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Archive for the ‘The Perfect Thing’ Category

God Save the Queen…From DRM

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Anyone reading The Perfect Thing (available in paperback!) knows that the Queen of England already has an iPod.  Now she has another one, presented to her by our own President Obama.  After taking some heat for shortchanging the British PM on his earlier visit to America–a box set of movie DVDs–Obama took pains to give the monarch America’s best, an iPod.  It’s not clear yet which one, but some are saying it’s a 32-gig Touch.  We do know it was loaded with show tunes, as well as some videos from a 2007 visit she made to America.

Hold on here.  When the Queen plugs the new Pod into the Royal Computer, she will get a message asking her if she wants it to synch to the existing library–thus wiping the pictures and the music from the gift.    Remember iPods are one-way, as a sop to the music companies, who didn’t want parties where people would swap iPods and download their libraries to each other’s computers.  But it also makes things complicated if you want to pre-load an iPod, even with new, legal music, and give it to someone.  Her Highness will certainly want to merge the new content with her current iTunes, but trying this stunt puts her in a world of pain.    Will she have to beg Obama’s CTO to send the original CDs so she can re-rip them?  Will she have to start trolling the Web for one of those grey-zone programs that move stuff from your iPod to the iTunes library?

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Ironically, this attempt to clear the embarrassment of undergifting from the earlier incident winds up repeating it.  Because both are DRM faux pas.  The 25 American movies  that Obama gave Gordon Brown don’t work in England, because of the practice of encoding disks with hostile-ware that lets them play only on hardware in specific regions of the globe, to preserve unbalanced pricing schemes.  Brown couldn’t play the DVDs.  And now the British monarch is discovering that even a Queen must bow to the restrictions of the entertainment industry.

My Last Newsweek Article

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

It’s about Bill Gates, another guy who’s making a transition to a new job.  Here it is.  Also, on the website Newsweek has a healthy dollop of highlights from the two interviews I did with Bill G while researching this.
During the course of the article I went back and looked at a lot of my previous reporting about Gates.  It really has  been a long strange trip for him, but even the most virulent Microsoft hater, I believe, has to admire the fact that he’s going to be spending the bulk of his time now working for beyond-reproach causes such as eradicating diseases that strike poor people and improving high school education.  The most interesting stuff for me was when he talked about the kinds of choices he (and his team including his wife, his dad, and now the foundation’s new CEO Jeff Raikes) has to make in the new job.  Depending on the way the money is spent, thousands of lives could be saved.  This is, he says, quite a different matter than getting someone to move from WordPerfect to Word.

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A sidebar to the piece describes the reunion of The Microsoft Eleven, the employees pictured in the famous photo shot in Albuquerque in late 1978, before the company moved to Seattle.  (Photos btw, are from Microsoft.)    I had the chance to hang out at the reshooting of that picture and also to run a brief roundtable discussion, and it was great to hear those memories.  As you can see from the new picture, I think everyone looked pretty spiffy as well: check out, for instance that big grin on Paul Allen’s face.  One sad note was the absence of Bob Wallace, who died in 1992. (He’s the one in the top row center in the original picture.)  He was a terrific guy.   I met him in 1984 at the original Hacker Conference and then soon afterwards in Seattle, where he talked about his pioneering efforts in shareware, a term he coined.

Quick Take on 3G iPhone

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I didn’t make it to the keynote, but did post something on newsweek.com. (Yes, I’m still at NW, next week is my last before joining Wired full-time.) Check it out.

The Mugging, One Year Later (Almost)

Monday, April 28th, 2008
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I was waiting my turn in the satellite studio at Fox on Sunday — to talk about microtargeting — when I noticed that the woman currently on camera looked familiar. Yes! It was Laura Ingel, who I hadn’t seen until the day of the iPhone release last June. It was Laura who was interviewing me live on Fox in front of the Apple Store on 58th Street when some crazy dude slipped behind us, grabbed the mike from her, and took off. He was quickly taken down by the cameraman, and got busted. Everybody was a bit shaken but Laura, a total pro, gathered herself in an instant and restarted our interview.

I tried to explain this to the pleasant production assistant who was in charge of me, and realized that I had the perfect audio-visual aid, my iPhone. I called up the YouTube video of the mugging and impressed the newsroom. When Laura was done her hit, she greeted me like an old friend and told me that she was following the case against the mugger. Apparently, he was charged with a felony and has gone through two lawyers.

She says that in part because of the incident, she’s avoided getting an iPhone. Or is she just waiting for 3G? Anyway, she wrote a sweet blog item about our reunion.

Job Posting

Thursday, March 20th, 2008
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Yes, I’m joining Wired later this spring. I’ll be concentrating on longer stories, and doing what I can to help out with what is already a great operation.

It’s been a wonderful run at Newsweek. For twelve years I’ve covered what I think is the hottest story on the planet for a magazine that’s one of the prime outlets in journalism. But when I was among those offered a buyout (based on age and years of service) I saw it as an opportunity to think about what might be a next step. The logical, as well as the karmic, choice was Wired. I’ve been involved with the magazine from the very beginning; Kevin Kelley assigned a story to me before issue 1.0 came out fifteen years ago. I was on the masthead of that first issue as contributing writer, and stayed there since. The story, about cypherpunks, was on the cover of the second issue and got me going on my book Crypto. I wrote several other big cryptography stories for Wired as well as stories on General Magic and other stuff. Wired has excerpted two of my books: Insanely Great, and The Perfect Thing. In the past few years, I’ve done a series of long profiles for Wired that I’m really proud of, about Stephen Wolfram, Larry Lessig, Tim O’Reilly, and Nick Denton. I really like what the current editors have done with Wired, and I hope to have crazy fun being a part of it. After I complete some stories I’ve already set in motion at Newsweek over the next few weeks, I’ll make the move a few blocks downtown to the magazine’s New York offices. But I’ll also be spending more time on the West Coast, doing research for my Wired stories and also for a book I’m reporting on a company named Google.

An Awesome Talk

Saturday, March 15th, 2008
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A few weeks ago, I attended the TED conference in Monterey, California. (Here’s my writeup of the first couple of days, posted on newsweek.com.) During the first day, I had to go offsite to see a really interesting product demo nearby, so I tried to pick a time where I would miss only one of the 18-minute talks. I should have known that this is a foolish thing to do at TED, because often the best talks seem to come out of nowhere. In this case, the one I missed was from neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor. When I returned, it was clear that I’d made a big mistake. This talk was universally cited as an all-time TED highlight. People described it as a brain expert recounting the story of her own stroke, and the conflict between a scientist wanting to document a phenomenon and a human being who had to get help for a potentially fatal situation.

TED has now posted the video of the talk, and I can say it is much more than that, a moving and illuminating 18 minutes.

Dr. Taylor has a book about her experience.

Into Thin Air

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

How embarrassing for me. I’ve lost the review unit of the MacBook Air loaned to me by Apple. I had written my review (with a lead that was somewhat controversial) and was still, um, testing it. It came in handy when I needed to run some book scanning software that only worked on Windows XP–the computers in my office run only Windows 2000 (our main corporate system) or Vista (the other machine I have to test stuff). The Air ran XP nicely in Boot Camp. But then it was gone.

What happened to it? I posit the following theory in this Newsweek column: it was tossed out with the newspapers.

Stupid Blogger Tricks

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Lots of bloggers are smart. Some are experts with ideas that illuminate a subject. Some do good reporting.

And there there are some that are so lazy that… well, consider this. There’s a site called Mac Complainer that apparently disses Apple on a persistent basis. They used the three reviews of the Macbook Air that appeared yesterday — all three of which, including mine, were positive with some reservations — as apparent evidence that the Air was foul. Here is the level of criticism.

It’s practically unanimous: MacBook Air sucks. Apple hasn’t sucked in a long time but it sucks now, resoundingly. Steven Levy’s review for Newsweek is the nail in MBA’s coffin: “These omissions are troubling–especially to someone in a down-turning economy deciding whether to spend a premium sum for a computer with subpremium storage. Still, simply using the MacBook Air, as I’m doing right now in writing this review, is rather copasetic.” Anyone know what copasetic means?

Ten seconds on Google would have supplied the answer to that question. The freedictionary.com would have told this person that copasetic is not a perjorative, but means “totally satisfactory.” Adding to this comedy of boneheadedness is that the comment got picked up on Digg, with the headline “Newsweek’s Steven Levy says using Macbook Air is ‘Copasetic,’ with an explanation that “Steven Levy is only one of the major reviewers that dislikes MacBook Air.” Why? Because I said that using it is a “copasetic” experience! Help!

Found: best tech writing of last year. Looking for: best of this year.

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007
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As I’ve mentioned earlier, I had the honor and pleasure of editing The Best of Technology Writing, 2007, an anthology published by the digitalculture imprint of the University of Michigan Press. For those who want to dip in and sample, the contents are available online. Or you can get it sent to you, piece by piece to read on your iPhone or Blackberry or on email, via DailyLit.
Here is where you can read my introduction, where I talk about how technology writing has changed in the past twenty years. I also address where tech writing stands vis a vis mainstream media versus blogs.
I am also delighted to hand over the editing chores for the next volume of the series to Clive Thompson. Reading over the stories for possible selection in this year’s volume, there were several of his that were totally worthy of inclusion. (The one I chose was a terrific story about Gordon Bell’s scheme to preserve our memories.) Clive is a great choice to edit The Best of Technology Writing 2008. But he needs your help. What were the best tech stories you read (or wrote) this year, either online or off? Please send your nominations here.

And don’t forget–this year’s volume would make a lovely holiday gift for your more literate loved ones.

The First Kindle Review (I think)

Monday, November 19th, 2007
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At least one blogger who you’d think would know better described my Newsweek cover story on the “Future of Reading,” using Amazon’s Kindle as a peg, as a “review.” Weird. Anyway, I did so a Kindle review (nowhere near as lengthy as the cover piece!) which you can link to here.