Learn the basics of a steering differential

If you have ever owned a matchbook car, you know that each pair of wheels are connected by an axle. In small toys, the axle is often a steel wire about the diameter of a paper clip.

But in a road car, connecting the wheels with a straight, rigid axle yields a terrible driving experience. Here is a fascinating video on the design and evolution of a steering differential. That’s the gear system that connects a drive shaft from the transmission to a split axle—allowing powered wheels to rotate at different speeds. This is necessary to accommodate turns and uneven terrain.

Without a differential, your tires won’t last long on dry pavement and they will wobble and feather during sharp turns. After all, the outside wheel is cornering a larger radius and so, it wants to turn at a higher speed.

With the exception of 3-wheelers, like the Polaris Slingshot) or the Campagna T-Rex (photo), differentials have been used on internal combustion autos, even in the 19th century. The mechanism was known to the ancient Greeks, and patented for use in steam-powered cars in 1827—long before gasoline engines. Even the Ford Model T had a differential gearbox. But not every 4-wheeled vehicle has a differential…

One Wheel and Rear-Wheel Drive

So, how do go karts, motorized toys and some very cheap cars deal with the need for opposing wheels to spin at different speeds? Answer: The engine is shunted to just one rear wheel, often using a chain drive. This leaves the other wheel free to spin at whatever speed is necessary. It also leaves the front wheels free to navigate turns without the complicated task of sending power through a steering linkage. Because the front wheels were not powered, they simply rotate freely on independent roller bearings at the end of a straight axle.

But one-wheel power lacks traction and skid control. And it becomes dangerous whenever one wheel has less grip on the terrain. That’s where a differential comes into play. Furthermore, rear-wheel drive tends to shove a vehicle into each bump and hill rather than pulling it up and over obstacles. In the past 40 years, most cars have been redesigned to power the front wheels rather than the rear wheels. This not only improves handling, it helps in snow and on uneven terrain.

Differential Design: Simple, elegant & efficient

This video was filmed in the 1937, as evidenced by a vintage, pre-war Chevy sedan. Although this educational film it was made more than 100 years after the differential was invented, I wonder how many additional innovations have been added since?

This video explains a differential. Set time to far left to add
3 minute preface explaining the problem with straight axles.

I’m not in the business of teaching auto mechanics. But if you have caught the bug, check out these additional drive train principles —

Why properly oriented photos jump back to rotated

A year ago, I watched my good friend, George, create a new account at a popular dating service. It wasn’t a hook-up site, but rather a serious forum for like minded, intellectual, Italian Americans.

George Clooney-sSure, Ellery!…I bet that it was you surfing the
dating service—and not your imaginary friend.

No, seriously. That’s him on the right.               »
Anyway, the first photo that George uploaded is the handsome close-up shown here. But to his surprise, the dating service displayed the sideways photo shown below.

George was surprised, because he recalled that the camera displayed it this way when his mom took the photo. He rotated it clockwise even before uploading to a PC. Now, it displays correctly on both his camera and on his computer screen. He thought that the sideways photo problem had been resolved. He even emailed the photo to me, and it looked fine on both my phone and desktop PC.

George Clooney-Couterclockwise« But there it is at ItalianStallions.com. Somehow, the photo had jumped back to sideways orientation. What gives?!

I started to give George a tip about permanently correcting the problem, but he cut me off…“Ellery”, he said—“I just want to meet Sheryl411. She has incredible eyes. I haven’t been so smitten since I met Amal!

With a remarkably low threshold for technology glitches, he decided to leave the sideways photo at ItallianStallions.com. “I can’t imagine that a reasonable girl would care” He said. “After all, women love my mug. They can rotate it after saving it to their drive—Or, they can simply ask my agent to send a signed, 8-by-10 glossy photo”.

I grimaced. In my opinion, the sideways photo broadcasts a not-too-subtle message—It says that the person seeking companionship is a Luddite, rather than America’s premier hunk. George’s character in the film Up in the Air was ruthless, but had so much more common sense.

George and I were still sitting on the back deck sipping Shirley Temples, when the alert appeared on his screen. Even before he reached out to any of the beautiful, eligible women at ItallianStallions.com, he had caught the eye of Sheryl411. What an incredible coincidence! But, sadly, her note to George was an unsolicited rejection letter:

Dear ‘Clooney-Actor-Hunk’,

I am fascinated by your wit and words—and I love your movies. I read about your break-up with Amal, and I just want to hold you to my breast and comfort you.

I wish that I could jet-set to your latest movie set in Casablanca or sail on your 164 foot yacht. But, I’m afraid that it is not meant to be. I could never date you…

If you can’t figure out how to make a sideways pic of yourself upright, then we are not a good match. I’m sorry… Darwin is making me do it.

I tried to sympathize with George. Sheryl411 represented his fantasy and passionate hopes. But Sheryl has a shorter tolerance for techno-averse actors than they do for figuring out how to rotate a photo.

So what is the problem—and how can it be solved?

In response, I am sharing with readers my reply to Sheryl. (I grabbed George’s laptop PC, and wrote this note back to the object of his lust)…

Dear Sheryl411,

I *love* your final comment to my friend George: “If you can’t figure out how to right a sideways pic…Darwin is making me do it”. Hawhh! And to think that I thought this was a problem related to a double-X chromosome!

It is, in fact, a tricky problem, because with some phones & cameras, the rotate-feature does not really rotate the image data. It only adds a tag that tells the display device that it should be rotated (90, 180 or 270 degrees). So, the user may see a properly oriented photo—even after they upload it to a PC. Yet, when they upload to the dating service, it jumps back to sideways. That’s because the dating site uses older rendering software that does not recognize the rotate instruction.

Sheryl411: George’s latest obsession

For this reason, I would give George a break (even though a sideways photo is one my pet peeves too!). Since cameras and PCs are not his thing, it can be tricky to realize that he needed to use the older method of rotating, which actually rotates and re-writes the image, rather than adding a rotate tag.

But wait! Things don’t really get better, because if you use an older process to truly rotate the image, it is likely to leave the embedded tag which tells newer devices to apply an additional rotation. Oy Gevalt! What to do?!

The best solution is to run a free utility, Autororate. It adds a right-click feature to your Explorer/browser. It rotates and re-saves an image file in place. If the file has a rotate tag, it syncs the underlying orientation and then strips the tag, with no loss of image quality.

And so, Sheryl—We have solved the problem. Now, that I have shown you that I know how to avoid sideways head shots, please consider dating  me  instead of George. He may be a hunk, but I have much more going on upstairs, if you know what I mean! 😉 Check out my dating site profile and my upright photos. If Darwin is your thing, visit my Blog, AWildDuck.com. You are sure to be impressed by my intellect, eclectic wit, charm, wry sarcasm and incredible modesty.

Your future date (or mate-?),


I forgot to create my own dating page and give Sheryl my user name. So, she had no way to answer me. Later that night, she wrote to George asking for my contact information. (she could have used the Contact form here at Wild Duck).

When George saw her request, he went ballistic! He realized that I had put the moves on his girl. I have always thought of this Blog as a family-friendly site, and so I cannot relate the angry note that George sent to me. It drips with venom and profanity.

Today, Sheryl and I are married. George is still with Amal, and he is still angry with me. He refuses to rekindle our friendship, and so we don’t spend time on his Yacht or on set of his Casablanca movie (It is still being filmed). But we always see his films at the local theater and we raise a glass or two in his honor. After all, he introduced us!

No. I don’t really know George Clooney and I am not married to Sheryl411. I wrote this article to
explain JPEG image rotation. Yes, Sheryl411 is real, and she really can’t stand techno-Luddites.

The New Era of Virtual Reality

A Wild Duck guest editorial

Richelle Ross-sRichelle Ross is a sophomore at the University of Florida, focusing on statistics and data science. As a crypto consultant, she educates far beyond the campus. Her insight on the evolution and future of Bitcoin has been featured in national publications. Richelle writes for CoinDesk, LinkedIn, and Quora, providing analysis on Bitcoin’s evolving economy.

In 2003, I remember going to see my first IMAX 3D film,
Space Station . My family was touring NASA at Cape Canaveral Florida. The film was an inside view into life as an astronaut enters space. As the astronauts tossed M&Ms to each other in their new gravity-free domain, the other children and space_station_1I gleefully reached our hands out to try and touch the candy as it floated towards us. I had never experienced anything so mind-blowing in my 7 year life. The first 3D film was released in 1922. Yet, surprisingly, flat entertainment has dominated screens for in the 9½ decades that followed. Only a handful of films have been released in 3D-most of them are animated. But now, we are gradually seeing a shift in how people experience entertainment. As methods evolve and as market momentum builds, it promises to be one of the most groundbreaking technologies of the decade. I foresee Virtual Reality reaching a point where our perception of virtual and real-life experiences becomes blurred-and eventually-the two become integrated.

Ever since pen was put to paper, and camera to screen, audiences have enjoyed being swept into other worlds. For those of us “dreamers” being able to escape into these stories is one way we live through and expand our understanding of other times and places-even places space_station_2that may not be accessible in our lifetimes. Virtual reality is the logical progression and natural evolution of these experiences.

I caught the VR bug after one of my Facebook contacts was posting about it and sharing 360 degree videos that were of no use to me unless I too had the headset. Having been a Samsung user for the last several years, I purchased the Samsung VR headset to understand what all the hype was. Just as with my childhood experience visiting the space station, the VR Introduction video sent me floating across the universe. But this time, it was much more compelling. I could turn my head in any direction and experience a vast heavenly realm in 3D vision and tied to my own movements. Behind me was a large planet and in front were dozens of asteroids slowly moving by.

Similar to visiting the Grand Canyon, this is one of those novel experiences you really have to experience to appreciate. Within about ten seconds of trying it out, I had become hooked. I realized that I was experiencing something with far greater potential than an amusement park roller coaster, yet I also recognized that any applications I might imagine barely scratch the surface. This unexpected adrenaline rush is what leads tinkerers to the imaginative leaps that push new technologies into the next decades ahead.

Video games are probably the industry everyone thinks of being affected by this new paradigm. I immediately thought about the Star Wars franchise with its ever expanding universe. It will be a pretty exciting day when you can hold a lightsaber hilt that comes to life when you wear a headset and allows you to experience that universe from your living room. You could even wear a sensored body suit that allows you to feel little zaps or vibrations during gameplay. With more connected devices, the possibility of Li-Fi replacing Wi-Fi and so on, video games are just scratching the surface.

I discussed what the future of VR could offer with Collective Learning founder, Dan Barenboym. We explored various difficulties that impede market adoption. Barenboym was an early enthusiast of virtual reality, having worked with a startup that plans to deploy full-body scanners that give online life to gamers. The project began long before the film Avatar. Berenboym suggests ways that this dan_barenboym_5624swould improve online shopping by allowing people to see their avatar with their own personal measurements in various outfits. This doesn’t have to be limited to at-home experiences though. Dan suggests that instead of walking into the boutique changing room, you walk into one with mirrors connected to VR software. Your reflection ‘tries on’ different virtual outfits before you pull your favorite one off the store rack.

We also discussed the current obstacles of VR like the headset itself, which is a hindrance in some respects as it is a bit uncomfortable to wear for prolonged use. The other looming issue is money. There are many ideas similar to the ones we brainstormed, but startups may struggle to get off the ground without sufficient funding. The Oculus Rift is one great example of how crowdfunding can help entrepreneurs launch their ideas. It is easier than ever before to share and fund great ideas through social networking.

Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, shared his own vision in 2014 after acquiring the Oculus Rift. Zuckerberg eloquently summarized the status of where we’re headed:

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we oculus_rifthave a chance to build it together.”

What could this mean for the social networking that Zuckerberg pioneered? I’d venture to say the void of a long distance relationship may be eased with VR immersion that allows you to be with your family at the click of a button. You could be sitting down in your apartment in the U.S., but with the help of a 360 camera, look around at the garden that your mother is tending to in the U.K. The same scenario could be applied to a classroom or business meeting. We already have global and instant communication, so it will serve to add an enriched layer to these interactions.

The concept of reality itself is probably the biggest factor that makes virtual reality so captivating. Reality is not an objective experience. Each of us has a perspective of the world that is colored by our childhood experiences, personality, and culture. Our inner dialogues, fantasies of who we want to become, and areas of intelligence determine so much of what we’re able to accomplish and choose to commit to outside of ourselves. Michael Abrash describes how VR works with our unconscious brain perceptions to make us believe we’re standing on the edge of a building that isn’t really there. At a conscious level, we accept that we are staring at a screen, but our hearts still race-based on an unconscious perception of what is happening. Tapping into this perception-changing part of our brain allows us to experience reality in new ways.

As VR becomes more mainstreamed and incorporated into all areas of our lives such as online shopping, socializing, education, recreation, etc., the degrees of separation from the real world that society applies to it will lessen. Long-term, the goal for VR would be to allow us to use any of our senses and body parts. We should see continued improvements in the graphics and interaction capabilities of VR, allowing for these experiences to feel as real as they possibly can.

One can only imagine the new vistas this powerful technology will open-not just for entertainment, but for education, medicine, working in hazardous environments or controlling machines at a distance. Is every industry planning to incorporate the positive potential of virtual reality? If not, they certainly should think about the potential. As long as we pay attention to present day needs and issues, engineering virtual reality in the Internet of Things promises to be a fantastic venture.

Author’s Note:

Feedback from Wild Ducks is important. I’ll be back from time to time. Drop me a note on the comment form, or better yet, add your comment below. Until then, perhaps we will meet in the virtual world.

– RR

Who Runs the HEVC/H.265 Patent Pool?

Summer 2018 Update (3 years later):

HEVC Advance is heeding our advice. And *blush*—this blog has played a role in their new strategy. Three years after we published the criticism below, we noticed that 70% of visitors to this article originate from within the Boston organization or from IP addresses associated with patent pool members. The patent licensing changes have a striking resemblance to our recommendations.

Manufacturers of high-def Blu-ray players, 4K TVs, video streaming devices, cloud media vendors, software developers, and virtually all mobile gadgets are receiving an invoice, and it is a shocker. It’s not just the amount of the bill that is staggering, it’s what is demanded of them—facts and calculations that could be almost as costly to compile. The reason why this is such a big business is because no-one else can compress the file as they can. If we didn’t have this compression, there would be no Amazon Prime, Netflix or any TV guides to learn more about hbo showtime?! So we thank the inventors, please read on to learn more about H.265 HEVC compression.

The question asked in the title is rhetorical, of course. Lawyers run HEVC Advance, which is the licensing consortium for the H.265 patent pool. But according to one industry analyst, the lawyers have not consulted with streaming services, and their licensing model is completely unworkable. I agree.

h_265_hevcH.265 is a new international standard for high-efficiency video compression. Backed by two major standards bodies and a plenitude of brand-name tech companies, the technology also goes by the name x265 or HEVC (high efficiency video encoding). Compared to H.264 (the standard for DVDs and streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube,[1] it reduces file size and mobile bandwidth by 35~50% depending on content. Adherents claim that this the coding efficiency will have a floor of at least 50% once the full feature set is baked into codecs.

H.265 is open source, but it is not free. It is the product of slew of inventors and other intellectual talent. Therefore, software developers and gadget manufacturers (especially companies that make TVs and video streaming devices) have been awaiting word on the royalty fee and licensing terms.

HEVC-EncodeThere are four recognized players in the market to supersede H.264, but most of manufacturers are backing either HEVC or a free encoder from Google called VP9. Ever since HEVC Advance published their licensing requirements last week, VP9 is looking a lot more attractive.

This past week, HEVC Advance published the royalty structure for anyone that wants to bake the growing market for HEVC into their products and services. The problem is that instead of sending their bill to the device manufacturer, they want a piece of every single film, game, video or graphic that is sold. They want 0.5%, and they want this royalty backdated to the first use of a standard that was ratified 2 years ago.

0.5% may not sound like much, but here’s the rub: They want it on content rather than technology.

First, it is a staggering amount when you consider that the market is set to explode—even more than it did for the previous standard H.264. That’s because few people plan to purchase video on DVDs. They want it streamed, much of it wireless, and with the very smallest bandwidth possible. The market is measured in the billions of dollars, even within the US alone.

But the structure of their licensing demands is worse than the land grab. Rather than attach to the device or user application, they seek to tax content hosts, forcing them to determine the fraction of video sales, rental or streaming services that use the new encoding technology. And they want a share of every video that is processed or streamed with a consumer standard. They fail to realize that taxing the flow rather than the vendor or pipe layer is not the way to ignite the adoption of a universally accepted consumer standard. In fact, it is stifling.

Dan Rayburn at streamingmedia.com discusses the nuances and futility of imposing an attorney-crafted bureaucracy on a burgeoning pivot point for consumer technology. His damning observations are clear and articulate. But ultimately, it boils down to a simple children’s story. If you kill a goose that lays golden eggs, you cannot harvest eggs. Lawyers fill a vital role. I am not against lawyers. But they are incapable of thinking in simple terms. [continue below image]…

hevc-sIf the HEVC licensing authority holds its position, it will be a pity for everyone: artists & content owners, streamers & other content providers, hardware manufacturers and consumers. H.265 is a great standard backed by an outstanding collaborative effort. Just a week ago, there was terrific potential for market unification, bandwidth reduction, storage savings, and an array of high-quality video services. BD-BR measurements give HEVC the edge in coding efficiency and the playback load is very light.

Although I could live with a half-percent delivery tax (or consumption tax, depending upon your view), it would result in a fragmented market. It hints at a bureaucracy that rivals the IRS. Ultimately the inventors will collect a tiny fraction of the potential. But the deal stopper is the effort to collect with a requisite fractional-calculation of the sales, rental and share-allocated revenue.

The market for next-generation video encoding is just starting to approach that critical adoption knee in which a 2-sided network floats all boats. We are on the precipice of a multi-billion dollar market. But now, Google—the visionary in this gambit—has the upper hand. If I could talk with lawyers at HEVC Advance, I would help them to navigate deployment dynamics and fundamental network economics…

But like Dan Rayburn, I would prefer a conversation directly with the technology stakeholders. They stand to enjoy a stunning return with a more reasonable model (reasonable on the Laffer curve and reasonable in implementation architecture). My suggestion: Take a royalty from the sales of hardware and application codecs, but not content volume. A fair model that rewards innovation while freeing explosive growth would be crafted like this:

Wild Duck Royalty Proposal

• 0.1% of software codecs within revenue-software applications or processes
• 0.15% of playback codecs built into hardware devices, [2]
• $2 or 0.15% for each encoding process or hardware device, whichever is higher [3]
(#2 and #3 are additive, for any device that encodes)

• 0.1% of paid apps that are extensible (those that support plug-ins or open source codecs) [4]

• Free – Personal reference app (published by patent consortium). It supports stand-alone video playback
Passport-s-T• Free – Hosting or distribution Content encoded with H.265

I challenge HEVC Advance to run the numbers for any believable growth curve. This formula is not only more palatable, auditable, enforceable, and reasonable, it also delivers higher lifetime revenue to patent stakeholders. More importantly, it makes them the good guys.

Hey, HEVC Advance! I want you to succeed. Reach out to me. Use the contact link at the top of this page.

[Ellery Davies is editor of AWildDuck.com. He is also CEO &
Co-Chair of CRYPSA, a recognized standards organization]

[1] Until recently, most YouTube content was encoded in FLV. Currently, YouTube plans to support it’s own open-source VP9, but is leaving open the possibility of supporting H.265 which is licensed by HEVC Advance.

[2] The proposed royalty applies to any hardware device or app that advises or suggests the download of HEVC plug-in or compatible routine.

[3] $2 or 0.15% of sales, whichever is higher, but the fixed fee is reduced to no more than 6% of the hardware value. Up to 16 cores in a single gadget, PC, or device less than 1 cu feet not including external display.

This stacks on top of playback royalty. So, for example, if an video player application can open an x264 video and save as x265, it would pay a royalty of 0.1 or 0.15% (for the playback codec) and $2 or 0.15% for the encoding feature, whichever is more.

[4] For apps that do not include HEVC, it would be difficult to collect a royalty, of course. But developers of x265 plug-ins and helper apps would be liable.

Tiny Tim: Footnote to Falsetto

Miss Vicki, Tiny Tim wedding, Tonight ShowMost Americans over 50 remember Tiny Tim, an entertainer with a ukulele, a high pitch falsetto voice and a signature song. A sea of humanity watched him marry Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The episode was as highly anticipated and touted as the 1st moon landing. My family watched on a black & white TV in my dad’s bedroom.

Tiny Tim rocketed to fame in the late 60s as an effeminate oddity, with his warbly, high-pitch voice, a tiny plastic ukulele, and a face that was a blend of Howard Stern, The Joker and Jimmy Durante.

That Tim was a social outcast, ill at ease, and a weird performer is beyond dispute. For example, he refused to let anyone see him eat, even his new bride. Meals had to be consumed at separate times or in separate rooms. He attributed the behavior to some fringe religious observance. Nonsense! His mother was a Polish Jew and his father, a Lebanese Catholic. Tiny TimIn both religions and regions, food is celebrated and central to socializing. He was just very weird.

Could his affectations and quirks have been trumped up to buttress his stage persona? His biographer and a consensus of Wikipedia fans insist that Tiny Tim was the real deal: “Pundits and journalists debated whether the character presented was an orchestrated act, or the real thing. It quickly became clear that he was genuine. He is best described as a lonely outcast intoxicated by fame—and a romantic in pursuit of his ideal dream.” Either way, Tiny Tim and Michael Jackson shared a weird awkwardness when they were not performing. The big difference is that Michael Jackson oozed with raw talent. No one really thought that Tiny Tim had talent. He was just a nice man whom you felt a bit sorry for.

d443d59e535801c82617201e016ddad2Even if you recall Tiptoe through the Tulips, you may be unaware that Tiny Tim also sang in a deep bass voice.  Check out his rendition of Earth Angel, the 1955 doo-wop hit by the Penguins. Although he starts and ends with a deep voice, he reverts to falsetto in the middle. In an alternate version which was removed from YouTube after this article was published, he drops to his knees and smashes an air guitar on the floor. This song is not be the type that is typically accompanied by smashing instruments, but, somehow, the awkward behavior fits with Tim’s persona.

In September 1996, Tiny Tim was 64. As he was beginning to perform at a ukulele festival in western Massachusetts, he suffered a heart attack on stage. Although he survived the event, his doctors urged him to stop performing immediately. Weakened by diabetes and a heart condition, his constitution could easily be overtaxed by his schedule and performing style. Two months later, Ignoring his doctors’ advice, he died, on stage, at a gala benefit in Minneapolis.

Is 4K HDTV relevant?

Beginning with the 2012 holiday season, I began seeing large screen, 4K TVs in retail displays (typically in a high-end theater room). The first one that I could inspect closely was at a Sony store in a factory outlet mall in Winthrop MA. That was on Black Friday. Just a month later, I saw several displays with more compelling content at ABT, the mega-super-retailer with just one location in Glenview IL.

4k_compareIf 4K were to catch fire, the sourcing of high resolution content is not in doubt. 4K has been a production and archival standard for Hollywood studios since shortly after the advent of digital content creation. And, of course, studios can always transfer directly from their vast warehouses of legacy films. (At about 2000 lpi, the 35 or 70mm film used in the making of Hollywood movies for the past 75 years has a theoretical resolution of about half way between HDTV and 4K, depending in large part on lighting conditions. Digital IMAX is arguably the pinnacle of mainstream theater technology. It is projected at 4k x 2k = 8M pixels).

But is home theater 4K TV relevant?

In 1990s, I was briefly co-chair of the National Coalition for HDTV Research & Policy. The path to HDTV standards was torturous, both for display technology, broadcast standards, and the requisite PC convergence.

Can we be blown away all over again?

Can we be blown away all over again?

I am a resolution junkie. For enter-tainment, I crave a big, beautiful theater experience. For PC work, I want a desktop with many open windows or pages—resplendent with microscopic detail. I want lines and characters that pop out with enhanced acutance. In the 90s and early 2000s, my friends were satisfied with VGA (640×480) or SVGA (800×600). I demanded XGA (1024×768). When laptops shifted to widescreen, I held out for WUXGA (1920×1200). Now, I have a 1080p notebook. It is the convergence standard. But it is not the ultimate consumer display. In fact, I crave the newest Samsung Book 9 plus, which offers 3,200 x 1,800 pixels packed into a 13.3 inch display. That’s almost 6 megapixels!

The NTSC standard lasted more than 50 years. It took two decades to make the market transition to HDTV. Today, 1080p is the de facto standard for both PC and TV displays, although most HD TV content is transmitted at a still respectable 720p. But do we want or need another standard that has 400% more pixels?

As a resolution junkie, I can firmly answer the question: Nah… It is simply not worth it, even if the technology cost rapidly drops to par.

Notebook Resolution callout-aWatching TV is very different than viewing PC page content, which tends to be filled with text, but is mostly static. Over time, motion creates a rich experience. In fact, the “psychological bandwidth” of TV viewing is a product of pixels and frame rate. In my opinion, with HD—especially at 1080p—the human mind is maxed out. At this point, auditory and tactile input become more important than attempts to increase resolution beyond 1080p.

At whatever distance that you find comfortable, (say 2.5 feet from a 24″ display, 9 feet from a 50″ display or 15 feet in a home theater with a 110 inch screen), adding resolution to a moving image beyond 1080p is detectable only when getting so close to the screen, that you are no longer enjoying the experience. For this reason, HDTVs under 20″ don’t even bother to support 1080 pixels unless the display is also intended to accommodate connection to a PC.          [ continue below image ] …

Click here for a close-up eyeball-to-screen inspection

Click here for a close-up eyeball-to-screen inspection

In my opinion, taking films beyond 1080p adds nothing to the experience (or at least, a severely diminished return), and yet it adds tremendously to the cost of storage and transmission.

Of course, in the end, industry standards are becoming marginalized. 4K will probably come upon us with or without a federally sanctioned standard, thanks to multi-synch monitors and the flexible nature of graphics cards and microcode. Today, resolution—like software—is extensible. Cable service providers can pump out movies at whatever resolution they like. The set top box at the other end will decode and display films at the maximum resolution of a subscriber’s display. The role of government in mandating an encoding standard is marginalized, because most viewers no longer tune in to public airwaves. FCC turf is generally restricted to broadcast standards.

Am I often reluctant to adopt bleeding edge technology? Far from it! This opinion is brought to you from a committed resolution junkie. But I do have a few exceptions. Check out my companion piece on consumer 3D TV technology. Spoiler: Both technologies are limited exceptions to my general tendency to push the proverbial envelope!

Ellery Davies is a privacy pundit and editor of AWildDuck. He is a frequent contributor to The Wall
Street Journal. He is also a certified techno-geek with ties to CNet, Engadget & PC World.

3D TV: Ubiquitous & cheap. But who cares?

My opinion on the gradual penetration of consumer 3D television is not intended as an expert research opinion, but rather speaking simply from experience as a 3D owner.

3D_TV_1aI searched long and far for the perfect balance between a thrilling effect, simplicity, and cost. The brand and technology that I chose is unimportant to my point, but you can bet it was close to the very best in-home, 3D experience available during 2013.

The technology works. That is, it elicits Oohs and Aahhs from visitors every time a fish swims up my neighbor’s nose or the dragon breathes fire and smoke. Basketball games are downright stunning, if a bit hard to find. But (and this is a very big “BUT”)…

… But the overall experience falls considerably short of the community cinema, and its not a problem with the technology. In fact, they are equivalent!

At first, I thought that consumer adoption would be stuck until these problems are worked out. But, in fact, these are NOT the problems:

  • Wait for technology to be equivalent to movie theaters
  • Wait for cost to come down
  • Wait for passive eyewear
  • Wait for a wide spectrum of content (3D broadcast and Films)

In fact, all of these things have happened, and YES, due to low cost, 3D tech is now slapped onto flat screen TVs without demanding that viewers commit to actually using the feature. This gives tremendous impetus to adoption by broadcasters, because it addresses the two-sided network effect. That is, it solves the chicken-and-egg problem.

3D_TV_2aBut here’s the rub: Recall that I said that it falls short of a movie theater experience and yet-with passive glasses-it achieves the same quality and convenience. How can both of these observations be true?

In a movie theater, you are resigned to sit in one place for up to 2 hours without much head movement and certainly without walking about or viewing out of the corner of your eyes. Transporting the same technology into your home (In my opinion, this has been achieved with equal quality), does not create an equal experience. The glasses are never handy (there is no one to clean and recycle them, or hand them to you when you enter the room), and moving about the room causes headaches and eyestrain. Quite simply, it’s unnatural. When eye strain hits, it can cause a lot of discomfort and pain leading to bad headaches, especially if you are exposed to digital devices daily, if you have no choice and must deal and work with them, you will need to make sure you have the right prescription glasses to ease your symptoms.

The practical outcome of this unfortunate situation is that I am left with transient bragging rights (until my friends buy their next TV) and I occasionally supervise stunning demonstrations. But even though content abounds, I really don’t care. After the first weeks of ownership, I never bothered to watch an entire show or movie in 3D. Furthermore, I unloaded the 3D copy of Avatar that came with my Panasonic Blu-Ray player. I prefer to watch in 2D. In the end, black level, contrast and resolution trump the Oohs and Aahhs of things that pop out of the frame.

Ellery Davies is a privacy advocate and security consultant. He addresses
issues at
the intersection of technology with law or social policy. His opinions
and research appear across popular media, scientific and trade venues.

Michael Jackson’s popularity: Talent or hysteria?

Michael Jackson and I are about the same age. That is, we were until his death in 2009.

Just after the release of “Thriller”, in the early 80s, I was a young corporate exec. My secretary, Robin–a tall, blond, college grad–was infatuated with MJ. She not only spoke of his talent, energy thrillerand immense popularity, but seemingly fantasized about him as her lover. At least, it seemed that way to me.

One day, as I passed Robin’s desk, I heard her gush about Jackson to whomever was chatting with her on the phone. Muttering under my breath, I said something to the effect that Jackson had no redeeming qualities. Robin was incensed at my casual dismissal of her idol. With dander raised, she went into a defensive posture and slapped a video tape onto the desk. She insisted that I watch it that very evening and report back to her in the morning. I repeated that, for me, Michael Jackson was not an artist, but an anomaly. I believed that his pop status was based on media hysteria, manipulation by middle-age white guys, and the confusion of puberty. Again, she insisted that I watch the video, and she gave me an ultimatum: Watch it and report back to her—or accept her resignation in the morning!

Robin was darn good at her job. She ran the office and our schedules with aplomb. She was rising, executive material; a shining star. I was taken aback by her chutzpah and tone. But given the choice (and seeing how much it meant to her), I reluctantly consented to her terms. That evening, I watched a music video by Jackson. I don’t recall which one. It may have been a documentary about his career.

Robin in the 80s

Robin in the 80s

The next morning, I meekly placed the video back onto Robin’s desk. Sensing contrition, her demeanor was warmer and yet somewhat smug. A 600 ton elephant stood over us. “Well? What did you think?” She glared at me…

I admitted to Robin that the video was a learning experience —one that opened my eyes and changed my mind. While I still didn’t appreciate Jackson’s choice of material, voice or performance style,* I was forced to acknowledge that his raw talent merited recognition and appreciation. Prior to this compulsory exercise, I attributed MJ’s popularity to hysteria and a general lack of discrimination or sophistication. But afterward, I recognized that, while individual preferences vary, a reasonable person could not deny Jackson’s innate talent and abundant energy as artist and performer. It oozed from his every pore.

* At the time of this epiphany—recognizing Jackson’s talent and that fans were attracted to substance—I didn’t suddenly embrace his music and moves over genres that I preferred. Ironically, during the next few decades (I am now the ‘middle-age white guy’), I have grown to appreciate his music and style. The anthology of his performances defines a genre that I look back upon with pleasure and awe.

Ellery Davies is a privacy pundit and political analyst.
He is also editor of AWildDuck.

Cloud Music Players Foreshadow Movies On the Go

AWildDuck was launched in August 2011, nearly 2 years ago. In that first month, I wrote about a radical new feature of Apple Computer’s iTunes Cloud Player. Music Match allows users to upload music obtained from any source-even bootleg copies. Once uploaded (or more precisely, matched and mapped to a licensed, original track on Apple servers)-users can not only play it from the cloud with pristine quality, but even download a new high-quality original to their PC, without any copy protection (also known as DRM or “Digital Rights Management”). These sorts of cloud applications often use fuzzy matching to ensure that the track is matched to the correct counterpart, rather than incorrectly completing a search.

In that early article, I questioned Apple’s integrity in turning vast pirated libraries filled with tunes of questionable quality and pedigree into newly legitimized albums and tracks-all with high quality and no DRM. What I found most surprising was that Apple was nabbing a subscription fee of $24.95 per user while rights owners got a raw deal, even if Apple distributed the subscription fee across all rights owners in all those collections. After callout-02all, the deal covers 25,000 songs for each user, and it is likely that this will be expanded to 200,000 tracks to level the playing field with Amazon.

Since writing that piece as a newly minted Blogger (I was still wearing diapers), I have begun to dismount from my high horse just a bit. First, there is the fact that the recording studios were very much a party to the new service. Although the deal really shafts it to composers and musicians with a continuing stake in their creations, Apple didn’t hold a gun to their heads. Rather, they faced a brutal technical and market reality. Music is very easy to copy. To maintain a core of paid listeners, authorized channels of distribution and licensing had better be inexpensive, very simple, and with added value that drives consumers to be both legitimate and loyal.

Another reason that I can’t take a strong position against piracy is because it would be the very epitome of hypocrisy. The legitimacy of my own collection of music and movies is questionable to say the least. Actually, there is nothing “questionable” about it. I know the source of each track and film-and I certainly don’t claim that licenses are in order.

Even so, I had a difficult time understanding why Apple would help to undermine content producers, which are the very bread and butter of a windfall revenue engine, from any perspective. But my thinking has softened toward Apple…

First, there is the fact of participation by rights owners and the Piracy facts on the ground. But also, the high-quality, DRM-free tracks that users can download are laced with encrypted data that identifies the distributor, authorized user, and even the download transaction. No, they are not copy protected, and users are free to back-up their collection, create their own mix and even share music (with certain restrictions). But if studios lose control of their collections, they can at least identify the leak if an investigation ensues.

But I am not here to revisit the politics of Music Match and the effect on Pirates or rights owners. After two years, I am finally becoming a cloud streaming groupie. That isn’t to say that I lack experience in the Cloud. I wrote the spec on Reverse Distributed Data Clouds and I create streaming data clouds from a plug PC situated in my own home to access documents and media on the go. But this time, I am joining the legions who stream from a major service and not just from their own private clouds.

Last week, I compared three services: iTunes Match, Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Music. Then, I moved my entire music collection to Google Music. By “compare”, I mean that I read advertising claims, specifications and online reviews for each service. I talked to users and I searched for critical feedback concerning bugs and limitations. But, I did not subscribe to each service nor test them against each other. So my observations are not a comparative review. cloud_music_player_logosYet, I can confidently make some observations about an emerging industry. These observations apply equally to all three media streaming services.

First, and perhaps most obvious, is the continuing change to entertainment delivery mechanisms, and the significant benefits with each change in technology…

Movies and Television

In the early 20th century, there were movies and newsreels. You had to travel to a big auditorium, the choice was limited, and the schedule for new content was measured in weeks. Display equipment was expensive. Then, after World War II-long before most of us were born-there was television. TV brought entertainment into the home. But it was not personal, it could not be saved and retrieved at will, and it belonged to a big company. In the mid-1970s, video tape allowed time shifting, archiving and purchasing or borrowing content. But it was complex, bulky and slow to move between films, chapters or scenes. Because of the nature of tape, it was very difficult to catalog a personal collection. For most of us, the “catalog” was a bookshelf next to the VCR with a narrow graphic or description along the edge of each box.

Accessible Media

Next, DVD and Blu-Ray displaced Video tape. Even during the height of the Blu-Ray / HD-DVD battle, pundits agreed that the winning format would be the last removable storage device that used moving media. They predicted that electronic media would replace spinning discs. Blu-Ray players began sporting USB ports and SD slots which allowed users and visitors to bring content on a key chain. All of it was easily cataloged, and instantly accessible. And with the improvements to audio & video compression (and especially the cost and density of electronic storage), users could fit many movies into a device the size of a postage stamp or a stick of chewing gum.

I have loaded films onto USB drives for portability and swapping. But that era lasted only a few years. Despite a leapfrog of convenience, the physical format is coming to an end. The whole idea of storing media in a device that we carry from one place to another or store in a closet is an anachronism…

Welcome to the Cloud

The cloud is not new. It could be argued that Netflix and OnDemand from your cable provider are cloud services. But with these models, content “use” is under control of rights owners and distribution companies. Consumers don’t like that. They just won’t stand for it.

Just as Netflix and OnDemand have changed the entertainment landscape (in the past, media was borrowed from a library or a Blockbuster store), iTunes, Amazon and Google are changing the way media is served up from your personal library. It’s like having everything on your own drive, but a whole lot better.

How is it better? In this bulleted list of benefits, l refer to movies and music equally. In fact, cloud services are having a difficult time dragging along movie studios into the world of user controlled, non-DRM content. But I am trying to be a forward thinker. Sooner or later, you will be able to store and serve up movies from your own iTunes, Amazon or Google account and with callout-03all of the features and benefits that are just now spreading to music. So, while it may be a bit premature, I treat music and movies equally.

? Your collection is available everywhere you go. You cannot forget to bring content that you own.

  • You needn’t worry about making and maintaining frequent back ups. That burden is borne by the cloud service. Instead, keep one permanent collection on your own media. It is your hedge against the possibility that lawmakers may clamp down on these services in the future.
  • With a matching feature from your cloud provider, your personal copy is perfect. Listen or view at the highest definition.
  • Your collection is indexed, searchable, and easier to research as you enjoy it. Imagine clicking on an actor’s face and instantly linking to their IMDB filmography. Now that’s a benefit worth writing home about!
  • You can loan or borrow content from a friend. Some services allow media sharing. – or simply create a temporary password for your nephew in Seattle.*

For now, these benefits are limited to your personal music collection. The motion picture industry will delay the inevitable day of consumer content control for as long as they can. But with the ease of copying, the futility of DRM and the very low cost and compressed size of videos, the dawn of consumer empowerment is lurking around the corner.

Just as the floppy disk died a distinguished death in the 1990s, the interaction of consumers with all manner of removable media is coming to an end. The cloud is not just a marketing gimmick. It is tangible, friendly and very beneficial to consumers. I still believe that personal, distributed p2p clouds have an edge over cloud services. But the services have better applications, and the staff to maintain them. They offer an array of features and security that a home tinkerer would be hard-pressed to serve up from home or from a co-location server .

What About Google Music? Ready for Prime Time?

I have disclaimed any notion of offering a comparative review of cloud services, be-cause I have not tested iTunes Match or Amazon Cloud Player. That said, readers wonder why I chose Google Music over the competition and what I think about it…

I chose it because it is free (up to 20,000 songs), it supports Android, the match component offers exceptional quality (320kbs MP3 tracks), and restoration of an entire library with one click. Finally, it is from Google, a company that champions consumer rights and tries hard to do the right thing regarding privacy. As far as my thoughts on the first week of heavy use, the user interface is limited and there are some bugs to work out. Most noticeably, it is sophomoric. Although uploading is a snap, it is not clear if a user can changes to MP3 metadata back to their PC or restrict the direction of sync. But as a music player, it is robust. I am confident that bells and whistles will follow.

* It may be a bit trickier if you wish enjoy content abroad when using cloud provider. Just as with Netflix, content “matched” by the provider may be restricted by apparent IP region. Therefore, you may need to set up a VPN to enjoy your media when traveling overseas. If you are looking for a canadian vpn then you can check sites online to see which ones are best for you and your device but perhaps you are in a different region.

Scale of the Universe revisits “Powers of Ten”

Here’s a teachable moment. And it’s fun, too!

Check out this simple, one-button interactive Scale of the Universe by Cary Huang. Simply pull a slider left or right to zoom in or out. It covers the Universe from 1027 meters down to 10-35 meters (from the entire universe to the Plank length and quantum foam).

Charles and Ray Eames

Charles and Ray Eames

Unlike the classic film by Charles & Ray Eames (more about that later), the zoom doesn’t really take viewers closer or further away. Rather, it compares relative size by allowing users navigate by magnitudes (a circle indicates each power-of-ten).

Nikon, the camera and optics maker, created an alternate spin on this idea with more user control (identify and study objects used to illustrate size–and jump directly to any magnitude along the size continuum). Instead of panning in and out, the Nikon presentation crawls familiar objects along the horizontal axis. Interestingly, they end at modest lower limit of 10-15 meters, rather than attempting to illustrate quarks, charm and quantum foam.

Time Dialation-sIn 1968, Charles & Ray Eames were already famous as sculptors, architects and designers of modern furniture. That’s when they created Powers of 10, one of the most popular educational films of all time. Just 9 minutes long, it was intended as a “rough sketch” in an effort to attract an animation partner to add visual punch. 9 years after the original film was released, IBM collaborated with the designers and the film was re-released with improved special effects. Both versions are included on the commercial DVD. I prefer the original rough sketch.

Eames Lounge Chair

Eames Lounge Chair

In the original film, two clocks sit outside the main frame. As we    »
accelerate away from earth (covering 10X as much distance every ten seconds), the clocks track relative time from a traveler’s frame of reference –vs– a person on earth.

You can view the 1977 re-release (Be sure to raise quality to 480p). Interestingly, IBM has also posted a user-controlled, Zoomable version.

I can’t find the original film on the web. But I own it. Write to me if you want me to “loan” it to you via a web link.

What do Donald Trump & Marco Rubio have in common?

Did you ever wonder if interesting and newsworthy events around the world are winding down? I mean, let’s face it. The world is pretty boring. Not much is happening anymore.

Of course, that’s a bald faced lie. There is no dearth of newsworthy events. Not with more wars than ever before, breakthroughs in science at a blinding pace, global warming, a murderous shooting spree every other week, and political brinksmanship in Asia, the mid-east and even in our own Congress. Even the market battle between iPhone and Android is news.

So what passes for news today? How about this: Business mogul, Donald Trump is suing comedian and talk show host Bill Maher, because — according to Mr. Trump — he is not the product of his mother having sex with an orangutan, and he can prove it.

Just how newsworthy is proving that your father is not an orangutan? According to the Washington Times, it is the Fight of the Century. That’s pretty important, right? After all, the century is only 12% complete. It must be more important than a nation’s ballooning debt, a near earth collision with an asteroid, or a crazed ex-cop who has published a hit list and killed 4 people before he was burned in a cabin east of Los Angeles

Of course, we understand that Mr. Trump is incensed by Bill Maher’s joke on late night TV. Perhaps his frustration and anger constitutes a brief statement on the news (just a parenthetical one at that). But wait…The Don is really, really, Really incensed. After all, Maher has slandered his parents! Well, not really. Bill Maher is a comedian. Even a child recognizes the difference between character defamation and parody (very good parody, in my opinion). So, if Donald Trump truly believes that the courts are the proper place to assuage his frustration, then – at best – he has a weak case for slander. Not quite the five million to which he claims a contractual entitlement.

Donald trump: Not the offspring of an orangutan...But he certainly acts like one.

Donald Trump: Not the offspring of an
orangutan…But frequently acts like one

Why don’t we just set the record straight on Donald Trump once and for all. Donald Trump is a Buffoon with a capital “B”. By comparison, he makes Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians look like Ivy League scholars.

WildDucks may never know how or why Donald Trump is seen as a noteworthy scion of business. It can’t just be his wealth or eccentricities. There are many wealthy and weird business owners who covet publicity. Yet they fly under the radar. Perhaps Trump attracts media coverage, because networks see him as a source of entertainment. But even this theory falls short. As a consumer of news and entertainment, I can categorically state that his TV shows and news clips leave viewers ill at ease and not very pleased with the network. And if the entertainment angle is viable, why fill the world news segment?

Trump has no common sense, a gruff and insulting attitude, is self-centered and has garish grooming (e.g. that ridiculous hair piece!). To the Don, I say: “You’re Fired!”

But wait. The trump-orangutan is so “last week”! What’s on the telly this week? Oh, my! Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, reached for a sip of water while delivering a Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address. I find it terribly depressing that this is considered news. He seemed a bit awkward as he ducked below the camera during a close up. Newsworthy? No. Briefly awkward? Sure. Funny? Only to a 2 year old who might also laugh at potty humor.

I can understand that this minor event rippled through Twitter. These are just regular Joe’s sharing an unusual moment with their friends and followers—Perfectly normal.

But, I am really disappointed with CNN for replaying that moment—and making it into a news segment. (I give the anchor a bit of credit. Assuming that he was not responsible for choosing the story, at least he cut off the follow-up discussion and suggested that it is not newsworthy). Just how does grabbing a sip of water during a speech spark a national scandal? The only slightly unusual thing is that the water was out of reach and required that Rubio almost stoop below the camera during a close up. O.K. We saw the result of poor planning. A dry throat should have been anticipated by Mr. Rubio and certainly by the television producer or set coordinator. In my opinion, it not only lacks merit as a news event, it is not funny or entertaining either. I think less of the media for abandoning real news in favor of this quip. My problem is not that it is “fluff”—That would be O.K. But it is invasive and unfriendly fluff without any point at all.

To be completely fair, I rather liked David Letterman’s send up of the event.* But that doesn’t mean that the original event was news or even funny. It means that David Letterman and his writers have the talent to turn it into something funny.

Returning to the title question: “What do Donald Trump & Marco Rubio have in common?” They are both the absurd subjects of low-brow humor posing as news–or at least as legitimate filler for news broadcasts. They are neither of these things. Although they are newsworthy in other ways (Well, at least Rubio is newsworthy), they are just ordinary people going about their business.


* The David Letterman clip has been removed, perhaps due to action by the studio. That’s a pity. It was Letterman at his very best. This parody of the the water-drinking Florida senator by actor Andy Pita is pretty darn funny too. I bet that you cannot stifle a chuckle (or a hearty guffaw) at timestamp 1:57.

Hertz acquires Dollar: What about the liability?

I avoid using this soap box for personal vendettas. A Wild Duck has a broad venue but spats over shady business practices aren’t covered. Tonight, I am outvoted. My co-editor wants me to run this story. Hey, this wound is fresh! Who am I to disagree?

Every once in a while, one encounters a vendor with business practices so out-of-whack, that it just begs to be exposed. Here’s one that hasn’t fully played out. If it is resolved before next week, I will update this Op Ed. But after experiencing this scam, I have doubts that a culture of deception can be corrected by a Blog posting…

Does Hertz care what lies under the covers? Does Dollar know about ‘Rent a Terstappen’?

Let’s start with statements of fact: I travel. And I hate renting cars.

Until recently, the cost of renting a car was rarely what was agreed in advance. Online reservations are especially problematic because franchisees fail to report local fees or policies to the franchiser, agency or internet marketing affiliates.

Ultimately, it is no secret that the intricacies of franchise law can be challenging for franchisees. Franchisers and franchisees alike therefore often require legal advice and guidance from a franchise law firm such as LegalVision.

But years ago, I developed a method to overcome my anxieties surrounding renting cars from a rental franchise, and it has worked splendidly. I first applied ‘Ellery’s Rule’ planning a trip to Florida. I called the rental agency directly and presented my discount codes. I was quoted an excellent weekly rate. (I think that it was Avis, but I am not certain).

Just in case, a desk clerk were to add up the numbers differently than the friendly telephone agent, I asked the agent to add a statement to the Memo section of the contract. She added these words:

The customer has been promised the rate as calculated in this estimate. He is not to be charged a different amount if the car is returned in good condition and with a full tank of gas.

To ensure that the statement exuded authority, I asked her to cite the name of a regional or department manager.

When I got to Florida, the reservation contract was already printed and waiting at the airline terminal rental desk. I pointed out the statement in the Memo section and the local clerk brushed it off with a chuckle. “Don’t you worry”, he said. “The rate is correct. You won’t be cheated.”

But when I returned the car, there was an extra $11 tacked onto the contract. “What’s this?!” I asked to a new face at the desk. “Oh, that’s the Florida drug tax” a friendly woman exclaimed, as if reading from a script. “Every customer must pay it. It’s the law. We have no control over state taxes.”

Guess what? I snapped back. I don’t want any drugs. I don’t think that she got the wit or charm of my dry sarcasm, but after a few phone calls, I certainly didn’t pay the Florida drug tax. Of course, she was right. It is a state law and payment is ascribed to the renter. But Avis paid it from the proceeds that I had agreed to pay. That’s because I had a written contract that specified the cost after all taxes, fees and even drugs. It is inclusive, en toto, complete! You get the picture.

For years, my little system worked like a charm. If at first, a rental agent refuses to add the memo (effectively stating that their estimate is truthful), I threaten to cancel the reservation. They always get authority to add the Memo. It never fails. And so for these past years, I have been quietly smug when overhearing another traveler talk about unexpected fees added at the car rental desk.

I was smug, that is, until this past week. With Rent a Terstappen, I got hoodwinked!

Tactics of deception: Germany’s Dollar car rental franchise

I traveled to Frankfurt Germany last week and rented a car from the local Dollar franchise. I got a good rate from HotWire.com, a popular web travel site. For a simple booking, it’s difficult to get a live agent on the phone, and so I booked my rental online, realizing that I might get stuck with a Frankfurt “drug tax”–or perhaps in this case, a wiener-schnitzel tax. But I was woefully unprepared for what happened. I was socked with an enormous fee and an even more absurd justification. It doubled the amount quoted in Hotwire’s good faith disclosure!

Dollar franchisee Rent a Terstappen
Desk clerk Beatrice Lindholm-Dagci
HotWire itinerary 4523744713
Contract offer $151.87 *
Customer charge $315.38 (?!)

* Revised from original offer of $182.24 for 6 days

Dear readers: You won’t believe the pretense on which Rent a Terstappen doubled my rental contract cost. Even with the separation of 6,000 kilometers and 6 days since my return, I still can’t believe the loony reason that Ms. Lnidholm-Dagci told me (at first, with a straight face). More shocking, I sensed that she didn’t believe it either. She whispered for me to visit Dollar competitors at nearby rental counters. Clearly, she gets push-back from more than a few outraged customers.

Well, this customer won’t stand for it. I landed during the busiest travel week in Germany. Even with staggered school vacations, everyone is on holiday during the 3rd week of August. Five other rental companies offered to match the rate that I was promised (without a farcical add-on), but none had vehicles anywhere near the airport. They were fully booked no matter what I paid. The folks at Hertz and Sixt (a European car rental outfit) sympathized with my plight. One even offered me a personal ride into the city. She has dealt with other disgruntled Dollar-booked clients.

  • Does Dollar Rental know of the massive deception foisted on their clients by Rent a Terstappen? (the local Dollar franchisee at the Frankfurt airport).
  • Does Rent a Terstappen force desk agents to pretend they don’t see what agents at every other rental counter already see? Beatrice Lindholm-Dagci recognizes the deception she is forced to perpetrate. She must hoodwink customers and then blame the fiasco on HotWire or other referring agents.
  • Does Hertz know that the reporting chain at Dollar is either deceptive or egregiously deficient? (My travel department will talk with Hertz if this is not settled by the end of this week.)

Oh yes! I forgot to tell you the reason for the doubling of my rental charge: Ms. Linholm-Dagci explained to me that I must use a Gold branded MasterCard to complete the transaction, because she had no way of verifying insurance coverage for any other form of payment. I had with me a Platinum American Express, a Platinum Visa Card and a Business Premium MasterCard. All of them carried rental insurance. I offered her a $1500 deposit, which she processed! I also offered proof of my insurance coverage through Liberty Mutual with a very clear stipulation of full vehicle replacement value, even when driving in a foreign country.

She didn’t care. It had to be a Gold MasterCard. Not Premium, Not American Express Platinum, Not Chrome, Not Visa, Not the 7 other cards whose logos that they display at the counter. Only a Gold MasterCard.

Next week, I will add Hubert Terstappen’s phone numbers to this story. Perhaps Wild Ducks can persuade him to rethink his business model.

Late Thursday Update:

A representative at HotMail has seen my rant and has launched an investigation. I understand that HotWire may compensate me for the difference between what I was promised and what was stated in their good faith estimate.

HotWire is a good company. They want to do the right thing. But I don’t really consider their payoff to be a proper solution. What about future visitors to Frankfurt who don’t know about the policy/scam? (Take your pick. It’s a toss up!) I have asked HotWire to reassess Dollar representation or at least get the corporate franchiser involved. Craft an ethical solution to the Rent a Terstappen practices. I am fortunate to be working with individuals at HotWire and Dollar who are both understanding and empowered.

Is Fox News Fooling Anyone?

After years of rumors, high-profile CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper, acknowledged his sexual orientation last month in an editorial at The Daily Beast. A most eloquent analysis was offered by Huffington Post contributor, Chuck Gomez.

Today’s point of view has nothing to do with Mr. Cooper or sexual orientation. But it has a lot to do with network news and—like the Anderson Cooper revelation—it deals with the inflection point between an unacknowledged fact and one that is acknowledged by the subject, or at least, universally recognized.

Today, the inflection point involves Fox News. Once and for all, this Blog uncovers what so many readers already know. Let’s please not make this political! This posting has no conservative or liberal agenda. It doesn’t question the quality or value of Fox News (Well, at least not as a biased, editorial Blog with celebrity entertainers). It’s not meant to be inflammatory. It just shines a bright light onto an unspoken truth. A truth that many Fox insiders, friends, foes and viewers already know.

Bloviation? The Spin stops here? Do you take us for idiots, O’Reilly?!

Does Fox News strive to be neutral, balanced, fair and unbiased? (O.K. These are synonyms. But it is the key question). Is Fox News a mouthpiece of the Republican Party? Does Bill O’Reilly really believe that his popular editorial show is a “no spin zone”?

To better understand how a special interest operates, it helps to understand a little bit about media, entertainment, News, and the Fairness Doctrine. AWildDuck is not an expert on all of these things, but we allude to each and you can take it from there…

Consider the World Wrestling Federation. They refer to their stage craft as “professional wrestling”. Yet, in a dispute with the World Wildlife Foundation, they changed their name and website to ‘World Wrestling Entertainment’ (WWE). This pleases linguists and anyone who cares about truth-in-advertising. After all, they are hardly professional and the entertainment nomenclature fits…

To be fair, the definition of a ‘profession’ is that participants get paid. For this reason, most Olympic athletes – no matter how good – are not ‘professionals’. That term applies only to the ones that compete for money apart from the Oympics. But by any common definition, there is nothing ‘professional’ about television wrestling (aka: WWE or “rubber wrestling”), because it is not a sport. It provides choreographed media entertainment with slapstick antics. Wrestlers bounce off ropes, flip opponents into the air, whip them into body slams and then jump on faces. Performers are rarely hurt, but actors with names like Hulk Hogan and Mad Dog yell into the camera about crushing skulls and rupturing internal organs.

At first, organizers denied that these fights were choreographed for entertainment value. It took Geraldo Rivera to push the group into more truthful packaging. Of course it is rehearsed and structured. It’s all play acting in the guise of a professional sport. But hey! Entertainment can have just as much value as a professional sporting event. Fox News is no different…

Fox may have evolved from a pure journalistic credo in its early days. But anyone who watches Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” understands that it’s all about spin…and a pervasive religious undertone. Even journalists and editors within Fox news have gradually begun to acknowledge that the broadcaster has taken on a role of unofficial spin doctor for conservatives.

Off camera, they no longer deny the far right perspective of their ‘news’. They represent family values (at least for white, Christian families), a Republican/Tea Party perspective, and an agenda that is slightly pro-military, anti-pluralism, and somewhat redneck.

When they were disguising the agenda in a cloak of balanced journalism and the Fairness Doctrine, they thought it might win the hearts and minds of viewers—or at least undecided voters. Now that the horse is out of the barn (and the Fairness Doctrine is no longer the Law of the Land), they still serve a useful purpose. Their talking heads help to explain and interpret the Republican platform and contrast candidates from one corner of the ring. But they certainly aren’t a balanced news organization. They are a reasonably good editorial platform and a spokes piece.

For the past 6 or 7 years, the winks and nods were all too evident. They are one sided and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t agree with them or simply want to learn another perspective, tune into Bill Maher or read The Huffington Post. We live in a world of balance through choice. Fox news is an extreme proponent of the far right. My only beef with the organization is that they masquerade as a legitimate news organization.

I was once a Republican. I respect Fox News. But Republican or Democrat, Black or White, Jew or Gentile, Resident or Immigrant, let’s just call a spade a spade. Anderson Cooper finally came out of the closet because rumors were beginning to interfere with his job. It’s time for Fox News to come clean, so that legions of viewers can move them back from the Entertainment column to the News & Commentary column. Face it, Bill: Fox News is biased as all get out! No disrespect intended. We’re just nudging the organization toward truth in packaging.

» Ellery Davies is a frequent contributor to Yahoo, CNet, ABCNews
» and The Wall Street Journal. He is also editor of AWildDuck.com.

Green Lantern comes out of the closet

I am in favor of gay rights. Yet, today’s news is, well, a bit goofy. Is it possible that Ellery is not the progressive, tolerant Dude that I have cultivated? First some background…

20 years ago, my business partner, Gerry, and I walked across Central Park. We were wearing blue jeans-and for some reason that I don’t recall, we were horsing around and slapping each other on the back. Suddenly, a news photographer popped in front of us and took our photo. He wasn’t carrying a snapshot camera, but a big, professional photo-journalist camera. He may have asked permission to publish the photo-I don’t recall. We certainly would have given consent. Our company was undergoing venture financing. I figured the investors would get a lift by seeing their new partners in a story about the first day of summer, park beautification, or whatever.

In brightest day, in darkest night-No evil shall escape my sight

But later, as we strolled toward a crowd on the far side of the park, we learned that this was Gay Pride Day. Overhead banners urged supporters to show their pride by wearing jeans (Don’t we all wear jeans?! I’ve watched male stars on porn streaming websites like www.tubev.sex wear jeans, how does this make sense?!). TV & news photographers zoomed in on men holding hands, butts or cuddling amongst the crowd. The next morning, Gerry and I were splashed across the front page of our nation’s newspapers. We were mortified! The caption didn’t identify us, but to our friends, colleagues and communities, we were presented as gay lovers. Outed…And we weren’t even members of the club!

I’m not gay and I doubt that Gerry is, either. At the time, I was beginning to turn away from five years of intolerance at college. As I matured, I not only mellowed, I came to abhor anti-gay activism. I became an advocate for ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, especially when it rears its head in law and public policy. Homophobia is not only callous and unfair, it arises from religious doctrine, a narrow minded perspective-or it indicates repressed homosexuality; that’s my favorite explanation.

Today, I am tolerant and progressive. I favor ratification of gay marriage (not just a “civil union”. That’s a whitewash). The time has come to recognize that this issue is more about personal freedom, expression and privacy-than about any legitimate right for a government to discriminate.

Is this necessary? Is Ellery a hypocrite?

But now, DC comics has revealed that Green Lantern likes to French kiss his mate and cuddle with him as they walk down a street in Hong Kong(?!) Is it necessary for the stewards of our super heroes to turn the comics into a political statement? I realize that Superman has Lois Lane and Batman flirts with Bat Girl (N.B. Even she has been recast as a lesbian!). I am 100% comfortable about gays in every walk of life. Not just tolerating their presence, mind you. I honestly think that they add a rich cultural dimension to the fabric of society. But I am just a bit troubled that DC is using the issue to push back into everyone’s face and begin the desensitizing process within the pages of a super hero comic.

Look at the collage of cartoon frames released today by DC Comics (from the upcoming June 2012 issue, Green Lantern, Earth 2). Is this a distraction-or legitimate and non-political character development? Is it a reasonable part of the story line? To me, it seems like a subplot with an agenda. Even though the agenda is not offensive, I can’t quite justify it in this venue. I would be much more comfortable encountering it on the editorial pages, among my friends, and in books & films. Just, not within a DC comic. Does that make me a hypocrite? Honestly, I’m not sure. Tell me what you think?

Editors Note:
The title suggests that Green Lantern has “come out of the closet”. Actually, the new issue shows him to have been openly gay all along. Additionally, the character is not Hal Jordan from 60s and 70s, a member of the Justice League. He is Alan Scott, a retro character from the early comics of the 1940s.

Adele’s Songs Brings Tears

 A Wild Duck guest editorial

Just days after her writing her Wild Duck debut, Min Yin returns for this follow up. In addition to critical aclaim as a contemporary philosopher, Ms. Yin is software engineer and mother to 3 children.

Adele, the young British singer/songwriter, swept the 2012 Grammy Awards with 6 Grammys. Of all her songs, “Someone Like You” is my favorite [watch the video]. When I first heard the song on the radio, I was immediately drawn to it for the story she tells and the sadness in her voice. “I heard that you’re settled down, that you found a girl and you’re married now. I heard that your dreams came true…Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.” The song started out with a simple fact that the man she loves is now married. What came up next in the song shows how much struggle she went through internally to accept the fact. “I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited. But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it. I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me, it isn’t over.” Tenderness rose up in my heart and my eyes welled up with tears.

A lot of us can relate to what the girl in the song went through in life. When we were young, we did not know better. We did not know what we want in life, and we did not have a good sense of our passion and talent. For us, life was indeed like a summer haze. Maybe we met someone whom we loved, but we did not cherish that person because we thought we’ll meet someone else better in the future. Fast-forward twenty years. Now, we realize what a mistake that was. Or the other way around. Maybe we did love the other person wholeheartedly, but the other person thought he could do better and did not cherish us. Whatever the scenario, it isn’t the case of “happily ever after”.

Now what do you do? You are middle-aged, may or may not have kids, and may or may not be married. There is no time machine to catapult you back to twenty years ago to start over. What can you do to comfort your aching heart? For me, the answer lies in looking within myself. For the longest time, I thought I needed someone to love me. In all of Disney’s fairy tales and romantic movies, when the girl is finally kissed by the prince, all her problems are solved and it’s “Happily ever after.” Doesn’t that mean that the girl only needs to find the right man, and then she is all set in life? I think the pop culture does a disservice to the young girls and women in the world by depicting such a simple and rosy picture. It’s telling the young girls that you just need to be adorable then someone will love you. But what if over the years the princess becomes to feel life in the castle is boring after all? Suppose she wants to venture out to the big world and use her talents and character strength? Can men look beyond the appearance of women and see their talents? Can men associate women with wisdom and leadership?

For a long time I have been reading Cinderella to my younger daughter. After maybe the twentieth time reading the story, I asked her, “Why didn’t the prince ask Cinderella what her name was while they danced? Don’t you think that is better than having every girl try on the shoe?” My daughter looked at me with a puzzled look on her face and slowly said, “The prince is stupid, isn’t he?” That ended the reading of Cinderella and we moved on to other stories.

What I want to say to all the young girls in the world is you need to find yourself first. You need to know who you truly are inside. Everything else is secondary. A lot of us are running around busily every day trying to avoid spending time with ourselves. Of course, we have our excuses: Work, kids, keeping the house clean, putting grocery in the fridge, all valid excuses. I lived my last fifteen years like that. I did not know that fifteen years could pass like a flash before my eyes. I had three children. I just remember the lack of sleep and running around trying to be at work, at daycare, at school functions and after school activities in time. I forgot I had a passion for words, for literature. Slowly but surely, I feel a void developed in my heart. When I see my kids playing contently by themselves, I ask myself “What do I do for fun?” With a tentative heart, I took baby steps and found my way back to books. I used to read a lot when I was a child. I cannot believe so many years have passed until I sat down with a good book. To my surprise, I am still intensely drawn to good books and I still have the ability to tell a good book from a bad one. It is like there was a small candle burning in my heart, and it was never extinguished completely. However tiny the flame is, it has been flickering throughout the years.

“Nothing compares, no worries or cares. Regrets and mistakes, they’re memories made. Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?” Sometimes I think sadness is good, of course when I am able to look at it from a distance. Sadness comes from disappointment. We all have a mental picture of how the world should be, and without exception we all discovered to our dismay that the reality is quite different. Disappointment arises, is this all there is in life? Fear arises, I may not be able to achieve what I had dreamed in my youth. Did I waste my life away? Though troublesome, these feelings force you to look within yourself. They force you to ask the most important question: “What is the purpose of my life?” It may take a long time for you to find the answer, nevertheless only you can answer that question.

Like a bird, whose wings will get strong only from flying a great distance, you develop your strength and toughen your resolve only through fear and disappointments. We truly learn from mistakes. You have to face your own fear. Nobody can do it for you, and you cannot run away from it. The toughest thing in the world is to be content with yourself. Eventually, going through the pain, you realize that you do not need anyone to love you, you only need to love yourself. You learn to give up the things you thought you must have in order to be happy. And gradually, it dawns on you that you have found freedom.

I was surprised to hear that Adele is only 23 years old. I thought one needs to be 43 to have that much sadness and wisdom expressed in her song. But then, I learned that she had been heart-broken by bad relationships. She said the heartbreaks helped her to learn, to grow, to mature. Gradually, the pieces come together. One learns so much from a broken heart—much more than from reading all the books in the world. Her songs fit the saying, “learn from your mistakes”. To all the young girls out there: Brace yourselves for heartbreak. Despite the pain, it can be a good thing. No matter how dark your world may seem at the time, you will emerge much stronger than you could ever have imagined.

Author′s Note:

Feedback from Wild Ducks is important. I’ll be back from time to time. Drop me a note on the comment form, or better yet, use the feedback link to express your opinion about Jeremy Lin and other examples of inspiration and perspicuity. Until next time, follow your dreams!

— MY

Marry me, Jeremy!


Editors Note:

AWildDuck encourages freelance editorial and op-ed contributions.  Today marks the debut of the very talented Min Yin, an Asian American immigrant, software engineer and mother of 3 bright children — the basketball stars of tomorrow.

The title. “Marry me, Jeremy” was not chosen by Ms. Yin. It appears in a poster held by a Lin fan in the final seconds of the ABC News video linked in the 1st sentence.

If you don’t know the word “LINsanity”, you’re not keeping pace with a phenomenon taking the sports world by storm. Jeremy Lin, the point guard for the New York Knicks, has swept a competitive NBA with a story of underdog becomes super hero. From being an undrafted, overlooked and anonymous player, Lin has become an overnight sensation and focal point of basketball fans. He has led the Knicks to a seven-game winning streak. His gusto makes him an inspiration to millions. Watch any recent Knicks game and see an ocean of fans rooting for him with posters raised. Bask in the intensity of their admiration.

How did so much happen in such little time? First, people love to see a neglected person making it big. Everyone has been an underdog at some time in their past. Deep down in their hearts, sports fans feel a stirring. Perhaps like Jeremy, fans have a dream of making it big. But too often, they give in to financial circumstances and or ridicule—doing whatever it takes to survive. But through Lin, we sense see our own reality and the dreams that might still be.

Watching Lin’s moves, one marvels at how hard he plays. With a relatively slim body, he doesn’t fear collisions with the big guys. Even as he gets knocked hard, somehow he manages to score on the way down. You can almost see his will. It is the triumphant determination of a winner no matter what odds.

Commentators talk about Lin’s intelligence. There’s no doubt about this. Lin is a Harvard grad born to hardworking immigrants—the Silicon Valley elite. He studied economics at America’s flagship university. He certainly is smart. But there is something here than transcends smarts and goes even beyond sports…

I was never a basketball fan, but I have a good layperson understanding of the game. It always seemed to me that basketball was about height, physique and maybe a good eye. Which player is taller, bigger or tougher? If I were asked to handicap a game, my money would be on that one. But I have little interest in watching huge men show off. Sure, they effortlessly score a basket in the absence of a good defense, but I figured that their gift was genetic rather than skill, concentration, intuition and knowing when to take a risk. Talent lives between the ears. Basketball seemed to be a game based on height.

But with Lin, there is graceful strategy, elegant coordination, and an obvious trust between players on his team. You see unselfish passing of the ball. When everyone is huddling under the basket the ball goes out to Lin at the perfect position. Invariably, he scores. The team plays like an intricately designed and well-oiled machine! Every business organization wants to build. They would do well to study the Knicks. It’s not a metaphor, but rather a study in team building. When you see these big guys hug and jump for joy, you realize people of different color and race can get along well, and you have a warm fuzzy feeling that people can be innately good.

It pays to follow your dreams

In a world of waste, indifference and greed, Jeremy Lin is a refreshing role model! His unflagging attitude demonstrates that – in the long run – persistence pays off; Dreams pay off; Not letting put-downs and ridicules of pessimists pays off. Lin demonstrates a world an individual does the thing he loves and lives the life of his dreams. He exudes pure joy when he plays; joy that comes from knowing he is finally at his rightful place and doing what he was born to do!

Many Wild Ducks had passions and dreams in their youth. But how have fulfilled that passion in the day-to-day grind of life? Through Lin, we see the striving of our youth—like a seed under the weight of soil and the inertia of the earth, trying to break through and become a thriving plant.

During the span of a few days, I have become a major basketball fan. Just last Friday, I watched my first YouTube clip of Lin in competition. It’s exhilarating and inspiring. He disproves a stereotype that Asian men cannot compete in professional basketball. More than that, he proves that if you put in the effort dreams come true. Maybe one day, I too, can proclaim to the world that I am living out my dream. What about you?

Author′s Note:

Feedback from Wild Ducks is important. I’ll be back from time to time. Drop me a note on the comment form, or better yet, use the feedback link to express your opinion about Jeremy Lin and other examples of inspiration and perspicuity. Until next time, follow your dreams!

— MY

From the Editor

Check out Ms. Yin’s 2nd guest editorial, a tribute to Adele and her ability to bring a listener to tears with music.

Mel Gibson: Roots of social venom revealed

These days, the most exciting projects come from Mountain View, the town that is home to Google. But here and there, the old guard sends up some new trick that resonates with panache. Piper Weiss writes for Shine, one of my favorite Yahoo projects.

This week, Piper looked back at People Magazine’s past lists of “Sexiest Men Alive”. She compiled her own subset. She calls it The Unsexiest Men Alive: A Look Back at Regrettable Choices.

Mel, during better times

Of course, Piper doesn’t really disagree with the original honor. What she is really claiming is less controversial. She is pointing out that these individuals – in her opinion – have disgraced themselves by their behavior sometime after they were crowned. And the more recent behavior is certainly not “sexy”.

At the top of her list is blue-eyed, sexy hunk of 1985, Mel Gibson. To say that he has disgraced himself is an understatement. We all know about his bouts with public drunkenness, racist rants, xenophobia, and abusive behavior toward the women in his life.

Perhaps more interesting than the troubled individual Mel has become are the roots of his antisocial venom. To wit, Piper’s July list of pranks and practical jokes proffered by Gibson on his leading ladies—films in which he was either the director or leading man.

An axiom states that media cannot make a fool of a man. The man makes a fool of himself. But when media reports are consistent, corroborated by many reputable sources, and outrageous, it is likely that the man has made a fool of himself.

Mel Gibson is a very talented actor and director. Unfortunately, he is also a pathetic xenophobe without self-respect, dignity or a conscience. Mel abuses alcohol and women, is excited by hurtful pranks and blames ethnic groups for what ails you. (If you disagree, read Piper’s history of Mel’s pranks – independently vetted and acknowledged by Gibson).

Apologists suggest that we separate the professional from his personal hijinks. C’mon! We’re not talking about a minor gaffe in social grace. And we’re not debating a victimless crime. I was ashamed and disgusted at the impeachment of Bill Clinton—a congressional witch hunt for behavior that was disgraceful, but ultimately private.

With the exception of an ill-conceived film on the crucifixion (not worth a link), Gibson has directed or starred in remarkable films, including Braveheart, The Patriot and Conspiracy Theory (a thriller, starring Julia Roberts. In a televised interview, she acknowledged that Gibson is the only person who scares her). His recent film, The Beaver, shows that he can still turn out respectable cinema.

Blue eyes turned crazy by 2000s

The fact that genius is often accom-panied by paranoia, xenophobia, anti-social behavior and outright madness is well documented. Van Gough, Ford, Disney, and Bobby Fischer come to mind. (To be fair, Ford and Disney were not mad, but like Gibson, they were virulent anti-Semites).

In the case of Gibson, a contemporary who excels in film, the schism places film lovers in an unfortunate position. Should you see The Beaver? How can you reconcile contributing to the delinquency of an adult who acts like an irresponsible juvenile? It’s not too different from participating in the slashing of your neighbor’s tires.

So Sayeth Ellery. Feel free to express a comment or share a different opinion.