Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Google planning on getting into ebooks in a big way

We've been having life-changing ebook experiences of one form or another promised to us for what seems like forever, but it really could be just around the corner this time, honest -- though the whole life-changing thing is still debatable at this point. It turns out Google is pressing forward with its Google Book Search service, and planning to roll out full-on ebook sales "sooner rather than later," with downloadable books available to computer screens and mobile devices.

Of course, with Sony already in the game, and Amazon prepping downloads of its own, it's not like Google will be doing this all by its lonesome, but some innovative features like the proposed rental and single-chapter purchase schemes could garner interest in the Google offering, not to mention the whole "Google world domination" thing.

It seems like the primary obstacle at this point for Google is the publishing associations that still haven't decided they're so hot for Google throwing up the contents of books online for open searchability, but we have a feeling they'll come around soon enough, or Google will just go ahead with the licensees it already has -- which with buddies like Penguin, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster already warm to the book searching, probably won't be insubstantial.
A "Mooninite" was hoisted into place in Boston.

Turner was promoting Adult Swim's animated television show 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' in Boston and nine other cities, according to a statement by Shirley Powell, a company spokeswoman. At left, a State Police bomb squad officer removed a device bearing the image of an 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' character from the McGrath Highway in Somerville.
Suspicious packages part of Turner Broadcasting marketing campaign

By Mac Daniel, John Ellement, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

Turner Broadcasting acknowledged late this afternoon that the suspicious objects that ignited fears of bombs across Boston today were magnetic lights that were part of an outdoor marketing campaign for an adult cartoon.

Turner was promoting Adult Swim's animated television show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" in Boston and nine other cities, according to a statement e-mailed by Shirley Powell, a company spokeswoman.

"Parent company Turner Broadcasting is in contact with local and federal law enforcement on the exact locations of the billboards," the e-mail statement said. "We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger."

Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement that he was "deeply dismayed" by the "stunt."

"I understand that Turner Broadcasting has purported to apologize for this," Patrick said. "I intend nonetheless to consult with the Attorney General and other advisors about what recourse we may have."

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino also blasted the company.

"I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today's incidents," Menino said in a statement. "Boston will look to coordinate our efforts going forward with Cambridge, Somerville and any other affected agencies."

"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" airs late at night and involves animated characters that are depicted as fast food products, including a ball of ground meat, French fries, and a milk shake.

The objects that had been placed on bridges and other infrastructure across the city are patterns of lighted dots in the shape of boxy characters on the cartoon show. The flashing lights are on black rectangles a little larger than laptops.

The boxy characters are named Err and Ignignokt and appear to be raising their middle fingers and giving obscene gestures. Err is described on the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" website as "rebellious and angry."

Crews are in the process of removing the devices from overpasses and other locations throughout the city. Turner Broadcasting's statement said the objects had been in place for two to three weeks in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

Today's chaos began at 8:05 a.m. when an MBTA passenger noticed what was described as an object with wires and tubes stuck on a steel support girder underneath Interstate 93 about 12 to 15 feet above the bus depot at Sullivan Square Station in Charlestown.

Transit police Lieutenant Salvatore Venturelli said this morning that the object had some components consistent with an improvised explosive device such as an electronic circuit board, but he made it clear it was not a bomb.

At about 1 p.m., Boston police received reports of similar devices throughout the metropolitan area at locations that included the Longfellow and BU bridges and New England Medical Center.

Shortly after 4 p.m., as city and state officials held a press conference to try to quell fears, Turner Broadcasting issued a statement taking responsibility for the stunt.

Eight of the electronic devices
were mistaken for bombs today in Boston and two other sparked fears in Somerville and Cambridge, according to Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis.
Profit for Google Nearly Triples

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007; D01

Google said yesterday that its fourth-quarter profit nearly tripled from a year ago, as the world's most popular search engine continued to expand its dominant role on the Web, especially in the highly lucrative area of online advertising.

The company said its profit increased to $1.03 billion from $372.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2005. Revenue reached $3.21 billion, up 67 percent. For the year, profit more than doubled, to $3.08 billion from $1.47 billion, while revenue rose 73 percent, to $10.6 billion.

Chief executive Eric E. Schmidt attributed the company's success to its search engine. "Search is getting better and better as we continue to innovate around the globe," he said in a conference call with analysts.

Search has become the main way users navigate the Web. It has also helped revolutionize the marketing business through ads tailored to match specific search requests.

The eight-year-old Mountain View, Calif., company has inexorably widened its lead over other search engines despite rivals' intensive efforts to improve their offerings. During the past two years, Google's share of U.S. searches expanded to 47 percent from 35 percent while Yahoo's slipped to less than 29 percent from 32 percent and Microsoft's fell to less 11 percent from 16 percent, according to ComScore Networks. Worldwide, Google is even more dominant, with 65 percent of all searches, according to ComScore.

Google's stellar earnings contrasted with far less encouraging results last week from Yahoo and Microsoft. Yahoo reported a 61 percent drop in quarterly profit as it continued to fall further behind in the contest for search-related ad revenue. Though Microsoft fared better, its executives acknowledged that they were unhappy with their declining share of the search-based-ad market.

The New York Times
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January 31, 2007

Megastores March Up Avenue, and Paris Takes to Barricades

PARIS, Jan. 30 — There was a time when the Champs-Élysées stood for grand living, high style and serendipity. With the Arc de Triomphe on one end and the Tuileries Gardens on the other, you could discover an underground jazz band at midnight and down oysters and Champagne at dawn.

But the road where de Gaulle celebrated France’s liberation from the Nazis, the one known as “the most beautiful avenue on earth,” has, like Times Square and Oxford Street in London, turned into a commercialized money trap.

Most of the music clubs are gone. Movie theaters are closing. Sometimes, all that seems to be left on the 1.2-mile stretch are the global chain stores that can afford the rent.

And so, in a truly French moment, the Paris city government has begun to push back, proclaiming a crisis of confidence and promising a plan aimed at stopping the “banalization” of the Champs-Élysées. The question is whether it is too late.

The first step was a decision last month to ban the Swedish clothing giant H&M from opening a megastore on the avenue.

The decision is intended to slow the invasion of retail clothing stores and to preserve what is left of the diverse character of the most visited site in France, after the Eiffel Tower.

“We were losing our sense of balance,” said François Lebel, a deputy mayor who administers the part of the city that includes the Champs-Élysées. “Drastic action was needed. We don’t have anything against H&M. It just happens to be the first victim.”

In a sense, the avenue is a victim of its own success. With rents as high as $1.2 million a year for 1,000 square feet of space, the Champs-Élysées is the most expensive strip of real estate in Europe and the third most expensive in the world, after Fifth Avenue in New York and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, making it impossible for most small businesses to even consider setting up shop there.

Multinationals have no such problem. Adidas opened its largest store in the world on the Champs-Élysées last fall. Gap, Benetton, Naf Naf, the Disney Store, Nike, Zara, a Virgin Megastore and Sephora occupy major spaces. Car manufacturers including Toyota, Renault and Peugeot have huge showrooms that display flashy prototypes and serve largely as walk-in advertisements. Low-end fast-food chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Quick do high-volume business.

And things seem only to be getting more expensive. The opening of luxury showpieces like Cartier in 2003, Louis Vuitton’s five-story flagship store in 2005 and the Fouquet’s Barrière hotel last year (the least expensive room is nearly $900 a night) have given the avenue new glitter.

Round-the-clock saturation of the street by teams of uniformed and plainclothes police officers — in buses and cars, on in-line skates and foot — has made it safer for its up to 500,000 visitors a day. Armies of street cleaners compensate for the scarcity of garbage bins, a grim reminder of the terrorist bombings on the avenue two decades ago.

Only seven movie theaters are left, however, half the number of a dozen years ago. The UGC Triomphe has announced that it will close in the next few months unless its landlord backs down from the rent increase it has demanded.

Jean-Jacques Schpoliansky, the owner of the independent Le Balzac movie theater just off the Champs-Élysées, greets customers seven days a week to give his business a personal touch.

His rent is 15 times what it was in 1973. But the three-screen theater shows “artistic” movies, so the city gives it an annual subsidy of almost $39,000 to help it stay in business. He says he still doesn’t break even.

“My grandfather founded the Balzac in 1935,” Mr. Schpoliansky said. “This place, the human contact with my customers — this is my life.”

Many other merchants lament that the move to save the avenue has come too late. “High-class Parisians don’t want to come to the Champs-Élysées,” said Serge Ghnassia, owner of the fur shop Milady, which opened on the Champs-Élysées in 1933. “It’s not prestigious; it’s not pleasant. The people who come are very common, very ordinary, very cheap. They come for a kebab sandwich and a five-euro T-shirt.”

He said he kept the store largely for sentimental reasons, as a sort of shop window to advertise his more upscale stores on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré and in the ski resort of Courchevel.

Underlying some of that resentment is that groups of young people descend on the Champs-Élysées from the working-class immigrant suburbs on weekend nights. The police keep a close watch on them, monitoring their moves.

But some old-timers praise the avenue as a sort of democratic — and free — tourist destination for the underprivileged. “The kids coming from the suburbs are coming from the suburbs to look, to see, to escape the places where they live,” Mr. Schpoliansky said. “We are a multiethnic country, and that reality is reflected on our street.”

The Champs-Élysées was conceived in 1667 as a grand approach to the royal palace at the Tuileries in what were then fields and swampland on the outskirts of Paris. In the 19th century, it was planted with elms, renamed after the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology and lined with hotels, cafes and luxurious private residences.

But the divide between the landmark avenue’s mythic image and its gritty commercialism has troubled Parisians for much of the last century.

The prosperity of the 1960s in France attracted airline companies, car dealerships, fast-food restaurants, panhandlers, streetwalkers and badly parked cars. Rents plummeted and many commercial spaces stayed empty.

In 1990, Jacques Chirac, who was then the mayor of Paris, began a $45 million renovation project that broadened sidewalks, planted more trees, eliminated parking lanes and added elegant streetlamps and bus stops.

Some of the older enterprises use creative ways to stay in business. The 24-hour restaurant L’Alsace is on the ground floor of the Maison de l’Alsace, a tourism and promotion bureau financed by the Alsace regional government.

Fouquet’s, one of the avenue’s few remaining belle époque restaurants, resisted a nasty takeover bid years ago and has been officially designated by the city of Paris as a “place of memory” to preserve its position on the avenue.

Louis Vuitton is so popular that its customers (most of them tourists) often have to line up outside for entry.

All that activity has made the unanimous decision by the city’s commerce committee to block admission to H&M particularly stunning.

H&M, which already has nine stores in Paris, had hired Jean Nouvel, a leading French architect, to design the 37,000-square-foot space in what once housed offices of Club Med.

The company has suggested that it will appeal.

But the ruling followed a study for the city of Paris last November that found that 39 percent of the avenue’s street-front retail space was filled with clothing stores.

“The avenue progressively is losing its exceptional and symbolic character, thus its attractiveness,” the study warned, predicting that if the trend continued, the Champs-Élysées would become as tacky as Oxford Street.

That gloomy assessment is not shared by Christophe Pinguet, the director of the Shortcut public relations agency and one of the two dozen remaining residents of the Champs-Élysées. From the terrace of his top-floor apartment, Mr. Pinguet looks out on the Eiffel Tower, the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.

“I know shops nobody knows,” he said. “I know the butcher who delivers meat to Jacques Chirac. I know the police who dress like spies. Sure, the Champs-Élysées can be cheap. But it’s not a museum. The battle shouldn’t be to keep H&M out. It should be to make sure it’s fabulous.”

The clothing chain H&M was not permitted to open a store in this building on the Champs-Élysées.

Suspicious Packages Were Part of Marketing Ploy


- At least nine electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what a cable network said was a marketing campaign for a late-night cartoon.

Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless.

"It's a hoax - and it's not funny," said Gov. Deval Patrick.

Turner Broadcasting, parent company of Cartoon Network, said the devices, which consisted of magnetic, blinking lights, were part of a promotion for the TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

"The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," Turner said in a statement. It said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

"We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger," the company said.

Police said only that they were investigating where the device came from. The Department of Homeland Security said there are no credible reports of other devices being found elsewhere in the country.

The exact nature of the objects was not disclosed. But authorities said some looked like circuit boards or had wires hanging from them.

The first device was found at a subway and bus station underneath Interstate 93, forcing the shutdown of the station and the highway.

Later, police said four calls reported devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, both of which span the Charles River, at a Boston street corner and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center.

The package near the Boston University bridge was found attached to a structure beneath the span, authorities said.

Subway service across the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge was briefly suspended, and Storrow Drive was closed as well.

At least some of the devices resemble one of the villains on "Aqua Teen," part of Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim lineup.

The show follows the misadventures of a carton of french fries, a milkshake and a wad of hamburger meat who live together in a run-down suburban house. A feature-length film version of the show is scheduled to come out in March.

Messages seeking comment were left with several publicists for the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network.

New York teen sues record industry

'Pirate' boy bites back

Illustration By Dustin Ingalls

By Nick Farrell: Wednesday 31 January 2007, 16:15

A New York teen, dubbed a pirate by the Record Industry, is counter suing them for defamation, violating anti-trust laws, conspiring to defraud the courts and making extortionate threats.

In papers responding to a lawsuit filed by five record companies, Robert Santangelo, who was 11 when he is supposed to have downloaded music, has come out fighting. He denies sharing music using P2P technology and says it's impossible for the record companies to prove that that he did.

Robert Santangelo and his lawyer, Jordan Glass, have raised 32 defences against the music industry's charges. Amongst Robert's defence is the information that all the music that it was claimed he downloaded he already owned on shop bought CDs.

They have demanded a jury trial and filing a counterclaim against the companies for allegedly damaging the boy's reputation, distracting him from school and costing him legal fees. The record companies have engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud the courts of the United States, the court documents say. Competitors in the recording industry are a cartel acting together in violation of the antitrust laws by bringing the piracy cases jointly and using the same agency "to make extortionate threats ... to force defendants to pay", our precocious teen wrote.

Santangelo's mum, Patti Santangelo, is 42-year-old suburban mother of five who also refused to pay up when the music industry accused her of being a pirate. After the case started to get messy, particularly when it became clear that Patti didn't know how to turn a computer on, let alone file share, the music lawyers dropped its case against her.

Google Cedes Online Video to YouTube
January 26, 2007

By Andrew Wallenstein

Google Video is finally making room for YouTube.

Months after closing its $1.65 billion acquisition of the viral video site, Google said Thursday that Google Video will focus more on video search than hosting content, largely ceding that function to YouTube.

"Ultimately, we envision most user-generated and premium video content being hosted on YouTube so that it can further enhance the YouTube experience," the company said on its corporate blog. "We also envision YouTube benefiting from future Google Video innovations -- especially those involving video search, monetization and distribution."

When Google announced that it would acquire YouTube, CEO Eric Schmidt surprised industry observers by noting that Google Video would not be shut down in favor of YouTube even though they were competitive offerings. Until now, the company offered no indication of how it would resolve the duplication of duties.

In an interview this month at the NATPE convention in Las Vegas, Google vp content partnerships David Eun hinted that the two sites would come together in some complementary fashion.

Google Video will now focus on the company's core competency -- search -- and not just on YouTube but for all online video. Previously, a search on Google Video only yielded video from the site itself.

Google Video will continue to exist as a repository for content, as it has since January 2006, when charter members including CBS Corp. and the NBA signed on and provided programming for download. But any such deals in the future likely will be centered at YouTube, which will rely on Google not only for search links but also advertising via its AdSense model.

YouTube also released a statement Thursday in response to the subpoena it was served Wednesday by 20th Century Fox, which requested the identity of a subscriber who uploaded episodes of "24" and "The Simpsons" to the site.

"Fox alerted us to the videos, and per our policies on copyrighted material, we removed them promptly," the company said. "Subsequently, we received a subpoena and will comply with valid U.S. legal process. As a matter of policy, we do not publicly discuss legal matters."

A YouTube spokeswoman declined comment as to whether the site handed over information to Fox regarding the subscriber.
Clive Cussler Hates 'Sahara' - Now He Will Sue!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Okay, I was a firm believer that Sahara sucked. When I reviewed it I gave it a very kind "C-" but that was back in the days before I started seeing every movie. Now my grading scale has changed a bit and any movie starring Penelope Cruz as a U.N. medical investigator and neurologist already starts off losing major points in my book. However, it seems I was not the only one that had beef with this pic as Clive Cussler, the fella whose book they took and turned into crap, is suing producer Philip Anschutz's company, Crusader Entertainment, claiming his extensive rights of approval over the script and other aspects of the film were violated.

Oh Dolly! Gotta love it.

Back when this film was released, the Internet junketeers were all like, "So, is there going to be a sequel?" Then the answer would come, "Not sure, we'll have to wait and see how this one does, but I would love to!" Yeah right! No one thought this movie was very good and when the author of the book has to sue you two years later it doesn't look so hot.

...But wait! There is more to the story...

Anschutz is calling "bullshit" on Cussler's claim saying that Cussler virtually blackmailed the company by refusing to give script approval and that he tanked the movie by disparaging it in public.

Ha! Okay, maybe he did talk shit about it in public, I didn't hear about it, but there was an LA Times article back in December that I didn't see that talks about this very same subject. However in that article there are some serious numbers and accusations going down:

  • [Anschutz] agreed to pay $10 million per book for rights to the best-selling Dirk Pitt adventure novels, he gave author Clive Cussler extraordinary creative control over "Sahara".
  • [Anschutz] has since lost about $105 million to date on the film.
  • "They deceived me right from the beginning," Cussler testified. "They kept lying to me … and I just got fed up with it."
  • "It is the height of arrogance for Cussler to take $10 million to make a movie and then torpedo the franchise," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's attorney.
Now that is the tame stuff, it actually gets racial!

Next comes this bit:

Anschutz also alleges that Cussler made derogatory remarks about blacks and Jews while exercising his approvals.
What does Cussler's lawyer, Bertram Fields, say about this? "They want to get these charges in front of a jury," Fields said, "so blacks and Jews will hate him."

Seriously, this is insane. I have no idea if Cussler's script was good or not, but I can't imagine it would have been some miracle that would have saved this mess. The trial is expected to take nine weeks, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shook told potential jurors Monday.

I am sure there will be some silly little outcome, but the girl fight before the trial just sounded like too much fun not to share. However, I now see why Paramount pumps this movie as much as they can, trying to earn at least a dollar back.

SF Gate
Beach Boys' Legal Battle Continues

By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Beach Boys used to sing about endless summers. These days, at least two of them seem to be caught up in endless litigation. The latest round came Tuesday when a judge rejected Beach Boys' singer Mike Love's motion to rule in his favor in Love's lawsuit against former bandmate Al Jardine.

Instead, Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn ruled there was sufficient evidence for the matter to go to trial.

Dunn didn't immediately set a trial date, but Jardine's lawyer, Lawrence Noble, said he told attorneys for both sides to get in touch with him by the end of February to let him know the status of the dispute.

"The judge will then decide on a trial date, or if there should be mediation or additional motions," Noble said Wednesday. "Hopefully, this case will go away and Al Jardine can focus on making his music for his fans and not fending off this litigation."

Love's attorney, Phil Stillman, did not return a call for comment.

The Love-Jardine legal battle dates to 2001, when Jardine filed a $4 million action against Love and the Beach Boys' Brother Records Inc., alleging Love excluded him from concerts that year. The complaint was eventually dismissed and Love sued Jardine in 2003.

Dunn threw out part of Love's suit last September but allowed him to continue to seek $2 million in court costs and $1 million in earnings he says Jardine wrongly was paid for using the Beach Boys' name.

Love maintains only he has the legal right to perform under the name, and federal courts ruled in 2003 that Jardine must stop using Beach Boys in the title of his other bands. He had been performing under such names as Beach Boys Family & Friends and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, but now calls his group Al Jardine's Endless Summer Band.

The Beach Boys were founded in 1961 by brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Love and Brian Wilson's friend Jardine.

Dennis Wilson died in 1983 and Carl Wilson died in 1998.

Brian Wilson continues to tour and record with his own band, and Jardine recently joined him for a tour featuring performances of the Beach Boys' classic album "Pet Sounds." He plans to be back on the road this summer with Jardine's Endless Summer Band.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Vista Arrives in Changed Landscape
Microsoft Faces Web Competitors

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; D01

About a decade ago, Microsoft's Windows made up the brains of nearly every computer. It trounced the competition, and people lined up to buy the latest version of the signature software.

Microsoft now stands in a different place. Its release today of its Windows Vista operating system for consumers comes at a time when it is losing ground to Web-based competitors like Google. Moreover, the company faces a multi-front war on games, search and Internet advertising, as well as for its core Windows products.

So much rides on the release of Vista that Microsoft has launched an unprecedented global campaign estimated at up to half a billion dollars to market a product that has lost much of its sex appeal but remains essential to the company's financial well-being and its strategy for countering the challenge from Internet companies offering competing services over the Web.

In China, Microsoft is promoting Vista with a laser display along the Shanghai waterfront while a huge, interactive laptop computer has been erected in Germany. Closer to home, Microsoft has signed such celebrities as NBA star LeBron James to appear in Vista advertisements. Chairman Bill Gates took to the television airwaves yesterday, pitching Vista on the "Today" show by morning and on the "Daily Show With Jon Stewart" by night.

All told, Vista hits shelves this week at more than 39,000 retail locations in more than 30 countries. About 55 hardware and software vendors are marketing the operating system with Microsoft, and some retail chains are offering hourly giveaways for such items as Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console.

Vista's release, which coincides with the consumer debut of Microsoft's latest version of its Office software, is among the most fateful in the company's storied history. These two products represent an overwhelming share of the company's profit and an estimated $12.5 billion in revenue over the past six months.

"Windows and Office are at the heart of the company," said Brad Goldberg, general manager of Windows products. Vista's main selling points include more security features, including encryption and tighter controls on access to the computer, as well as greater flexibility for use on laptops and mobile devices. The software also makes the computer more entertaining by including features to create and play videos and better manage photographs, the company said.

Success defending its flagship products is crucial for Microsoft at a time when relative newcomers, particularly Google, lead with newer consumer services such as search engines and command more Internet advertising revenue.

Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer, for instance, is losing ground to Mozilla's Firefox. Google has introduced Web-based spreadsheets and word-processing services that challenge the core features of Microsoft Office, while Microsoft's free e-mail service, Hotmail, is feeling pressured by similar services such as Yahoo Mail and Google's Gmail. Windows products are used by 96 percent of computers, according to research firm Gartner, but consumers increasingly are adopting Apple's software or Linux's open-source software.

All of this is happening as Microsoft, based in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, Wash., struggles with the existential question of whether it needs to focus less on selling shrink-wrapped products in retail stores and more on free software that can be delivered as a service via the Web. In the past year, Microsoft has tried to push a hybrid approach that doesn't cannibalize its Windows sales but encourages people to also use its free Web services.

Microsoft initially intended to release a new Windows operating system five years ago. But massive development efforts stumbled. Executives acknowledged in 2004 that the problems had become too complicated and restarted the project from scratch. The company repeatedly postponed Vista's debut, much to Wall Street's chagrin. The business version of the software launched in November, but the consumer version was delayed until this month, costing the company potential sales.

"It's incredibly unfortunate that Microsoft missed the holiday shopping season," said Michael Cherry, lead Windows analyst at independent research firm Directions on Microsoft. Now, there will be fiercer competition for consumers with less disposable income, who might have to choose among Vista-equipped computers or high-definition televisions and game consoles, he said.

Though dozens of people lined up in Tokyo yesterday ahead of the midnight release, long gone are the days when a Windows debut engendered the kind of excitement that prompted crowds of buyers across the United States to queue up 12 years ago for a first crack at Windows 95.

Christopher Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer, told analysts last week that the company did not anticipate an immediate spike but expects healthy sales over the next few years.

"This is different from . . . the Windows 95 impact," he said in the quarterly earnings conference call. "We certainly see it being positive but more gradual as it rolls into the marketplace."

Starting today, Vista will come loaded on most personal computers sold by major retailers. And with the personal computer market expanding at about 10 percent a year, Microsoft will probably sell about 75 million copies of Vista in the first year, overwhelmingly to consumers rather than businesses, according to Steve Kleynhans, vice president for client platforms at Gartner. His research firm projected that more than four-fifths of new personal computers worldwide will ship with Vista by next year and more than half of all PCs in use will run Vista by 2009.

"In sheer numbers, this is going to be biggest version of Windows ever. But that's just inertia," because of its built-in base, Kleynhans said. "Will it really dominate the market or change the market in the way earlier versions of Windows did? It remains to be seen."

Most of the advances are "under the covers," or not immediately obvious to users, though these will allow them to run myriad new programs over the Web. As a result, some analysts say, the new operating system is less likely to elicit a cheer of elation than a nod of approval.

Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007

Are the Iranians Out for Revenge?

The speed and level of chaos in Iraq is picking up fast. An apocalyptic cult came uncomfortably close to taking Najaf, one of Shi'a Islam's most holy cities, and murdering Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Sistani is the neo-cons' favorite quietist Shi'a cleric, the man who was supposed to keep Iraq's Shi'a in line while we went about nation building. And then, on Sunday, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad told the New York Times that Iran is in Iraq to stay, whether the Bush Administration likes it or not.

And that's not the worst of it. American forces still hold five members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Arrested by American forces in Erbil on Jan. 11, the Administration has accused the five IRGC members of helping the Iraqi opposition kill Americans.

I've written here before that the IRGC has a long history of calculated violence against its enemies, particularly the United States. The Administration's accusations are plausible. But at the same time the U.S. needs to remember what a serious spoiler the IRGC can be when provoked.

In July 1982, after a Christian Lebanese militia kidnapped the Iranian charge d'affaires in Beirut, the IRGC set in motion a campaign of retaliatory kidnappings, hijackings and assassinations against the U.S. and the West. The Iranian charge was a senior IRGC officer, and the IRGC had no intention of letting his kidnapping go unanswered. The IRGC campaign lasted for more than 10 years and dragged the U.S. into Iran-contra and the arms-for-hostages deal that nearly brought down the Reagan Administration.

Some Iraqis speculate that the IRGC has already started a campaign of revenge with the killing of five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20, nine days after the arrest of the IRGC members in Erbil. As the logic of the rumor goes, five American soldiers were killed for five Iranians taken; Karbala was an IRGC message to release its colleagues — or else.

The speculation that Karbala was an IRGC operation may have as much to do with Iraqis' respect for IRGC capacity for revenge as it does with the truth. Nevertheless, we should count on the IRGC gearing up for a fight. And we shouldn't underestimate its capacities. Aside from arming the opposition, the IRGC is capable of doing serious damage to our logistics lines. I called up an American contractor in Baghdad who runs convoys from Kuwait every day and asked him just how much damage."Let me put it this way,"he said."In Basra today the currency is the Iranian toman, not the Iraqi dinar."He said his convoys now are forced to pay a 40% surcharge to Shi'a militias and Iraqi police in the south, many of whom are affiliated with IRGC.

Mindful of the spreading chaos in Iraq, President Bush has promised not to take the war into Iran. But it won't matter to the IRGC. There is nothing the IRGC likes better than to fight a proxy war in another country.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down.

The Zodiac Killer case is one of America’s great murder mysteries. He terrorized San Francisco between 1968 and 1969, killing at least five people, and continued to taunt the authorities with letters for years to come. His letters contained cryptograms, and three of them remain unsolved to this day.

The letter above is a scan, direct from the San Francisco police evidence files, of the June 26, 1970 letter that Zodiac sent to the San Francisco Chronicle. The cryptogram at the bottom has never been decoded. Cick the image to embiggen it.

On March 2nd Zodiac, David Fincher’s long-awaited movie about the case and the effect it had on the people obsessed with solving it, will finally be released. As part of the campaign to promote the film, Paramount has supplied us with the above scan and have launched a definitive timeline of the Zodiac case on the movie’s website, which you can see by clicking here.

Paris Hilton gets Exposed in 6 New Videos


Paris Hilton Video 1

Paris Hilton Video 2

Paris Hilton Video 3

Peris Hilton Video 4

Paris Hilton Video 5

Pairs Hilton Video 6

SCRIPTLAND: 'Departed' sequel in the works

Back from the dead, director Martin Scorsese and writer William Monahan puzzling over how to extend francise.

By Jay Fernandez
Special to the LA Times

10:13 AM PST, January 30, 2007

The elegiac title and murderous conclusion of "The Departed" may have signaled a brutal, blood-red finality, but in Hollywood any potential franchise can be revived by a strong-enough dose of green.

"The Departed" is by far director Martin Scorsese's biggest hit, with a gross of more than $260 million worldwide — a number bound to escalate if the intricate thriller wins an Oscar next month for best picture (one of its five Academy Award nominations). And so sources close to the film say that screenwriter William Monahan, who also received a nod for his "Departed" screenplay last week, has begun working out a potential take that would extend a connected story line and involve some of the same characters.

Of course, given the slaughter that terminates "The Departed," there aren't a whole lot of characters left to pursue.

This is the same dilemma faced by the creators of "Infernal Affairs," the popular 2002 Hong Kong thriller written by Alan Mak and Felix Chong upon which Monahan's "Departed" script was based. Mak, Chong and co-director Andrew Lau got around it by making their follow-up a prequel, thus allowing the first film's stars to reprise their roles. (Mak, Chong and Lau made a third in the series that split its story around the events of the first film.)

According to the sources, Monahan is not taking the prequel route and is instead developing a wholly original continuation of the story. Best supporting actor nominee Mark Wahlberg recently told MTV that the filmmakers have discussed bringing in Scorsese's classic gangster muse Robert De Niro to play a role. That said, it's unclear how involved Scorsese is at this point, or whether he would take part in any sequel.

If he did, it would be a first. The Oscar-nominated director has never revisited any of his films. (His 1974 drama "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" spawned the diner sitcom "Alice," though he had nothing to do with it.) Scorsese did make "The Color of Money," a sequel to Robert Rossen's "The Hustler," back in 1986. Monahan, who sources say began thinking of ways to continue the Boston cops-and-gangsters saga back in 2005 when production wrapped, recently tread further into sequel territory with a draft of "Jurassic Park IV."

Warner Bros., which released "The Departed," had no comment. It's just as well. In the vicious world of "The Departed," one's true motives are best kept hidden.

Harold and Kumar go to Shreveport

Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg's "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" is a classic example of how a mini-franchise can arise from the ashes of a theatrical bust in a glorious phoenix-like burst of DVD sales.

The stoner comedy about a wild Indian American (Kal Penn) and his studious Korean American buddy (John Cho) in search of a very particular hamburger while marvelously high grossed just $18 million in theaters in the summer of 2004. But it developed a huge cult following (and more than $30 million in extra revenue) on DVD, which is precisely the prediction Hurwitz and Schlossberg made to New Line when trying to sell them on their wacky script.

The writers were still in college when "Office Space" came out in early 1999, and they saw how their DVD-hungry generation elevated it to cult status and healthy secondary returns from an $11-million theatrical bomb. They felt that their screenplay for "Harold & Kumar," with its relatably goofball characters and absurd, puerile gags, was precisely the type of film that would tap into this business model.

When that calculation paid off, the creators essentially heard the film's fans saying, in the manner of one very scrambled Harold: I want that feeling. The feeling that comes over a man when he gets exactly what he desires. Thus, the continuing adventures of Harold and Kumar.

Last week, Hurwitz and Schlossberg headed for Shreveport, La., to start principal photography on the $10-million sequel, their as-yet-untitled directorial debut. (Their DVD-sales argument almost worked against them this time around: New Line originally tried to persuade them to write and direct a straight-to-DVD sequel.)

The sequel was initially designed around a frenzied trip to Amsterdam, until the studio broke out its secret NORAD metrics and informed the writers that Americans-in-Europe comedies are typically a disappointment. So Hurwitz and Schlossberg instead parade their calamitous protagonists through the post-9/11 Deep South, where their ethnicities make them even more suspect than their marijuana abuse.

When the film opens, things go from baked to worse when Kumar smuggles his bong onboard a flight headed to Amsterdam. Chaos ensues when the bathroom door swings open to reveal the dark-skinned Kumar lighting an assembled device that he says is a "bong" (everyone else hears "bomb"). The plane is grounded, and the pair soon find themselves escaping from a secret government prison and going on the run in the American South.

"Harold and Kumar, the guys that we know and love, start off on a journey thinking that they're in a movie like 'Eurotrip,' " Hurwitz says. "And they find themselves in 'The Fugitive.' "

Along the way, fans can look forward to a love interest for Kumar, flashbacks to the boys in their pre-pot college days, and a cast that includes former "Daily Show" correspondents Rob Corddry and Ed Helms, "SNL" regular Andy Samberg, and Neil Patrick Harris, who once again pokes fun at himself as a loopy anti-Doogie Howser horndog. Like the first film's blunt acknowledgment of racial issues and stereotypes, this film includes a sprinkling of post-Patriot Act allusions, though Hurwitz and Schlossberg insist the story is not anti-government or anti-War on Terrorism.

"These two guys view themselves as great Americans, they're passionate about America, they're good citizens," Hurwitz says. "And because of a mistake and because of their ethnicities they end up in a situation that two American residents should never be in."

While the first movie's overtly Jewish Rosenberg and Goldstein characters would seem to be the writers' obvious self-mocking alter egos, it's actually the central Asian American leads, on culturally pre-ordained career paths into finance and medicine, that most embody the screenwriters' spiritual doubles. (When the New Jersey natives and high school friends sold their first script, "Filthy," just before graduating college in 2000, Hurwitz was desperately trying to avoid Wall Street and Schlossberg was dreading law school.)

"It was more for us," Hurwitz says of writing the first "Harold & Kumar" script.

"We didn't think anyone else would think it was commercial, but we believed that if you write realistic characters, characters that you can connect with, and the comedy is there, that people can get behind it. We had so much fun that we feel like we could write Harold and Kumar movies for years."

Whether they do or not, Harold and Kumar would be the first to acknowledge that, in the end, the universe tends to unfold as it should.

White Rapper Show Episode 4


Well you’ve probably read my other posts on the VH-1’s White Rapper Show, so you’re probably wondering why I’m still watching it, but with no Monday Night Football, and no Pistons games scheduled, there wasn’t a lot to watch last night. I tuned into Episode 4, and for the first time I think the in-show challenge was real. The contestants were divided into two teams and each team was assigned a beat from Just Blaze. Not only were they given a beat from Just, they got to actually go to his studio and record a full single with him. To me this is what the show should have been about from the beginning. Going door to door rapping, and playing black trivia game shows brought some comedy to the show, but the show is about finding talent, and the only place you are going to find that is in the booth.

Both teams beats were club style tracks, so each team was forced to come up with a club banger. I thought the team with Sullee, 100 Proof, and Shamrock would have shined on that kind of track, but I was way off. 100 Proof’s lyrics were lame as fuck, and Shamrock had a lame ass sing-songy hook that was off key like a muthafucka. Sullee was really the only MC that held his own, but he even drew some criticism from Just Blaze for reading his rhymes out of his notebook instead of having them memorized. In the end their track came off like some local mixtape shit.

The other team was made up of Persia, John Brown, Jus Rhyme, and Jon Boy. I thought this team was at a disadvantage, because Jus Rhyme is a corny political MC, and John Brown’s whole character is wack to me, but to my surprise they put together the better track. Their lyrics were more on point, Persia and John Brown came up with a nice little hook, and they actually elevated a beat that I thought was average.

So once again Sullee found himself in the elimination round squaring off against Shamrock and 100 Proof. Shamrock kicked it off with a solid 8 bars, which left it up to Sullee to impress. While he got off to a good start, he froze up in the middle of his verse, again. He bounced back quicker this time, but he still slipped up again. This left the door open for 100 Proof, but he fucked up by forgetting his rhymes and coming with some weak wordplay. So, Sullee dodged elimination one more time, and 100 Proof was sent packing. Next week’s episode looks decent from what I could see, it looks like the MC’s will be recording another track and filming a video.

Some more quick thoughts:

  • Damn, I was wrong on 100 Proof. Dude still seemed cool, but as the show went on you could see his lyrics just weren’t ready.
  • I think Persia might have the most talent on the show. Her singing in Episode 4 wouldn’t win her a Grammy or nothing, but it was a surprise to hear. She already showed she can spit, and the singing angle makes her a double threat. On a side note, I think the girl is a lesbian. Ain’t nothing wrong with it, but she just looked a little too happy when the girls from the strip club were clapping that ass in front of her, lol.
  • I still think Sullee has talent, but he needs to quit choking in the elimination rounds.
  • Still can’t stand John Brown. I was hoping Lord Jamar would smack his ass last week, and I’m still waiting for somebody to pull his card. His Ghetto Revival bullshit is getting tired.
  • My vote for the next to go would either be Jon Boy or Jus Rhyme. These cats seem like they are only there to take up space on the show.
The New York Times
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January 30, 2007

The Police Will Kick Off the Grammys

The Police, who leapt from the British punk scene to become one of the world’s biggest rock acts before breaking up in 1984, will reunite for a performance to kick off the 49th Grammy Awards on Feb. 11.

The scheduled performance by the band members, who last played together when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, is likely to heighten speculation that the Police will soon mount a full tour. The group would join a growing list of reunited acts expected to perform this year, including Van Halen and Rage Against the Machine.

The Police — known for “Roxanne,” “Message in a Bottle” and other hits — have won five Grammy trophies, but have never performed on the annual telecast. The prime-time Sunday performance on CBS, televised live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, would come 30 years after the release of the band’s first single, “Fall Out.”

This month Sting alluded to a Police reunion when he told the Television Critics Association that all the former members were talking. “We started 30 years ago, so it would be nice to do something to celebrate,” Sting was quoted as saying. “We don’t quite know what, but we’re talking about it.”

Oddly enough, the band’s reunion — announced by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which awards the Grammys — comes not long after perhaps the most public analysis of its breakup. Stewart Copeland, the Police’s co-founder and drummer, made a splash at last year’s Sundance Film Festival with a film, “Everyone Stares,” a first-person account of the band’s rise to prominence and subsequent disintegration.

After the band splintered amid internal tension in 1984, the Police’s singer, Sting, pursued a successful solo career, meandering from the band’s reggae-influenced rock and experimenting with other forms of world music. Sting has also become a reliable concert box-office draw in his own right. His 2004 tour with Annie Lennox, for example, rang up box office sales of more than $50 million and ranked as one of the 10 best-selling tours of the year, according to the trade magazine Pollstar.

Last year Sting’s first classical album, “Songs From the Labyrinth,” featuring music written by the 16th-century composer John Dowland, topped the classical album sales chart for 2006. His reunited band now joins a lineup of performers for this year’s Grammy telecast that includes Mary J. Blige, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Dixie Chicks and Gnarls Barkley, among others.!%20-%20Inside.jpg

Borat creator named one of Britain's most powerful

Mon Jan 29, 2007 10:35 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of the hit comic character Borat, has been named one of Britain's most powerful men on a list that puts him one place behind Prince William.

The 35-year-old comedian debuted in 19th place on GQ magazine's annual list, announced on Monday. The publication said the ranking showed men "shaping the fabric and direction of the nation" over the next 12 months and beyond.

Cohen won a Golden Globe for his performance as a boorish Kazakh journalist in the surprise box office hit "Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan". The film incensed Kazakh authorities who said it portrayed Kazakhs as bigoted, oafish and primitive.

Cohen argued he used his Borat figure to highlight prejudice and bigotry in the United States.

Cohen topped the likes of BSkyB chief executive James Murdoch and Britain's Prince Charles, heir to the throne and father of Prince William.

"Not since John Lennon has an English entertainer had such an effect on the world: George Bush was briefed on him, the Kazakh government briefed against him and the film Borat ... hit the No. 1 spot in America last autumn," the magazine said.

The magazine named Chancellor Gordon Brown as the most powerful man in Britain, ahead of the person he is expected to replace later this year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, came third.