Gates: I’ll can spam for good

Bill Gates says the Internet will be spam-free by 2006. “Two years from now, spam will be solved,” the Microsoft founder told participants in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But none of his solutions, detailed here, sounds all that compelling.

One idea is to give unrecognized senders a “puzzle” that only a human can figure out, but this seems like a waste of people’s time. An alternative is to create a challenge for the sending computer that would require hefty processing power to decipher — manageable for a few messages but impractical for mass e-mailings… Begging the question: What about legitimate mass e-mailings such as mailing lists?

The one solution that seems to have something going for it is a pay model in which a sender somehow attaches a small fee (say, 25 cents) to an outgoing e-mail. The recipient can then refund the charge if the message is legit. The fee doesn’t need to be very high to deter spammers: A million messages times 25 cents is $250,000. Suddenly direct mail looks like a bargain again!

Note to Paypal: There’s money to be made here, somehow or another.

Good, bad and ugly

Ah, Los Angeles… I’ve been in this town a week, and I’m already sick of the traffic. To do anything here, it seems, you have to get in your car and drive at least 15 minutes. This is nuts!

It’s about what I expected, though. I have long thought of L.A. as exemplifying everything that is wrong with America’s car culture: the ugly concrete jungle, the unmanageable sprawl, the gridlock, the pollution.

On the other hand, every time I set my expectations low, I find myself pleasantly surprised. And so it was in this case. I was impressed to see that Angelenos have made a real effort at effective public transit (though the Metro Rail system’s lack of scope limits its utility). I fell in love with the tremendous view of the mountains and the city and the ocean on my hike in Griffith Park yesterday. And I’ve even found evidence of real neighborhoods — the delightfully quirky Los Feliz, for example — hidden behind the look-alike strip malls and gas stations that line the city’s major arteries.

It’ll still be a long time before I can say, on balance, “I really like Los Angeles.” But it might just happen before I leave.

Update (2018): By the time I left in 2008, I could say without reservation, “I really like Los Angeles.” Now, with a decade’s hindsight and having lived in a few other cities, I think of L.A. as one of the most fascinating, maddening and ultimately rewarding places I’ve ever lived — but, as others have observed, L.A. doesn’t really care what you think about it.

California, here I come!

I’m starting the new year with a new adventure… Tomorrow (New Year’s Day) I’ll set out on a road trip to Los Angeles, where I’m entering grad school in communication management at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. If all goes well, I’ll be in Lala-land Sunday night.

ONA conference superlatives

I’m back from Evanston, and here are some scattered thoughts on the Online News Association conference (for more coherent thoughts, see our coverage):

Most quotable quote: “Everything has already been said, but not everyone has had a chance to say it.” –Esther Dyson, chairman, Edventure Holdings

Understatement of the weekend: “Newspapers as institutions are defensive, perfectionist cultures that don’t adapt easily.” –Jack Fuller, president of Tribune Publishing

Biggest disappointment: On-again, off-again Internet access. Fortunately the Panera Bread around the corner offered fast, free Wi-Fi.

Distance award: Again goes to Chris Janz of Australia’s News Interactive, who this year brought along his boss, Bill Burton. Added reward: They got to see their team rout New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup.

Coolest architecture: The new Tribune Interactive space in the former Chicago Tribune pressroom, where Friday night’s reception was held… I love the metaphor of the web operation replacing the presses.

Biggest head-scratcher: In the panel on the Iraq war coverage, Maj. Riccoh Player’s criticism that the media “made the decision to make this a bloodless war” by leaving out pictures of soldiers wounded or killed in battle. What does the Pentagon public affairs officer have against journalists displaying a little sensitivity?

Biggest terminology shift: MSNBC.com’s Dean Wright observed that the term “new media” is increasingly inaccurate, because the medium is no longer new. He’s right. I am going to start training myself not to use the term. (And one of these days I’ll have to rename my site, too.)

Most overused word: Blog.

Online newsies meet next week

Chicago — or, more precisely, Evanston, Ill. — is the place to be next week if you’re an online journalist. The Online News Association is holding its fourth annual conference Nov. 14-15. Noted blogger Andrew Sullivan and Tribune Publishing president Jack Fuller will be the keynoters.

Rich Gordon, of Northwestern University, and I are heading up the conference newsroom, which will be staffed by students from across the country. Stay tuned to the conference site for our coverage.

Yahoo! users, be warned

I received this official-looking e-mail today, with the Yahoo! logo on top:

Dear Yahoo! User,

We encountered a billing error when attempting to renew your Yahoo! service. This type of error usually indicates that either the credit card you have on file has expired or that the billing address we have is