Shooter’s YouTube videos didn’t help

Whenever there’s a terrible event like the school shooting at Dawson College in Montreal in 2006, or the shootings at Virginia Tech last year, many people look at the YouTube videos uploaded by the killers and wonder why someone didn’t alert the authorities to the potential mental instability of the shooters. In the most recent school shooting — in which Matti Juhani Saari opened fire and killed as many as 10 students at a school in Finland on Tuesday — people did exactly that. They notified the authorities about the videos, including one in which he was shown firing a pistol and then pointing it at the video camera and saying “You will die next.”

Police even went so far as to interview Saari at his home on Monday, which they also searched. According to news reports, however, they found that Saari had a temporary permit to carry a gun, and said they could find no reason to either hold him or take the weapon. The next day, he arrived at the school with at least one gun and started shooting, as well as setting fires in various places along the way (there have also been reports that the gunman carried explosives). At last report, 10 people were dead (not including the gunman, who also died) and several more were seriously injured.

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ImprovEverywhere comes to Toronto

It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy spontaneous activity with a bunch of strangers, Improv Everywhere is apparently bringing their “MP3 Experiment” to Toronto on September 28. The group, which organizes improvisational events primarily in New York — including the recent Grand Central Station freeze experiment (in which dozens of people froze in place for five minutes) and the Best Buy campaign (in which dozens of people showed up at a Best Buy store all dressed exactly like Best Buy employees) — started the MP3 Experiment in 2004.

People were asked to download an mp3 file and then bring it on a player with some headphones to a pre-arranged meeting place, where they listened to a voice and carried out various activities, including dancing, singing, blowing up balloons and so on. So far, there have been four MP3 Experiments in a variety of places (there’s some video on YouTube of the last few). The news that Toronto was getting one came by way of a group called Newmindspace, which holds similar events in Toronto and New York, such as the Bubble Battle and the Great New York Pillow Fight.

Real estate: Not bad if you do it right

New York magazine has one of the most incredible real estate stories I think I’ve ever read: the story of 190 Bowery, a stately old brownstone bank building with six floors and 72 rooms, right at the corner of Spring Street. It looks abandoned from the outside, but not inside — photographer and artist Jay Maisel lives there with his wife and daughter. The Maisel family have been the only occupants of this 35,000 square-foot building since Jay bought it in 1966 for just $102,000. They live on several floors, cook in the old bank kitchen, and Maisel has turned several floors into a gallery for his work (he stores the rest of it in the old bank vault). The estimated value of the building now? Anywhere from $30-million to $70-million.
(hat tip to Kottke for the link)

Google Phone: A mobile Amazon music store?


An Amazon music store app on the Google Phone has been confirmed at the launch of the first phone by T-Mobile, the “G1”. The only downside that I can see is that while you can browse and listen to songs on the 3G network, you can only download them to the device over Wi-Fi. Not sure why that is, but it sounds like a real pain in the ass.

Original post:

As the speculation about the launch of the first Google Phone tomorrow continues to ramp up, one of the first reports that I’ve come across that makes me a little excited is the news from MG Siegler over at VentureBeat that the device could be equipped with a mobile client for Amazon’s music store (the other piece of interesting speculation is that T-Mobile might offer free email). Like MG, I think that an Amazon store app — although still just a rumour — makes perfect sense as something to add value to the phone and make it more competitive with the iPhone.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m interested in the Google Phone launch for other reasons, including the fact that I like the idea of the iPhone having an open-source competitor, and I’m hoping that means all kinds of cool apps developed by third parties. But in terms of features, the Sidekick-style HTC device that everyone has been showing photos of doesn’t exactly fill me with lust, if you know what I mean. I’ve used Sidekicks, and other devices with similar slide-up keyboards, and for the most part they were bricks. Useful bricks, but more or less still bricks.

Add an easy pay-and-download music app connected to the Amazon store, however, and the Google Phone becomes a lot more interesting. Amazon’s store hasn’t really gotten a lot of traction as a result of the dominance of iTunes, but a mobile interface that works would be a great way to expose more people to a store that doesn’t have any DRM on its files — which play on any device — and has a growing catalogue at relatively inexpensive prices. An iTunes-killer it might not be, but it would be good to see at least a little more competition for Apple on that front.

PlanetEye gets a makeover

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning a big event in the life of a friend — namely, my fellow mesh conference organizer and former journalistic colleague Mark Evans. Now the director of community at Web 2.0 travel site PlanetEye, Mark and the rest of the team have relaunched the site with a new design and some new (or enhanced) features. I thought the original PlanetEye was pretty nifty, and the redesign — done by the gang at Happy Cog, who also do work for WordPress — makes it even easier to navigate and create the “Travel Packs” that are the core of the PlanetEye experience, which consist of photos, maps, reviews and other content related to your trip.

I also like the featured Travel Packs, which Mark and CEO Butch Langlois and others have put together, such as the “10 Places To See Before You’re 10” pack, and the fact that many destinations have comments and reviews from experienced local writers. The only quibble I have is that when you type a location in the search bar that the site doesn’t have a page for yet — such as Thailand — all you get are listings for Thai restaurants. It might help to have a landing page with a “write your own review of Thailand” pitch, or some aggregated content as a starting point. Those quibbles aside, however, the site looks and works great, and if I could afford to actually go anywhere, I would be more than happy to take advantage of it 🙂

For more reviews of PlanetEye’s relaunch, check out the posts by Mashable’s Kristen Nicole, Read/WriteWeb’s Frederic Lardinois and Mark Hendrickson from TechCrunch. Mark has his own take on it here, and CEO Langlois has some thoughts on it at the PlanetEye blog.

Google launches new book widgets

Google has announced new Google Book Search browsable widgets, as well as partnerships with retailers such as Books-A-Million and other booksellers that will see the “browse inside this book” feature added to their reviews and book pages, and also allow virtually anyone with a website to embed a Google book reader widget.

In addition to Books-A-Million, the company says that previews will be available soon at Borders and, and that thousands of books will also be available for preview directly from the online library catalogues at both the University of Texas and the University of California. The new browsable widgets have also been incorporated into the websites of book publishers such as O’Reilly, Macmillan and Stanford University Press.

Of course, what the Google press release (or blog post) doesn’t mention is that millions of books aren’t available for preview through its Book Search widget because its book-scanning project continues to be the subject of multiple lawsuits and threats of legal action from book publishers, author groups and so on (Google’s response to those criticisms is here). And when it comes to non-Google book-browsing options, Amazon has its Ajax-powered online reader, while HarperCollins and Random House Publishing both have their own versions of a browsable book-search widgets.

slotMusic: the new 8-track tape?

You have to give SanDisk some credit for trying, I suppose. Just about everyone else — including the four major record labels — seems to have given up on the business of selling actual physical copies of music. Why? Because it’s a crappy business, that’s why. The days of fat profit margins on compact discs are long gone, thanks in part to iTunes. But SanDisk is giving it the old college try anyway, with its “slotMusic” venture, which involves buying a 1-gigabyte microSD card with music, photos and other content on it, which you can jam into your phone or your PC (with an adapter).

My hunch is that my friend Om Malik is probably right — this thing seems to have fail written all over it (TechCrunch is similarly unimpressed). The company makes a big deal out of how much space there is on the microSD card compared to a compact disc, but are people really crying out for more ephemera with their music? I think if anything they seem to want less. Then there’s the form factor. Can you stick it in your phone? Sure you can. But what about when you have more than one?

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We may die, but the Web lives on

My friend Ethan Kaplan over at blackrimglasses has a fascinating post about the death of a geek — a man named Mark Hoekstra — and the strange feeling that is created by seeing his blog posts, Flickr photos, contributions and other elements of his online life floating around in the ether after his death (just 34 years old, he apparently died suddenly of a heart attack while riding his bicycle). As Ethan says:

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Bored? Read some comment fiction

There are plenty of reasons to read the comment sections of various blogs: to get different points of view on a topic, to spot other bloggers who might be worth reading, and so on. In some cases, the comments on posts are even better than the posts themselves, as bloggers such as Fred Wilson and Mike Arrington (and even me) have noted in the past. And then there are the times when comments take a left turn into the totally bizarre — like, say, the comments on a recent blog post at the website of The Stranger, the alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle.

The first few comments are typical, talking about video games (the topic of the post), and then it appears: a comment that says “The world premiere of Blog Theatre. Please give a warm applause for this evenings production of George Washington.” What follows is the text of what appears to be an absurd play, with different commenters playing roles in the investigation of the death of someone named George Washington, a 12-year-old billionaire drug addict. The comments come one or two a minute until comment number 314, which says the play has reached its halfway point.

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Yes, Ludacris will sing about your jeans

Eliot Van Buskirk over at Wired magazine’s Listening Post blog has the hilarious tale of an advertising email gone astray: the missive in question came from one Adam Kluger of The Kluger Agency (or, according to Mr. Kluger, from an over-eager minion of his), and it offered a company called Double Happiness Jeans the opportunity to have their product name appear in the lyrics of a popular song, sung by “one of the world’s most famous recording artists.” Two problems with that: Double Happiness Jeans is an art project involving the virtual world Second Life, and — last but not least — it is also part of something called The Anti-Advertising Agency, run by Jeff Crouse and Steve Lambert.

Not the most auspicious person to contact for something that even relatively pro-advertising music fans might see as an abomination, but Mr. Kluger sees as “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Rather than dismiss his email, however, Crouse responds enthusiastically:

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