Archive for May, 2010

The iPad and e-books: colour me Kindle

May 31, 2010 Comments off

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about TV over the last few months, it’s that it’s really, really fluid. Despite George Romero and I being listed as the guests for last night’s episode on The Hour’s website, the show pulled a quick switcheroo and aired Patrick Roy and Amanda Seyfried instead. Romero and I are now listed for tonight’s episode, at 11, although at this point I’ll believe it when I see it. If I am on, we might have a double dose of Sex, Bombs and Burgers on TV tonight as I’m also listed as a guest on The Agenda with Steve Paikin on TVO. I believe that’s on at 8 and 11.

Anyhow… A couple of quick thoughts today about the Apple iPad and e-books, and specifically, how the iPad relates to e-books. I’ve had a few days to play around with Apple’s “magical revolution” now, and have some impressions.

In my review on CBC, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the people whom I believe to be the target market for the device - or Luddites who don’t know much about technology. For these folks, the iPad could indeed be “magical;” it’s like that other perfect piece of technology, the car, which you just turn on and it goes. For the gadget lover, it’s also a pretty slick piece of hardware that’s a lot of fun to use.

From the technologist’s point of view, I’ve talked before about how the iPad - and everything it represents - is worrisome. It’s very locked down and Apple pretty much calls the shots on what you can put on it, which are both facts that have many people concerned. Advocates of openness are worried that such a closed world could be the future of the internet.

I’m hopeful that the iPad, and Apple as a whole, eventually turn into a complement to the internet, and that they don’t actually represent the future. I think it’s fine if we can have open computers on which to create whatever we want, and iPads on which to consume those creations. I hope there’s room for both and that it doesn’t have to be either/or.

But onto those e-books. The iPad may be able to display digital books in full colour but it’s inferior as an e-reader to devices like the Kindle and the Kobo. Those devices, of course, have e-ink displays that nicely replicate the look of a printed page, and they’re really easy on the eyes. Reading off the iPad’s LCD screen is pretty much like looking at a computer - there’s glare and it gets hard on the eyes after a while.

How successful Apple will be in books therefore won’t depend on the quality of its hardware, but what sort of payment system it sets up with publishers in the long run. Currently, the company is offering up the “agency” model where publishers set the price of the books sold, and they get to keep 70% while Apple gets 30%. There are many concerns about this system, not the least of which is that it could lead to price fixing.

But to get back to e-book readers… I suspect the market is going to firm up by the end of this year. The Kindle is superior for reading, but its $259 price tag is way too steep for a single-use device, especially considering the multi-purpose iPad starts at $500. Several months ago, I spoke with Michael Serbinis, the CEO of Kobo, which is the e-book division of Canada’s big book chain Chapters/Indigo. At the time, he believed that single-purpose e-readers would get down to $100 by the end of this year. Since then, his company has introduced their own Kobo reader for $150, so we’re almost there already.

The devices are clearly not where the money is to be made in e-books. It’s like printers - HP will sell you one for $100, then make all their money off you on the inks. So if I can make a prediction, e-book readers - with rock-bottom prices - are going to THE hot gift this Christmas. There’s going to be a lot of pressure, then, to sort out the whole e-book payment system with publishers.

And since we’re on the topic… I’ve been asked many times when the e-book version of Sex, Bombs and Burgers will be coming out. It’s actually the perfect book for an e-book because, as some people have remarked, they’re too embarrassed to read it in public places because it has the word “porn” in the subtitle. E-books introduce privacy to reading, which is good for works like mine. Anyhow - Penguin has said there will be an e-book and I’m currently in the process of trying to get a concrete date from them. More on this soon - stay tuned.

And don’t forget to channel surf tonight. Maybe I’ll be on, maybe I won’t?!?

Categories: apple, books, internet

Sex, Bombs and Burgers on The Hour

May 31, 2010 3 comments

Just a heads up today that I’m apparently going to be on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos tonight talking about Sex, Bombs and Burgers. We recorded the interview a few weeks back and I was told it would be airing on June 2, but things often change in TV land so it looks like it’s tonight, according to the Stroumboulopouli. I’m working on getting confirmation from the show’s producers and will update here once I know for sure, although my TiVo does list me and George Romero as the guests (and yes, it’s a really weird feeling). Canoe’s TV listings also have us down.

One problem, if you want to check it out, is that we’re up against the Stanley Cup playoffs, so when the show airs on CBC depends on when the game ends. Check local listings. Friggin’ hockey.

I did get a chuckle out of the picture used on the Stroumboulopouli. It’s ostensibly me at the Google offices in Waterloo back when I did a talk there in March, as taken by local news outfit Cambridge Now (the same pic is on their website). If you look closely, a few things just don’t look right… my body was definitely there, but my head and the book in my hand sure don’t look like it. I have no idea why the website decided to make some rather obvious use of Photoshop. I’m not that ugly, am I?

In any event, being on the show was a hoot. George was a nice guy and he was trying hard to crack me and the audience up, with a good measure of success. I got him back once the interview was over, though - as we headed to a commercial break, I mentioned that we didn’t get to discuss sex robots. That got him laughing, so he “called an audible” and extended the interview. He kept me on after the commercial break so that we could talk about that most important of topics, sex robots. I’m curious as to whether all of the interview will air.

I’ll do my best to get video (or a link) of the interview up here as soon after as possible. And check back by the end of the day today to see if I’ve been able to confirm that it’s airing tonight.

UPDATE: The Hour’s website has me listed for tonight, so it’s confirmed.

Categories: books, cbc

Want to surf porn at work? Get an iPhone

May 28, 2010 Comments off

It’s iPad launch day in Canada and many other countries around the world, so you’ll doubtlessly be inundated with media coverage of Apple’s new “magical” and “revolutionary” product (hey, I’m one of the guilty parties… I’ve got to write about it too). One Apple-related tidbit that caught my eye yesterday was a story about how porn surfing is popular during the work day.

The Canadian Press story, via The Globe and Mail, takes a long look at sex addiction and how it fuels looking at porn at work. The story cites statistics that have shown that porn sites get about 70 per cent of their traffic during the 9-5 work day, which is consistent to what I found while researching Sex, Bombs and Burgers. The numbers I found and the industry folks I spoke to pretty much agreed.

The one thing that’s always bugged me about that stat, though, is whether it’s really, actually true. I don’t know about you, but I’ve almost never known a co-worker at any place I’ve worked to actually look at porn on their computer during work hours. The notable exception - and isn’t it ironic - was at The Globe and Mail, where a couple people got busted for it in my time there. But still, over the hundreds or thousands of people I’ve worked with, there have only been one or two. The anecdotal evidence there doesn’t seem to match up with the 70 per cent cited.

It’s possible that maybe the places I’ve worked are not representative of the general populace. Maybe journalists are more aware of the fact that such information is tracked, so they refrain from viewing porn at work? I dunno, it’s a mystery. If anyone has any theories, I’d love to hear ‘em.

In any event, the Apple-related item that caught my eye in the CP story was a quote from Fiorella Callocchia, a management consultant, providing some very sound advice:

“If you’re serious about keeping your job, you’ve got your breaks, your lunch, you’ve got your own BlackBerry. Get an iPhone and do what you want to do on your time.”

Ha! As Stephen Colbert would say, “Eat it Steve Jobs!” As I carped on the other day, it’s hilarious that a management consultant is advising people to get an iPhone if they want to look at porn inconspicuously, which runs completely counter to Jobs’ holier-than-thou claims that the iPhone (and iPad) deliver “freedom from porn.”

Quite the contrary - as the porn business has been saying all along, the iPhone is porn’s best friend.

Categories: apple, internet, iphone, sex

CIA tried to make gay sex tape of Saddam

May 27, 2010 Comments off

In one of the more bizarre stories I’ve ever come across, it looks like the CIA was mulling the idea of releasing a fake gay sex tape of Saddam Hussein before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And it gets even weirder - the spy agency did in fact make a similar fake tape of Osama Bin Laden sitting around drinking with his friends and talking about their exploits with boys.

It’s National Enquirer stuff, but it’s been reported by the Washington Post, based on conversations with unnamed former CIA officials who were involved in the projects. As the story goes, the CIA considered creating a film of a Saddam lookalike having sex with a teenage boy. Iraq was then to be “flooded” with the tape, perhaps followed by a fake news bulletin wherein Saddam abdicated power to his son Uday.

The idea, of course, was to discredit Hussein among his people as some sort of sick pervert.

“It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” one of the former officials told the newspaper. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.”

The plan was scrapped by senior officials, who wisely decided it was “patently ridiculous.” Moreover, as one expert told the Post: “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East - nobody cares… Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.”

I have no idea if that’s true or not, but what I find even more bewildering is that the CIA went ahead with a similar plan for Bin Laden. One of the former CIA officials told the newspaper that the actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees.” I guess the countdown is on for how long it’ll take that video to make it to YouTube.

Anybody who’s read Sex, Bombs and Burgers knows the whole idea for the book started with the Paris Hilton sex video, so I definitely have a special affinity for such stories. This, however, takes the cake!

(Thanks to Wired’s Danger Room for the image idea)

Categories: afghanistan, iraq, sex, war

Mmm… carbonated milk!

May 26, 2010 Comments off

When you say “New Zealand” and “innovation,” you generally think of crazy adrenaline activities, like bungee and jetboating (both were pretty much developed there). But Kiwi ingenuity also extends to junk food - and drink.

Richard Revell, a North Island dairy farmer, has invented a carbonated drink that uses milk rather than water. The result, as the Waikato Times puts it, are drinks that have “cola and lemonade tastes but with a pleasant extra dairy kick.” Revell spent six years developing the concoction, called mo2, and expects to begin selling it in the next few weeks.

But there’s always some controversy. Revell would like to show off and sell his wares at New Zealand’s annual Fieldays, or “Australasia’s definitive agri-business exhibition,” but the organizers won’t let him because they have a contract with Coca-Cola that ensures the soft drink company is the supplier of all non-alcoholic drinks at the event.

Fieldays organizers apparently asked Coca-Cola to make an exception but the company refused, saying that doing so “would be unfair to any of those prior applicants who have approached us with a similar proposal.”

Interestingly, Coca-Cola did test its own carbonated milk drink, called Vio, last year in the U.S. Could its refusal of Revell’s product be a coincidence? Oh yeah, for sure.

Categories: food, new zealand