This is a test of the new Yahoo Video Player

My colleagues at Yahoo! just released an intriguing new video player module for websites. In its basic form, it detects links to many kinds of video resources and provides a popup player to display the video. For example, I was mesmerized by a YouTube video of a guy who creates sculptures out of rocks balanced on top of each other in a fast-flowing river.
But there are more features coming soon. For example, the player will detect movie titles and automatically link to the trailer. Let’s test it with a reference to a film that I’m hoping to see this weekend, “Cowboys & Aliens”. UPDATE: Well, name detection didn’t quite work. My theme converts straight double-quotes to smart quotes, and it looks like the detecter can’t handle these. But the basic version was easy (and took only a couple of minutes to add to my blog). UPDATE 2: It turned out that title detection was working OK, but (a) it’s asynchronous, so it may not show up immediately, (b) the page has to be public, so it won’t show up in “Preview” mode in the WordPress editor.

Why do I buy cool cars from dumb companies?

Over the last 30 years I’ve bought many cars of very different kinds, from my nimble (but tight) Miata to a great boat-like Ford Granada. But I find myself returning to one particular style: the two-door 2+2 sporty coupe. I tend to blame this on my exposure at an impressionable (adolescent) age to the first racing Mustangs to arrive in England. In any case, I’ve owned three of them: the Ford Probe, the Mercury Cougar, and now the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. What’s interesting is that I enjoyed each of these cars immensely, but each was (is) a commercial failure.
The Probe was a Ford derivative of the Mazda MX-6, which was a fairly successful model for the Japanese company. The car went through one major and one minor refresh before it disappeared. I bought the second version, drove it for years without any problems, and eventually passed it on to my daughter. Was it a failure? It didn’t sell very well, and while “Probe” was a new model name for Ford, they haven’t re-used it. I think part of the problem was that the top-of-the-line Probe was too close to the Mustang in capability, and they couldn’t figure out how to handle the positioning.
The Mercury Cougar was launched with great fanfare, as one of the first of a new “edgy” style from Ford. Mechanically it was fairly close to the Probe, which wasn’t a bad thing. I bought one within weeks of the release, and I really liked it. Unfortunately it was rear-ended by a hulking SUV as we were leaving a funeral in 2002, and in spite of extensive repairs it never felt quite right after that. Commercially it was a complete disaster. Mercury did one minor refresh (NACA scoops on the hood!) and then killed it. I’m convinced that the biggest problem was that although “Mercury Cougar” revived the name of a legendary muscle car, Ford had successfully repositioned the Mercury brand as a soft, luxury brand for older buyers. As WikiPedia puts it:

This new generation was aimed at younger buyers, but was sold alongside Sables and Grand Marquis which were marketed toward middle aged buyers. Also, Mercury salesmen did not know how to properly market the car, as they were used to interacting with older customers.

To confuse things further, they tried to sell it in Europe as the “Ford Cougar”.
So to my present car, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. I really love this car, and so did almost all of the reviewers. It simply blows away the present Mustang and Camaro. So why hasn’t it sold? I see very few of these cars around, and the poor sales are a frequent topic on automobile forums. Yes, it’s a bit too heavy at 3,300 lbs., but frankly most cars that are comfortable on the SFO-LAX haul are going to have that kind of weight. And 306 BHP with RWD means that I can mostly forget about the weight and size while I thrash around the Santa Cruz Mountains. The problem isn’t engineering, but marketing. Over at The Truth About Cars, Michael Karesh nailed it:

The coupe shares its name — but little else — with the Genesis sedan. The two cars don’t look alike. They don’t drive alike. They’re much different in size and price. So, “Genesis” is bound to be associated with the characteristics of one or the other, or neither, but certainly not both. In this case, the sedan arrived first and so got dibs. If people happen to hear that there is a Genesis coupe, they’re likely to assume it’s larger, more luxurious, and more expensive than it actually is.

So there you have it. Three fine cars, all of which have been commercial failures, mostly because of dumb marketing. I could try to spin it as “exclusive, discerning”, but it’s actually rather frustrating. Oh, well.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – unattributed copying, not so much. Keywords: evil, religion, Android

If you are reading this at (directly or via RSS feed), you can ignore it. Nothing to see here, move along, etc.
However there is a good chance that you’re seeing this text in some other blog or feed. There are many sites which monitor blogs for posts meeting certain criteria and then repost them, in whole or in part. I find that most of them cue off the “Atheist” in my tag line (or the fact that this blog is include in many atheist blog-rolls); others scan the posting for keywords like “Android” or “smartphone”.
None of this should be surprising, so why am I even bothering to write this? Well, I just came across a blog which reproduced an entire posting of mine (minus the formatting, links, and Creative Commons license) without any attribution whatsoever. The site in question is “In God We Lust dot com”. (I’m not including the actual URL; you can work it out.) I decided to write this posting simply to see how mindless the scraping bot is at that site. I’m including a statistically improbable phrase – strontium warhorse eaters – to make it easy to search for non-attributing scumbags.
So if you’re reading this and you don’t see a link back to, you now know what kind of site you’re looking at.
[UPDATE, 12 hours later] Looks like this scraper site is even more dumb than I thought. It’s pulling stuff off PlanetAtheism (which reposts my stuff with attribution) and reposting it twice. And it is possible to get back to my site: the link looks like a PlanetAtheism FeedBurner, but through some kind of magic it leads back to my original.
Speaking of PlanetAtheism, I would prefer it if they would post excerpts, with clear links, rather than reproducing full articles. I don’t rely on advertising, but many people do.

Evil defaults: Google+ on Android handsets

As I mentioned earlier, I have acquired an Android phone, complete with lots of Google apps. I have also signed up for Google+, and I’ve been getting regular alerts from Google (via the red box at the top right of various pages) of new friend requests and other stuff.
This morning, Kate and I went with some friends to a winery. While there, I snapped a number of photos on my Android phone, as one does.
This afternoon, I visited Google Reader to check out some blogs, and it alerted me to the fact that I had some Google+ updates. To my surprise, the “update” was an uploaded library of the pictures I’d taken this morning. Yes, the library was still unshared, but WTF?!?!

  • Why did it do this?
  • When did it do this?
  • Did the phone wait until I was connected by WiFi, or did it use some of my (capped) 4G bandwidth to upload the pictures? (And was this one source of my unexpected battery drain?)
  • Eventually I discovered a Google + app settings screen that I had never seen before, which confirmed that the app was configured to upload all photographs over any available data connection, cellular or WiFi. I reconfigured it immediately to upload only on demand, and only over WiFi.
    So if you own an Android phone, and you’ve joined Google +, I strongly urge you to check the settings for the Google+ app on your phone. It could be uploading all of your photos, wasting bandwidth and depleting your battery. This strikes me as a very stupid default configuration.

    Changing my religion? Well, not really…

    On September 12, 2007, I bought my first iPhone. At the time, I described the move as “inevitable”. Over the next few years I upgraded, first to the iPhone 3G and then to the iPhone 4. And I loved them all.
    But a couple of weeks ago, I switched. One year to the day after getting my iPhone 4, I visited my local AT&T store and bought a Samsung Infuse 4G. And since I did this, many people have asked me the same two questions: “Why?” and “What’s it like?”
    First, why. In a word, curiosity. I wanted to see what things were like outside Apple’s walled garden; to experience the chaos of competition in handset design, carrier features, and application delivery channels. I had used an Android G1 while traveling in China, and I’d found it intriguing and quite capable. I was fascinated by the attempts by Samsung, HTC, and Motorola to push the technical boundaries in such areas as screen technology, multicore CPUs, 4G wireless, batteries, and cameras.
    I might have been more reluctant to make the move except for the fact that I wasn’t going to be giving up the iOS world entirely. I still have my iPad, so I can still run almost all of the apps that I had become used to. And where it counts I’m as much of an Apple fanboy as ever: I still live my life on a MacBook Air and an iMac, running MacOS X Lion (and testing iCloud). My work machine is a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. So in a sense this represents addition rather than substitution.
    One other point: unlike my heavily-hacked G1, I decided not to unlock the Infuse. I wanted to be able to use it for corporate email without violating company security policies…
    So what’s it like?

    • It’s big. 5.15 x 2.77 x 0.36 inches. It works for me, but several people have said that it’s too big to fit comfortably in the hand.
    • The screen is big and gorgeous, though it washes out badly in sunlight.
    • It’s noticeably less stable than the iPhone. I’ve had to reboot it at least once a week.
    • There are several stupid “features”, mostly due to Samsung. When you put it in the charger cradle, it automatically beeps and starts a fancy cradle app with lots of colourfulwidgets. You can turn off the screen, which reduces the distraction. However when the battery finishes charging, the phone beeps and turns on the display, with a message to remind you to unplug the charger. This is intensely annoying at, say, 2AM. And that’s about the time that recharging finishes, because…
    • … battery life sucks. That is to say, I can just about get through a full day on a charge as long as I don’t do much with the phone. However, since I use it for reading personal and work email, and for managing my calendar, I usually find that the charge icon is orange by the end of the afternoon. I’ve reluctantly bought an extra charging cradle for use at work…
    • It’s chatty. Lots of notifications all the time; lots of background processing going on.
    • Some of the major apps are horribly intrusive. The Facebook app seems to take over various media types, preventing me from playing music or videos. UNINSTALL. Skype wouldn’t just restrict itself to handling explicit requests; instead it tries to take over regular telephone functions, like dialing from my contacts. (This “feature” interacts horribly with my car’s BlueTooth phone feature.) UNINSTALL.
    • Integration with MS Exchange Email and Calendaring at work is better than the iPhone. I’m using the built-in software; I didn’t bother to explore any add-on email clients.
    • When I can get 4G coverage from AT&T, this sucker is fast. Very nice. And it’s a slightly better telephone than the iPhone 4.

    More anon.


    I was looking over a business plan for a software startup, and I was struck (more accurately, startled) by the fact that it did not mention “open source” anywhere.
    Once I’d got past my surprise, I realized that I couldn’t immediately tell which of two explanations was correct:

    1. No reference to open source because the project was not going to involve any open source activities.
    2. No reference to open source because, well, OF COURSE they were doing open source – how could anyone assume anything else?