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First Ever Twitter Opera Makes Its Debut

If you've been following my site for a while, you probably remember my posts about "Live Music" (the first-ever crowdsourced animated feature) and "Twitterdammerung" (the first-ever crowdsourced opera). "Live Music" has managed to earn its share of fans and enemies -- which was expected -- but very few people, me included, thought a Twitter opera would fall flat on its face.

"Twitterdammerung," the Twitter opera, was pieced together over the last several months from contributions from 900 Twitter users. Contributions naturally were only 140 characters or less, and what London's Royal Opera House had come up some time back -- the first act, where the protagonist was kidnapped by a flock of birds and a talking cat makes an appearance -- kind of made me shake my head.

Well, "Twitterdammerung" made its debut in London's Covent Garden -- to a surprisingly positive reception. Reviews have returned that the opera was simply silly from start to finish, and the audience was roaring with laughter throughout most of the show. And while many parts obviously needed some touching up (there's only so much you can do with three days of rehearsals), some parts, particularly the musical ones, were pretty good.

Opera critic Igor Toronyi-Lalic was there when it happened, and like most of us, he expected the entire Twitter opera to be an embarrassment (judging from previews that made him say "Yikes"). He said that, in the end, the Twitter opera was a cheap gimmick, but was a pretty good one as far as cheap gimmicks go.

Then again, maybe it wasn't fair to include the Twitter opera in the normal "old-fashioned" opera stereotype. You can't really expect a Michael Bay experience in the opera house.

I'd love to see the Twitter opera myself, but finding an opera house in the region where I work is harder than getting out of a Malaysian traffic jam, so I'll wait for it to come out on YouTube. :)

Microsoft Wins Stay In Word Injunction Case

A few weeks ago I wrote about an injunction case filed against Microsoft, where Canadian firm i4i sued against Microsoft Word's use of XML technology it says was covered by its patents. Incredibly, an East Texas court gave the case to i4i and ordered Microsoft to hold sales of Microsoft Word (versions 2003 and 2007) until the software was tweaked, plus pay i4i almost $300 million in damages.

Microsoft had 60 days to appeal the injunction, but it obviously didn't want to wait that long -- three weeks later they filed for and won a stay from the injunction. (The US Court of Appeals for the Federal District awarded the stay -- it wasn't a local court in East Texas.)

So for now, the lawyers of i4i will have to go back to the drawing board. The Canadian company raised eyebrows over the digital computing world when it chose to file their injunction case against Microsoft in East Texas, when Microsoft itself was based in Washington.

East Texas is a haven for patent law cases, and is notoriously litigation-friendly. This was why the injunction case last month was at the same time surprising -- and one second later made people think, "East Texas? Why am I NOT surprised?"

i4i lawyers insist that they didn't choose Texas because it increased their chances of success, but because the state was a "rocket docket," where cases were heard quickly (they claim they had a short time frame to file the case). They also insist that Judge Davis, who awarded the injunction case to i4i, was a programmer and systems analyst in his student days, and knew what he was doing.

Seriously, who the heck are they trying to fool? :)

In any case, Microsoft is expected to fully win the case in the long run, although it'll definitely take quite a bit of time and paperwork. Where does that leave i4i?

On the upside for the 'nadian firm, they're the poster boys for small companies who go against the Goliaths in the industry. Let's just hope similar cases in the future don't get filed under boneheaded circumstances like in this one.

Disney To Buy Marvel For $4 Billion

The Walt Disney Company has just announced that they're planning to buy the comic book giant Marvel Entertainment for a massive sum -- $4 billion. The cash-and-stock buyout will give Disney ownership of Marvel and its 5,000 comic book characters. This is obviously a huge development between two of the most dominant entities in the entertainment industry today.

Interestingly, Marvel Entertainment started out similarly as the Walt Disney Studios did. Martin Goodman, a struggling publisher fresh out of the Great Depression, came out with Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939 -- almost 70 years ago. A few years later, Stanley Lieber -- the great Stan Lee, then only 19 years old -- joined the team, and he would propel Marvel into mainstream popularity over the next several decades.

Marvel today has been enjoying some great success in the movies. It all started with "Blade," a little-known Marvel comic book character, becoming a sleeper hit and grossing $131 million worldwide. The first "X-Men" movie followed and did even better, and "Spider-Man" enjoyed enough success to spin two sequels (with a third in the making). Robert Downey, Jr.'s "Iron Man" has also enjoyed its share of the spotlight, with films about Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers in the works.

The buyout is obviously going to be very good for Marvel -- if Disney gives Marvel free creative reign (as it does with Miramax), then the comic book giant stands to benefit from the massive exposure, advertising, and marketing prowess of Disney. It showed overnight -- Marvel's stock price jumped 26% when news of the buyout first reached the press.

On Disney's front, it's clear to me, this deal has acquired them Marvel's comic book character library. This now gives Disney direct access to the young (and adult) male demographic.

Then again, it does leave one to think -- just what does Disney have in mind? It doesn't stand to gain much unless it exerts some form of creative control over Marvel, which fans will definitely dislike. The edgy violence of Marvel also doesn't seem to fit into Disney's wholesome, feel-good image either. Apparently Disney shareholders think along the same lines -- share prices dropped 2% overnight.

I've seen worried bloggers say that Wolverine and Mickey Mouse wouldn't get along at all. I doubt this is what Disney has in mind, but let's see how things pan out.

Nokia Makes Fashionably Late Arrival At Netbook Scene

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia is about to make a splash at the Netbook scene with its own offering, the Nokia Booklet 3G. They may be a little late in elbowing into the Netbook industry, what with the market getting more and more saturated by the month. But there are many reasons to love the Booklet 3G and what it potentially offers.

#1 - The good. The Nokia Booklet 3G has all the makings of an HD media player. It has a 10.1-inch widescreen (which I'm sure can handle 1280x720p without a problem) and packs HDMI. You can play Hi-Def movies on your flatscreen whenever you want to.

Oh, and Nokia claims that this little baby will have a 12-hour battery life. Nokia has been known to create phones that are tough as nails and can last longer than most celebrity marriages, so this alone makes the Booklet 3G a good draw when it comes out.

#2 - The better. I'm more of a "function" person than a "form" person, which is why the Booklet 3G is so attractive to me. I've noticed that most Laptop and Netbook makers on the market today still have one fatal flaw -- they don't exactly know what their customers want when they're on the road.

Naturally, Nokia is different -- it's been a mobile phone industry leader for over a decade, and it knows the ins and outs of what their people want.

#3 - The sexy. Of course, a little "form" won't hurt at all. The Nokia Booklet 3G has a 2cm thick frame, a glass screen, a sleek aluminum chassis, and an island keyboard. Some people call it the Macbook Nano they've been waiting for.

What also makes Nokia's move into the Netbook market interesting is that it "seems" to have beaten Apple to it. Mobile phone sales have been disappointing over the past year and a half, and is expected to decline even further this year -- but Netbook sales are expected to double.

I tend to wonder whether the guys at Apple are slapping themselves on the forehead after this bit of news came out. It'll be interesting to see what they'll come up with in retaliation, but for now, we'll just have to wait till the 2nd of September, when Nokia will announce the Booklet 3G's price and availability in Stuttgart, Germany.

Google Caught In "Skank" Blogger Row

It's not like Google to get caught up in bad publicity, but that's exactly what the search giant is in after revealing the identity of an anonymous blogger using its Blogger.com service. US courts recently ordered Google to relinquish the owner of the "Skanks In NYC" blog, which verbally attacked 36-year old Canadian model Liskula Cohen.

After being identified, the blogger, 29-year old Rosemary Port, is now threatening to sue Google for $15 million -- all for violating her right to privacy.

Poor Google. It's walking a knife's edge between protecting the First Amendment and complying with the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Naturally, the blogosphere has been buzzing about the whole case since it exploded into the scene last week. All of a sudden anonymous bloggers are shutting down their blogs for fears of being exposed, and there are dire warnings that freedom of speech is about to take a huge leap backward -- quite a real threat, if you ask me, since the Cohen vs Port story has already caused it to step aside once.

I'd much rather talk about Google than Cohen and Port -- whatever their story was, it's for the gossip column. What I'm more worried about is the future of blogging. The rest of the civilized world looks up to America as the stronghold of free speech and privacy rights. Where the leaders of China, Iran, and other totalitarian countries actively search for and pursue dissident bloggers, Americans have always enjoyed the freedom of speech on the Internet.

Until now.

What's worse, all the fallout came from a word war between two women -- I mean, ladies, please. Did you really have to drag the rest of the world into this?

I seriously hope Google can deal with the ramifications and come up with a reasonable solution for all parties concerned. I guess this is the first time I've really worried for the big G.

Google To Make AdSense A Little Less Embarrassing

I'm pretty much a sucker for good taste in film and advertising, as you've probably noticed in some of my posts in the past. I know that it's easy to step on people's sensibilities when you're careless with your ads, but if you do it on purpose, well -- do me a favor and don't have kids.

Google, on the other hand, is a different story -- we all know that most of the big G's revenue comes from advertising. Google AdSense works by looking through a partner website's web copy for certain keywords and phrases, then comes up with relevant text ads that the site's visitors are likely to click on. Most of the time, the text ads I get while surfing are so spot-on that I sometimes wonder just how the heck Google knows me.

Unfortunately, this isn't always the case -- sometimes the Google ads that come up are either inappropriate, embarrassing, or downright wrong. Here are some really bad ads compiled by Nicholas Carlson of BusinessInsider.com:

http://www.businessinsider.com/googles-worst-ads-ever-2009-8#terrorist-m...

On one hand, we can't really blame the system for coming up with such boo-boos (AdSense isn't human, so yeah, it can't have kids anyway). On the other hand, it's Google we're talking about -- don't you think they would have noticed the problem much sooner?

Thankfully, Google is "rolling out a series of enhancements" to AdSense to improve its contextual targeting process, which I hope means even more accurate ads for their partners and fewer embarrassing ones for the rest of us.

Shane Acker's "9" To Hit US Theaters In Three Weeks

It's a rare occasion when an animated short film (10 minutes and 38 seconds) leaves me thinking about it for days afterwards. That's what Shane Acker's "9" did to me when I first saw it in 2005. Acker's short about a tiny puppet trying to survive and save his puppet friends was good enough to be nominated for best animated short in the 2005 Academy Awards, although it didn't get the plum.

Here's the original 2005 short film:


But Acker's efforts seem to be paying off, as he teamed up with Tim Burton to produce a feature-length movie based on the "9" animated short. The movie will carry on the original's dark, gloomy settings, with the puppets (called "stitchpunks") trying to survive in a world overrun by mechanical monsters.

The premise is pretty standard for any post-apocalyptic movie. Machines have eradicated the human race, and now the stitchpunks -- gifted with souls by a now-dead creator -- now have the daunting mission of making life go on in a decrepit, dead world.

The official trailer is really neat:


With powerhouse voice actors like Elijah Wood, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer, and Martin Landau, this is yet another 2009 gem you won't want to miss.

Gmail Surpasses AOL, Now After Hotmail

Gmail, Google's popular e-mail service, finally came out of beta around six weeks ago. The move capped off five long years of development, and also launched other Google apps like Calendar and Google Docs into alpha stage. So far, things have been looking up -- way up.

Gmail has just surpassed AOL in total number of unique visitors this month. It scored 37 million, edging past AOL's 36.4 million. It would seem that Gmail has finally hit its growth spurt after being mired in perpetual beta for five years. It also doesn't seem likely that AOL will ever catch up with Gmail again -- this year, Gmail saw an 25% increase in traffic, while AOL's declined by 22%.

Gmail is still in third place behind Hotmail, which has 47 million unique users, and market leader Yahoo, with 106 million. It's probably going to take a while to catch up, but will Gmail eventually pass Hotmail, which like many other Microsoft products were at one time almighty and untouchable?

It seems very likely. Hotmail's growth of 8% is easily overshadowed by Gmail's 25%, and I'm pretty sure Google's trend won't stop anytime soon. So, yup, it's easy to say Microsoft has yet another problem on its hands.

The great thing about Gmail is that it's the email server of choice for power users. Google is also doing what Apple is doing right in their respective markets -- instead of trying to amass as many users as they can, they instead target their efforts towards the power users, or the premium end of the market.

I'm sure power users are the most likely to click on ads and such, and they're also the ones who tend to influence their lessers to follow suit. So I guess all that time being mired in beta development stages is finally paying off for Gmail -- Google has some really smart people on its roster.

PONYO And DISTRICT 9 Hit US Theaters

It's been a great year at the movies so far, and it just keeps getting better -- two movies I'm keeping a close eye on are making their debuts in the United States today, and I'm having high hopes they make their way to Southeast Asian shores soon. I'm talking about Disney's English adaptation of "Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea" and Peter Jackson's "District 9."

I've written about "Ponyo" a few times before, and I can't seem to write enough about it -- it's just plain amazing. Superstar Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, creator of the wildly popular films "Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," came up with the Little Mermaid-esque story about a little goldfish aspiring to be human over a year ago.

In a rarely brilliant move, Disney enlisted powerhouse voice actors to dub "Ponyo" in English. While Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, and 9-year-old Noah Cyrus (who voices Ponyo) make the film sound American-made, there's definitely something about the adventurous storytelling that's distinctly, beautifully Japanese. After making waves at Comic Con, "Ponyo" is expected to be a weekend box-office hit.

On the other hand, there's "District 9," a story about ghettoized refugee aliens trying to eke out a living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The extra-terrestrials are actually only the subplot -- the story revolves around a government official tasked to oversee the eviction and relocation of the aliens. What follows is an effects-heavy, action-packed sci-fi adventure that's wild enough to merit an "R" rating.

"District 9" didn't have the same amount of fanfare that surrounded "Ponyo," but it promises to be one of the year's sleeper hits. We all know how Peter Jackson launched the "Lord Of The Rings" franchise into mainstream popularity -- there's no telling how "District 9" will fare until the weekend rolls around.

Are YOU waiting for any 2009 movie in particular? Drop me a line.

Microsoft Banned From Selling Word!

In the latest bit of news about patent trolling, Microsoft has been ordered yesterday by a Texas federal court to stop selling Word 2003, 2007, and any other subsequent Word incarnations that can open files containing custom XML. The plaintiff was a small Canadian firm called i4i who claims they patented the technology.

Wow.

I know patent laws can be pretty crazy in the United States, and some American patent lawyers are woefully clueless when it comes to emerging technologies. This development, however, takes the cake.

Microsoft is now set to pay up to $240 million ($200 million supposedly for the amount a similar product would fetch in today's market, $40 million for "willful infringement") for infinging on the patent, as well as nullify the technology in future software updates. But knowing Microsoft, which has done pretty well on legal cases like this one, they'll probably appeal the decision and win.

Now a lot of people are saying the judge was an idiot for ruling this way, but on the other hand, other people are saying this development was actually a good thing. It proved that even small businesses can successfully fight for their property rights, even if they stood up against giants like Microsoft.

(And then there are other people who say that the name "i4i" should raise eyebrows, and others who say that Microsoft should afterwards rename itself to "2th42th.")

I also laughed when I actually saw some bloggers call for Texas to leave the United States and make Puerto Rico the new 50th state. Texas is known to be a haven for patent law cases like this one, which gives it a fair share of infamy.

The permanent injunction will take effect in 60 days -- more than enough time, I think, for Microsoft to sort out this mess. Let's just hope they use Word 2000 to be on the safe side on this case.