Various bits of flotsam that washed up on our computers, before we moved to a better blog system in November 2004. Now a repository for YouTube videos and testing new tools. Go to for more recent content.

Monday, January 31, 2005

No To Gonzalez



Sunday, January 30, 2005

A World's Fair Mystery

I just finished reading Erik Larson's great book, Devil in the White City and have been planning a summer excursion to the various sites still extant in Chicago (see this list), and now there's a video game set in the same locale. Strange thing, synchronicity.
The Goods: A Game With a Low Body Count:

Peter Nepstad, a former technology trainer at Arthur Andersen, the firm most recently known as Enron's auditor. Like many other professionals who had nothing to do with the Enron mess, Mr. Nepstad was let go when Andersen collapsed in 2002.

But buoyed by his severance pay, Mr. Nepstad spent eight jobless months completing “1893: A World's Fair Mystery,” a “text adventure” game set at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Like some of the earliest hits of the personal-computer era, including “Zork” and “Planetfall,” his game is devoid of animated graphics. That means the main character's actions are controlled by typed commands like “go north” or “examine glass,” not by a joystick or a mouse....
Mr. Nepstad, an amateur historian and a longtime Chicago resident, was inspired to create “1893” after hearing of a text adventure set in turn-of-the-century New York. He started designing his game in 1999. Sketching out the story line - a diamond theft at the Chicago fair, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage - was the easy part. Much harder was the research into the fairgrounds' layout. Mr. Nepstad spent many hours squinting into a microfiche reader at the Chicago Public Library, reviewing old articles from Scientific American.

“Out of the hundreds and hundreds of exhibits in each building, I had to pick the 10 or 20 that a player would be most interested in exploring,” Mr. Nepstad said. “In the agricultural building, there were 100 different kinds of plows. That wasn't very interesting.” Instead, he wrapped the plot around oddities like the knight on horseback that was the star attraction of the California agricultural exhibit (and was made entirely from prunes). Or the machine-gun exhibit from Germany that foreshadowed the mayhem of World War I
What Mr. Nepstad initially didn't understand was how to market the game, which retails for $19.95. When it was released two years ago, he envisioned at least marginal interest from video game retailers. “That turned out to be, uh, not so much,” he said. And he couldn't convert positive reviews from game magazines into many online sales at his Web site,

So Mr. Nepstad turned to Plan B: selling the game in museum shops, where it could be displayed as a quasi-educational tool about Chicago history. He also engaged in a bit of guerrilla marketing, printing a bevy of “1893” bookmarks and distributing them to bookstores carrying “The Devil in the White City,” a National Book Award nominee by Erik Larson; its story also takes place at the Chicago fair. Mr. Nepstad said he slipped bookmarks into hundreds of copies of the novel.

MORE than 2,000 copies of “1893” have been sold. That is just 0.084 percent of the sales that “Halo 2,” a smash Xbox game, rang up in its first 24 hours on the market. But “1893” is still a hit by text-adventure standards, and Mr. Nepstad, who now works at Kirkland & Ellis, the law firm, says he has already broken even.

"The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America" (Erik Larson)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

No on Gonzales

Personally, I don't see how any U.S. Senator, with any sense of obligation to the American principles of democracy (which eliminates a few of the man-on-dog quasi-humans right away), could support an Attorney General who believes that a Commander in Chief is above the law of the land.

Torture is also not a “right”, to be inflicted upon captives willy-nilly by their captors. Torture is a crime against humanity, and should never be allowed, under any circumstances.

Daily Kos :: No on Gonzales:

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”


Web words

Ten years ago, or even in the late 90's, I would have never suspected that this would turn out to be the area of the internet that made the most money.

Interesting article from the Tribune
Companies swarming to have their names and ads appear next to Internet search results have created a burgeoning marketplace for search words, phrases and brand names.

Progressive Insurance pays $8.08 each time somebody clicks on its ad after searching the phrase “car insurance.” “Laptop” sells for $2.02 per click, while “franchise” goes for $5 and “Internet service provider” for $6. “Financial help” fetches $5.76, although “financial advice” only brings in $2.72.

The prices for such words are set through auction-style bidding in which class-action attorneys have run up the word “Vioxx” to $16.50 per click, while “mesothelioma,” a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, goes for $39.08.

With Americans conducting more than 4 billion Internet searches monthly, often while shopping for airline tickets, credit cards and millions of other products, companies are battling for top advertising positions on Google, Yahoo and other search engines. The competition has become increasingly sophisticated as companies learn how much business they can generate through the ads.

Similar to stocks, the prices of particular words and phrases constantly fluctuate as businesses jockey for top positions.

“It's done wonders for our business,” said William Burr, owner of S&W Manufacturing Co. in Bensenville, which makes industrial parts. “We don't have any salespeople on the street because of that.”

Through an Internet advertising firm, S&W buys search terms like “leveling mount” and “spring plunger” to entice potential customers to its Web site.

Firms like S&W bid the maximum amount they are willing to pay per click for a particular word or phrase, although those bids are handled differently by the two dominant firms in Internet search advertising: Google and Overture, which is owned by Yahoo Inc.

... Still, small firms find ways to get noticed.

Bruce Benton's firm, Bearly Friends LLC in Highland Park, bids on more than 1,000 words associated with new babies, romance, birthdays and anniversaries.

While Benton spends hundreds of dollars a day on the ads, he works with Carpentersville online ad firm JumpFly Inc. to carefully choose terms.

A phrase like “birthday gift,” which recently had a high bid of $1.70, could result in a lot of visits to his site, he noted, but few sales.

“I can run up thousands of dollars in clicks in one day, and that's trouble,” Benton said. He expressed frustration with competitors who aggressively bid up the prices of popular terms. “It makes me want to go click it every time I can,” Benton said.

That has actually become an industry problem. Google warns in regulatory filings that “click-through fraud” could cause it to lose the confidence of advertisers and harm its business. Google and Overture say they regularly give refunds to advertisers when fraudulent clicks are identified.

While competitors use some other devious tactics, such as “jamming” competitors by bidding 1 cent below their offers so they have to pay the maximum price, advertisers have become more scientific in how they approach the market.

Fathom Online Corp., which tracks prices of the 500 most-often searched non-brand-name terms in eight industries, found in December that mortgage-related terms sold for an average of $4.79, while consumer retail terms went for 58 cents. Across all eight industries, the average price was $1.70.
Northbrook-based Lou Malnati's Pizzerias, which operates a mail-order business that ships pizza, Eli's Cheesecake and other Chicago fare, bids on terms like “Chicago pizza” and “mail order cheesecake.”

Dawn Schultz, Lou Malnati's marketing manager, said her company spends about $500 a month on Internet search ads, but doesn't try to compete with larger businesses by bidding on more general terms.

“We can't really be in that category,” Schultz said.

{, }

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Flickr sucks

For some reason, my Flickr photos were not showing up in public tags. I emailed Flickr tech support, and got this snarky response...

Your account was set to "bad" for some reason. Maybe when you first uploaded photos to test out Flickr you had uploaded what appeared to be copyrighted images. Or maybe your photos just looked too good to be true.

I've since changed your status. You should be able to search on your tags now and see your photos show up in "Everyone's".

What a crock. Nobody communicated this 'bad' flag to me so I could tell them what a laughable accusation it was. Instead, my photos just entered some 'penal zone'.

So, can I expect to get any money back from Flickr? I'm actually sort of pissed; what's the point of using a 'photo sharing' site if your photos are kept isolated from the rest of the group? I even convinced several friends/family to sign up to flickr back when Flickr were just starting to get up and running. Bleh.

Actually, the tech support guy shouldn't have told me the entire truth; he should have just claimed 'database error', and fixed it.

This so-called 'policy' is in dire need of review.

My photos aren't that good, they often have goofy color correction or are otherwise imperfect. I know I've added copyright info to a few images, back in Photoshop 3.0 days, on scans of 35 mm shots, but Up=In Studios is only the 'formerly known as' name of B12 Partners. As D would say F-ing Ass Wh-res.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Site traffic solipsism

We moved this site to movabletype from blogger somewhere around November, and got it in a passable shape by December. Somehow this has caused a drastic spike in B12's traffic, as noted in this chart. Whoo hoo! Of course, most are simple google searches looking for info on Tinsley Mortimer, the Artistocrats joke, Roxio's Popcorn, or on how DHL sucks, but hey, I'm happy to oblige.

Site Traffic Feb04 Jan05

Nash Displays Polished Look: On the Court, of Course

I wondered why I always liked Nash, other than the fact of his nationality of course.....

"Soft" interview with the only player brave enough to wear an anti-gulf war Tshirt.

Nash Displays Polished Look: On the Court, of Course

In a league mired in isolation offenses and plodding defenses, the Suns frenetic fast break with point guard Steve Nash at the helm has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Steve Nash has been doing some light reading on the road, studying a playbook of sorts that outlines team concepts like discipline and sacrifice for the common good.

"I'm actually reading the Communist Manifesto," Nash said with a smile after a recent practice.

Nash's eclectic tastes range from Pat Conroy to Dickens to Kant. "I don't know if guys notice, which is good," he said. "I just want to be one of them."

So people won't think he is sympathetic to alternative causes, Nash explained that he picked up the manifesto, "only because I was reading the autobiography of Che Guevara and I wanted to get a better perspective."

"The Communist Manifesto" (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels)

more excerpts here

Terrorist activity?

I would be really annoyed if I was harassed by police because I saw an interesting photo opportunity. I've taken several train photos and CTA photos over the years. What the hell is happening to this country? Can we spell "over-reaction"?
With a tripod in one man's hand and cameras slung around the other's neck, two Homewood men arrived at a Metra station in Morton Grove earlier this month to take pictures of a mothballed locomotive that had been called back into service.

But before Paul Burgess and Randy Olson could snap a picture, Morton Grove police detained them and searched Burgess' car, with his consent. Soon, Metra police arrived, and the two were held as their backgrounds were checked.

The Jan. 8 incident is the latest in a series of mix-ups with police who, rail fans say, may be trying to protect railroad security in a way that threatens their 1st Amendment rights.

"The general consensus is it's easier for a rail fan to take pictures in China than it is here," said Bill Molony, president of a National Railway Historical Society's Blackhawk Chapter, whose members mostly live in the south and southwest Chicago suburbs.

Viva la free speech! I'm happy to be a proud card carrying member of the ACLU....
In general, people have the right to express themselves, under the 1st Amendment, and may take pictures in a public space where others don't have an expectation of privacy. But security issues can limit what people may photograph, such as a defense facility, said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"It's not an absolute," he said.

But he added, "I don't know of any federal law that makes it a crime to photograph any train, that covers that in such a blanket way as these officers who approached [Burgess] seem to have suggested."

If the New York City Transit branch of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has its way, that could become the case in New York City subway stations.

The NYC Transit wants to place a general ban on photography and videotaping on its system except for media with valid credentials and people with MTA authorization.

I like Burgess' reaction:
... Olson, 55, and Burgess, 43, said they understand the security concerns but believe it was obvious they were not terrorists. A potentially bigger threat, they said, were backpack-toting passengers waiting to board the train.

"You don't need to take a picture of the tracks to know where the strategic locations are," Olson said. "And you wouldn't be doing it in broad daylight. It's just ludicrous. You have to be able to discern what's a threat and what isn't."

...Burgess has not heard back from Metra's board, to whom he wrote a letter asking for an apology. Regardless, he intends to continue photographing trains.

"I've been doing this for 30 years," Burgess said. "And as I said in my letter, I'm a U.S. Navy veteran and I don't intend to allow this to change my habits."

Comics Legend Stan Lee Wins Round in Lawsuit

Good for Mr. Lee. He created the damn character in the first place - why shouldn't he get a cut of the stupendous cash payout? - Comics Legend Stan Lee Wins Round in Lawsuit

A judge in Manhattan federal court has ruled that Mr. [Stan] Lee, chairman emeritus at the comic-book publisher, is entitled to 10% of the profits from movie and television productions involving Marvel characters, as well as movie-related toys manufactured and sold by the company itself.

It also determined that a claim to share profits from Marvel's ventures with Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Studios to produce Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk merchandise will have to be resolved by jury verdict.

"This is pretty much a sweeping victory for us," said Mr. Lee's attorney, Howard Graff, of the firm Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky of New York.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Toronto vignette

reposted Vignette from Janice Spellerberg's back yard (Marty was in Texas), since someone was looking for it.
Toronto Collagiate Vignette

Friday, January 07, 2005

Dept of Doh!

From the Trib we read of more extensive foresight on the part of City of Chicago officials. What, did they forget that it snows in the winter?

But not every part of the $475 million downtown park was a winter wonderland Thursday. The shimmering, serpentine BP Bridge was closed to the public.

Whenever it snows, visitors to the park can only enjoy the form--but not the function--of the 925-foot bridge designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The deck of the $14.5 million span was built using 2,000 planks of Brazilian hardwood. Rock salt would damage the wood, and park officials also discounted using the only other obvious snow-removal technique.

"It's over Columbus [Drive], so it's not like we are going to go out there and shovel it and dump it on the cars," said Helen Doria, executive director of Millennium Park.

Until it snowed heavily at the park, which opened in July, officials were not aware that wintry weather would force them to close the bridge, Doria said.

Barricades prevent pedestrians who want to cross Columbus between Millennium Park and Daley Bicentennial Park from stepping onto the widely acclaimed bridge.

Everybody, say it together, "DOH!"
and even
"Double Doh!"

Google earnings

We've had these little google ad strips on B12 for several months, and I finally took a look at what they mean in actual revenue. I threw out earlier months statistics, because my site traffic was in the 10-20 hits per day range, and now is in the 50-100 range.

Anyway, averaging approximately two months of data, the google ads brought in $.26 per day (calculated by number of times someone not me clicks). Big bucks, no doubt. I've been corresponding with Google Adsense, trying to figure out how exactly the ads are targeted (I don't think they correspond very well to my actual content), but they didn't really have any answers either.

I don't know if the ads contribute or subtract from the esthetics of B12, or even if B12 has an aesthetic. I don't expect to ever make money blogging, especially since I don't spend enough time actually writing original content. I just wish Google Ads paid for my hosting fees, so my obsession with hoarding information would not cost me actual cash. Actually, if I made $.50 a day, I'd probably be happy, as I am on the small side of the "Long Tail" meme.

That is all.

Microsoft Unveils Virus, Spyware Tools, still clueless

We figured we're a good test case for this new Microsoft spyware beta. We have a fairly recent HP/XP machine that doesn't get used much (like, hardly ever (sic)) because we have 5 macs (currently). Nothing 'mission-critical' resides on the PC; we just keep it for periodic use (like web-demos that aren't mac friendly, testing web sites, cursing at, etc.)

WSJ: Microsoft Unveils Virus, Spyware Tools:

Gates: Microsoft to offer anti-spyware | CNET

Gates said Microsoft will offer software to detect malicious applications and that the company will keep it up-to-date on an ongoing basis.

BBC: Microsoft debuts security tools:

Microsoft releases two free programs designed to help users keep PCs free of viruses and spyware.

However, actually downloading the software proved to be an effort in frustration. After about 5 minutes of clicking, downloading, and validating my Windows installation (probably to check my bank account to see if I stole my PC), I got frustrated with the whole process, and walked away. I guess "genuine Microsoft Windows" users like myself (yes, purchasing from HP should insure that my software isn't stolen, right?) can't expect to be treated to a machine without spyware. Blech. Odds are high that I don't have spyware altogether, because the machine is barely used, and has always had firewall protection.

How did this company become such a powerhouse anyway? How do people (or IT departments!) put up with it?

Oh, and I did finally sit through all the gobbledy-gook, and install the program. It found 5 spyware programs installed. Crappola.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sugar Association To Counter-Attack 'Sugar Bashing'

Ha, the scourge of modern health fights back, with the secondary scourge of modern life, advertising....
Sugar Association To Counter-Attack 'Sugar Bashing':

The Sugar Association, a group comprised of many of the leading companies in the $8 billion dollar U.S. sugar industry, will launch a multimillion-dollar marketing effort in the first quarter of 2005 to help "reverse the impact of sugar bashing brought on by the low-carb craze" and manufacturers of artificial sweeteners.

The effort, via new AOR Marriner Marketing Communications, Columbia, Md., will include TV, radio and print as part of a "consumer education campaign that will focus on the natural benefits of sugar." The campaign will launch in test markets before going national.


"We are confident that our selection of Marriner will help us to reverse the impact of sugar bashing brought on by the low-carb craze and fueled by manufacturers of artificial sweeteners," Andy Briscoe, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, said in a statement. "In this review process, Marriner demonstrated their ability to quickly assess our market situation and develop strategic solutions that permeate their work."