Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Create and Deliver your own TwitterGram (No Code Required)

Dave Winer has proposed the TwitterGram, a simple way to post audio files to Twitter. He's contributed plenty to audio file distribution already, but here he proposes another first. I think the TwitterGram is supposed to be an easy way to send very short form audio posts out to the folks who might be interested in you. I can't tell if the idea has legs, but if you've got ears, you can take a listen at my first attempt.

Dave has coded a web interface to his service, but I thought that I might try to mashup something using just over the counter services and my fingers as the glue. The result is the no code required method I used to create my own TwitterGram.
By the way, Every step of this procedure can be performed from my Blackberry, so it's not only no coding required, it's no PC required for recording or playback!

Create and Deliver your own TwitterGram (No Code Required)
The goal is to create a short audio clip that can be played by someone who is tracking you on Twitter. Quite possibly this could be listened to someone not tracking you on Twitter. It's like a podcast but much smaller, and probably more ephemeral.

What you need: a GrandCentral account, a browser, copy, and paste keys.

What? You don't have a GrandCentral account? There is very little I can do for someone who refuses to cook with real butter, smoke handmade cigars, or take their calls through GrandCentral. Go get yourself an account.

1) Call your Grand Cental number and leave a voice mail message less than 60 seconds long.

This probably requires no explanation, but there is a tip. Call yourself using the web button from a phone number other than the one you use to check your Grand Central voice mail. The call will go quicker, and your link will not contain any identifying information like your name and phone number that you might not want to be posted publicly.

2) Copy the email link you receive from GrandCentral into a link shortening service like TinyURL or URLTea. This will shorten the 131 character link into something you can safely post via Twitter. When available, I use the URLTea service inside of my Google Talk client. It's quick, easy, and a log of my activity is kept inside of GMail.

3) Post the link in Twitter along with a short friendly explanation. Again, I use the GTalk client when available, but use Twitter web client when it is not. Be sure to use the @username sign if you want the message to be directed to someone in particular. For example @davewiner to send to Dave, or @thinkhammer if you want to send a message to me.
It's really as easy as that. What I do like about the service is that I can click on the link which appears in the GTalk client on my blackberry and it automatically plays the message. It's just one click to a one minute dose of audio bliss.
ps: When you're done here, feel free to slide on over to the ThinkHammer Blog.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mahalo Greenhouse Launches - Will you tend Calacanis' garden?

Mars Needs Women. Mahalo Greenhouse Needs Part Time Gardeners.
Jasan Calacanis blogs:

"Today I'm thrilled to announce the Mahalo Greenhouse, a place where the public can build search results that-if accepted by our Guides-will be included in the Mahalo search index."
Mahalo, the people powered search is saying that they realize that for Mahalo to work, they need to have a vast pool of expertise contributing to the effort and they are asking for your help. It's hard to say whether internet searchers will embrace Mahalo, but it is certain that Calacanis is making all the right moves to give this site it's best possible chance.

He started with a small core of good looking pages and now he is asking large groups of people to begin adding to the pool. In exchange he is willing to offer page creators a few bucks ($5 - $10) per finished and accepted page as well as credits for having created the page. He's got $250,000 set aside to make the payments as well as a very creative side deal that allows those who don't want his money to have his effort benefit the Wikipedia Foundation. It's genius.

If Calacanis pays an average of $7 per page, then his "quarter mill" buys him 35,714 pages over the next year. He previously set the goal of having $10,000 pages by the end of the year. With the bounty having been set, I think the goal is well in hand. What's more, by offering author's credits on the newly created pages, he can be assured that Mahalo will garner inbound links to pages by the various authors (Part Time Guides) involved. I see LinkedIn, FaceBook, Digg, and MySpace pages pointing to the newly created pages as samples of work. Mahalo gets lots of pages and lots of links in one simple program. I think Jason may be on to something.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Vote on South Carolina's New License Plate Design

Back in October we told you that South Carolina was looking for new License Plate designs. It appears that they have received their designs, winnowed the field down to three and are soliciting your vote online. I don't think you'll find anything surprising among the designs. All incorporate the easily recognized Palmetto tree with two including the crescent moon as well. If you'd like to have some say in what your next South Carolina license plate looks like, then you'd better go vote.

Go Vote

Thanks Dy!

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Parade Photos -- 2007 Scottish Games Parade in Greenville, SC

I shot some, several, a lot of pictures of Scottish Games Parade that piped it's way through downtown Greenville tonight. It's hard for me to shoot a lot of pictures in a small amount of time because the pocket camera I use takes a lot of time to recharge its flash or to move the pictures from it's internal memory to the card memory. Still, I shot a couple of hundred frames tonight in hopes of getting a few good ones. Here are a few:

The slideshow above is a Picasa slide show. This is the first time I have ever used it. I have a preference for the community tools built into Flickr, and first uploaded my pictures there. After 15 minutes or so, the upload had finished, but processing still had not. In fact, quite a few minutes later, Flickr still hasn't processed the pictures into my photostream. I got frustrated waiting, so I decided to give the PicasaWeb Photo Album a try. I like it. It worked when I wanted it to. I am sure there is something to be learned from that.

ps: The Flickr version finally got posted. Compare it here.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bowling for Dollars, Nick Perry and Hearst-Argyle on YouTube

When I was growing up south of Pittsburgh, channel 4 meant WTAE-TV. The news was Paul Long, Don Cannon and Joe Denardo with the weather. I might have forgotten most of that, except WTAE is owned by Hearst-Argyle which has recently signed a deal to put some of their stations on YouTube in exchange for a cut of the revenue.

Here's the announcement:

YouTube said on Sunday it has reached a revenue-sharing deal with Hearst-Argyle Television whereby local TV stations will be paid when users of the video-sharing site watch their programming. YouTube, a unit of Google, and Hearst-Argyle said in a statement that they will share advertising revenue on news, weather and entertainment videos from five TV stations the first time YouTube has paid for local TV programming.

Hearst-Argyle television stations in Boston, Manchester in New Hampshire, Sacramento, Pittsburgh and Baltimore will begin posting local video content to dedicated channels on YouTube.

YouTube will also distribute Hearst-Argyle's new digital video initiatives, including high school football, basketball and local amateur entertainment, the companies said.

Hearst-Argyle, which owns 29 local TV stations in the United States, will take an undisclosed cut of the advertising revenue YouTube earns when its users view clips, a spokesman said.

The WTAE channel on YouTube includes some vintage promos as well as highlights of some shows from my youth. On that caught my eye in particular was this video of Bowling for Dollars which was hosted by Nick Perry:

As it says in the Wikipedia, Nick Perry was a television and radio personality who became infamous after being indicted in a scandal involving the rigging of the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1980.

I was in college and 500 miles to the south at the time, but it was big news across the country. Nick and his buddies rigged the lottery but couldn't keep it quiet.

The full story is fascinating, once again from the Wikipedia entry:

In 1977, Perry became the host of the live nightly broadcast of the Pennsylvania Lottery, which was then held in the studios of WTAE in Pittsburgh. On the night of April 24, 1980, more than six million viewers watched as 666 was pulled as the winning number. (Contrary to popular belief, Perry was only an announcer and never drew the winning numbers. This was always done by a senior citizen volunteer, as the lottery benefits senior citizens in Pennsylvania.) Lottery authorities and local bookmakers became suspicious when they noticed a large number of tickets were purchased for certain numbers, and a handful of players came forward to claim approximately $1.8 million of the then record $3.5 million payout. However, they had no actual evidence that the drawing was fixed.

The scheme was masterminded by Perry, who first discussed the idea with two of his business partners, brothers Peter Maragos and Jack Maragos, whom he worked with in the vending business. Once committed to the plan, Perry approached local Pittsburgh lettering expert and WTAE art director Joseph Bock about creating weighted ping-pong balls that were replicas of the official balls used in the lottery machines. Bock agreed to help, and experimented with powder and other substances until he settled on white latex paint. Bock performed careful experiments to determine just the right amount of paint to use so that the weighted balls could fly up off the bottom of the machine, but not high enough to reach the vacuum tube so the ball would be drawn out of the machine. The men thought it would be too risky to weight nine of the ten balls for each machine, so they decided to leave both the 4 and 6 balls unchanged. Those would be the only balls light enough to actually be drawn. This would reduce the number of possible combinations that could come up to eight: 444, 446, 464, 466, 644, 646, 664, or 666. Bock then applied labels on the balls (obtained from an art supply store) that matched those of the originals.

However, Perry needed more help to pull the scheme off. Perry got access to the machines and ping pong balls through the involvement of Pennsylvania Lottery official Edward Plevel. Plevel left the machines and balls unguarded for several minutes on a few occasions. Perry also got WTAE stagehand Fred Luman to actually switch the original balls with the weighted ones before and after the drawing. Bock then took the balls back to his studio and burned them in a paint can half an hour after the on-air drawing was done.

The Maragos brothers, on the date of the drawing, travelled around Pennsylvania buying large quantities of tickets containing the eight possible numbers. The investigation was broken open with an anonymous tip led to a bar near Philadelphia where the Maragos brothers bought a large number of lottery tickets. An employee remembers the Maragos brothers coming into the bar with a platinum blonde woman and laying down a large amount of cash to buy lottery tickets, all on eight specific numbers. While the employee worked the lottery machine to print the tickets, he remembered that one of the Maragos brothers used the pay phone to make a call, spoke in a foreign language, and held up the phone so the listener could hear the lottery machine printing the tickets. Investigators pulled the phone records and traced the call to the WTAE announcer's booth in the studio where the drawing was done. They had successfully implicated Perry, but also knew he could not have acted alone. Further investigation and questioning of the Maragos brothers eventually implicated the rest of the men.

It was later revealed that the Maragos brothers also placed bets on the eight numbers with local bookmakers who had illegal numbers games that used the lottery drawing as the winning result. The brothers also told friends and family which numbers to play. This extra bit of greed may have been what ultimately did all of the conspirators in.

A grand jury was called and charges were brought against all six men. Plevel was convicted and spent two years in prison. Bock and Luman pleaded guilty in exchange for lighter sentences. The Maragos brothers avoided jail time by agreeing to testify against Perry. Much of the $1.8 million was recovered from the Maragos brothers, as were numerous lottery tickets.

Perry was convicted of criminal conspiracy, criminal mischief, theft by deception, rigging a publicly exhibited contest, and perjury in 1981 and was sentenced to 7 years in prison. He served two years at Camp Hill State Penitentiary and spent another year at a halfway house in East Liberty, Pennsylvania. Perry remained on parole until March 1989. He held a number of jobs after prison including an unsuccessful attempt to return to broadcasting in the late 1980s. Perry died in Andover, Massachusetts on April 22, 2003, having never admitted his role in the scandal.

Watch: WTAE on YouTube

ps: So, why doesn't my new favorite channel 4, WYFF-TV in Greenville have their videos on YouTube? Especially those that feature my mother's favorite tech guy chatting with Tim Waller or Nigel Robertson?

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