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February 28, 2007

My cat Humphrey says 'Show me the money'

That's right: over 10,000 people have enjoyed his peerless treadmill strut on YouTube (above) since I posted it on July 14, 2006, but not one red cent has appeared in the piggy bank to reflect such overwhelming popularity.

That's coming to an end.

You've heard the phrase, "There's no such thing as a free [tuna] lunch?"

Well, Humphrey has and he's mad as heck and he's not gonna take it any more.

So when we read Scott Kirsner's February 15, 2007 New York Times story about the rise of websites that let the performer share in the lucre that pours in, well, that got our attention fer shur — right, Humphrey?

Meooow.

So, without further ado, let's turn to the article, after which I'll discuss some possible new avenues for bookofjoe's far-flung — but as yet, not profitable — media empire.

    All the World's a Stage (That Includes the Internet)

    At lunchtime, or when he is walking the halls of his workplace, Roy Raphaeli's colleagues often beseech him to do a magic trick. Usually, he obliges. ''I take the opportunity to show people my new stuff and see how they react,'' said Mr. Raphaeli, 23, a Brooklynite who works for a mail-order camera retailer.

    While Mr. Raphaeli, known professionally as Magic Roy, has been entertaining people with card tricks and sleight-of-hand since he was 5, he does not perform at birthday parties or casino showrooms.

    Instead, Mr. Raphaeli's stage of choice is the Internet, where he has posted 30 short video clips to Metacafe, a Web site that pays video creators based on how many viewers their work attracts. So far, Mr. Raphaeli has earned more than $13,000 from the site, where his most popular card trick has been seen 1.4 million times.

    As video sites look for ways to attract higher-quality content, they are dangling cash, usually offering to cut creators in on the advertising revenue their work generates.

    Revver, the Los Angeles company that pioneered the practice, shows a still-frame ad at the end of a video, and funnels money to the creator every time a viewer clicks on the ad to visit the advertiser's Web site. Metacafe inserts a similar still-frame graphic at the end of a clip; it pays creators $100 when their video has been viewed 20,000 times, and $5 for every 1,000 additional views.

    Other sites, like TurnHere and ExpertVillage.com, offer upfront payments for videos on assigned topics, like a tour of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, or an instructional video about skydiving. And in January, Chad Hurley, a YouTube co-founder, announced at the World Economic Forum that his site, now owned by Google, was exploring similar ways to ''reward creativity.''

    While the sums involved are not yet impressive enough to lure established TV or movie producers into the world of Internet video, they can be significant for people on the fringes of the entertainment industry, or those who see video production as a sideline to their day job, like Mr. Raphaeli.

    He had originally planned to sell DVD compilations of his best tricks, before discovering that he could earn more, and reach a larger audience, by posting his videos online.

    Kent Nichols, co-creator of Ask a Ninja, a series of comic videos in which a cranky ninja responds to viewer questions, says he managed to earn more than $20,000 last year on Revver. Mr. Nichols now has an agent, who recently helped him negotiate what he says is a more lucrative advertising deal with another company.

    Ahree Lee, a graphic designer in San Francisco, earned ''a couple of thousand dollars'' in 2006 when a short film she had made became a hit on AtomFilms.com. It featured a fast-paced succession of still photographs she had taken of her face over several years, set to music composed by her husband.

    More than a dozen sites now offer payments for videos that range from short snippets to full-length feature films. Some, like Revver, Metacafe and Manhattan-based Blip.tv, generate money from advertising; others, like Brightcove, DivX Stage6 and Cruxy, allow a video's creator to set a price viewers must pay to view it, and exact a small transaction fee.

    Most of the sites require that videos be uploaded to them, rather than sent on a DVD or a tape. When a video is viewed enough times to start generating revenue for its creator, the money is typically transferred to a PayPal account set up by the creator.

    But the biggest challenge is attracting an audience.

    A co-founder of Metacafe, Arik Czerniak, says his site has around 100,000 people who like reviewing new videos. ''They're practically video addicts,'' he said. ''If a video is interesting or engaging, it will get very high ratings from them.''

    Videos that win raves can wind up on the site's home page, where, Mr. Czerniak said, ''a video can get 500,000 views in a single afternoon, all without you really worrying about marketing your video.''

    Others say that a little self-promotion can't hurt. ''We have a MySpace page and a Facebook group,'' said Matt Wyatt, a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe Invisible Engine, referring to two popular social networking sites where he posts the group's latest videos. ''We also e-mail a link to sites like StupidVideos.com and Transbuddha.com — sites that can help a video take off.''

    When these sites choose to ''embed'' a video, using a bit of HTML code to weave it into one of their pages, the advertising still appears and the view is tallied, which generates revenue for the creator.

    Some videos manage to catch fire with little effort. Fritz Grobe, a juggler who lives in Buckfield, Me., still cannot explain why a video he posted last June became so popular. It featured an array of two-liter bottles of Diet Coke that he and his partner, Stephen Voltz, detonated using Mentos candies.

    ''It sparked an instant reaction,'' Mr. Grobe said. ''Two days after we'd posted it on Revver, 'The Late Show With David Letterman' called.''

    The video was eventually seen more than seven million times, earning Mr. Grobe and Mr. Voltz about $35,000. (A second video in the Extreme Mentos and Diet Coke Experiments series, released in partnership with Google last fall, has not managed to surpass that amount.)

    Some semiprofessional videographers and independent filmmakers are relying on Web sites to make money between projects. Steve Janas of Belanco, Pa., says he has earned $500 to $2,000 for short videos he has made for the Web site TurnHere.com.

    Most of his videos have been tourist guides to cities like Philadelphia, Princeton, N.J., and Reykjavik, Iceland, but Mr. Janas has also produced video tours of multimillion-dollar condos, intended to help sell them. TurnHere pays a flat fee for each video.

    But only a few sites offer that kind of upfront payment. More common are sites like Break.com, where videos entertaining enough to win a spot on the home page earn $2,000, or sites like Revver and Metacafe, where the payment is based on the number of views.

    Just as Hollywood moguls have yet to find an infallible formula for producing a blockbuster, Internet video producers still don't know why some clips ''go viral,'' sent by e-mail from person to person and incorporated into blog entries, and others languish, seen only by the auteur's dorm mates.

    ''A video has to grab you by the neck in about five seconds — otherwise people lose interest,'' Mr. Czerniak said. ''The maximum length is about 90 seconds.''

    An acrobatics demonstration in which Joe Eigo, a Canadian martial-arts expert, executes flips and high-kicks like a character from a video game, has chalked up $25,000 worth of views for him.

    Several painting demonstrations, using canisters of spray paint, have earned Brandon McConnell, a former zoo groundskeeper, almost $10,000. One element of success, he says, is choosing an intriguing image for the still-frame that represents each video on a site, enticing visitors to play it.

    ''I try to think about what's going to cause people to say, 'What's that?' '' Mr. McConnell said.

    And he did not want his day job to get in the way. In December, he resigned from the San Diego Zoo to make videos full time. ''Lately,'' he said, ''I've been trying to do one video a day, and make that a goal.''

....................

Okay, then: six sites (metacafe, Revver, blip, brightcove, DivXstage6 and cruxy) were mentioned above that appear worth investigating.

I'm assigning my crack research team to drill down and bring me their assessment of where we (Humphrey and moi) stand the best chance.

You'll be hearing more on this subject.

Stay tuned.

Or drop out.

Doesn't much matter, really.

February 28, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Would you park your Ferrari outdoors in the winter?

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Look at the photo above.

What do you see?

I see a picture captioned "golf-ball-size hailstones from a brief storm that hit a small area at Cape Canaveral on Monday left divots on the space shuttle Atlantis's external fuel tank."

Long story short, according to Marc Kaufman's article in today's Washington Post: "The hail left as many as 7,000 dings and divots in the external fuel tank's insulating foam.... All have to be examined and, if necessary, repaired."

In order to do that, NASA is going to roll the shuttle back to the Kennedy Space Center's assembly building "for a detailed inspection that will determine how long the repairs will take."

No matter what they find, NASA officials have already cancelled the shuttle's planned mid-March launch as a result of the damage, noting they now hope to go in April or May, "although it could take longer."

Like I said in the headline — would you leave your $250,000 Ferrari outside if you knew a winter storm were coming?

Or maybe put it in the garage instead?

Hard to believe the geniuses at NASA couldn't figure out a quick and dirty way to shield their spaceship, which I'd estimate probably costs five billion dollars — give or take a billion or two.

February 28, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Baking Illustrated — First cookbook ever reviewed in Wired magazine?

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Well?

Can you name another one?

Here's what the new (March, 2007) Wired magazine's Playlist section had to say about the book:

    Baking Illustrated

    If you need to be convinced that cooking is chemistry, here's your textbook. The genius of "Baking Illustrated" — brought to you by the white coats at Cook's Illustrated magazine — is that each classic recipe is preceded by an article that both describes how the authors used chemistry to perfect the concoction and explores some of the mysteries of baking. (Why use Dutch-processed cocoa? What's the deal of baking powder? How can you fake buttermilk with vinegar?) And the food is as top-notch as the science: One recipe ended a Wired editor's 25-year quest for the perfect chocolate-chip cookie.

....................

$23.10 at Amazon.

Note to file: Forward this post to Phillip Torrone over at MAKE magazine.

February 28, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tooth Tunes — 'The toothbrush that puts music in your mouth'

Tell us more.

What's not to like?

Black-Eyed Peas, Destiny's Child, Aly & AJ, Jamiroquai, Jesse McCartney, Kelly Clarkson, Hilary Duff, The Beach Boys, KISS, Queen, Smash Mouth or The Cheetah Girls will happily serenade you while you brusha brusha brusha.

Loud enough to drown out the voices emanating from your fillings.

Flautist — as they say down at the Budweiser plant — this one's for you.

Only $9.99 wherever they're sold.

BYOT*

*Bring your own toothpaste ('cause it's not included)

[via Kathleen Hom and the February 27, 2007 Washington Post Health section]

February 28, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Where's your plane?

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Del Quentin Wilber reviewed real-time flight location websites in this past Sunday's Washington Post Travel section front page story.

Long story short: Using these sites, you can often find out more about a flight's status/location than from the airline operating it.

The consensus of frequent users polled by Wilber was the four sites: FlightAware (www.flightaware.com), FlightView (www.flightview.com), Flight Explorer (www.flightexplorer.com) and FlightStats (www.flightstats.com) stood above the rest.

Here's the article.

    Stranded Fliers Turn To Web Sites

    When winter storms struck the Midwest and East Coast this month, savvy fliers didn't turn just to the airlines for help. Thousands went to privately run Web sites to check on delays and to track the flight paths of the first jets to escape the city's snowbound airport.

    Frequent fliers mostly find the sites helpful in planning trips and avoiding delays. But those who follow the airline industry say they expect the sites to become more popular as fliers become frustrated by increasing flight delays and what many think is unreliable information supplied by the airlines.

    "Passengers are getting savvier and getting less dependent on the airlines," said Michael MacNair, chief executive of MacNair Travel Management and author of "Smooth Landings," a book on managing business travel. "The airlines don't have as many people available to track flights and provide that information to travelers. So they have to do it themselves, and these are some of the tools where they can get the information they need."

    All the sites are free and are supported by advertising and sales of data to companies such as limousine services.

    The sites, which rely on government radar and flight plan data, track planes from takeoff to touchdown. They show a map that plots a plane's location, its path and information about its speed, altitude and estimated arrival time.

    To track a flight on the sites, users need the airline and flight number or the flight's destination and arrival airports. Some of the sites publish maps depicting air traffic near airports. Others will send users e-mail or text messages about a plane's takeoff or landing.

    A plane's location on a site's map is not precise enough to compromise security, the companies say.

    Many frequent fliers agree that one of the best sites is run by FlightAware (www.flightaware.com/), a Houston company that started operation in 2005. The site has about 1 million unique visitors each month and saw a 34 percent increase in visits during the Denver snowstorm on Dec. 21 and 22, chief executive Daniel Baker said.

    Fliers say they have found the site useful, especially to track planes carrying their friends or relatives. David Gilmore, a computer researcher in Portland, Ore., used FlightAware a few months ago when his parents were flying in to visit him.

    The United Airlines Web site said the plane had left its gate in Chicago, but its estimated arrival time changed by an hour or so every few minutes. Gilmore suspected that the flight hadn't taken off yet. He logged on to FlightAware, confirmed his suspicion and monitored the site until it reported that the plane was in the air.

    "United's site eventually caught up, but it took a while," he said.

    By studying the previous tracks of a flight he would like to take, Gilmore has used the site to help him select his seat. He said he didn't want to miss pretty scenery by sitting on the wrong side of the plane.

    Other fliers said they use the site to figure out whether an airport is experiencing delays so they can alter travel plans to avoid the snarls. Some have even found ways to track the jet that they will be getting on later in the day. This gives them a better sense of whether they will depart on time, they said.

    Frequent fliers who were asked about tracking sites also praised these three: Flight Explorer (www.flightexplorer.com/), FlightView (www.flightview.com/) and FlightStats (www.flightstats.com/).

    FlightStats provides easy-to-use graphics that show the on-time performance of flights. It will even rank the on-time performance of all flights between selected airports and send you text-message alerts about a flight's departure and arrival.

    FlightView sells a $19.95 screen saver that displays constantly updated flight tracks of departures and arrivals across the country or at airports.

    The sites, including FlightAware, do not generally provide all the information that fliers and their relatives might need to meet people at airports. They track flights only after they are in the air and do not say why a flight is delayed. Most of the sites don't provide gate information.

....................

I had occasion to try these sites out a few weeks ago when a friend's daughter's plane was en route to Houston, where they live.

The flight was due in at 2:30 p.m. and he was waiting at the gate but at 2:35 p.m. the airport's arrival status screens for the flight read "On time" and no plane had pulled up to the gate.

We were chatting on the phone so I went online to see what I could see.

Two websites said the plane had landed and two had no record it ever existed.

At 3:05 p.m. his daughter called him to say the plane had landed on time but had been directed to a distant gate at the Houston airport because the planned arrival gate was "unavailable."

So, in a way, all four websites were correct, as was the airport's information.

The plane had landed; therefore the flight no longer existed; and it had touched down on time.

Yet my friend hadn't a clue as to its whereabouts.

Strange world.

A sidebar to Wilber's article described each of the four featured tracking sites.

February 28, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

RedZee.com — World's weirdest search engine home page

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See for yourself.

February 28, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Golf — In China, it's considered the new 'opiate of the people'

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You could look it up.

In yesterday's (February 27, 2007) Financial Times, Richard McGregor wrote about the newest bête noire of the Chinese government.

The Internet is so last year.

Here's the article.

    Golf enthusiasts in a hole as China brands sport ‘green opium’

    During difficult moments in talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, China's chief negotiator, Wu Dawei, sometimes slipped away to thrash out problems over a round of golf with his South Korean counterpart.

    Such out-of-work encounters should come as no surprise. More than anywhere, golf is the Asian political and business networking sport of choice, and a staple of top-level dealmaking.

    In Japan, politicians can signal a new alliance by playing together publicly. In south-east Asia, ministerial meetings are often preceded by a round of golf to build a convivial atmosphere.

    But Mr Wu's games, disclosed to the Financial Times by participants in the talks, have gone unpublicised in China, for good reason. Golf has an image problem in China, and no senior official would dare be caught playing the game in public.

    Golf has expanded in the past quarter of a century in China since the re-opening of the economy to the world. The country has 312 courses and about 300,000 regular players - only about 0.02 per cent of the 1.3bn population. "The percentage of the population that plays golf here might as well be zero," said Dennis Allen, the regional manager for TaylorMade, the golf equipment manufacturer, owned by Adidas.

    But just when it should be taking off by Asian standards, the game is on the wrong side of the country's political campaigns and has become indelibly linked with corruption. A senior official, Hao Heping, who had been in charge of state purchases of medical equipment, was convicted of taking bribes of $64,000 (£32,000) in the form of golf course memberships. The deadpan report by Xinhua, the official news agency, noted that Mr Hao had not kept a mistress. "His only hobby was golf, and he travelled around the country to play with public funds or money taken in bribes," Xinhua reported.

    Since coming to power in 2002, Hu Jintao, China's president, has focused on a number of issues: the gap between rich and poor; the plight of farmers; and the environment, including water.

    Golf runs up against all three. It is expensive and elitist, takes scarce supplies of arable land off impoverished farmers, and uses large quantities of both water and environmentally unfriendly pesticides and fertilisers.

    A round of golf in China costs anything between $100 and $250, and course memberships, tens of thousands of dollars. With annual average incomes even in the wealthy coastal cities about $1,500, it is not hard to see where golf's elitist image comes from.

    Such expense makes the game a sitting target for critics. A hitherto obscure official in coastal Jiangsu province got national publicity in China last month when he called on the Communist party's anti-graft unit to investigate anyone who played golf.

    The party already sends circulars to officials warning them not to play (tennis is considered more acceptable). And golf clubs are taxed as a luxury item, along with jewellery, expensive watches and yachts.

    So dimly is golf viewed that the official media branded the game "green opium", a pointed reference to the addictive drug associated with China's capitulation to foreigners in the 19th century.

    Such slurs make the people in the business of golf, like Mr Allen, tear out their hair. "We need to get to people of influence to prove that golf is not an evil thing," said Mr Allen, in Beijing this month to sign a sponsorship agreement with the China Golf Association. “If we could go back 10 or 15 years and start over, we would have done everything possible not to turn it into an exclusive sport for the rich and famous.”

    Mr Allen believes that as China gets richer, golf will be as big as in the rest of Asia. He is probably right. The Chinese are practised at working around restrictions, and while the central government has issued an edict against golf courses, localities competing for investment feel they cannot be without one, or two. They approve courses, as part of villa developments or under the guise of promoting sport and healthy outdoor activities.

    The courses are developing new tricks to keep off the radar screen as well. In Beijing, they offer customers the choice of alternative receipts when paying fees: one that records money spent on golf, or the second, more popular option, a receipt that says it was spent at a restaurant.

....................

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Save your money — your GolfPunk magazine will never make it to your Shanghai mailbox.

February 28, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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