Fish Nation Information Station

News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.

NEWS ARCHIVE 2006 JANUARY TO JUNE

Keith Emerson Band

He got famous as the knife-wielding, organ-wrestling madman of the keyboards in Emerson Lake & Palmer. Now Keith Emerson is on tour with the four-piece Keith Emerson Band, the second stop bringing him to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, for the first time. The Colonial Theater stage was packed with Hammond organ, synthesizers, and grand piano, not to mention the usual equipment of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer.

Moments after a quick, belated sound check, the show started with the staccato notes of “Karn Evil 9,” followed shortly by the famous line “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.” It might as well have been an ELP show as the set continued with mostly ELP material from the 1970s delivered with the scale and precision you'd expect. Singer Marc Bonilla sounded eerily like Greg Lake on some of ELP's hits.

Add in a touch of solo piano and a scattering of new songs and it was a show that sustained well over two hours and left the audience marveling at having seen such a big show up close. The tour continues across the northeastern U.S. before heading off for a month in southern Europe in July.

2006-06-18

Can Jim Steinman Stop Bat Out of Hell III?

Jim Steinman, the songwriter-producer whose song “Bat Out of Hell” gave rise to Meat Loaf's debut album title Bat Out of Hell and the later Bat Out of Hell II is now trying to prevent the singer from releasing Bat Out of Hell III.

Steinman declined to work on the new album, and according to a lawsuit filed by Meat Loaf, has engaged in a campaign of letters and phone calls trying to prevent the album from being released. Loaf filed the suit asking a court to declare that Steinman does not own trademark rights that would prevent him from releasing Bat Out of Hell III.

For his part, Steinman is struggling to establish himself as a theatrical composer. The self-styled “Lord of Excess” has spent a career writing over-the-top theatrical works, including one called Bat Out of Hell, that seem out of place in an era in which melodrama is synonymous with low-quality theater.

2006-06-07

Notes

Bono, lead singer of U2, has taken up playing the piano — and he says the challenge of playing a new instrument has led him to write new kinds of songs. Saying he wants to “get lost in the music again,” Bono is trying to clear the political events off his summer schedule so he can focus exclusively on his part of the next U2 album. The band's 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb won numerous awards and sold over 3 million copies in the United States alone. There is no title or timetable for the new U2 album.

Cheap Trick has gone back to its roots for the forthcoming album Rockford. The edgy style of recent Cheap Trick albums has given way to a more relaxed room-full-of-sound approach that might be mistaken for early albums such as In Color. The advance single “Perfect Stranger” is out now.

Heart has a new bassist. The blond Australian Ric Markmann played at a private show with Heart in May and will make his public debut as Heart’s new bassist in a series of concerts in July. Ric has previously played with Chris Cornell and Eleven and on movie soundtracks.

2006-06-01

Politics Tops iTunes; Religion Tops Box Office

The top audiobook on iTunes Music Stores — and for several days, the top album — comes from an unlikely source: C-SPAN.

The Washington-based public affairs channel happened to broadcast Stephen Colbert’s remarkable send-up of the current political scene at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s an event that people haven’t stopped talking about, and now that it’s available as a 22-minute “audiobook” for $1.95, it’s a top seller.

Second on the chart, at a more conventional price of $28.95, is The Da Vinci Code, buoyed by the release of the movie based on the bestselling book. The movie, aided by stern criticism from the Roman Catholic Church, achieved the largest worldwide opening weekend of any movie to date.

2006-05-23

ICANN Nixes XXX Domain

After several delays, ICANN has finally decided not to proceed with the xxx top-level domain name (TLD) that had been proposed for pornography web sites.

The proposal was the subject of a political tussle among conservative politicians in the United States. The xxx TLD was originally proposed by several conservative legislators with the idea of making it easier for web users to avoid pornography sites. A web filter, for example, could easily be programmed to exclude all such sites. But other conservatives jumped in to oppose the move, worrying it would legitimize pornography. It was a concern for some that an adult entertainment trade group would be in charge of .xxx domain names.

In the end, it appears there was no pressure on the ICANN board to vote either way, and its chief says the decision was made purely on administrative and technical considerations.

2006-05-11

Apple Records Loses Trademark Suit

Apple Records has lost a trademark infringement case it brought against Apple Computer.

A British court ruled that the Apple logo found near iTunes Music Store “does not suggest a relevant connection with the creative work” that might be sold in the store. Therefore, there was no conflict with the vaguely similar logo used by Apple Records to identify their company as a source of creative works.

As a result of the decision, Apple Computer can continue to place its Apple logo on iPod music players and iTunes software.

This kind of trademark dispute is commonplace as trademark holders tend to feel their trademarks apply broadly while governments apply them more narrowly. These differing points of view correspond to the parties' different roles and responsibilities. A business tends to see the world as it relates to its particular business operations. A government, though, oversees an economy that depends on millions of businesses competing with each other, often in areas that are far removed from their core operations, as in the competition between a record label and a computer maker. In a similar case a few years ago, the U.S. rock band Survivor wanted to block a television soundtrack album from the television series Survivor. A U.S. federal court, though, decided that consumers would not confuse a rock band with a television series even if both sold records that contained music.

2006-05-08

Bon Jovi, Have a Nice Day

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Pop songs with power chords and heavy guitar riffs added lost whatever shock value they had by about the time of Bon Jovi's second or third album, so the band has had to make a name for themselves on the substance of their songs. The opening track on the latest album, “Have a Nice Day,” encapsulates perfectly the pragmatic pranksterism that Bon Jovi has come to stand for. The lyrics of this song are a brilliant bit of prose that turn a tired cliché into the ultimate inside joke, and if the guitar chords are predictable by now, they are somehow still infectious in a way that makes the song and several others on the album impossible to forget.

Desmond Child is along as executive producer and songwriting assistant to add the kind of gloss you expect from Bon Jovi. Singer Jon Bon Jovi, who might be accused of showing up for work with a tired voice at times in recent years, sounds fresh here, and the album bounces along to its surprising conclusion, a country duet version of the hit “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” complete with fiddle and steel guitar. You might shake your head at first, but it works so well that you'll find yourself saying, “Well, hey, why not?” After all, the message of the song is that you can go where you want to go. There are a few of life’s struggles scattered across the album too, but the feeling you come away is the one on the album cover: you can smile because, at the end of the day, you are in on the cosmic joke of life.

2006-05-06

Notes

Cheap Trick and Allman Brothers Band are suing Sony claiming the record company owes them more in royalties from digital downloads. The musicians say Sony is not entitled to a “packaging deduction” for a medium that does not require packaging. After this deduction, they are getting only 4.5 cents per song.

Netflix is asking a federal court to shut down the web site of its leading competitor, Blockbuster. In the suit, Netflix claims it owns two patents on the business model of its online video rental service and complains that Blockbuster stole its idea. The patents, of course, are not as broad as Netflix claims — business models are not protected by patents even in the United States — but if Netflix can prove that Blockbuster copied its patented business processes, it might be able to force changes in Blockbuster’s subscription operations. On the other hand, legal experts point to this case as one that might prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to rein in some of the excesses of patent law, especially as it is used to stifle innovation. Both Blockbuster and Netflix are under financial pressure as dissatisfied customers are renting fewer videos across the industry.

Madonna tickets have been hard to come by, with shows on the Confessions tour selling out in as little as 10 minutes. The official tour web site was mostly inaccessible as the first tickets were going on sale, then went offline for two weeks, apparently from technical problems, but is now running normally again. The Confessions tour is apparently the highest-grossing ever by a female performer.

The future of the Apple trademark is being decided in a court case between Apple Computer and the Beatles. In court, the Beatles have revealed that they are working on new masters for their albums in preparation for releasing them online. Music industry analysts consider the Beatles the most significant act whose records are not yet available for download.

The new Neil Young album, Life in War, available now online and soon on CD, isn’t trying to be subtle as it takes on the political issues surrounding the war in Iraq. The song “Let’s Impeach the President” features recordings of Bush contradicting himself, edited together to resemble a rap.

A band that famously opposed the Iraq war years ago has a new single that touches on the same topics again. “Not Ready to Make Nice” might be the ultimate cold angry song, with the Dixie Chicks taking little comfort in doing better than the people who turned against them.

The Who have completed a “mini-opera.” The 11-minute rock opera “The Glass Household” is based on guitarist Pete Townshend's novella “The Boy Who Heard Music” and is set for a June release online. The Who started work on their next project, a new studio album, on February 28. It will be their first since 1982. Fans can expect to hear a few of the new songs at the band's shows this summer.

2006-05-01

Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

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Bruce Springsteen bought a handful of Pete Seeger albums, picked some of the songs and learned them, and organized a pick-up band of crack folk musicians in an old farm house for three one-day sessions to record an album of folk songs. It might not sound like the greatest idea for a new Springsteen album, but the resulting music sounds terrific. It showcases Bruce’s charismatic vocal personality in a way that hasn’t quite been done before while the band breathes life into familiar folk songs such as “John Henry” and “Froggie Went A Courtin'” that you might have thought were getting tired by now. Despite the album's title, there is no Seeger connection beyond the fact that the artist started by picking songs from Pete Seeger albums, but don’t let that dissuade you; Seeger fans are likely to appreciate the lively, heartfelt performances and the large-format yet still folky arrangements.

2006-04-27

David Lee Roth and the 666 Tie-In

Records and books often tend to be released on Tuesdays. The first Tuesday in June this year happens to fall on the date 6/6/06. It’s a significant date for marketers because, after applying some numerological voodoo, the date is equivalent to the number 666, which is the “number of the beast” from the New Testament. They are relying on the numerological tie-in to promote varying degrees of devilishness in dozens of new releases coming out on that date.

Yet very few of these 6/6/06 releases are of any great significance otherwise. The only one we have found so far that the world at large might take note of is a new album featuring David Lee Roth, Strummin’ With the Devil, which also includes performances by John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, Blue Highway, Mountain Heart, and others. Despite the kitschy title, we're told that Roth is not into numerology and that the numerology of his release date is entirely coincidental. That could be. Roth needed a product to sell after being tapped to do a syndicated radio show that started in January, and it’s easy to see how it could take five months to get an album together. In typical David Lee Roth rule-breaking fashion, the album is a Van Halen tribute — some may remember Roth was the lead singer for Van Halen for many years — done in a sort of southern rock bluegrass style.

The title Strummin’ With the Devil is a musical reference to the Van Halen song title “Running With the Devil,” which in turn is nothing more menacing than the exaggerated rhetoric of teenage defiance. But there are actual (and ersatz) Satanic rock bands for whom the 6/6/06 date is the biggest thing since, well, the millennium, and it seems every one of them has something scheduled for June 6. At least one book has a “666” tie-in as well — this a tongue-in-cheek diatribe from a writer notorious for her recurring calls for the assassination and torture of American political figures when they depart from the particular dogma she prefers. It’s hard to say what the Devil connection is in this case, but apparently in marketing, anything is possible. And what date could be better than 6/6/06 to release a horror film remake?

There is so much “666” hype it is likely to resemble a train wreck in consumers’ minds by the time June 6 rolls around. It helps to remember that this is all just cliches and exaggerations anyway. For example, if someone asks David Lee Roth what would lead him and his friends to record southern versions of Van Halen songs, he doesn’t have to explain what he was thinking. He can simply offer a sly grin and say, “The Devil made me do it!”

David Lee Roth: http://www.davidleeroth.com.

2006-04-21

Deep Purple, Rapture of the Deep

When you think of English hard rock in which the organ is an equal partner in the sound, you think of Deep Purple, and none of that has changed in the latest album Rapture of the Deep. This latest set is a sleek, slippery affair, produced with an air of mystery and touch more gloss. The sound is more approachable than fans might expect from a hard rock band, especially when compared to the fuzzed-out sound that passes for hard rock in America these days, and it has an impressive range of color thanks especially to the virtuoso guitar playing of Steve Morse.

If there is a difficulty with Rapture of the Deep, it is the unfamiliarity of the story it tells. The songs are a sincere look at the problems of life — but the life in question is the very English life of a few living legends of rock, so the backdrop may seem alien at first to most listeners. Those who take the time to work their way into the plot, however, will find both the story and the music rewarding.

Deep Purple: http://www.deep-purple.com.

2006-04-16

Boston Remasters on the Way

“It’s good to work on your birthday,” Tom Scholz said after missing his latest birthday party to work on new CD remasters for the first two Boston albums, Boston and Don’t Look Back.

Tom ended up working on his birthday after he learned that Sony had already prepared new CD masters for the two Boston albums that were recorded before the CD era. Horrified by the strident “nails-on-blackboard” sound and other technical flaws of the remasters, Tom and his manager persuaded Sony to let him supervise a proper remastering of the two albums. Working under pressure, Tom and engineer Bill Ryan started from the original mix tapes “and went to work in Pro Tools going over every second of those mixes till we were nearly batty” to prepare for a new mastering session. The result, Tom says, will be CDs with the sonic quality of 21st century recordings, giving the albums a new level of clarity and spatial imaging. As a bonus, fans will get to hear Boston's live sound on some concert tapes that Tom mixed for the CDs.

And so, with a flurry of hard work, what could have been a musical disaster turned into a dream come true. “I've always wanted to make those albums sound good on CD, and the chance arrived,” Tom says. The remastered Boston and Don’t Look Back may be available on CD in a month or two.

And the next Boston album? Tom is excited by the tracks he and the band worked on all of last year. He was slowed down by an episode of acetaminophen poisoning but says he is back to full strength now. With the remastering project complete, he is back at work overdubbing tracks for the new album.

Boston: http://www.bandboston.com.

2006-04-11

Notes

A Netherlands court has upheld the Creative Commons license in a case that has been described as the first legal test for the license. The Creative Commons license, which is often accompanied by the phrase “some rights reserved,” is meant to allow broad use of a copyrighted work without releasing it into the public domain.

Donald Fagen recently reintroduced himself to Warner Records in order to release a solo album for the first time in 13 years. The new album, Morph the Cat, continues the precision approach to record-making that Fagen has employed throughout his career.

Security holes in Microsoft’s operating systems and network software are one of the United States' biggest vulnerabilities, according to officials responsible for protecting the country from terrorism. So why are other government officials reportedly pressuring Microsoft to add a security hole to the upcoming release of Windows Vista? The idea, according to reports, is to give governments a way to spy on computer users worldwide. Microsoft is standing firm and refusing to create any such security hole, noting that it is impossible to make a “backdoor” available for legitimate law enforcement activities while preventing anonymous hackers from gaining the same access.

Meanwhile, Microsoft finally conceded that Windows Vista, already delayed and scaled back several times, will not ship this year. The next version of Microsoft Office will also be delayed and is now set to ship at the same time as the operating system. The software company is reorganizing its operating system division and says it still hopes to complete development for its new operating system this year for release early in 2007, but concedes that its schedule is “tight,” making further delays inevitable if anything in the project goes wrong.

After weeks of brinksmanship, Research in Motion finally licensed the patented wireless e-mail technology used by BlackBerry computers. The settlement came after the federal judge in the case suggested he was ready to issue a final injunction shutting down the BlackBerry network.

Time Inc., the Time Warner subsidiary that publishes Time, People, and other magazines, will pay $9 million to settle a case of fraudulent billing practices. The case mirrors a previous case involving similar billing problems at another Time Warner company, America Online. In both cases, it was alleged that the companies charged improper subscription fees and made it difficult for customers to cancel subscriptions. In addition, Time was said to have sent fraudulent invoices to consumers who had never subscribed to its magazines. Time did not admit wrongdoing but said it had already corrected the billing practices in question.

Stephen Colbert, building on the success of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, has agreed to write a book of the distorted political musings that form the basis for his show. It’s a natural move, considering that The Colbert Report is a spinoff of The Daily Show, whose host Jon Stewart had a huge hit last year with his book America.

ITunes’ Season Pass option, which lets a customer buy a season of a television program in advance, is so successful that they have added this option to several more popular shows. For example, viewers can purchase season 10 of South Park for $11.99.

It seems nothing is sacred on South Park, not even Chef. The popular character played by Isaac Hayes was killed off in gruesome fashion in an episode which had Chef joining a pedophile cult that promised its members immortality. Hayes did not participate in the new episode, having quit to protest another episode, not yet aired, that makes fun of organized religion. The foibles of religion are a recurring theme on the animated series, but Hayes said the show “crossed the line.”

Donald Fagen: http://www.donaldfagen.com.

2006-04-01

Sting on Sheryl Crow Track

A new version of the Sheryl Crow song “Always on Your Side” features Sting.

The duet, released two weeks ago, quickly reached the top 10 on iTunes. It will be included on an expanded version of Sheryl Crow's album Wildflower beginning April 14.

Both artists are preparing for summer tours.

Sting: http://www.sting.com; Sheryl Crow: http://www.sherylcrow.com

2006-03-23

Accoona Boasts Meaningful Search Results

A newly upgraded web search engine, Accoona claims it can provide more relevant search results with its proprietary technology that understands what some search words mean. The technological claims might seem unlikely, but when we tried several random search phrases we found a high proportion of relevant results. Accoona went live a year ago, but with recent improvements is just starting its marketing push in the United States and China.

And the name? According to the company, accoona is derived from a Swahili phrase and tells web-searchers “don’t worry, be happy.”

Accoona: http://www.accoona.com.

2006-03-13

The Daily Show Available for Purchase

People buy monthly bus passes and even monthly zoo passes. So will people buy monthly Daily Show passes? That’s the idea behind the new Multi-Pass at iTunes Music Store, which lets customers buy a month of Daily Show episodes for $9.99.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart along with the spinoff Colbert Report are also available for purchase as individual episodes on iTunes for the usual price of $1.99 each, starting with the March 7 shows. The two fake-news shows are among the highest rated series on Comedy Central, the leading U.S. comedy cable channel.

Dozens of television shows have been made available on the Internet as television producers try to make their shows more readily available to viewers.

2006-03-09

Greenspan Signs Book Deal

Penguin won the auction for the right to publish Alan Greenspan's book recounting his 19 years as head of the Federal Reserve Bank. Penguin is reportedly paying a $7 million advance for Greenspan to write the book — more than he made in salary during his entire stint as the United States’ central banker.

2006-03-08

Notes

The original four members of Asia plan to reunite for a U.S. tour this summer. The tour marks the 25th anniversary of the band. The two key songwriters of Asia’s classic period, John Wetton and Geoff Downes, are already touring in support of their recent album Icon and a subsequent acoustic recording that also features former Electric Light Orchestra cellist Hugh McDowell.

John Payne, Guthrie Govan, and Jay Schellen, who had been working for the past six months with Geoff Downes to record a new Asia album Architect of Time, will instead be releasing an album under the new name One, with Ryo Okumoto of Spock's Beard providing the keyboard tracks for the album. The debut album One will be released May 23, with a tour to follow in the fall. This band will also be fulfilling Asia’s remaining live performance commitments in northern Europe this summer.

Selling TV shows in online music stores has resulted in larger audiences for the shows, TV networks and producers say. Apparently, viewers have an easier time keeping up with a show if they can purchase episodes they have missed. Expect many more shows to be available for download at a price like $1.99 per episode over the next two years as TV producers and networks renegotiate contracts to permit this. The networks may need new contract terms with show producers and affiliated TV stations.

Apple Computer has announced a revised Mac Mini that uses Intel processors, an enhanced remote control for its computers, and a pricey boombox that turns the iPod into a compact stereo.

Considering the widespread computer damage caused by the rootkit software used in Sony's CD hack last year, government officials are looking at possible legislation that would ban similar kinds of covert software installations in the future.

Ready to shed its dialup ISP business, America Online (AOL) is raising its dialup subscription fees to match the subscription fees for broadband. It’s a high-risk move that might prompt many of AOL's remaining subscribers to switch to other providers that offer lower prices or higher performance. The move comes as AOL, the largest Internet service provider of the dial-up era, is trying to recast itself as a broadband-advertising company.

Voiceprint will be reissuing the entire Patrick Moraz catalog over the coming year or so. Moraz plans a series of concerts in Europe, Japan, and the United States to promote the reissues.

A new court ruling on the scope of copyright may spell trouble for Google. A U.S. court ruled that Google’s reproduction of illegal copies of photos does not fall under the fair use exemption of the copyright law and constitutes copyright infringement in its own right. If upheld on appeal, the ruling poses tough technical challenges for Google’s image search and book search services.

Asia: http://www.asiaworld.org; One: http://www.musicbyone.com; Patrick Moraz: http://www.patrickmoraz.com.

2006-03-01

Bee Gees News

There is Bee Gees news for the first time since the death of Maurice Gibb three years ago. The Bee Gees have signed with Rhino Records for reissues of their 40-year catalog.

Also, Barry and Robin Gibb reunited on stage February 18 at the Love and Hope concert in Miami, a charity event that raised money for the Diabetes Research Institute. They performed 15 familiar Bee Gees hits.

Bee Gees: http://www.beegeesonline.com; Barry Gibb: http://www.barrygibb.com; Robin Gibb: http://www.robingibb.com.

2006-02-20

ITunes Hits 1 Billion

Sales at the iTunes Music Store, which picked up speed at the beginning of the holiday gift-giving season, did not slow much when the holiday season ended. Apple Computer’s music-download store is now selling 30 songs per second and could pass the 1-billion song mark tomorrow.

To hasten that milestone, Apple is giving away songs and iPods every 100,000 songs until the billion-song mark is reached.

A billion songs is a lot of music to sell, though it is a small fraction of the music industry total when you compare it to the 10–20 billion songs sold annually on music CDs in the United States.

ITunes Music Store: http://www.apple.com/itunes/.

2006-02-20

Quail Hunting Trouble

Dick Cheney's weekend quail-hunting incident has provided ample fodder (if you'll pardon the expression) for humorists and political commentators, but none of the satirical takes on the event have had more impact (if you'll pardon the expression) than the web-based game “Quail Hunting with Dick Cheney.”

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The political-cartoon video-game gag shot (if you'll pardon the expression) to the top of the chart at the Huffington Post Contagious Festival in just one day, with close to 100,000 people taking a look at it. It is helped by the Huffington Post’s fascination with the weekend incident in which the Vice President, in what is being described as a routine hunting accident, shot and injured a member of his hunting party.

Quail Hunting with Dick Cheney: http://dickcheneyquailhunt.cf.huffingtonpost.com.

2006-02-14

Grammy Winners

U2 were the big winners at tonight’s Grammy Awards and also performed at the show. The top award, Record of the Year, went to Green Day for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

Some of the more surprising winners were Barack Obama, Spamalot, Bob Dylan, and Les Paul. The awards show was broadcast on CBS television.

Grammy Awards: http://www.grammy.com/Grammy_Awards/.

2006-02-08

What the Bleep!? Pops Up Again

Lacking distribution and appearing on only eight screens didn’t stop the independent science documentary What the Bleep!? Down the Rabbit Hole from bounding to the middle of the box-office chart on its opening weekend.

Depending on how you look at it, What the Bleep!? Down the Rabbit Hole is either an extended director’s cut of the 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know? or a sequel that presents the same story with a sharper scientific focus. As with the original, the focus is on science and uncertainty in everyday life, with an emphasis on the mysteries of quantum mechanics and physiology.

What the Bleep!?: http://www.whatthebleep.com.

2006-02-07

Notes

The Blackberry network may be shut down in the United States after the manufacturer lost a long-running patent infringement case. Blackberry computers will still function but apparently will not send and receive e-mail until a software upgrade is developed. A final ruling in the remedy phase of the case is expected within weeks.

The Huffington Post is expanding on its entertainment emphasis by launching a contest on its web site. The well-known blog and news aggregator is inviting web content creators to entertain its audience in its “Contagious Festival” Most entries, such as a rock band called The Impeachables, reflect the Huffington Post’s tendency to political commentary.

Sitcom Will & Grace is signing up pop stars in an attempt to boost ratings. Next up: Hall & Oates appears as an unlikely wedding band. Coming in April: Britney Spears plays a religious fundamentalist hosting a radio talk show.

Western Union, a company whose name became synonymous with telegrams in the last century, pulled out the telegram business January 27. Apparently, in the cell-phone/e-mail era, there wasn’t enough demand for the company to keep delivering text messages on paper.

2006-02-01

Red Card Fights Global Poverty

The new American Express credit card is strikingly different from anything the company has issued before. You can see the difference in the card's bold crimson color, but the real difference in American Express Red is the card issuer’s promise to send about 1 percent of the amount spent on the card to Global Fund for its global anti-poverty efforts.

American Express is now taking applications for the “Red Card” in the United Kingdom. Other than the charity connection, the card has terms similar to Blue, the familiar credit card introduced a decade ago by American Express. The cards become available March 1 in the United Kingdom, with rollout dates later this year in the United States and other countries.

The initial emphasis of the Global Fund is to fight the growing incidence of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. AIDS activist Bono created the Red concept along with Bobby Schriver, who will be CEO of Product Red, as a way to make a connection between consumer choices and corporate giving. The Red Card is part of the first major branding announcement coming out of the Red campaign. At the announcement, which took place January 26 in Davos, Switzerland, Gap, Converse, and Giorgio Armani also introduced Red-branded products. Product Red funds will go to Global Fund programs already underway in Africa.

The Gap is eager to show that it is taking its Red connection seriously; its initial Red-branded products are T-shirts made in Africa. The Gap's Red collection will initially be available in its shops in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Global Fund: http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/.

2006-01-28

Disney Buys Pixar

The two-year feud between entertainment giant Disney and animation-feature leader Pixar has concluded with a surprising twist. Disney has agreed to buy Pixar.

The stock-swap deal makes Steve Jobs, who owned about half of Pixar, the largest Disney shareholder and gives him a seat on the Disney board of directors.

It is hoped that Pixar’s talent pool can revive Disney's lagging fortunes in the animated feature film business.

2006-01-24

Wolves Saved By Legal Decision

Friends of Animals led a three-year postcard-based travel-boycott campaign to try to get the state of Alaska to stop using airplanes in its campaign to eradicate wolves, but it was the legal process that finally stopped the aerial assault.

An Alaska judge, ruling in favor of Friends of Animals, found that the state had ignored its own rules that prohibited hunting from aircraft and imposed tight restrictions on predator control activities. The state has suspended the program and revoked the aircraft hunting permits it had issued.

Alaska game officials had said they wanted to eradicate wolves from five areas across Alaska so that there would be more moose, but some critics of the aircraft-hunting program said it was a thinly veiled excuse for trophy hunters to seek moose and other large game from the air.

It is hard to say how much effect the travel boycott had on Alaska tourism. Millions of people were observing the boycott, but most had no plans to travel to Alaska during this period in any case. The U.S. economy, security concerns, and Alaska’s own climate trouble may have had a greater effect on Alaska tourism than the boycott. Whatever the cause, travel to Alaska has declined so much that tourism officials have to include cruise ship passengers, some of whom never set foot on Alaskan soil, in order to get a respectable tourist count.

Friends of Animals: http://www.friendsofanimals.org.

2006-01-21

After the Storm: Progressive Rock Boosts Housing for Hurricane Victims

Progressive rock bands combine on a new album to raise money for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. After the Storm, from NEARfest Records, is a 2-CD set with songs contributed by 24 different acts, from the Flower Kings to Echolyn. Proceeds support Habitat for Humanity's efforts to provide housing for people displaced by the hurricane, which struck the central Gulf Coast last summer.

After the Storm: http://afterthestorm.nearfestrecords.com.

2006-01-17

Apple Announces Intel Systems

As expected, Apple Computer today refreshed about half of its computer line with new digital boards that use Intel processors.

The new computer models are twice as fast at some tasks as the models they replace because of faster clock speeds and dual-core processors. The replacement for the PowerBook is called the MacBook. The PowerBook name is being retired as Apple moves away from the PowerPC processor.

In a sort of cosmic numerological joke, Apple’s stock price ended the day at 80.86. To those in the know, the closing price is an echo of the 8086 processor, the earliest ancestor of the Intel processors used in the new Apple systems.

2006-01-11

Looking at Disaster

A new Weather Channel series, It Could Happen Tomorrow, presents scientific scenarios for natural disasters that are likely to occur sooner or later in the United States. The series starts with a look at a possible San Francisco earthquake and New York City hurricane.

2006-01-08

What’s Coming in 2006

U.S. postal rates go up January 8. The rate increase, around 5 percent, is not nearly enough to cover the recent increases in fuel costs, but the postal service hopes to make up the rest by improving productivity.

Rick Aster is preparing a self-improvement book that he says explains the link between having clutter and having too many things to do. Fear of Nothing could be out in hardcover toward the end of the year, with an audio version coming sooner.

The digital projectors that are starting to appear in cinemas don’t have a noticeably sharper picture than film projectors, but they provide a rock-solid picture with none of the inevitable wobble you get with a moving piece of film. The projectors are expensive, but cinemas save on labor, power, and shipping. Expect to see digital projectors on 10 percent of U.S. movie screens by the end of the year.

Rick Springfield has resumed his old TV role as Noah Drake on General Hospital.

U.S. television stations must begin converting to digital in earnest this year. Congress has signaled that it is unlikely to postpone the coming ban on analog television broadcasts more than about two years beyond the original December 31, 2006, deadline.

Al Jazeera is ready to take on CNN and Fox News. The leading Arabic-language news channel is launching an English-language channel, Al Jazeera International, which should be broadcasting to much of the world at some point in 2006. Al Jazeera has been on the air for 10 years, but it is best known to U.S. viewers for the various stories in which U.S. forces occupying Iraq fired in the direction of its news teams.

Monday Night Football on ABC ended this season after a 26-year run. Next season, Monday Night Football moves to ESPN.

Apple Computer is prepared to announce a new line of computers based on Intel processors. Macintosh computers with the new architecture are expected to be faster at file system operations, but a bit slower at media and scientific applications. Apple advised its developers to begin making their source code portable in June, a process most developers say they have completed.

Apparently deciding it would cost too much to update the legacy code that Internet Explorer runs on, Microsoft is pulling the Mac version of its browser. The move does not come as a surprise; for almost a decade, Microsoft’s development efforts for Internet Explorer have focused on turning it into Windows Explorer, a computer system management tool for the Microsoft Windows platform.

Microsoft has announced an effort to document Microsoft Office file formats, a move intended to make its popular office-document suite more acceptable for government and archival uses. The preliminary file description is planned for release around the end of the year, but it could take three years or more to achieve a reasonably complete and accurate result. The biggest benefit to users will be filter programs that strip out document tags and resources, which programmers will be able to create after the file formats are known. The extra objects in Microsoft Office documents present a security risk — they can carry confidential information that shouldn’t be released and viruses that can damage a computer, and there is currently no reliable way to remove them.

A change in U.S. nutritional labeling is likely to lead to a massive change in American food. The new labeling requirement, which becomes mandatory in January, lists trans fat amounts when they exceed 1 gram per serving. Trans fats, a harmful chemical variant found in all artificial polyunsaturated fats, are linked to obesity and degenerative diseases. Slightly cheaper than natural fats, trans fats were added to most processed foods in the U.S., but with the new labeling that is changing. Some food manufacturers have already eliminated all but traces of trans fats from their foods so they won’t have to list them on their food labels. Consumers' food selections will also change with the new labeling, just as the granola bar fad ended when a previous change in labeling showed consumers just how much fat granola bars contained. Restaurants, however, are exempt from food labeling, so expect most to continue to use the cheapest oils they can get.

2006-01-01

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