Walt and Kara at AllThingsD.com just posted a piece I wrote for them, “Waiting for the MacBook Air Pro” — which begins as follows:

Having seen Apple’s MacBook Air notebook computer up close, I’m as dazzled as everyone else who’s had a chance to examine this delicious piece of industrial design.

Dazzled doesn’t translate to handing over a credit card, however — at least not yet, and not solely because it’s almost never a good idea to buy Apple’s (or anyone else’s) hardware immediately after its initial release.

Even if serious flaws didn’t frequently surface in the company’s first batch of new models, I’d hold off on buying one of these despite my admiration for the genuine accomplishments in this one. Cost isn’t the issue; rather, there are just a few too many feature compromises for my work-style.

Demo is probably the longest lasting of the tech conferences, justly so. Each year a host of companies — 77 this time — demonstrate their products on a stage in front of several hundred technology folks including venture capitalists and other investors.

There are occasional triumphs. I was in the audience at this gathering in the mid-1990s when Palm Computing launched the first Palm Pilot. I wrote in my column that night that these folks had cracked the code for handhelds. A few years later, TiVo became one of those aha! moments.

I’ve also witnesses some spectacular flubs, where demos utterly failed, humiliating the companies’ presenters and pretty much killing their futures, at least in front of this crowd. I’ve had my own speaking messes, so I emphathize.

Will something leap to public conciousness this year? Unlikely. But the array of ideas I’ve already seen this morning, in just the first few products, is already fairly impressive.

Liquid Planner has promise, for example. It’s yet another web application, but this one is pretty intriguing for people who plan complex projects. It’s taking what the Basecamp folks do to a much more granular level, including Gantt charts that reflect uncertainty in scheduling.

Citiport, another web app (most of these are) is a bottom-up aggregation site, created mostly by users, of local favorites in cities people visit. People share information about the places they’ve lived and visited. (Note: I have a conflict here, as we’re encouraging people in Dopplr, a company I co-founded, to do this too, though that’s not the main purpose of Dopplr.) Like other things of this sort, Citiport’s entire business depends on achieving a critical mass of users.

LeapFrog, an interactive tool to help kids learn to read, looks dynamite. It’s getting some buzz in the room.

I was interested in SkyFire, a new mobile web browser, until I discovered it only works on Windows Mobile handhelds. The company says it’s going to support Symbian (good for my Nokia N95), but it’s not remotely competitive with, say, Opera Mini, which runs pretty much everywhere. SkyFire is about mobile multimedia more than anything else, as far as I can tell. And it’s pretty good at that. But this is not my primary purpose in using a mobile, and the comparisons the demonstrators are making with other phones are therefore not quite fair. Interesting app, though…

Joggle, from a company called Fabrik, shows you your own data from a variety of places in a central view. it aggregates from local and remote sources — “access to all your stuff,” as a demonstrator explains. This is on the track of something valuable.

SpeakLike does almost real-time chat translation, though not always instantly, with what’s described as a hybrid of automation and human translators. The idea is fascinating, but there are a lot of potential gotchas. This service will need plenty of disclaimers, but there’s great potential.

The first mini-flop of the day: A demo of noise-cancelling system from Step Labs, which didn’t work well enough to make me want it — yet. But there’s some interesting work going on in that company, and I’ll keep an eye on what they do in the future.

I’m getting too much email about NotchUp already. This is company that claims to pay people for interviewing for a new job. You set an interview price. The security problems are obvious. What if your current company finds you here? You can block one domain, but if your company’s recruiters only use their own email domains they’re idiots, and no doubt they’re also using third-party folks to scan for employees.

New portal: Education.com — for parents to help figure out the education system and get resources for their kids. “All in one place” seems to be the mantra.

I’ll be posting more as I see interesting items during the day…

(Note: The Kauffman Foundation, co-funder of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s journalism school (my new gig), is a major sponsor of Demo this year. This is an interesting branching-out for an organization like Kauffman.)

Anonymous Liberal: Bill Clinton’s Selfish Myopia: I sincerely hope that Obama is able to overcome the Clintons’ cynical and destructive attempts to marginalize his impressive victory today and make this a campaign about race. If he’s not, Bill Clinton may one day have to grapple with the reality that he personally set back a lot of the goals he’d spent his life fighting for, all in a myopic attempt to get his wife elected president.

There are plenty of reasons to wonder about citizen media’s business model. One, which I’ve talked about many times here and elsewhere, is the tendency of site owners to rely on free labor. The method goes roughly this way: “You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.”

People do things for many reasons, but it’s always about getting something of value back. The value may be a psychic reward of doing something good for someone else. It may be ego. It may be money, or the ability to save money. In community-driven websites it may be contributing a tiny bit of effort to something that gives the overall community, and thereby individuals, great value. Usually it’s a combination.

But when the big money starts to flow to a few who are leveraging the work of the many, a disconnect emerges. And that’s why I’m so bothered by part of an announcement of some interesting new features that will give users or reddit, a news-recommendation site owned by the parent company of Wired magazine, new ways to help each other understand the news. reddit is refining the process in a smart way, by dividing the recommendation system in ways — assuming it works — to make it better and, perhaps, more reliable.

There’s no sense of whether the “private” and “restricted” section of the site, in which the Chosen will presumably elevate the content because they are doing things better, will have any stake in the outcome beyond being given more responsibility. I hope so, and we’ll know more when the features roll out more widely.

What really bugs me most in the reddit blog posting about the changes is the following:

Right now we really only have English and German, but if you would be generous enough to translate reddit into another language, please email feedback@reddit to offer your support.

As usual, if you’re interested in working on reddit, please email jobs@reddit and describe what a badass programmer you are.

Read it again. You are invited to translate the site into another language, because you are such a generous person. If you are a badass programmer, however, you are invited to apply for a job and make some actual money.

I like reddit a lot, and think it’s doing some terrific work with community-driven news. But this request goes beyond the pale.

Conde Nast, a privately held empire that owns some of the most profitable magazines on the planet, paid a bundle for this site. It can afford to pay for translations.

If you are generous enough to do this kind of work for free, please consider doing instead it for a nonprofit site of some sort. Please don’t be giving away your time to mega-wealthy media barons.

The panic that has hit world financial markets created an undercurrent of worry at the DLD conference in Munich. A most telling panel featured investors, who were plainly worried. And only one of had had much good to say about the immediate future for the United States.

America has borrowed and faked its way into a huge financial hole. The so-called twin deficits of the foreign-trade current account and federal budget are only two of at least five deficits. The other obvious ones: the housing bubble’s deflation, leaving borrowers and financial institutions (and ultimately taxpayers) deeply in the hole; the credit-card crunch that is seeing a big jump in defaults and late payments; and the utter lack of savings in the U.S.

We face a generation of trouble in America. Panic is the wrong response, because it’ll only make things worse. But anyone who’s not fretting about this is oblivious to reality. It’s going to get very, very rough in the near term.

Look at the covers of Time Magazine’s current edition:

Time magazine covers

The rest of the planet gets a pointer to a thoughtful series of articles about globalization and mega-cities that have changed with the social and economic times.

Americans get romance. (To be fair, the article is quite good.)

Because, apparently, we are too shallow to buy magazines pitching serious journalism about global issues. Sheesh…

I bought an iPod touch in November, and figured I’d leave the system software alone for a while — that is, not using third-party software that unlocks the capabilities of a machine that is, in fact, a small personal computer in its inherent power. Apple’s fall announcement that it would be more open with third-party developers was one reason I held off on hacking the device.

Apple’s view is that while customers own the hardware, any upgrading to the software, including third-party applications, will be at Apple’s discretion. Now we’re seeing the result of this philosophy: a $20 cost to get software that ships with all new models and is given to owners of the IPhone.

This is a flat-out ripoff. And it’s leading me to do what I really don’t want to do — find the appropriate hacks that will let me use the iPod the way I want, not solely the way Apple decides.

I didn’t imagine it was possible, but Apple’s arrogance is growing.

Glenn Greenwald accurately explains the grotesque result of laws that seek to curb that amorphous problem of “hate speech” — a concept that turns free speech on its head. And unlike many of his colleagues on the political left, Greenwald explains why he’s defending people whose speech frequently deserves contempt:

People like Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant are some of the most pernicious commentators around. But equally pernicious, at least, are those who advocate laws that would proscribe and punish political expression, and those who exploit those laws to try use the power of the State to impose penalties on those expressing “offensive” or “insulting” or “wrong” political ideas. The mere existence of the “investigation,” interrogation, and proceeding itself is a grotesque affront to every basic liberty.

How many times can we say this? If you care about your own free speech rights, you must defend the rights of people whose speech makes your blood boil.