The obligatory ReplayTV post

Salon has a good piece about ReplayTV by Farhad Manjoo: Replay it again, Sam. In it, the author points out that every episode of Seinfeld (there are 180 in all) would fit on a $100 disk. The market for syndicated television programming is kept scarce by carefully managed distribution rights, thereby making cash cows out of popular shows in syndication. And so it was that this summer Turner Broadcasting was willing to pay $180 million for the syndication rights to Seinfeld, an unprecedented sum of money. That they did so just as the Napsterization of TV was getting well underway explains the widely ridiculed statement by Jamie Kellner, the CEO of Turner Broadcasting, “Your contract with the network when you get the show is you’re going to watch the spots,” he said. “Otherwise you couldn’t get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial … you’re actually stealing the programming.” He sees $180 million going straight down the toilet, because chances are, in another year or so you’ll be getting all the Seinfeld you can eat from somebody other than Jamie Kellner. Poor Jamie Kellner. He’s making sense and he’s not making sense at the same time. Somebody’s going to get hurt.

Hollywood, like the music business before it, is lashing out like a blind beast that knows only that it is in pain and in grave and mortal danger. In Hollywood, they understand lawyers much better than they understand engineers, but ultimately neither will save them.
Once again, Microsoft has the trump card here (though Apple is on a similar course), as you can read in this CNET article: Microsoft reveals media XP details. By making the TV just part of your regular old computer setup, you get a lovely software VCR/TV for free, effectively. If the software isn’t quite as nifty as TiVo or ReplayTV, it will be soon enough. You don’t need to pay TiVo. You don’t need to pay Jamie Kellner. You’ve already sold your soul to Bill Gates, so you don’t even have to suffer that indignity. I feel bad for Jamie Kellner, I really do. The same way I feel bad for Atlantic Records. I don’t know who’s going to pay for all that programming, but it’s time to buy some more Microsoft stock.

Las Ketchup is coming your way, and you don’t even know it

If you could peel back your skull and peek at the synaptic fireworks inside, it would probably resemble the view from a search voyeur page. Search voyeur pages, like the one at Metaspy, show in real time the phrases that people are typing into search engines. At Metaspy, you can choose the censored version or the spicy version, but if you’re interested in understanding the global brain, you really need to take in the full view. Predictably the world spends a lot of time searching for sex. Metatiger also has a search voyeur page. The searchers are mostly German, so given the aforementioned nature of most of the searches, this page is a good place to pick up helpful German phrases. There used to be lots more voyeur pages, but since they are diversions rather than revenue generators (not to mention matters of privacy and offensive content), it’s easy to see why they’ve mostly disappeared. Nevertheless, I find them completely riveting.

Several people forwarded me this article from the New York Times: Postcards From Planet Google. Google doesn’t have a search voyeur page, but apparently they have something like it at their headquarters. They also make a weekly compilation page, called the Google Zeitgeist (which for some reason they make difficult to find). The people at Google probably have as good idea as anybody in history ever has about what the world is collectively thinking about. Right. Now. Watching the ebb and flow of large-scale trends is interesting in itself, sort of like reading People magazine (“Michael Jackson is down this week, but digital cameras are up up up!”). Watching individual searches go by can also be surprisingly poignant. Every search is a snapshot of thought, a story, and the multitude of stories gives you a fine sense of the vastness and richness of the (frequently horny) world.
Here’s someone fishing for the answer to a homework assignment: comparison huck finn gods must be crazy. Here’s an unhappy person: declaring bankruptcy in Canada. And a puzzled person: pros and cons of alcoholism.

Amusing searches are all well and good, but what predictive value does a search engine have? The New York Times article ends with these words:

Google’s worldwide scope means that the company can track ideas and phenomena as they hop from country to country.
Take Las Ketchup, a trio of singing sisters who became a sensation in Spain last spring with a gibberish song and accompanying knee-knocking dance similar to the Macarena.
Like a series of waves, Google searches for Las Ketchup undulated through Europe over the summer and fall, first peaking in Spain, then Italy, then Germany and France. “The Ketchup Song (Hey Hah)” has already topped the charts in 18 countries. In late summer, Google’s logs show, Las Ketchup searches began a strong upward climb in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.

Haven’t heard of Las Ketchup? If you haven’t, Google predicts you soon will.

Rarely asked, frequently viewed

Every month I get a site traffic analysis report for so I can see and better understand what you, the hard-working web surfer (or tireless Google index bot) enjoy reading. In general there are few surprises, but every now and then I see something that is a little puzzling to work out. A piece I wrote on alchemy back in 1996 is a perennial favorite, probably because it managed to get linked to from a popular alchemy website. But this month’s puzzler is the Star Chamber Rarely-Asked-Questions List. It’s getting a huge amount of traffic and I can’t figure out why. I’m happy for the eyeballs, just curious how they happened to roll my way. But I suppose that’s always the trick, figuring out that last bit.

In the meantime, if you have any rarely asked questions you’d like me to add to the list, let me know.

Enron or Disney?

Here’s a good post-apocalypse tale: as reported in, Enron designed a fake trading floor whose sole purpose was to fool investors and stock analysts.

“It was an elaborate Hollywood production that we went through every year when the analysts were going to be there to impress them to make our stock go up,” former employee Carol Elkin said. […] Elkin said that it was all an act, and that no trades were actually made there. The people on the phones were talking to each other.

Truth informs fiction and fiction informs truth. It all makes me wonder how deep the deception went. Is it possible that even as they designed these trading rooms they knew it was a front? That seems incredible, but then again, what has already been revealed seems incredible. To some extent we all live on a movie set, and a variety of appealing fictions can be painfully withdrawn at any point. Disney specializes in blurring fact and fantasy into an indistinguishable amalgam, but greatly to their credit, Disney will actually give you behind-the-scenes tours that show how it all works: where the garbage goes, how the character actors get around, where the Freemasons meet to control the global economy, and so on.

In fact, reality tours are quite popular these days. From the Harry Potter tour of London to the Seinfeld Reality Tour of New York, you can take in show business presentations of real world locations where show business incidents took place. Whether or not these incidents “really” took place is open to philosophical interpretation. Who knows where the ground floor is anymore? Which leads us back to where we started: can we look forward to an Enron reality tour that showcases the talents of master showman Jeff Skilling, his faux high-tech trading floor, and the breathtaking special-effects magic of his artists in accounting?