this prank.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bush Admin To Remake U.S. Currency

Ron Paul wants to return us to the Gold Standard. Bush & Halliburton have a better idea, move forward to a new monetary standard

Mickeleh's Take: Hats off to the folks at And to Scott Beale at Laughing Squid for Tweeting about this.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What's in the Daily News? Or Any Other Paper?

Kara Swisher, today, says farewell to print and embraces an online-only future. She explains that it's not just about saving trees, but embracing the virtues of the new medium of online journalism.

As if to underscore that drain-circling status of print journalism, there's an online access point for local newsapapers that calls itself a Newseum. (Images flash of Carl Akeley's exhibits of dead animals in The American Museum of Natural History. So lifelike. Except for their stillness.) Joni Mitchel said they put all the trees in a tree museum. Maybe this dead tree museum is it.

Coolest part of the Newseum is an interactive Flash map that lets you see the front page of newspapers around the country and around the world. (There's a faster but less cool list interface as well).

Mickeleh's Take: There's huge diversity in local papers. That diversity is on the endangered species list in the accelerating rush to consolidation. But if Kara is right--she usually is--we might have to file Newseum under "Last chance to See."

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