Thursday, November 30, 2006

Criss Angel Shows You How to Levitate

Here is a little more complicated levitation trick explained by Criss Angel.


One Way to "Magically" Levitate

Recently I had a discussion on how some magicians levitate. Here is one video showing the very basic "Balducci Levitation" trick explained.


In Formative Years, the Sun Had Sisters

By Robin Lloyd on
The Sun had sisters when it was born, according to new research, hundreds to thousands of them.

And at least one was a supernova, providing further support for the idea that there could be lots of planets around other stars since our solar system emerged in such an explosive environment.

"We know that the majority of stars in our galaxy were born in star clusters," said Leslie Looney, who arrived at the solar sibling finding along with his colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Now we also know that the newborn solar system not only arose in such a cluster, but also survived the impact of an exploding star. This suggests that planetary systems are impressively rugged and may be common in even the most tumultuous stellar nurseries."

The evidence for the solar sisters was found in daughters—such as decayed particles from radioactive isotopes of iron—trapped in meteorites, which can be studied as fossil remnants of the early solar system.

These daughter species allowed Looney and his colleagues to discern that a supernova with the mass of about 20 suns exploded relatively near the early Sun when it formed 4.6 billion years ago; and where there are supernovas or any massive star, you also see hundreds to thousands of sun-like stars, he said.

The cluster of thousands of stars dispersed billions of years ago due to a lack of gravitational pull, Looney said, leaving the sisters "lost in space" and our Sun looking like an only child ever since, he said.

The research will be detailed in the Astrophysical Journal.

The finding also has exciting implications for life in other solar systems, Looney said, since most stars are born in clusters.

"If our favorite planet, Earth, was born in the nasty environment of a cluster, with the increased radiation and gravitational effects, then the majority of stars could also have planets," Looney told "Not only have planets, but have planets where terrestrial life can occur."

Astronomers now should focus more attention on how planets form in clusters, he said. "It may be easier to form planets than we expected," he said.

Isotopes and supernovas

When massive stars explode and go supernova, they create radioactive isotopes that are blown outward and mix with nebular gas and dust as they condense into stars and planets. In the case of our solar system, that means some of the isotopes were trapped in the rocks that hardened to form the early solar system. Meteorites are remnants of those rocks, so they contain the radioactive offspring, or daughter species, of the isotopes created by the supernova.

Looney and his colleagues used measured abundances of the daughter species to calculate that the supernova sibling was about 0.32 to 5.22 light-years from the Sun. The closest star system to the Sun today is Alpha Centauri at 4.36 light-years.

"The supernova was stunningly close," said Looney's co-author Brian Fields. "Our solar system was still in the process of forming when the supernova occurred."


450GB of Data Can Now Be Stored on Paper

Amazing. Someone was definitely thinking out of the box. Now if we could just bring back punch cards!

M. A. Siraj, Arab News

BANGALORE, 18 November 2006 — Is it time to say goodbye to CDs, DVDs, Zip drives?

A Kerala student has developed a technique for portable data whereby the data can now be stored on ordinary paper. And to boot, larger amounts of data can be had on lesser space.

The immediate question that pops into the mind is how to retrieve the data. Will it be as easy as feeding a floppy disc or CD into the drive and having it on the monitor? Perhaps it will be much easier than that. The piece of paper or even plastic sheet storing the data has only to be scanned in the scanner and read over the monitor. So wait, scan drive would be part of your computer.

Named “Rainbow Technology”, the new technique is the brainchild of Sainul Abideen, who has just finished his MCA at Muslim Educational Society Engineering College in Kuttipuram in Kerala’s Malappuram district.

The extremely low-cost technology will drastically reduce the cost of storage and provide for high-speed storage as well. Files in any format such as movie files, songs, images and text can be stored using this technology.

Currently, of the several options available for data storage, DVDs are the best mode. But a high quality DVD, which is very expensive can store only about 4.7 gigabyte (GB) of data. In contrast, the Rainbow Versatile Disc (RVD) can store 90 to 450 GB. And Sainul has simultaneously developed a scanning drive based on his Rainbow software which will come in smaller sizes to be initially carried with the laptops and later to fit into their bodies.

Sainul says a CD or DVD consumes 16 grams of polycarbonate, a petroleum by-product. While a CD costs Rs.15 (SR1.25), his paper or plastic-made RVD will cost just about Rs.1.50 and has 131 times more storage capacity.

Sainul, who has just turned 24, says that instead of using zeroes and ones for computing, he used geometric shapes such as circles, squares and triangles for computing which combine with various colors and preserve the data in images. An RVD therefore looks like a printout of modern art.

He says all kinds of data has to be first converted into a common format called “Rainbow Format.”

In a demo at his college laboratory, this writer could see text typed on 432 pages of foolscap paper being stored in a four square inch paper. The writer was even shown a 45-second video clip of a Malayalam film stored on an ordinary paper. Sainul was guided by Prof. Hyderali, head of the MCA Department at the College in all these projects.

Sainul says the biggest advantage of the new technology will be the biodegradable nature of his storage devices which will do away with e-waste pollution.

He says with the popularity of his Rainbow Technology, computer or fashion magazines in future need not carry CDs in a pack.

The computable data printed on a paper can be attached in a tearable sheet and will be capable of carrying even software programs, or movies, MP3 data or text. Sainul is promoting the theme of disposable storage and says newspapers, magazines and video albums could benefit from the idea and also distribute their material in this form in order to curtail use of paper and facilitate the disposal of the waste.

Sainul is simultaneously molding the technology into “Rainbow Cards” which will be of SIM card size and store 5 GB of data equivalent to three films of DVD quality. Sainul says as “Rainbow Cards” will become popular, Rainbow Card Readers will replace CD drives of mobile phone and computer notebooks and will enable more data in portable forms for mini digital readers.

Large-scale manufacture of the Rainbow card will bring down its cost to only 50 paise (half a rupee). He is currently in consultation with a UK-based company for manufacture of the Rainbow Cards.

Sainul has also put forward the idea of databank with Rainbow Technology, which will enable huge servers with a high storage capacity.

Quoting a research study carried out in the US in 2003, he says the entire static data in the US would require $5 billion (Indian Rupees 230 billion) for storage with the current storage devices. But Rainbow based databank could reduce the cost to Rs.3.5 million. He says he could construct databank with almost 123.60 Peta Byte (PB) capacity.

Sainul is also working on project Xpressa, a software package for regional languages. This will enable the Internet browser to access the newspapers available on Internet through mobile phone in audible form.

Sainul Abideen can be contacted at: 0091-98950-81493, Res: 0091-494-2495493, email:


Tenacious D - Devil May Fry Game

If you like Guitar Hero and Tenacious D then check out this quick flash game. Go ahead and waste 5 minutes.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Church @ Bellair Upward Flag Football and Cheerleading Team Photos and Video

The Church @ Bellair hosted the Upward Flag Football Awards last week to a packed house. It was great seeing the kids so excited about their teams. Here are the team pictures (to see them all click Read More at the bottom of the post) and a link to the opening video for those interested. For anyone wishing to attend C@B here is a link to their website. We meet at 6pm every Saturday at the Orange Park Junior High School. Come see us!










Thursday, November 23, 2006

"As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly"

from politics of dancing website

Cincinnati, OH--An advertising stunt dreamed up by a local Cincinnati radio station went terribly wrong when twenty live turkeys plummeted to their deaths after being dropped out of a helicopter under the misguided assumption that they would all just fly away.

"The turkeys were hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement," stated Les Nessman, who reported the event live for station WKRP from the parking lot of the Pinedale Shopping Mall.

"It was just terrible. People started to panic and were running around the parking lot screaming. One of the turkeys even went right through the windshield of a parked car."

Station Manager Arthur Carlson took full responsibility for the chaos caused by the Thanksgiving Day promotion, claiming that "as God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." The station promised to reimburse anybody who suffered property damage as a result of this stunt.

WKRP is a "beautiful music" station that ranks 16th in the 18 station Cincinnati market. They are currently considering a format change in hopes of boosting their dismal ratings.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

10 Advantages of Doing Ministry Without a Ministry Strategy

Another great post from Tony Morgan's website.

1. You give the loudest person the opportunity to decide what happens at your church.
2. Sharp leaders who are accustomed to serving in organizations with clearly defined plans for future growth won’t stick around your church. That means more ministry for you!
3. You’ll get to hone your debating skills as people argue about what to do next.
4. More meetings! Where there's no strategy, the meetings flourish.
5. Some people call them church splits. We like to call them church plants. More mother churches!
6. You don’t have to worry about celebrating success, because no one even knows what success looks like. It’s just better to keep that a secret.
7. Rather than trying to discern God’s will for your ministry, you can just rely on dumb luck.
8. You don’t have to pray as much, because there's nothing to pray for. As an added bonus, that means you don’t have to develop as much faith either—whatever happens…happens.
9. You can count your offerings a lot faster, because people will save their financial gifts for organizations that actually have a plan for the money they receive.
10.Your lack of ministry strategy, which is a ministry strategy, will do just fine in Nothing, Arizona.

I probably shouldn't post on my blog when I'm in a fiesty mood, should I? Regardless of how you answer that question, I still recommend that you don't vacation in Nothing, Arizona and don't do ministry without a ministry strategy.


Robot Discovers Itself, Adapts to Injury

A Robot that can repair itself. More than that; it can adapt to problems, albeit simple ones, and find a solution. Soon (meaning decades) we will have robots that conform themselves to the assigned task on the fly. Imagine the benefits in space and planetary exploration. No more waiting for Earth to tell it what to do.

From Physorg website.

Nothing can possibly go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ... The truth behind the old joke is that most robots are programmed with a fairly rigid "model" of what they and the world around them are like. If a robot is damaged or its environment changes unexpectedly, it can't adapt.
So Cornell researchers have built a robot that works out its own model of itself and can revise the model to adapt to injury. First, it teaches itself to walk. Then, when damaged, it teaches itself to limp.

Although the test robot is a simple four-legged device, the researchers say the underlying algorithm could be used to build more complex robots that can deal with uncertain situations, like space exploration, and may help in understanding human and animal behavior.

The research, reported in the latest issue (Nov. 17) of the journal Science, is by Josh Bongard, a former Cornell postdoctoral researcher now on the faculty at the University of Vermont, Cornell graduate student Viktor Zykov and Hod Lipson, Cornell assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Instead of giving the robot a rigid set of instructions, the researchers let it discover its own nature and work out how to control itself, a process that seems to resemble the way human and animal babies discover and manipulate their bodies. The ability to build this "self-model" is what makes it able to adapt to injury.

"Most robots have a fixed model laboriously designed by human engineers," Lipson explained. "We showed, for the first time, how the model can emerge within the robot. It makes robots adaptive at a new level, because they can be given a task without requiring a model. It opens the door to a new level of machine cognition and sheds light on the age-old question of machine consciousness, which is all about internal models."

The robot, which looks like a four-armed starfish, starts out knowing only what its parts are, not how they are arranged or how to use them to fulfill its prime directive to move forward. To find out, it applies what amounts to the scientific method: theory followed by experiment followed by refined theory.

It begins by building a series of computer models of how its parts might be arranged, at first just putting them together in random arrangements. Then it develops commands it might send to its motors to test the models. A key step, the researchers said, is that it selects the commands most likely to produce different results depending on which model is correct. It executes the commands and revises its models based on the results. It repeats this cycle 15 times, then attempts to move forward.
"The machine does not have a single model of itself -- it has many, simultaneous, competing, different, candidate models. The models compete over which can best explain the past experiences of the robot," Lipson said.

The result is usually an ungainly but functional gait; the most effective so far is a sort of inchworm motion in which the robot alternately moves its legs and body forward.

Once the robot reaches that point, the experimenters remove part of one leg. When the robot can't move forward, it again builds and tests 16 simulations to develop a new gait.

The researchers limited the robot to 16 test cycles with space exploration in mind. "You don't want a robot on Mars thrashing around in the sand too much and possibly causing more damage," Bongard explained.

The underlying algorithm, the researchers said, could be applied to much more complex machines and also could allow robots to adapt to changes in environment and repair themselves by replacing parts. The work also could have other applications in computing and could lead to better understanding of animal cognition. In a way, Bongard said, the robot is "conscious" on a primitive level, because it thinks to itself, "What would happen if I do this?"

"Whether humans or animals are conscious in a similar way -- do we also think in terms of a self-image, and rehearse actions in our head before trying them out -- is still an open question," he said.

Source: Cornell University


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

50 Interesting Science Facts

50 Interesting Science Facts
From Immense World website.

1 – The speed of light is generally rounded down to 186,000 miles per second. In exact terms it is 299,792,458 m/s (equal to 186,287.49 miles per second).

2 – It takes 8 minutes 17 seconds for light to travel from the Sun’s surface to the Earth.

3 – 10 percent of all human beings ever born are alive at this very moment.

4 – The Earth spins at 1,000 mph but it travels through space at an incredible 67,000 mph.

5 – Every year, over one million earthquakes shake the Earth.

6 – When Krakatoa erupted in 1883, its force was so great it could be heard 4,800 kilometers away in Australia.

7 – Every second around 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth.

8 – Every year lightning kills 1000 people.

9 – In October 1999 an Iceberg the size of London broke free from the Antarctic ice shelf .

10 – If you could drive your car straight up you would arrive in space in just over an hour.

11 – Human tapeworms can grow up to 22.9m.

12 – The Earth is 4.56 billion years old…the same age as the Moon and the Sun.

13 – The dinosaurs became extinct before the Rockies or the Alps were formed.

14 – Female black widow spiders eat their males after mating.

15 – When a flea jumps, the rate of acceleration is 20 times that of the space shuttle during launch.

16 – If our Sun were just inch in diameter, the nearest star would be 445 miles away.

17 – Astronauts cannot belch – there is no gravity to separate liquid from gas in their stomachs.

18 – The air at the summit of Mount Everest, 29,029 feet is only a third as thick as the air at sea level.

19 – One million, million, million, million, millionth of a second after the Big Bang the Universe was the size of a …pea.

20 – DNA was first discovered in 1869 by Swiss Friedrich Mieschler.

21 – The molecular structure of DNA was first determined by Watson and Crick in 1953.

22 – The first synthetic human chromosome was constructed by US scientists in 1997.

23 – The thermometer was invented in 1607 by Galileo.

24 – Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in 1866.

25 – Wilhelm Rontgen won the first Nobel Prize for physics for discovering X-rays in 1895.

26 – The tallest tree ever was an Australian eucalyptus – In 1872 it was measured at 435 feet tall.

27 – Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant in 1967 – the patient lived for 18 days.

28 – An electric eel can produce a shock of up to 650 volts.

29 – ‘Wireless’ communications took a giant leap forward in 1962 with the launch of Telstar, the first satellite capable of relaying telephone and satellite TV signals.

30 – The Ebola virus kills 4 out of every 5 humans it infects.

31 – In 5 billion years the Sun will run out of fuel and turn into a Red Giant.

32 – Giraffes often sleep for only 20 minutes in any 24 hours. They may sleep up to 2 hours (in spurts – not all at once), but this is rare. They never lie down.

33 – There are 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body.

34 – An individual blood cell takes about 60 seconds to make a complete circuit of the body.

35 – On the day that Alexander Graham Bell was buried the entire US telephone system was shut down for 1 minute in tribute.

36 – The low frequency call of the humpback whale is the loudest noise made by a living creature.

37 – A quarter of the world’s plants are threatened with extinction by the year 2010.

38 – Each person sheds 40lbs of skin in his or her lifetime.

39 – At 15 inches the eyes of giant squids are the largest on the planet.

40 – The Universe contains over 100 billion galaxies.

41 – Wounds infested with maggots heal quickly and without spread of gangrene or other infection.

42 – More germs are transferred shaking hands than kissing.

43 – The fastest speed a falling raindrop can hit you is 18mph.

44 – It would take over an hour for a heavy object to sink 6.7 miles down to the deepest part of the ocean.

45 – Around a million, billion neutrinos from the Sun will pass through your body while you read this sentence.

46 – The deepest part of any ocean in the world is the Mariana trench in the Pacific with a depth of 35,797 feet.

47 – Every hour the Universe expands by a billion miles in all directions.

48 – Somewhere in the flicker of a badly tuned TV set is the background radiation from the Big Bang.

49 – Even traveling at the speed of light it would take 2 million years to reach the nearest large galaxy, Andromeda.

50 – A thimbleful of a neutron star would weigh over 100 million tons.


10 Easy Ways to Make Your Church Services More Boring

As most who know me, I am probably the exception to the rule in this matter. For me personally, many of the points I actually prefer myself. Longer services, the chorus, more scripture study, and children participating in the service. But I am also not naive. I realize that more and more people prefer the more modern service styles and for the church to reach these people we must adapt and not become mired in our own desired worship style. My service preferences are just that, preferences. The quality of praise and worship in my style is no different than another as long as we are a Christ following, Bible believing church. Our commission is to spread the word and not recruit another pew sitter.

Here's another post from Tony Morgan's website.

I've been sitting on this one for a couple of weeks thinking I might discover some insights to make it better. Instead, maybe you can help me figure out how to improve the list. One of the most frequent reasons cited for someone not attending church is because the services are boring. I think the only place there should be boring churches is in Boring, Oregon where I've identified, with the help of Google, that there are actually 25 Boring churches.

If I was intentionally setting out to create another boring church, though, this is how I might do it. Here are the:

10 Easy Ways to Make Your Church Services More Boring

1. Don’t worry about when you finish. I’m sure no one has plans after the service.
2. Straight Scriptures. No stories. Jesus didn’t teach that way, but you’re a better communicator than Jesus, right?
3. Television. Movies. It’s just a phase. People don’t really need visual stimulation. They prefer talking heads.
4. Use the same service order…every week…no exceptions…ever.
5. Make more announcements.
6. Encourage your elementary school kids to sit through your services. They love lively 45-minute sermons. It’s good for them. It builds character.
7. Talk more about the past and the less about the future.
8. Play the same Chris Tomlin song every week. And, try the chorus one more time.
9. Use lots of big words that no one uses in normal, everyday life.
10. Forget relevant topics and life application. People are really only interested in hearing what you think, not why it matters to them.

Ok, you probably get the point. The question is this: What are you doing to make your services memorable and impactful? Or, do you believe unchurched people, people who aren't in a relationship with Jesus, should just be expected to show up and put up with something they perceive as boring?


iTunes Rips-off South Park Fans

Software companies, especially online services, have typically had very poor customer service. iTunes apparently is no exception. Apparently iTunes advertised a South Park season pass for season 10 for $11.99. As the season got underway, Comedy Central, which produces South Park split the season in two with a five month hiatus. It is becoming more common for networks to do this; the TV show Lost has a 3 month hiatus. These have been considered parts of the same season in the past. Since the season was split, iTunes decided to split its season pass into season 10A and season 10B. This came as a surprise to those that purchased the original season 10 pass. They soon found out that their season pass had now been retroactively changed to a half season pass and if they wanted the second half they would need to shell out another $11.99. iTunes' response is that they reserve the right to change content as they see fit and no refunds are possible. Since so much time has passed, disputing the original charge is no longer an option on your credit card. You are at the mercy of iTunes. It's their reputation at stake but as more money is spent on web services, a company's customer service department will have to step up to the level normally reserved for retail companies.

South Park: Season 10
From the iTunes Deception website

Those of you who own an iPod or purchase music and movies on iTunes may have noticed something a bit strange in the past month if you are a fan of South Park. iTunes had the genius idea a while back to begin offering the Season Pass for television series. This Pass would allow you to pay a one time fee to purchase all the current episodes of a season of a particular series, as well as having the added benefit of automatically downloading all future episodes to your computer. iTunes decided to apply this concept to Season 10 of South Park, offering what was supposed to be the entire season for $11.99. Of course this idea was quite enticing! I would get all the episodes in the season for about half the price of the DVD set, AND I didn't have to go through the painstaking process of converting the DVDs for use on my beloved iPod. I decided...
I would have to be a sucker not to follow through with this. So I did it, I charged it to my card and BAM: within minutes I was enjoying the removal of Chef's face by a bear and a mountain lion. Everything was fine, going great, within 24 hours of an episode airing on Comedy Central I was sitting at work laughing my ass off watching it on my iPod. Until the episode "Tsst" came out. Little did I know that as I was losing breath laughing at Cartman being prodded like a dog, iTunes was planning something devious to take this joy away from me.

South Park went on hiatus after "Tsst" for about 5 months, which was fine, I understand that shows go on hiatus for one reason or another; I just had to find other things to entertain myself with. When South Park came back they were still calling it Season 10, and I was excited to think that instead of sitting around aimlessly browsing mySpace at the library the next day, I would be able to better observe the pimples that Stan and Kyle developed during their epic battle of World of Warcraft. I was sorely disappointed when I went to go see if my new South Park episode had downloaded. To my horror, I had discovered that iTunes, in its INFINITE wisdom, had decided to name the new set of episodes coming out to "Season 10B", and what I had already downloaded was now sporting a new title: "Season 10A".

Now I was pissed; I was promised ALL of Season 10 not just THE FIRST SEVEN EPISODES. I know it sounds ridiculous to complain this much over $11.99, but iTunes doubled it's profits instantly by cheating hundreds of customers out of what they were originally promised. I went to go spit some fire at the iTunes representatives to try and get my lost episodes, but I'm short of time and I'll get to that on my next post. Until next time...

see his website for the email conversation with iTunes


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Final Smart Things Andy Said > Part 4

From Tony Morgan's Blog.

59. There's a difference between leading a team and leading a staff.

60. A high performance team is a group of competent individuals passionately engaged in the execution of a plan designed to solve a specific problem.

61. Team advantage = synergy instead of misaligned energy

62. Four essentials to team: (1) a clearly defined problem, (2) an agreed upon solution, (3) clearly assign roles, (4) a clear understanding of the interdepency among staff members.

63. The question we need to ask is this: What is the problem that won't be solved if we don't do what God has called us to do?

64. Teams dissolved when the problems are all solved. If meetings are a waste of time, you don't know the problem or you've lost sight of it.

65. If there are 60% of the people in your community driving by your church each Sunday, one of your problems is irrelevant church environments.

66. If you just want to be a boss with employees, just tell them what to do. (Tony's note: If you do this, your leaders will flee.)

67. Agreement necessitates "unfiltered debate."

68. Every team member must buy in before he will wholeheartedly pitch in.

69. Andy challenged us to create a one-sentence job description for each of our team members. That helps them understand their role.

70. A lack of clarity always results in poor which point we typically blame the person.

71. On a real team, when one person drops the ball, the entire team suffers.

72. You capture a person's heart, you'll get their hands.

73. What without "why" feels like a task.


Glasswing Butterfly


Glasswing Butterfly (Greta Oto) is a brush-footed butterfly where its wings are transparent. The tissue between the veins of its wings looks like glass. They are found in the range which extends throughout Central America into Mexico.


Unlocking the iPod

Looks like DVD Jon is back and this time he's freeing all that music you legally own.

Jon Johansen became a geek hero by breaking the DVD code. Now he's liberating iTunes - whether Apple likes it or not.
FORTUNE Magazine
By Robert Levine, Fortune

(Fortune Magazine) -- Growing up in a small town in southern Norway, Jon Lech Johansen loved to take things apart to figure out how they worked. Unlike most kids, though, he'd put them back together better than they were before. When he was 14, his father bought a digital camera that came with buggy software, so Jon analyzed the code and wrote a program that worked better.
Apple's iPod is turning 5

When Johansen bought an early MP3 player that kept crashing, he studied how it worked, wrote a more reliable program, and posted it on the Internet so other people could download it for free. Later, the company that made the device asked him about writing a new version, but he didn't hear back after he sent in his résumé. "I assume it had something to do with my age," Johansen says dryly. He was 17.

Sometimes, however, the things Johansen tries to improve were made a certain way for a reason. When he was 15, Johansen got frustrated when his DVDs didn't work the way he wanted them to. "I was fed up with not being able to play a movie the way I wanted to play it," that is, on a PC that ran Linux.

To fix the problem, he and two hackers he met online wrote a program called DeCSS, which removed the encryption that limits what devices can play the discs. That meant the movies could be played on any machine, but also that they could be copied. After the program was posted online, Johansen received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation - and a visit from Norwegian police.

Johansen, now 22 and widely known as "DVD Jon" for his exploits, has also figured out how Apple's iPod-iTunes system works. And he's using that knowledge to start a business that is going to drive Steve Jobs crazy.
A disruptor

If you want to be specific - and for legal reasons, he does - Johansen has reverse-engineered FairPlay, the encryption technology Apple (Charts) uses to make the iPod a closed system. Right now, thanks to FairPlay, the songs Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod. (The iPod will play MP3 files, which do not have any copy protection, but major labels don't sell music in that format.)

Johansen has written programs that get around those restrictions: one that would let other companies sell copy-protected songs that play on the iPod, and another that would let other devices play iTunes songs. Starting this fall, his new company, DoubleTwist, will license them to anyone who wants to get into the digital-music business - and doesn't mind getting hate mail from Cupertino.

So far, DoubleTwist consists of four cubicles in a generic-looking glass-and-steel building in Redwood Shores, Calif., one client, and no full-time employees other than Johansen and co-founder Monique Farantzos.

As he and Farantzos explain DoubleTwist in a conference room they share with several other companies, he points to a sheet of printer paper tacked on the wall that has a typed quote Jobs gave the Wall Street Journal in 2002: "If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own." As Johansen sees it, Jobs didn't follow through on this promise, so it's up to him to fix the system, just as he fixed the software for his father's camera.

"Today's reality is that there's this iTunes-iPod ecosystem that excludes everyone else from the market," says Johansen. "I don't like closed systems."

Companies that rely on closed systems don't much care for him, either. For his role in writing DeCSS, Johansen was charged with breaking the Norwegian law that prohibits gaining unauthorized access to data, then was acquitted twice when courts ruled the data were his own. The movie studios didn't like that decision, which almost certainly would have been different in the U.S., where the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA, for short) prohibits circumventing digital-rights-management technology (or DRM) for any reason. The movie studios used that law to successfully sue a hacker magazine called 2600 that linked to DeCSS on its Web site.

Johansen, who had left high school at 16 to become a programmer, testified in the 2600 case and became frustrated that companies could prohibit customers from using a product the way they wanted. "I really became interested in these issues," he says. He also became something of an icon to hard-core geeks: When Johansen announced on his blog that he was selling the old iPod he had used to break FairPlay, a Berkeley researcher bought it to keep as a souvenir.

"We all talk about disruptive forces in business," says Mike McGuire, an analyst at the Gartner Group. "This guy is a disruptive force unto himself."
A thorn in Apple's side

There's an obvious question: Isn't opening the iTunes system illegal? There is no obvious answer. FairPlay is not patented, most likely because the encryption algorithms it uses are in the public domain. (Apple would not comment for this story.) And Johansen says he is abiding by the letter of the law - if not, perhaps, its spirit.

To let other sites sell music that plays on the iPod, his program will "wrap" songs with code that functions much like FairPlay. "So we'll actually add copy protection," he says, whereas the DMCA prohibits removing it. Helping other devices play iTunes songs could be harder to justify legally, but he cites the DMCA clause that permits users, in some circumstances, to reverse-engineer programs to ensure "interoperability."

"The law protects copyrights," he says, "but it doesn't keep you locked into the iPod." Johansen isn't the only one who feels that way - or the only one who has found a way around FairPlay.

In 2004, RealNetworks (Charts) released a program called Harmony that would allow songs from its RealPlayer Music Store to play on the iPod. Steve Jobs memorably accused the company of using "the ethics and tactics of a hacker" and threatened to sue.

Instead, Apple released a software update that made Harmony ineffective - although Real subsequently fixed that. Another company, Navio Systems, has announced that it has developed a way to play iTunes songs on other devices. Several more programs on the Internet will strip the FairPlay encryption from a file, but none of them has a large following.

And not everyone who wants to open up the iPod is a hacker. There have been demonstrations in the streets of France over Apple's DRM, and lawmakers there have attempted to require Apple to license FairPlay. Apple said that such a move would be "state-sponsored piracy."

In the U.S., courts have traditionally allowed inventors to reverse-engineer products to determine how they function. But the DMCA allows programmers to do that only in certain cases. "What he's working on is clearly in the spirit of the reverse-engineering the courts have been most friendly toward," says Fred von Lohman, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has informally given Johansen advice. "But the law is untested, and the case is complicated."

Since the DMCA was passed, the most relevant legal precedent is a case in which the videogame maker Blizzard sued an ISP that hosted an unapproved server where people could play its games, which the court found to be a DMCA violation.

"On the surface, Apple would have a good case," especially when it comes to making iTunes songs play on other devices, says Robert Becker, an attorney at Manatt Phelps & Phillips who has represented the copy-protection company Macrovision. "Apple would say you're buying music under certain restrictions."

Indeed, how you feel about what Johansen is doing may depend on how you feel about a question that will become more important as the media business gradually embraces digital distribution: What exactly are you buying when you purchase a song on iTunes?

An unscientific survey of friends generated only one answer: a song. An attorney, though, might say that you are buying a license to play a song on a specific set of devices - and that using Johansen's software violates Apple's user agreement (the one you didn't bother to read when you signed up for iTunes).

If the distinction seems minute, suppose you replace your iPod with another digital music player; unless you convert them to MP3s, your songs from iTunes will be as useful as eight-track tapes.
A tense atmosphere

For a man so intent on changing the way music is sold, Johansen isn't a big fan himself. "I've probably bought ten CDs in my whole life," he says. Much of the music he does have - mainly techno - he buys from iTunes. When the store went online, it didn't accept foreign credit cards, so Johansen bought iTunes gift certificates on eBay.

Instead of going to concerts, Johansen bakes. His blog, "So Sue Me," features dessert recipes along with news about technology and arguments about copyright law. When DoubleTwist signed its first client - which Johansen declines to identify - he made an apple pie to celebrate.

Johansen has a soft-spoken modesty that belies his stature as a hacker. He was among the first to crack FairPlay - he did it for fun on a vacation in France - and he has also broken a Microsoft code. "If reverse-engineering were a sport," says Michael Robertson, the Internet entrepreneur for whom Johansen worked before setting up DoubleTwist, "Jon would be on the all-star team."

Johansen realizes that taking on Apple could make figuring out FairPlay look easy. But he seems to regard the fact that he could get sued as one of those complicating factors an engineer must deal with, and he keeps the reverse-engineering clause of the DMCA near his desk for easy reference. "We don't want to go to court, because it's a waste of time and money," he says. "But if it comes to that, we will test these issues in court."

Johansen's legal arguments involve the rights of consumers, but opening the iPod could also be good for the music business. The major labels worry that compatibility concerns will slow the digital-music market, especially when Microsoft (Charts) comes out with its own closed system this Christmas. Chafing at Apple's one-price-fits-all policy, they would love to see more retailers enter the market. But it says something about the power of Apple that none provided an executive who would speak for the record.

It is anyone's guess how Apple will react - the company hasn't contacted DoubleTwist. (Johansen says he had lunch with Jobs last January, but he hadn't yet started his company.)

So far, Apple hasn't sued anyone who has created or distributed any of the FairPlay hacks. That could be because the company is afraid that losing a case would set a precedent that would encourage imitations of the iPod. Or it could be that Apple doesn't want to give anyone the publicity.

Whatever Apple does, Johansen could have a hard time making DoubleTwist into a viable business. Companies could be reluctant to license Johansen's software for fear of being sued along with DoubleTwist. And they might have a tough time convincing the major labels to let them sell their music, since the labels know how much that would upset Apple.

"There has to be an agreement between the label and the retailer," says Josh Wattles, an attorney at Dreier and a former corporate counsel at Paramount Pictures. "What's the likelihood of a record company granting that?"

Whether or not Johansen makes any money with DoubleTwist, he will almost certainly make his point. "The iTunes music store was getting so popular, and I was kind of fed up that people were accepting that DRM."

On the other hand, if Apple gets fed up with him, he'll end up making his point in a courtroom.



More Smart Things Andy Said > Part 3

From Tony Morgan's Blog.

46. Your current system is perfectly designed for the results you're getting. That may be great news, or that may be bad news.

47. Connect the dots. You need to figure out a way for every single volunteer in your organization to understand what they contribute to the whole.

48. The very best people are busy people. Because of that, you need to define the terms of service. What's the commitment required?

49. Fresh starts always provide momentum. Let volunteers take a break and then start up again. (Tony's side note: That's why launching a new weekend series every 5 or 6 weeks is so important.)

50. Eliminate the competition. If you try to do everything, you'll run out of volunteers. One of the questions that's asked around NP is this: Where do we have competing systems?

Dr. Charles Stanley took the platform for this morning's session. I hope I can get these notes down, because I tend to get mesmerized by his voice. When I grow up, I want to have a voice like that. I think Emily would swoon every time I speak. I like it when Emily swoons.

51. Don't run because you face conflict. If you start running, you'll never stop. There will always be conflict. Wherever there's change, there's conflict.

52. To be leaders, you have to be strong and courageous. Don't show your fear. You cannot carry out your responsibility by being fearful.

53. Conflict in our ministry divides our mind. We think about it all the time. It's a distraction that keeps us from our goals. It destroys relationships.

54. Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.

55. The message must never change. The methods can.

56. Learn to fight your battles on your knees.

57. Just tell the truth.

58. If you focus on your opposition, that's bad. If you focus on God, that's good. It's easy to get distracted. Keep your focus where it belongs.


Friday, November 10, 2006

More Smart Things Andy Said > Part 2

From Tony Morgan's Blog.

19. God works through systems. For example, your body is a complex system designed by God. It's systematic and predictable. God created systems. That doesn't make him small. Likewise, God works through systems in our ministry. Systems aren't secular.

20. You can pray your heart out for change to take place in your church, but change will not take place without change to your systems.

21. Your church is a conglomeration of systems. You can't pray that away. You can't faith that away. You can't inspire that away. You can't preach that away. Somebody has to address those systems.

22. McDonalds and Coke have accomplished their "great commission." We say, "That's the worlds way." Maybe not. Maybe it's God's way. God works through systems.

23. There are some organizational systems that impede ministry. In effect, we are resisting the Holy Spirit.

24. Some systems free leaders and some obstruct leaders.

25. "I may not be right, but I'm going to be critical."

26. I know a pastor that is supposed to lead his church but a separate committee hires the staff. "That's stupid." It's obstructing ministry in his environment.

27. When you don't understand systems thinking, you always blame the players.

28. Systems create behaviors. For example, if you're a youth pastor, your teaching can't outweigh the influence of a dysfunctional family system. Or, if you're a parent, the wrong system of friends trumps what you teach at home.

29. The systems you inherit, adopt or create will eventually impact what staff and volunteers do.

30. The reason people are not inviting friends to attend services and events in your church is because you have a system that discourages people from doing that.

31. If you have to get up on the platform and beg people to do something (like recruit volunteers), that's a system problem.

32. Anytime you hear, "our people just won't," you're listening to someone who doesn't understand systems. They're blaming people instead of addressing the systems. (Tony's note: And these people are not leaders. They're just whiners.)

33. Components of a system include: expectations/rules, rewards (or lack of), consequences (or lack of), communication (content and style) and behavior of those in charge.

34. What's rewarded gets repeated.

35. Systems have a greater impact on organizational culture than do mission statements.

36. This principle explains why it is so difficult to transition a church.

37. You can't change, add or delete programs to change a church or change lives. Programming doesn't change behavior.

38. The NT does not present us with a comprehensive system model. We discover what the early church did, but it doesn't instruct leaders what to do.

39. Always ask the question: Is this what we are told to do or is this just what they did? Is it prescriptive or descriptive?

40. Delegation, accountability, authority, interdependence, point leadership and seeking counsel are all examples of systems outlined in the OT and NT. There's nothing to suggest congregational rule is an appropriate system for a church.

41. Your system should allow you to involve and hire the best person for the job. If you hire great people, great things happen.

42. Your system should provide you with the flexibility to get the right people to the table to make decisions.

43. Your system should allow you to make complex decisions within the context of a small group of empowered individuals. You cannot effectively communicate complicated information to a lot of people.

44. Your system should ensure that only person answers to "they." At North Point, Andy is the only person that works for a group. You can't answer to a boss and a committee.

45. Romans 12 indicates leaders need to "govern diligently." This is all about the systems.


Why waste a temper tantrum if nobody is around to see it????


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Smart Things Andy Stanley Said > Part 1

From Tony Morgan's Blog.

1. We're not there yet. And we won't be.

2. We all do ministry in communities where people think church is for church people. That's the type of world we live in. People care about God. People want to connect with God. There's a hunger for God, but the church is in the way. "I'm giving the rest of my life to change that."

3. The church ought to be the magnet. It should be irresistible. If we're the body, we should be irresistible.

4. Sinners liked to be around Jesus. They liked him, but they were nothing like him.

5. Leaders are very dissatisfied unless there's progress.

6. Since the beginning of the church, the "insiders" have been making it difficult for the "outsiders." From the very beginning, the church has tried to change the outsiders before they can connect with the church. (Acts 15)

7. If we create obstacles for people to connect with the church and God, we are working against God.

8. The majority of churches have made it difficult for people to turn to God.

9. The Gospel should be easy and accessible.

10. For some reason, there's something in us that wants to make church a formula. We make it difficult for people who are turning to God.

11. The gravitational pull of your ministry is to create insider language, rules and programs that makes it more difficult for people to turn to God.

12. The only people that really love a big church are the pastors. It's a hassle for everyone else.

13. We had to create empty seats at optimal times in order to make room for people who were unchurched. Otherwise, I would have just been talking to the Christians.

14. This is the difficult question we need to continuously ask: Is it still easy and accessible here?

15. When a local church gets off-mission, God gets uninterested. God says, "They don't need me."

16. We made a fundamental decision years ago that we were going to be more committed to reaching people than keeping people.

17. We're not here for the party going to Heaven.

18. Are you willing to take a critical look at your organization or ministry team and determine whether or not you're unintentionally making it harder for people to take steps toward Christ?


5 Myths of Growing Churches

Another post from Tony Morgan's blog. To me, church is a home. A church can have all the bells and whistles, but if it isn't a home, its not my church.

5 Myths of Growing Churches

As I mentioned the other day, Mark, Kem and I spent a few days at NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. In addition to surviving two of the three showers I took, we spent quite a bit of time with Perry Noble and his leadership team. It was an incredible experience. God is doing amazing things through this church. In fact, the NewSpring story really blows five big myths out of the water:

Myth #1: You have to be in a big community to have a big church. NewSpring had almost 7,800 people in attendance this weekend. The church is located in a town of 25,000 people. There are only 175,000 in the entire county. They're reaching about 1 out of every 22 people that live in their county. That's a staggering percentage.

Myth #2: You have to water down God's Word to reach a lot of people. Perry doesn't water down anything. He's probably the most "in your face" communicator I've ever heard. In the message I heard on Sunday, Perry hit tough issues like sex before marriage, cohabitation and pornography. And, on the flip side, he taught about sanctification. In all of this, he was jumping all over Scriptures to back up every point of his message. Perry doesn't back away from the Truth.

Myth #3: It has to be boring to be church. There's never a dull moment at NewSpring. The team uses lots of humor to help people connect with the message and each other. In one moment the teaching stretches your understanding of God. In the next moment the humor grabs your attention and prepares your heart to hear more truth.

Myth #4: Big churches are all about a big personality. NewSpring reminded me that growth usually happens when a team of people commits to fulfilling a mission from God. NewSpring has a great team. Their staff is incredibly talented and committed to helping people take their next steps toward Christ. And, there are 1,400 people who aren't paid by NewSpring that are volunteering their time and gifts to reach people for Jesus. God isn't working through one person at NewSpring--he's working through about 1,500 people.

Myth #5: Growth is incremental. Many times that may be the case in ministry. But, there are some instances, when the Holy Spirit moves through a congregation and revival happens in a community. When God moves and the church cooperates with God's agenda, amazing things can happen. Eight months ago, NewSpring was "only" averaging 4,000 people. Today, they're almost twice that size. Yes, it's a God thing. But it's much more than that. And, if you're interested in leading a growing ministry, you would be wise to study what's happening at NewSpring.

Thanks, Perry, for inviting us to join you. We had a great time. You and your team stretched our vision for the impact the local church can have on a community.


Are Your Church Services Enjoyable for Visitors?

Tony Morgan always has great ideas on church fellowship and services on his blog. Does it matter if church services are enjoyable?

Are Your Services Enjoyable for Visitors?

My son Jacob is in third grade. As part of his studies, he has to learn arithmetic. He’s a smart kid, but he doesn’t really enjoy doing worksheets in his schoolbooks. He does enjoy following sports, however, so we helped him start a sports card collection.

Jacob counts the cards. He studies the player stats on the backs of the cards. He looks up the value of the cards. And, wouldn’t you know it, in the process of enjoying his hobby, he’s learning some basic mathematical principles he’ll use for the rest of his life. Jacob learns math precepts much more easily if he’s enjoying the learning process.

Visitors at your church are no different than Jacob. But instead of math, these people are studying for challenges they’re facing in their lives. They’re trying to learn basic concepts of hope, purpose and forgiveness. The problem is, they continue to leave the church because they find it boring and irrelevant to their lives. We’re forcing our visitors to complete their biblical worksheets but providing little to no enjoyment along the way.

Since when does church=boredom? I love the book of Acts because it gives me a clear picture of what the early Church was like. This group was committed to the apostles’ teaching, sharing life and prayer together. As a result, many outsiders accepted Christ and experienced a transformed life. And what’s more, these people enjoyed their church experience. See for yourself:

“They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved” (Acts 2:46-47, The Message).

“People in general liked what they saw” suggests the early Church was “enjoying the favor of all the people,” and with that favor, came growth (NIV). Based on passages like this one in Acts, I believe boredom isn’t what God intended for the Church. He wants us to offer an experience that’s both biblical and enjoyable. To evaluate the enjoyment level of your services, consider these questions:

* Does the worship music reflect a style the crowd appreciates?
* Is the message addressing a topic that’s relevant to people’s lives?
* Is there an appropriate amount of humor in the service?
* Does the service flow smoothly from one thing to the next?
* Are you using visual elements to capture people’s attention as they engage in worship and hear the message?
* Do you periodically surprise people with something they weren’t anticipating?

These are basic questions, but it’s important to review them from time to time. Naysayers might argue that by offering services people enjoy, you are ultimately just catering to our culture’s consumer mindset, but remind them that there certainly is a consumer mindset in our culture, and unless we acknowledge that and deal with it, our message—the Gospel message—won’t be heard.

It’s entirely possible to offer biblical teaching and corporate worship in a way that people actually like. If you create an enjoyable service experience, people will not only choose to return, they’ll also invite their friends. When that happens, more people will hear the truth, and God may begin to add to your number daily.

Tony Morgan ( is a pastor serving on the senior management team at Granger Community Church near South Bend, Ind. Tony has co-authored three books with Tim Stevens including their latest project—Simply Strategic Growth (Group Publishing, 2005). Visit to learn more about the training and resources Granger provides to equip growing churches.

-Outreach magazine, "Web Exclusives," November/December 2006


Hey Big Nose!

In this photograph, Victo, a male Proboscis monkey, pauses during an afternoon feeding session at Singapore Zoo.

The Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) is a reddish-brown animal which spends most of its time in trees or bushes and feeds on leafs. It can only be found in the costal areas of East-Borneo and the Mentawai Islands west of Sumatra. The most distinctive trait of this monkey is of course its large protruding nose.

The reason behind having a large nose is still unclear and it has been suggested that it is simply a result of sexual selection: female Proboscis monkeys prefer big-nosed mates, thus propagating the trait.

This is a highly endangered species, and only 1,000 are known to still exist in the wild.


Microsoft's Zune Challenges iPod

Next week, Microsoft Corp. will launch the most serious challenge ever mounted to Apple Computer's iPod and iTunes juggernaut in digital music. The software giant is introducing a portable player called the Zune, an online music store called Zune Marketplace and a new music software program called Zune that links the two. It plans to put plenty of marketing muscle behind Zune, and promises to expand and refine this new product line in coming years.

This isn't Microsoft's first effort to stop the iPod, but it's the first for which the software giant is adopting Apple's own business and design model -- where one company makes and controls the hardware, software and online component, and tightly integrates them. The Zune is produced by Microsoft's Xbox group, which builds game consoles on that same end-to-end principle.

In its first incarnation, the Zune comes in only one version, a big, chunky $249 model that can hold 30 gigabytes of music, videos and photos. I've been testing the Zune for the past couple of weeks and comparing it with the most similar of Apple's six iPod models -- the smaller of the two full-size iPods, which also holds 30 gigabytes and also costs $249.

Zune has several nice features the iPod lacks: a larger screen, the ability to exchange songs with other Zunes wirelessly and a built-in FM radio. It solves the worst problem that plagued earlier Microsoft-based music players -- frequent failures to synchronize properly music and videos between the players and personal computers. Synchronization on the Zune is smooth and sure.

Also, the Zune player and software have a very good user interface, different from, but in some cases easier to use than, the iPod's. While it lacks the famous iPod scroll wheel, instead using a common four-way navigation pad, I found song lists easy to navigate on the Zune. It has only a few buttons and is quite intuitive to use. To my ears, it sounded as good as the iPod.

Walt Mossberg says Zune, the upcoming MP3 player from Microsoft, has some attractive features but overall doesn't outshine Apple's iPod.

But, this first Zune has too many compromises and missing features to be as good a choice as the iPod for most users. The hardware feels rushed and incomplete. It is 60% larger and 17% heavier than the comparable iPod. It has much worse battery life for music than the iPod or than Microsoft claims -- at least two hours less than the iPod's, in my tests. Despite the larger screen, many album covers look worse than they do on the iPod. And you can't share music libraries between computers like you can with iTunes.

Zune's online store offers far fewer songs, just over two million, compared with 3.5 million for the iTunes store. In fact, as of this writing, songs from one of the big labels, Universal, were missing from Zune Marketplace, though Microsoft says it is confident it will have all the major labels when it launches Zune on Tuesday. Also, despite the player's capability, Zune Marketplace offers none of the TV shows, movies or music videos that iTunes does, and has no audiobooks or podcasts.

Even worse, to buy even a single 99-cent song from the Zune store, you have to purchase blocks of "points" from Microsoft, in increments of at least $5. You can't just click and have the 99 cents deducted from a credit card, as you can with iTunes. You must first add points to your account, then buy songs with these points. So, even if you are buying only one song, you have to allow Microsoft, one of the world's richest companies, to hold on to at least $4.01 of your money until you buy another. And the point system is deceptive. Songs are priced at 79 points, which some people might think means 79 cents. But 79 points actually cost 99 cents.

Unlike iTunes, Zune offers subscription plans, where you can get an unlimited numbers of songs for $15 a month. However, Microsoft is de-emphasizing this option and mostly positioning Zune Marketplace as a source of individually purchased songs and albums.

Some consumers may well choose Zune for its big screen, which looks great with photos and videos, for its wireless song swapping, or for its FM-radio capability, which requires a $50 accessory on the iPod. Others may favor Zune because they are as tired of Apple's dominance in music as some folks are of Microsoft's dominance in computers.

But Zune has only around 100 accessories at launch, versus 3,000 or more for the iPod. If you have any iPod-specific accessories, they won't work on the Zune. Also, none of the songs you may have purchased from Apple will play on the Zune, unless you undertake a laborious conversion process. Apple is rumored to be working on an all-new iPod with a screen as large or larger than the Zune's.

Zune marks an unusual turn for Microsoft. The company is abandoning its favored business model, where it builds software platforms and then lets other companies make a wide variety of products that use that platform. Instead, Microsoft is building and totally controlling the whole chain associated with the product: the hardware, the software and the online music store. Songs sold on Zune Marketplace are intended to play only on the Zune, and Zune players won't be able to play copy-protected songs bought elsewhere, even at other online stores that use Microsoft music formats.

Microsoft was driven to this approach because its platform model, so successful with personal computers, has failed miserably in the music category. Apple has simply rolled over all the hardware companies and online stores that were built around Microsoft's previous music system, called "PlaysForSure."

Zune comes in three colors: black and white, like the comparable iPod, and brown, a daring color for a consumer-electronics device, but one that has become popular in the fashion world. Each model also has a second color on a translucent band around its edge; the brown one is trimmed in green.

Placing the Zune next to the 30-gigabyte iPod provides a strong contrast. The iPod is thin, sleek and elegant looking. The Zune looks big and blocky, sort of like a prototype for a gadget, rather than a finished product. It is longer, thicker and heavier than even the 80-gigabyte iPod, which has more than twice its capacity.

Zune was adapted from a much-praised but slight-selling music player, the Toshiba Gigabeat, in order to get it to market more quickly.

The word "Microsoft" never appears anywhere on the Zune, only the new Zune logo and a cheeky, "Hello from Seattle" in tiny type at the bottom of the back of the device. The Zune's tag line, evident immediately when you open the box, is "Welcome to the Social," a phrase meant to stress the device's wireless song-sharing feature, and to reach out to the Zune's target market, young music lovers who build social relationships around favorite songs and artists.

But the wireless music-sharing feature on the Zune is heavily compromised, in a way that is bound to annoy the very audience it is targeting. Each song sent to your Zune from another Zune can be played only three times and is available for playing for only three days. After that, it dies and can't be played again unless you buy it. Even if you play the song only halfway through, or for one minute, that counts as one of your three allowed plays. In fact, in my tests, a song I sent to my assistant's Zune expired after only two plays, one of which lasted just a few seconds. Microsoft attributed that to a bug that it said would be fixed.

The Zune's other big plus, the big screen, is similarly compromised. While it is three inches versus 2.5 inches for the iPod's screen, it uses the same resolution. That combination can make images coarser and grainier. In my tests, on photos and videos, this didn't matter much, and the Zune did a good job, even automatically switching into horizontal screen mode. But images of album covers often looked fuzzy, grainy and even distorted on the Zune when compared with how they looked on the iPod.

And for a product that's all about "the Social," Zune is curiously lacking a very popular iTunes feature -- the ability to view and to listen to another user's music library over a local network. This iTunes feature works in homes, office, college dorms, hotels, and other places, and it functions in mixed groups of Windows and Macintosh computers. But with the new Zune software, you can share your library only with Xbox game consoles, not other computers.

On the plus side, I really liked the interface on the Zune. In some modes, it allows you to do things with fewer clicks than the iPod does. For instance, if you are browsing through music, you don't have to go back a step to switch from, say, a list of artists to a list of albums. Those choices are arrayed at the top of the screen and can be selected with a sideways push of the navigation pad.

Also, the entire interface is more colorful and visually satisfying than the iPod's. Lists of albums are accompanied by thumbnails of their covers. Menus zoom in and out, and some are translucent. You can also select your own photo as the wallpaper or background for the device. But, unlike on the iPod, you can't customize the main menu or go to "Now Playing," or shuffle all songs with one click.

The Zune software also has a handsome look and feel. And it allows you to "guest synchronize" a Zune on another computer, something iTunes doesn't allow. You can load songs from someone else's library onto your Zune without wiping out your own library, though you can't then transfer those songs back to your own PC.

But battery life on the Zune was very disappointing. Microsoft claims 14 hours of music playback on a single charge with the wireless feature turned off -- the same as the comparable iPod -- and 13 hours with wireless turned on. But Microsoft bases these claims on strict and unnatural usage conditions, such as never increasing the default volume, playing only one album over and over, and keeping the backlight on for just one second.

I tested the Zune in more normal conditions, shuffling through hundreds of songs, adjusting the volume where needed, skipping or repeating songs occasionally and using a 30-second backlight. In my test, I got just 12 hours and 18 minutes of music playback, versus 14 hours and 44 minutes from an iPod under the same usage pattern. With the wireless turned on, battery life on the Zune was worse -- just 10 hours and 12 minutes, even though I didn't send or receive any songs.

Overall, the iPod and iTunes are still the champs. Still, I expect the Zune to attract some converts and to get better with time. And this kind of competition from a big company with deep pockets and lots of talent is good for consumers in the long run.