United Airlines has joined the chorus of organizations blaming speculators for the dramatic rise in fuel prices.

Yes, prices are higher. Yes, there are more speculators. That doesn’t make a cause-and-effect. Perhaps there are more speculators because prices are rising — not vice-versa. That’s not the politically correct viewpoint, because it’s attractive to find a scapegoat.

And thus, we have an “open letter” to all airline customers, sent to me last week by United Airlines. It is also signed by AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Midwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines and US Airways.

An Open letter to All Airline Customers:

Our country is facing a possible sharp economic downturn because of skyrocketing oil and fuel prices, but by pulling together, we can all do something to help now.

For airlines, ultra-expensive fuel means thousands of lost jobs and severe reductions in air service to both large and small communities. To the broader economy, oil prices mean slower activity and widespread economic pain. This pain can be alleviated, and that is why we are taking the extraordinary step of writing this joint letter to our customers. Since high oil prices are partly a response to normal market forces, the nation needs to focus on increased energy supplies and conservation. However, there is another side to this story because normal market forces are being dangerously amplified by poorly regulated market speculation.

Twenty years ago, 21 percent of oil contracts were purchased by speculators who trade oil on paper with no intention of ever taking delivery. Today, oil speculators purchase 66 percent of all oil futures contracts, and that reflects just the transactions that are known. Speculators buy up large amounts of oil and then sell it to each other again and again. A barrel of oil may trade 20-plus times before it is delivered and used; the price goes up with each trade and consumers pick up the final tab. Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.

Over seventy years ago, Congress established regulations to control excessive, largely unchecked market speculation and manipulation. However, over the past two decades, these regulatory limits have been weakened or removed. We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight. Together, these reforms will help cool the over-heated oil market and permit the economy to prosper.

The nation needs to pull together to reform the oil markets and solve this growing problem.

We need your help. Get more information and contact Congress by visiting www.StopOilSpeculationNow.com.

I am not convinced that more government regulation is the solution to the rise in oil prices.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

There’s a lot you can do while you’re waiting to get your iPhone 3G. You can browse the enterprise applications on the Apple App Store, for example. Or you can check out the games. I received a press release for one last week:

Griptonite Games today announced its exclusive Chimps Ahoy! game will be available on the Apple App Store at launch on July 11. Chimps Ahoy! is an all new, original, pick-up-and-play, arcade style game that is priced at $9.99 and available July 11 from Apple’s App Store on iPhone and iPod touch or at http://www.itunes.com/appstore/

“We’re excited to take advantage of the Apple App Store and offer Chimps Ahoy! to all iPhone and iPod touch users,” said Griptonite Studio Head, J.C. Connors. “Chimps Ahoy! is a super fun, humorous game that’s perfect for gaming on the go.”

Thieving Ninjas have stolen all of the Chimps’ bananas, so they must join up with the Pirates, working their way up through the ranks to finally confront the Ninjas and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Taking full advantage of the platforms’ touch screen capabilities, Chimps Ahoy! features fast, arcade-style action and a cute, quirky art style. Players take control of two chimps on either side of the screen and are tasked with bouncing coconuts between the two to break gems, pick-up power-ups and knock out enemies.

The game features 100 levels full of a variety of enemies and items at which to aim your coconuts. Power-ups like double coconuts and giant beach ball shots add to the action, while unlockable rewards like achievement medals and articles of clothing for the Chimps add replayability.

By a strange coincidence, Sega offers a game called Super Monkey Ball for the iPhone as well. Why is there so much focus on simians, I wonder?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

What should one do on a hot summer week’s vacation? Go someplace hotter! From Saturday through Thursday, my wife and I hung out in Las Vegas, while our son attended a music workshop in Los Angeles.

The temperatures in Las Vegas were high, never dipping into double digits. Most days, the temp hovered around 105-107. On Wednesday, it hit 111. That’s toasty by any standard.

Fortunately, we were able to hop from one air-conditioned venue to another, and with rare exceptions we could park under cover.

Las Vegas is one of our favorite places to visit, and we go there often — even when we’re not in a gambling mood (as we weren’t this week). There are shows, there are buffets, there’s the beautiful desert, there are more buffets, there are outlet stores, and of course, there are buffets.

Here are a few of the many highs and few lows of the week.

Best Buffet on the Strip: We’ve always liked the Flavors Buffet at Harrah’s on previous trips, and it continued to impress.

Best Buffet off the Strip: The Feast Buffet at Sunset Station (1301 West Sunset, Henderson). This casino is a delight, with great decor and even a movie theater. The buffet was inexpensive and delicious. If you only visit casinos on the Strip and downtown, you’re not seeing Las Vegas.

Best Discount Outlets: Las Vegas Outlet Center, 7400 Las Vegas Blvd. (south of the Strip). Lots of great stores in an air-conditioned indoor mall.

Best High-End Outlets: Las Vegas Premium Outlets, 875 South Grand Central Pkwy. (north of the Strip). Lots of great stores in an outdoor shopping center.

Best Shopping Mall on the Strip: Tied between the Forum Shops at Caesar’s and the Miracle Mile Shops (part of Planet Hollywood).

Weirdest Food: The Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas (4501 Paradise at Harmon). We sat down, looked over the Bavarian menu and left without ordering.

Best Show to See: Went to the Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian. What an incredible performance!!!

Lamest Activity: There’s a $10 admission charge to visit the heavily promoted Ferrari dealership at the Wynn Casino. We decided to skip it.

Biggest Delight: Dunkin’ Donuts has returned to Las Vegas, after an absence of about a decade. Stumbling upon the store at 409 East Silverado Ranch Blvd. was a delight. The city’s first new store, which opened in October 2007, is worth the trip!

Biggest Disappointment: The Stage Deli in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s closed on June 29. Huge bummer — it was on our “must visit” list. (See the news report.)

Best Runner-Up: There’s a branch of Los Angeles’ Cantor’s Deli at Treasure Island. It’s okay, but we’d been looking forward to the Stage.

Viva Las Vegas, baby!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s been a good day for many Apple fans, and a bad day for many other Apple fans.

I’ve been watching today’s launch of the iPhone 3G, and also covering it in my Mac-specific blog hosted on TechWeb’s bMighty. For my detailed observations, based on visits to two nearby AT&T stores, I’ll refer you to today’s three posts:

1. Expect a Long Wait in Line for Your iPhone 3G

2. It Looks Like Apple Wasn’t Quite Ready

3. Your iPhone 3G Wait Might Be Days

My overall conclusion is that Apple hit a home run with the handset technology and with its marketing, but screwed up on execution of the launch.

The iPhone 3G has the features, sex appeal and pricing that consumers want, and the bar has definitely been raised for competing handset makers. The company’s secretiveness and promotional plan delivered the goods: customers were queued up for hours to buy their iPhones.

But as happens so often, Apple’s supply chain and provisioning plans didn’t get the job done.

When stores run out of handsets at 10:30am, you have unhappy customers. Being told, “come back tomorrow, and wait in line for another hour, and maybe we’ll have a phone for you, but maybe not,” isn’t taking good care of your customers. And when customers report that they can’t get their phones provisioned, and software upgrades don’t work, that’s bad too.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The Aribeco Observatory — the world’s largest radio telescope — is an essential tool for basic scientific research. It’s the home base for SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, and the source of data for the SETI@home program.

Founded in 1963, the Puertan Rican facility is well known for its affiliation with Cornell University and the late Carl Sagan, who used its 1000-foot-wide dish for many research projects.

I received this message today from the SETI@home team at the Univ. of California, Berkeley.

If you believe in the importance of astronomy and basic science research, your support only costs a few pennies, and could make a universe of difference.

Arecibo Observatory, the world’s largest radio telescope and the source for the SETI@home data that your computer analyzes, faces massive budget cuts that will END its ability to continue the search for life beyond Earth. The decision to ensure full funding currently rests upon votes in Congress on Senate Bill S. 2862 and House Resolution H.R. 3737. These bills desperately need more support.

Please take a moment to help us SAVE ARECIBO.

Clicking the link below will direct you to a web page that allows you print out letters prepared for your Senators and Congressional Representative urging them to support Arecibo. Printing and mailing the letters is really easy, too! You will also have the chance to add a few personal thoughts, if you wish, to let your Senators and Representative know why this funding is important to you! And if you’re really feeling passionate about saving Arecibo, please use these
letters as the basis for letters you write yourself, urging your congressmen and women to vote to save Arecibo.

Because our representatives in Congress rarely give much attention to all the email they receive, printing out and MAILING these letters via standard U.S. Postal mail remains our best option for contacting them and our best hope for saving Arecibo (The second best option is to call your representatives). Your 42 cent stamps on these letters could help us get the millions of dollars needed to save Arecibo.

Our search cannot continue without the necessary support. Your work, as SETI@home participants, represents an indispensable resource for conducting the search. Now, we need your help to ensure that our other most valuable resource – our eyes and ears to the cosmos – can continue to probe the universe as we seek to answer the question: Is there anybody out there?


Thank you for your help,

The SETI@home Team

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Let’s say that there’s a magazine in your market that says it has 100,000 qualified subscribers. So, you buy an ad in that publication, believing that your ad will reach, at minimum, 100,000 subscribers.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Maybe they only have 90,000 subscribers. Maybe they only have 10,000.

Not all publishers are honest about their circulation (which is the industry term for “number of subscribers). That’s where auditors come in. These independent companies painstakingly verify a publisher’s claims about a magazine’s circulation, ultimately issuing audit statements that anyone can see.

The two big audit bureaus are the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), which focuses on consumer titles with paid readership, and BPA Worldwide, which focuses on business-to-business titles with qualified free subscriptions. BZ Media‘s SD Times and Software Test & Performance are both audited by BPA, and our new launch, Systems Management News, has applied for its initial audit.

Sadly, not all publishers believe in audits. In the strong words of my business partner Ted Bahr, president of BZ Media, that can create an uneven playing field — and worse, outright dishonesty.

“I am spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and maintain the circulation I am claiming, then I spend the money maintaining it in BPA required formats, then I pay BPA between $10,000-$15,000 to audit my books,” Bahr says. “That’s the ethical standard for publishing in this industry. My competitors are therefore able to spend way less than I do, and compete with me by cheating and lying to our mutual customers. My only recourse is to try and educate the advertisers that they need to pressure these outlaws into auditing.”

You can read more about this in a July 2 story in Folio Magazine, “Facing Mounting Criticism, ‘Buy Safe’ Organizers Defend Campaign, Publishers weigh in on BPA, ABC pro-audit initiative.”

It’s a follow-up to a story from June 17, “BPA Turns Up Heat on Un-Audited Magazines.”

If you are in the publishing business, or if your company buys advertising, you should read those stories.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Portable Document Format. Thanks to PDF, you can distribute documents to people – and they can read it without knowing what type of application created it.

Consider the world before PDF’s debut in 1990. If someone sent you a legal contract to review, and it was created by WordPerfect, you couldn’t read it unless you had WordPerfect. If your architect created a drawing in AutoCAD, you couldn’t print it unless you had AutoCAD. Sure, your other word processing or computer-aided-design application might have a WordPerfect or AutoCAD import filter, but it might not render things precisely accurately.

In a world without PDF, the laser printer and the fax machine serve as the de facto document exchange standard. In our world, where data flows electronically, there are certainly plenty of ways of sharing content. XML, for example, lets you communicate the data within a contract or a CAD drawing. But when it comes to faithfully reproducing the look-and-feel of information, especially information that’s designed for paper instead of for pixels, nothing beats PDF. Nothing even comes close.

That’s why, for example, BZ Media uses PDF to distribute electronic editions of all three of its publications, SD Times, Software Test & Performance and Systems Management News. The fact that some pages are created in QuarkXPress, some in Adobe Illustrator, and some in Adobe InDesign, doesn’t matter a bit: we assemble a PDF, and that PDF is identical to the print editions. You can view the PDF version of the publication online, download it for your personal archive, e-mail it with friends, click on hyperlinks, print some or all of its pages on any printer. It’s portable, it’s platform-neutral and it’s open.

Best of all, it’s going to stay open. Adobe has been a remarkably good steward of PDF, and has eschewed attempts to lock it into specific platforms, or to force customers to purchase “premium” readers. Even so, I’m delighted that Adobe has surrendered the PDF format to the International Organization for Standardization, and that ISO has published version 1.7 of the PDF spec as ISO 32000-1:2008.

Alan Bryden, secretary-general of the standards body, said, “As an ISO standard, we can ensure that this useful and widely popular format is easily available to all interested stakeholders. The standard will benefit both software developers and users by encouraging the propagation and dissemination of a common technology that cuts across systems and is designed for long term survival.” That’s the point, exactly.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick