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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

If You've Got Google Music All Access, You Can Get Glass Now

If You've Got Google Music All Access, You Can Get Glass Now 

If You've Got Google Music All Access, You Can Get Glass Now
Google Music All Access users are reporting that they've received an email inviting them to join the ranks of Glass Explorers. (Here's the sign up page you can try if you didn't get the email.) As far we can tell it's the first time Google has opened up the program to a subset of its users without demanding that they explain themselves.

A tipster sent us the screenshot above from an email, which explains that along with a selection of other All Access customers, he'd been selected for VIP Access to Glass Explorers program. The subset of customers isn't surprising given that Google recently expanded its music support for Google Play. But it's significant that Google's rolling out the beta to a wider audience because it shows the company is increasingly confident in the product. Whether this means we'll see any final Glass product in 2014 remains to be seen.
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Giant rubber duck bursts in Taiwan

Cleaners scrub a giant yellow duck at Keelung port in New Taipei City, Taiwan, 28th December
A giant yellow rubber duck on display in a Taiwanese port has burst in unexplained circumstances.

The 18 metre (50 foot) inflatable duck suddenly collapsed on Tuesday, only 11 days after it had been put on display in the port at Keelung.

Organisers are unsure as to the cause of its demise, but one theory is that it was attacked by eagles.
The duck was designed by the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman to be a giant version of a popular bath toy.

Last month a similar duck was damaged elsewhere in Taiwan, when an earthquake triggered a power outage that caused it to deflate.

A third Taiwanese duck was brought ashore in September because of an approaching typhoon.
New Year deflated?
A large crowd had been anticipated in Keelung Port for New Year celebrations, and the rubber duck was due to be an important part of the festivities.

But video footage showed the giant inflatable suddenly bursting in front of scores of people gathered on a quayside.

"We want to apologise to the fans of the yellow rubber duck," organiser Huang Jing-tai told reporters. "We will carefully examine the duck to determine the cause."

The original duck designed by Hofman has been transported around the globe since 2007, visiting cities including Sydney, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong and Amsterdam.

The artist hopes the works will bring people together and encourage a connection with public art.
Despite the ducks' misfortunes, they have been a big hit among the Taiwanese.

The duck at Kaohsiung, which had to be deflated during Typhoon Usagi, attracted four million visitors during its one-month display,
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Your E-Reader Is Tracking You

It knows when you've been reading.
The biggest difference between Web journalism and print journalism is that on the Web both publishers and advertisers have some idea about what readers are actually doing, and this naturally ends up informing both the commercial and editorial sides of what we do. Thanks to e-readers, similar analytic power is coming to the world of books :
Scribd is just beginning to analyze the data from its subscribers. Some general insights: The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all.

At Oyster, a top book is “What Women Want,” promoted as a work that “brings you inside a woman’s head so you can learn how to blow her mind.” Everyone who starts it finishes it. On the other hand, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s “The Cycles of American History” blows no minds: fewer than 1 percent of the readers who start it get to the end.

Oyster data shows that readers are 25 percent more likely to finish books that are broken up into shorter chapters. That is an inevitable consequence of people reading in short sessions during the day on an iPhone.
One difference between books and periodicals is that since the book publishing industry has never been based on advertising, getting people to actually read books has never been a particularly important part of the book industry. The point is to sell books. A beloved book might be passed around between friends and family, checked out of libraries, re-read every two or three years, or whatever. Alternatively, some new founding fathers biography might be bought as a gift for thousands and thousands of people who leave it on the coffee table for a few months without ever really reading it. It's the latter scenario where the publisher actually makes money.

At any rate, articles on the use of analytics in media production are supposed to feature some hand-wringing about the nature of the creative process. But I think only uncreative people use data to stymie creativity. And certainly that's an option. The more you know about your audience, the more precisely you can implement a strategy of "precisely copy what's working elsewhere." But a person who wants to innovate can also take advantage of data to do so. After all, suppose you want to try some new things. Wouldn't you like to know which of those things works so you can iterate?
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Mass., Vt. halt payments to firm behind health sites as President Obama’s health insurance website limps to recovery, at least two states that used the same contractor and are still plagued with malfunctions — Massachusetts and Vermont — are taking preliminary steps to recoup taxpayer dollars.

Massachusetts officials are reviewing legal options against CGI Group, a Montreal-based information technology company, and will make recommendations on how to seek financial redress at a Jan. 9 meeting.

So far, the state has paid $11 million of its $69 million contract with CGI. It will not pay a penny more until a functioning website has been delivered, said Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the Commonwealth Health Connector, the state’s insurance marketplace.

“CGI has consistently underperformed, which is frustrating and a serious concern,” Lefferts said. “We are holding the vendor accountable for its underperformance and will continue to apply nonstop pressure to work to fix defects and improve performance.

Massachusetts has reverted to using an alternative software system and paper notifications for residents seeking new insurance, a significant black eye for a system that was held up as a national model for providing coverage after it debuted in 2007.

In Vermont, state officials recently alerted CGI that the state is withholding payment of $5.1 million as compensation for the company’s failure to meet key deadlines.

The state is also disputing more than $1 million in charges billed by CGI because of incomplete work that left its insurance website so far behind schedule that Vermonters could not buy coverage online, as promised under Obama’s health care law, until early December, two months after it opened.

“I’ve lost confidence in the contractors that were supposed to deliver a fully functioning website on Oct. 1,” said Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont. “I’m going to continue to hold their feet to the fire until they get it right.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Americans are supposed to obtain insurance through the new marketplaces by the end of March 2014 or face a tax penalty. An uncertain number of Americans numbering at least in the hundreds of thousands who lost coverage in 2013 were supposed to sign up by Tuesday to obtain replacement coverage that starts on Jan. 1.

In pitching the health law, President Obama said shopping for coverage would be as easy as purchasing a plane ticket online. But the race to enroll the uninsured has been an uphill slog — not only in the glitch-plagued federal site, which is serving 36 states that chose not to build their own websites, but in some of the remaining states that chose to go it on their own.

In addition to Massachusetts and Vermont, CGI is working on five other state-based marketplaces — in Hawaii, Colorado, Kentucky, New Mexico, and California — with mixed success. Hawaii’s marketplace launched two weeks late, with comparison shopping among insurances plans not possible until Oct. 15.

In Kentucky and Colorado, the rollout was a lot smoother, with the sites functioning as they should for the most part. California also has performed better than the federal website.
CGI spokeswoman Linda Odorisio said the company is working to fix state websites and has already improved performance of the much-maligned federal marketplace.

The federal government has spent $319 million so far building the insurance site and total obligations are expected to be $677 million, according to the administration. Its contract with CGI, one of numerous contractors on the site, totaled $93.7 million, but an administration spokeswoman could not specify how much of that has already been paid.

The Obama administration has launched an investigation into what went wrong, but has not yet indicated if it would take any legal action to recover taxpayer money based on substandard performance.

“We must take steps to ensure that our contractors are well managed, and that they fulfill their commitments and provide good services and products for our tax dollars,” wrote Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, in a recent blog post.

The mounting public criticism by state officials against CGI is an early indicator of the legal tussle expected in coming months. The malfunctions have made enrollment frustrating even in states that have long supported health care overhaul such as Vermont and Massachusetts, the state on which the federal law was modeled.

“Even states where there was good will, where the government was totally committed to implementing the law, have experienced a mess,” said Joe Onek, a longtime Washington attorney and health law expert who has worked for the Carter and Clinton administrations, as well as Nancy Pelosi and Edward M. Kennedy.

“I would expect all sorts of litigation related to this, but nobody is interested in filing that now because they need the cooperation of these same people to get their systems up and running,” Onek said.

Jean Yang, executive director of the Massachusetts Connector, said she does not believe CGI has committed enough company resources to the state’s site. The state until recently was unable to successfully enroll a single person in its revamped marketplace.

The Connector staff is expected to present a plan to its board of directors in January for “rectifying issues, including ensuring that accountability for the website problems is addressed,” Lefferts said.

The state, which has allowed consumers to obtain insurance through the Connector since 2006, had to revamp its insurance Web portal under the Affordable Care Act so that consumers could be immediately notified whether they qualify for insurance subsidies.

The new site was supposed to streamline the insurance application process and eliminate the need for people to file separate applications for subsidies.

That hasn’t happened. Parts of the website used to determine people’s program eligibility have been completely unusable. Even basic functions, such as account log-ins and password resets, have been problematic.

“There should be some financial accountability to the taxpayers who have funded this,” said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care For All, a Boston-based health advocacy group.

As of early December, Vermont had paid $18.6 million of its $82.6 million contract with CGI. The state is in the midst of investigating the full extent of CGI’s shortcomings and may seek additional remedies, said a letter from the state to CGI.

Individuals shopping for coverage are now able to do so on the Vermont marketplace, but they cannot submit their payment electronically — a feature that was delayed so software engineers could focus on fixing the website’s core function. Consumers can pay with a check.

The portal for Vermont small businesses to buy coverage for employees is still not working. Shumlin has made backup accommodations, saying employers can purchase insurance directly from insurers or extend their current plans through the end of March.

Odorisio said CGI is reviewing Vermont’s letters signaling intent to recover damages.
“CGI fully intends to honor the terms of its contract,” Odorisio said in a statement.
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President Obama Needs Kanye West

President Obama Needs Kanye West 

Obama loves Kanye's music, but he'd rather spend an evening with the cast of Duck Dynasty than the egomaniacal rapper. He should reconsider.

Like most Americans, from time to time I make lists of things Barack Obama and I have in common. We both live in Washington. We both think Hawaii is an excellent vacation destination. We both have taken an interest in U.S. counter-terrorism policy. And both President Obama and I have Kanye West in our iTunes music libraries.

Speaking to People Magazine for an end of the year interview, Obama acknowledged he thought Kanye’s music was “outstanding .” But he also said he’d rather socialize with the family from Duck Dynasty than Kanye and his bride Kim Kardashian, who appeared in her husband’s latest music video having sex with him on a motorcycle.

Part of Obama’s initial appeal as a politician in 2008 was that he charmed the hip-hop generation. During the 2008 campaign, my friend Spencer Ackerman noticed Obama’s reference to Jay-Z’s 2003 classic “Dirt off your shoulder” at a campaign event when he made the hand gesture implied in the song’s title. Spencer’s blog post went viral and a meme was born.

For younger voters this was a welcome change of pace. Bill Clinton tried to connect to voters by signaling his love of classic rock. The Clintons in 1992 made their campaign song the perky ode to positive thinking from Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow.George W. Bush’s iPod had plenty of country music . The 43rd president has said one of his favorite songs is the frat party anthem, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.

When Eazy E, the founder of the group that sang, “F#$K The Police,” attended a White House Luncheon in 1991 for Republican fundraisers, it was treated as a political oddity ; Today, Jay Z’s friendship with Obama is treated like Frank Sinatra’s friendship with Jack Kennedy. And while Jay and Obama are in very different fields, they are both natural-born front men.

Since its infancy there has been a division of labor in hip hop between the master of ceremonies (MC), or the rapper, and the DJ who would later become the producer. When hip hop music began as soundtracks to parties in the Bronx, the DJ was the more important than the MC. The MC hyped the party, but the DJ extended the dance breaks on those records to keep the party going. As rap music became a business, the rapper emerged as the star and the DJ who created the sonic landscape for the rapper was relegated, with a few exceptions, to the background.  

If Barack Obama was in the hip hop business, he’d be a rapper. His speeches inspire, his rhetoric soars and he exudes charisma. Obama however would not be a producer, a job that requires the skill to manage the egos of artists and pay attention to the details that can turn a rapper’s lyrical vision into a downloadable single. DJ Premier or Pete Rock would have never allowed the Obamacare website to be unveiled before the bugs were worked out.
If Barack Obama was in the hip hop business, he’d be a rapper. His speeches inspire, his rhetoric soars and he exudes charisma
This is where Kanye comes into the picture. While Kanye is a rapper today, he made his mark at first as Jay Z’s producer. Even though Kanye has sold millions of records, his lyrics never seem as natural or spell binding as many others in the game. If you don’t believe me, google “Kanye” and “sweet and sour sauce” or listen to Kanye’s verse on “See Me Now,” the brilliant final track on My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy. On that song he raps, “I’ll admit my first watch was a Fossil, now I’m in the Louvre, looking for Fossils.” We get it Mr. West. You were once middle class like us and now you are in Paris with stratospheric wealth. Kanye returns to this theme on “I am a God” from his latest record Yeezus, where he raps, “Hurry up with my damn Croissants.

In addition to being an egomaniac, Kanye is also a terrible politician. He says things that alienate his audience. Consider Kanye’s interruption of Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Awards, when he made an impassioned plea that Beyoncéshould have won the award. Obama said Kanye was a jackass at the time for interrupting the young starlet’s award speech. Kanye later apologized. Could you ever see Jay Z doing that?

But in this sense maybe Obama and Kanye could benefit from a friendship. Obama could teach Kanye about how to appeal better to his public and keeping his cool. Kanye on the other hand could teach Obama how to better manage a project and seeing it through despite the opposition of those wishing him to fail. And then the two of them could trade stories about Jay Z, Chicago and French pastries. Don’t get me wrong. An evening with game hunters from Louisiana has its charms, but Obama would benefit more today from the head of a rap dynasty than the duck variety.
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