Sunday, December 31

Just do it!

from W. H. Murray:

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
I can definitely see an application of this in my life. For the last 6-9 months I've been talking about setting up a Linux server at home with the computer I got from a friend who moved out-of-state.

About a month ago I finally just did it. Installation and setup made me an hour late for work that day (though nobody really gets in to my office by 8am; the administration only really cares if you get at least 40 hours in per week), but finally just jumping in was a great experience. Since I'm currently enrolled in classes to get a UNIX sysadmin certification, playing with the server is great preparation work.

So I'm looking into other ways in which I can just jump right into things I've been talking about but "haven't really gotten around to." It's my experience that my perception of activities as difficult gets shattered after I make myself start. I'm resolving to quit hemming and hawing and get to work on those things that have been on my "Someday" list for a while.

W. H. Murray on the power of starting (via 43 Folders)

Friday, December 22

Watch This!



"Tony vs. Paul" is an awesome stop-motion film that you should really take a look at. Come on, it's only 5 minutes out of your day... :)

YouTube - Tony vs. Paul (via Pogue's Posts)

Tuesday, December 5

John Gruber on Universal Music Group

As many technology-minded people are no doubt already aware, Microsoft's new Zune music player is bad for the industry for more reasons than merely its lack of style and just-a-bit-too-late-to-the-party device immaturity.

That's right: Microsoft has agreed to give Universal one dollar for every Zune sold. This is akin to the "piracy tax" that Canadians pay on blank CDs: since the device can be used to play illegally-obtained audio, the music distributor is asking for recompense on those acts of piracy that will "inevitably" occur with the new device. Granted, in the U.S we used to pay a similar "piracy tax" on blank audio cassettes, but the public as a whole was neither interested nor informed.

But since Microsoft has allowed one peddler of recorded music to get in on profits from the Zune, this may open the floodgates to distributors asking for a cut of profits from sales of other devices as well. The link below goes to John Gruber's fictionalized discussion of how such a meeting between Universal and Apple might go, if the media giant wanted to get a piece of the iPod at their next iTunes contract renegotiation.

(Warning: satire ahead)

Daring Fireball: Conjectural Transcript of the Upcoming Negotiations Between Apple and Universal Music

Wednesday, November 29

The 100 Greatest TV Quotes & Catch Phrases

TV Land has compiled what it deems to be the 100 greatest lines from television. It's a pretty neat list (link below), and here are some of my favorites:

* "D'oh!" (Homer Simpson, "The Simpsons")
* "Holy (whatever), Batman!" (Robin, "Batman")
* "Holy crap!" (Frank Barone, "Everybody Loves Raymond")
* "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" (Alka Seltzer ad)
* "Is that your final answer?" (Regis Philbin, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire")
* "No soup for you!" (The Soup Nazi, "Seinfeld")
* "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" (Grey Poupon ad)
* "Schwing!" (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth, "Saturday Night Live")
* "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids" (Trix cereal ad)
* "Suit up!" (Barney Stinson, "How I Met Your Mother")
* "We are two wild and crazy guys!" (Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd as Czech playboys, "Saturday Night Live")
* "You eeeediot!" (Ren, "Ren & Stimpy")

It's cool that a show that's only in its second season (How I Met Your Mother, one of the few shows I actually watch these days) has already created a phrase popular enough to be put on a list like this.

Dyn-O-Mite! TV Land lists catchphrases

The Biggest Understatement in All of Eternity

Today's classic Calvin and Hobbes (originally published November 29, 1995) is disturbingly prophetic. If Watterson thought things were going down the tubes eleven years ago, I imagine he's positively appalled by now. If so, I'm in complete agreement.

goComics.com featuring Calvin and Hobbes

Tuesday, November 21

Computer Security: Is Windows Worth It?

I recently read an article in USA Today about the measures people take to secure their Windows PCs. Since switching to the Mac a few years ago, I can't help but shudder when I remember the attention I had to pay just to keep the machine running smoothly. Just keeping up with Microsoft's security updates on my wife's Windows laptop (she needed it for work) is difficult.

There are so many options: you can shell out money for anti-malware utilities ("malware" is a term that encompasses all malicious software, from viruses to worms to spyware), or you can find comparable software for free if you know where to look. But even once the software has been installed, you still need to diligently check the Internet for updates; otherwise, your money and/or effort is rendered useless.

And then I look at my Mac. It's a great machine: it does almost anything you would require right out of the box (aside from a few small shareware and donationware products, the only Mac software I've purchased is Microsoft Office), and it's got an inherently better security system than the one found in Windows.

As the linked article testifies, I don't mean to imply that Macs are somehow immune to intrusion. As John Gruber puts it:

The explanation that makes sense is the obvious one: that Mac OS X really is more secure and better designed. Not that it’s totally secure. Not that it’s perfectly designed. Not that it is utterly impervious to attack because it’s protected by magic leprechauns. Just that it’s better.
As disheartened as I am by the state of Windows security, I can say that there really is a better option for the average user. (The fact that it's also a really cool option for advanced users is an added benefit.) Mac OS X really does make a home computer easy to operate, easy to maintain, and-- thanks to its thoughtful design-- pretty darn easy on the eyes as well.


Links mentioned in this post:
As far as PC security, Goldilocks got it just right (USA Today)
Jackass of the Week: Larry Seltzer (Daring Fireball)

Sunday, November 12

Bush Sr. + Clinton = A Laugh Riot?

From the linked article:

They're separated by more than 20 years, they come from opposing political parties, and one evicted the other from the White House. But Bill Clinton and George Bush act like a team, a pair of touring comedians with a well-honed act.

Bill, George show keeps laughs coming - Associated Press

Thursday, November 9

Baby Got Book

I like... big... BIBLES and I cannot lie...



...NIV with the ribbon bookmark...

Friday, November 3

xkcd

I found a webcomic today called xkcd. (No, it doesn't stand for anything. The letters, I mean. Maybe the comic stands for something. I dunno.) The comic is about random humor, math, and general nerdity.

Anyway, I read through the archives. There are only 179 of them, and most are single-panel. Check it out! Keep in mind, however, the following disclaimer shown beneath every comic:

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

A sample of a few of my favorites:





Wednesday, October 25

New - Firefox 2.0

So, Firefox 2.0 is officially available. New features include spell-check in text fields, protection against Websites that pretend to be your bank just to get your account details, improvements in tabbed browsing, and more.

Download it! Install it! Use it!

Firefox - Rediscover the Web

Sunday, October 22

So...

Have you ever wanted to just hit "select all" on the Internet and run Spell Check?

I have.

Wednesday, October 18

The iPhone... For Real?

Patent and trademark applications recently filed by Apple lead analysts to believe that the long-awaited iPhone may actually be a reality sometime soon.

Too bad I just bought a new RAZR V3m from Verizon... I would really go for the iPhone if it had some PDA-ish capabilities.

Apple Files Patents For iPhones - TechWeb

Sunday, October 15

Today's "Classic Calvin and Hobbes"

One Sunday, eleven years ago, when Calvinball was born...

Calvin and Hobbes - October 15, 1995

Google Reader feature request

(To readers who are not named Mihai Parparita: feel free to just move along. These-- probably-- are not the droids you're looking for.)

I've decided that I just might like the "2.0.1" version of Google Reader if I took it for a spin for a few days. I installed Mihai's Gmail Reader script, and used my actual email address for all my Bloglines Email Subscriptions. Only two things now stand in my way... oldest-first sorting and customizable ignore/display for updated feed items.

I usually keep on top of my feeds (I've got less than 30), and I would like to be able to see the oldest items first so that I'm sure not to miss any. The whole idea of posting things newest-first was to keep fresh content above the fold on blogs and websites, since there was no way to know which was the first item that hadn't been seen by the person viewing the page. Now that RSS readers can know which items have been seen and which haven't, it just makes sense at least to be able to show the the first unread item (i.e. the oldest) at the top of the list.

I'm not sure how Google Reader is treating updates to feed items... are updated items displayed again as new, or are they dropped? Bloglines has a facility for users to make this decision themselves on each individual feed, and I would very much like that to be present in Google Reader.

And I know this is a totally unreasonable feature to expect at this point, but it would be really cool if the "v" keyboard shortcut (for "view original") worked when using the Gmail Reader integration script.

Friday, October 13

OK, GO!

The Treadmill Dance



This group even did this live at the 2006 Video Music Awards.

And here it is with the video at double speed (almost better than the original!).

Monday, October 9

Google Mac Blog

So there's only one post on it so far, but Google has just launched a blog explicitly to talk about their Mac projects. Check it out!

Blog mainpage: Official Google Mac Blog
First post: Official Google Mac Blog: Google and your Mac

Thursday, September 28

Weird Al does it again

I know I'm a week and a half late with this thing, and it's already been all over the Internet, but I just wanted to post it here because it's awesome...


Tuesday, September 26

Getting Things Done: A hipster PDA is my vade mecum

OK, I found out about this phrase a couple of weeks ago and I'm sick of trying to figure out how to slip it into a conversation or blog post. It's a terrific term; the Latin-derived vade mecum (and, look! I even put it in italics like a real publisher would do with a foreign phrase).

This just encapsulates such a great concept. You know that guy who always has a particular thing with him, no matter what? When I was in college, I had a pen on my person at all times. People would never ask if I had a pen, they just asked to borrow it... it was my vade mecum.

In fact, I still carry a pen around. (The Pilot G2 .5mm is writing like a charm, by the way. In fact, the ink cartridge on mine busted just yesterday, and I had to run out to Target on my lunch break just so I could buy another pack. I'm really attached to the little buggers.)

But my newest vade mecum is my Hipster PDA: the small stack of index cards I keep with me to track all my personal reminders. Well, it's not particularly new, but it's certainly the most useful thing I carry around these days. Hats off to one Mr. Merlin Mann for introducing the concept to the blogosphere at large.

So isn't it great that there's a term for that? By the way, vade mecum does not encompass just anything that somebody constantly has in their possession. For instance, I had a particular hat I wore from my junior year of high school through my sophomore year of college almost every day... but that wasn't a vade mecum. To fall under that conceptual umbrella, an always-available object must be something useful or something its bearer uses as a reference.

Like my pen and my stack of context-sensitive index-card action lists.


from Dictionary.com's Word of the Day Archive:
vade mecum \vay-dee-MEE-kuhm; vah-dee-MAY-\, noun:
1. A book for ready reference; a manual; a handbook.
2. A useful thing that one regularly carries about.

TV Shows Available Online

Well, in my last post, I mentioned that ABC had not jumped on the bandwagon of offering full episodes for free on the Internet via a streaming player. Well, it seems that they have gotten off their duff and finally done so, and now all of the Big Four have epiodes available online.

It seems that only the most recent episode of each show will be on their respective websites, so you will have only a week to check out an episode before it's supplanted by the next one. In most cases, the shows can be seen only in a small box on a Web page... however, CBS has a full-screen button on their player and ABC has a larger box for those with higher bandwidth.

Here is the Internet television lineup:

ABC - Full Episode Player

  • Desperate Housewives

  • Grey's Anatomy

  • The Knights of Prosperity

  • Lost

  • The Nine

  • Six Degrees

  • Ugly Betty


CBS - Innertube
  • The Class

  • CSI

  • CSI: Miami

  • CSI: NY

  • How I Met Your Mother

  • Jericho

  • NCIS

  • The New Adventures of Old Christine

  • Numb3rs

  • Shark

  • Smith

  • Survivor

  • The Unit


NBC - Rewind
  • The Biggest Loser

  • Heroes

  • Friday Night Lights

  • Kidnapped

  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip


FOX - Fox On Demand (via MySpace, Windows only)
  • Bones

  • Justice

  • The Loop

  • Prison Break

  • Standoff

  • Talkshow (with Spike Feresten)

  • Til Death

  • Vanished

Friday, September 22

Seattle Grace Hospital kicks the detectives' tails

So, Grey's Anatomy (far and away the best returning show on television) soundly beat the flagship CSI series in Thursday night's ratings. It was 25.4 million to 22.6 million if you're keeping score...

In fact the only other show I really care to watch this season are How I Met Your Mother (8:30 Monday on CBS). I'm also trying out Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (10:00 Monday on NBC) and Smith (10:00 Tuesday on CBS). I liked the Studio 60 and Smith premieres enough to give them another go, but I'm holding the "no thank you" card in reserve. They both run a little later in the evening than I really care to stay up on weeknights.

The best part about this season of television, though, is the number of shows available on the Internet. Full episodes of many primetime shows, as well as a number of clips and featurettes, are available for free streaming:
CBS - Innertube
NBC - 24|7 Video
FOX - Streaming
CW - Video Hub

The CW has no full episodes available, but there are some clips for fans to enjoy. I'm not particularly enamored with any of their shows, so it's no big loss for me. Conspicuously absent is ABC, which was the first station to try out streaming last season. It seems they're relying on iTunes for their online distribution, with the $2-per-episode charge instead of free access with ads. At least they finally added Grey's Anatomy to their download offerings, and the show features prominently on the iTunes TV Shows main page.

All in all, it looks like television and the Internet are starting to get along, and the concessions network moguls have made will force fewer people to be pirates just to keep abreast of shows they like.

'Grey's Anatomy' beats 'CSI' in ratings - Associated Press

Thursday, September 21

Composer to Stage Mass Cell-Phone Ring

In a move reminiscent of John Cage's 4'33", jazz composer and professor David Baker plans to invite the audience to activate their cell phones en masse during a performance next month.

"Concertino for Cellular Phones and Orchestra will open the 20th anniversary season of the Chicago Sinfonietta classical music festival," reports Reuters (article linked below).

An interesting idea that I would love to experience... but does it deserve to be programmed in a concert of art music?

Cell phone concerto may be music to your ears� | Reuters.com

Wednesday, September 20

USATODAY.com - Do movie downloads click?

Mike Snider of USA TODAY has compiled a chart (seen here) comparing the movie download services offered by Amazon and by Apple. It's a pretty good chart (a factual error I noticed yesterday has already been corrected), but their conclusion is no surprise. "For most users, movie downloads are not ready for prime time," Snider says. "Eventually, digitally distributed home video might supplant packaged media. But for now, the hassles far outweigh the rewards."

Gee, isn't that what I said?

Saturday, September 16

Free TV Downloads Foreshadow iTunes Movie Experience

Apple is freely offering iTunes Store downloads of last season's finale episodes for three series-- Grey's Anatomy, Lost, and Desperate Housewives-- in a promotional deal they're calling the "Million Hit Lowdown." Apparently they're offering one million of the free downloads well as half-hour "catchup" specials from Entertainment Weekly to describe premise and characters for the uninitiated. Here's the iTunes Store link if you would like to go and check it out for yourself. (Did you notice that all three shows available in this promotion are products of Disney/ABC?)

I was intrigued when I found out about this while browsing the Store on Thursday night. Grey's Anatomy was on the television at the time; right when I started to tell my wife about what I'd found, there was an ad for the free downloads on the TV-- a very weird coincidence.

In any case, I downloaded the special and finale for Grey's. As I've seen every episode to this point I'm hardly one of the "uninitiated viewers" who are undoubtedly the target of the EW special, but I was more interested in the process of downloading and viewing the videos than I was in the actual content of the shows.

Though the recap episode was undoubtedly broadcast as a half-hour spot on some network or other, the removal of commercials in the download made it only 22 minutes in length and 219 megabytes in disk space. The finale, which was a double episode spanning two hours of ABC's schedule this past May, weighed in at a hefty 85 minutes and 955 megabytes.

I'm not quite sure how long the downloads actually took to complete, since I clicked the "get episode" button on both shortly before going to bed. The next morning, however, I awoke to see both shows fully downloaded and present in my iTunes library. After spending the day in the office, I came home last night to try out the videos with my wife.

The short special was good-quality on our 19" CRT (this is the one with an antenna that we use for TV shows; our 27" CRT is only hooked up to a DVD/VHS player). It looked like any other programming we watch on that set; better, actually, because the video was piped in directly via RCA cables and not tuning into an over-the-airwaves broadcast signal. I used the S-Video-to-RCA adaptor that was included with my PowerBook to get the video onto the set. The first half of the long-form episode was good as well, but in the second half there were some tiny video skips in places. The audio played just fine, though.

It was obvious that the second half (which was technically "another episode" though they were originally broadcast back-to-back) was edited differently; the places where ABC had inserted commercials had five or six seconds of black, while the first half had had the scenes fade right into each other. Whatever differences there were in the editing process may have caused the viewing artifacts, but their very presence was a bit annoying.

In an attempt to figure out the problem, I tried again this morning with the PowerBook hooked up (again via the S-Video adaptor and RCA cables) to our 27" television set. I watched the entire finale again, this time careful to make sure that iTunes was the only application running. I doubt that my menubar email notifier was the problem, but this time there were no video stutters. Another problem surfaced in this attempt, though: black areas of the screen were a bit fuzzy. Areas of color looked fine, and textured blacks like hair and clothing showed up all right, but flat blacks like shadows of people, an on-screen plastic telephone, and the digital black fades between scenes stood out with some degree of pixellated gray blotches. These even showed up when viewing on my PowerBook's LCD screen.

I'm sure the upgraded video resolution in the iTunes Store that is new since Tuesday makes these images better than they would have been before, but it's still not quite the quality I would want for my personal video collection. If I want to be able to have television programs or movies available for multiple viewings, I'll stick to DVDs displayed via my set-top player. The only reason I would ever purchase a video from iTunes would be to see a television episode for which I had missed the original broadcast. The quality is good enough for something like that, but I wouldn't spend money on full seasons of shows that can be seen in better quality (and with extra features) on plastic discs from Amazon or Target.

All in all, I'm glad that Apple gave us this opportunity to freely try out the new video quality offered by iTunes. It kept me from wasting $10 to find this out with a low-quality copy of The Sixth Sense or O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

NOTE: I'm not saying that my experience couldn't have been better with a higher-quality television or more efficient cabling. But I don't have the money for a plasma TV with DVI inputs. Something tells me, though, that a high-definition setup couldn't have done a whole lot to improve the VGA-resolution image that was being output from the computer.

Wednesday, September 13

Do I know Steve Jobs, or what?

An excerpt from an IM log from Monday night (speaking of my predictions for Tuesday's "It's Showtime" Apple announcement):

(10:54 PM)
me: I'm thinking larger-capacity nanos and a WiFi computer-to-TV conduit
  like an Airport Express - Video
Jeremy: mmm
  I could live with that
me: and, of course, the iTunes Movie Store
  but that one's almost a given at this point
Jeremy: mmmmm
  one can only hope
  and drool
  what do you think, $5?
me: I sure hope so
  but it'll probably be $9.99

I totally called it (except for iPod Games and the new iPod Pequeño). But who wants to play Tetris with a click-wheel, anyway?

I love the design of the new nano... even though it does sport a kind of retro iPod-mini-resurrected look. I guess styling the mid-size device after the full-size line one didn't work as well as they thought it would, so they're back to aluminum and multiple colors. The new larger-capacity nano (8GB) is the only black one available, though... Apple's "black tax," i.e. charging more to get the same device in black, lives on.

The movie store looks interesting. I'll probably try it out, but just one at first. I'll hold out for the wireless computer-to-TV device to go live next year before passing judgment on the new Movie Store (which, by the way, carries library titles for $9.99). New releases are priced at $12.99 for preorders and the first week of availability, then they become $14.99. No hint at how long it will take "new releases" to get shunted off into the "library" category. It's cool, though, that new films will be available on the iTunes Movie Store at the same time as they are released on DVD.

The new itty-bitty iPod shuffle is interesting, but I'm not fond of an MP3 player with no screen whatsoever. Even if it is small enough to look like a disembodied control interface.

Finally, the performance by John Legend that concluded the event (which I watched later in streaming QuickTime video) was pretty good. He's a decent piano player, but the songs were much too repetitive for me to really enjoy them.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, the new iTunes 7. Smooth new interface, but it still can't show me most of my video podcasts in full-screen and I have no idea why. I'll use iTunes for audio shows so I can sync them to my 1G iPod nano, but I'll stick with the Democracy player for video.

Wednesday, August 23

Column from PC Magazine: The Google Ploy—A Revolution?

OK, I know that John C. Dvorak sometimes just spouts off in an attempt to provoke controversy, but the article below is a great analysis of a possible future for Municipal Wi-Fi. Free public Internet access could give rise to a whole new era of entertainment consumption.

PC Magazine: The Google Ploy--A Revolution?

Friday, August 18

Free Municipal Wi-Fi is Born

Well, Google has officially blanketed its hometown of Mountain View with free wireless Internet access. A PC Magazine writer took it upon herself to visit and test out the new network (see below). It seems that the project, while obviously still in its infancy, has lots of potential as a public service.

PC Magazine: Testing Google's Wi-Fi Network

Monday, August 14

Getting Things Done: Task Granularity

I discovered something about my work last week. A process I had previously put on my next-actions list as a single entry is actually composed of three separate and definable steps. Listing my work in smaller chunks has made it easier to get things done.

But I did some thinking about breaking down tasks, and I realized that the degree to which things must be broken down is individual for each person and even for each project. For instance, a perfectly fine next action for me (if I were to apply GTD to my morning routine) would be "get dressed." However, my wife would probably need to have "choose clothes" and "get dressed" as two separate actions-- in fact, she often does the former action in the evening before she goes to bed. Some people might even need "choose pants," then "find matching shirt," et cetera.

But I use this example only to find a common ground in a task that everyone does every day (well, almost every day if you're still in college). The same principle of determining the size of individual project chunks applies to things you might do at work or at school.

If your job is to be an HR administrator, "Administer Human Resources" will definitely be too large of a chunk to constitute a good next action! On the flip side, "Turn on the computer" is much too small of a task in any job to have to track it individually. Unless, of course, you're a computer technician faced with the problem of trying to get a stubborn machine to power on. (Hint: It's either the power supply or the RAM.)

Similarly, my job title is to be an "Instrumental Music Editor/Engraver." Up until last week when this thought occurred to me, I had a next action of "Engrave music for [Project X]." If you have your job title in a next action, you can probably stand to break it down a bit more. And analyzing the things I do when I approach such a task helped me to create smaller chunks which seem much more doable. Again, though, "Start up the notation software" would be much too small of an action for me.

The point here, though, is that you need to determine the granularity that works for you. It's definitely a good thing to think about; especially if you have one or two things that have been sitting around on your list for a really long time. Re-defining the task in smaller pieces might just help you get stubborn projects crossed off your list.

Thursday, August 10

Wisdom from the GTD master

I just had to share this great quote from Merlin Mann:

...Getting organized just means you’ve glued handles onto the various stuff in your life — you’ll still need to pick it up and carry it around from time to time.

That's my main problem... the carrying-around bit of productivity. I've got a great system set up to keep track of tasks, but many times it's difficult to find the motivation to actually work on the tasks I've defined.

So, Merlin (et al)... any ideas about forcing oneself to quit reading blogs, stop playing sudoku, and actually get some work done?

Folders for organization and action | 43 Folders

Monday, August 7

Today's WWDC 2006 Keynote Video

Go here to see Steve Jobs's keynote speech from WWDC 2006:

Apple - QuickTime - WWDC 2006

Tuesday, August 1

Coincidence that "defies calculation"

Imagine your wallet or purse has been stolen. Not fun, right?

Then imagine you're back at your job, waiting tables at a bar. You ask a young-looking patron for identification.

And the customer hands you your own driver's license!

This actually happened... check out the Associated Press story below.

Waitress gets own ID when carding patron - Yahoo! News

Friday, July 28

Kantor making useless predictions

But what else is new? This guy is always upset about the world as he sees it, but he doesn't take the time to find out what is actually out there before filing a "formal complaint" via his obtuse USA Today column.

I agree with him that the media is all about items, and not sources, on the Internet. However, his idea about a news service that filters what we see based on our personal preferences is both a) not something everybody wants and b) already available.

I personally like to see everything in the Yahoo! News headlines for both Top Stories and Technology news. I don't read every article, but I read every headline and most lead paragraphs that reach my inbox via the Yahoo! News feeds and Squeet's terrific RSS-to-email service. I allow the editors at Yahoo! News to cull the "most important stories" (75-125 per day in Top Stories and 30-60 in Technology) and place them in the feed, and from there I will choose for myself which specific items to read.

But for those who, like Andrew, would trust a computer to choose a smaller subset of stories for them, there are already services to do that. Firstly, Yahoo! and Google both provide Alert services that will either email you or fill an RSS feed with news and/or blog posts that match your specified search criteria. This doesn't quite fulfill Andrew's "prophetic vision," but it's one way to cut down on the number of items you see. Even free services like Feed Rinse will allow you to set certain search terms to either include or exclude items from any RSS feed you want.

However, the Holy Grail for those who would allow machines to interpret the news for them already exists in the form of Web-based service Findory.com. This service allows you to log in, enter some interests, and rate stories up or down for it to learn about your interests and provide news and blog entries from around the Web straight to you.

And guess what, Andrew? It delivers these personalized news items via RSS feeds! RSS does not have to be superseded in order to usher in a new form of Internet media consumption. If Mr. Kantor believes that RSS feeds can only be published by blogs and "official" media outlets, he is sorely mistaken. RSS is not limited to a select few creators; personalized feeds can be created using a number of sites and services around the Web. I even use a few personalized feeds myself.

RSS does not need to be discarded; it is an eminently useful and adaptable format that can be used to great effect in a variety of applications. Its only limit is the imagination of people who actually understand how it is created and used (and among this group I most certainly do not count Andrew Kantor).

USATODAY.com - Real Simple Syndication needs to add some complexity

Saturday, June 24

Wi-Fi Scavenger Charged with Theft

A 20-year-old guy in Vancouver, Washington, has been accused of "theft of services" by a local coffee shop because he never gave the store any actual business.

Allegedly, he just sat in his truck in the parking lot for Broad Awakenings and utilized their free Wi-Fi without ever going into the store and purchasing a drink.

While the techie in me would like to make the case that he did nothing wrong by piggybacking on a service that is offered free, it is obvious (though the article says nothing about whether the coffee shop has explicitly posted anything to this effect) that the service is for customers of the store at which it is provided.

I'm looking forward to the city-wide free WiFi that Earthlink and Google have partnered to provide in cities across the country, but until that happens we still have to be aware that Internet services are still distributed via private enterprise.

Wireless Freeloader Charged Because He Never Bought Coffee - TechWeb

Tuesday, June 20

Legit Movie Downloads are Coming to iTunes

According to this article in the New York Times (see below), Apple and the movie studios are currently in talks to provide films digitally to consumers via the iTunes Music (and Video) Store.

I'm looking forward to this... legal digital delivery of movies is long overdue.

A Coming Attraction: Movies on iTunes - New York Times

Thursday, June 8

Web spreadsheets from Google

Google has launched a new spreadsheet application that runs in your Web browser. I think this is great, and it seems to be pretty feature-packed from the outset. A multi-sheet Excel workbook (with formulas tying together elements from multiple sheets) imported almost perfectly. The onlt problem is that negative numbers, which I chose in the original .xls to show up in red, instead have "[Red]" appended to the beginnings of the below-zero values.

In general I'm impressed, especially since the spreadsheets were so recently introduced. You may need to sign up for an invitation to participate, but those with Google accounts already should be able to get in pretty easily.

Google Spreadsheets

Monday, May 29

Cool video

A bunch of people using household items as percussion instruments:

YouTube - Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers

Saturday, May 27

Friday, May 26

Google software on a new PC?

Dell is apparently going to start selling Windows PCs with some Google software pre-installed starting at the end of this month.

No, wait. Go back and read that again. They're actually making things other than Microsoft bloatware the default browser home page and desktop serach engine. The Microsoft stuff will still be included, but how often does a new computer owner change settings from the defaults?

My big question is this: is Google just installing its destop search, or will it include other software in the Google Pack as well? If these PCs come with Firefox set as the browser of choice, I will be overjoyed.

PCWorld.com - Google Knocks Microsoft off Dell PCs

Tuesday, May 23

Review: Mozilla Firefox


What software do you use to browse the World Wide Web? These days, too may Windows users don't know the answer to that question. Neither do they know that there's a much better program than the one they probably employ; the free Mozilla Firefox browser.

Most people using Windows view Web pages with Microsoft's Internet Explorer because it comes along with the operating system. The browsers that are packaged with AOL and MSN Internet access are really just thinly-disguised copies of IE, so subscribers to those ISPs are probably using it even though they're not aware of it. The 80% share of the Web-browsing market that IE holds is mostly due to the fact that many Internet users are not even aware that they have a choice. And if IE users knew the problems with their implicit choice, they would certainly choose another piece of software.

Enter Mozilla's Firefox browser. Firefox is a much more secure browsing environment than Internet Explorer; most spam and spyware make their way on to a Windows PC because of security problems with IE. (Ever since I set up my in-laws' computers with Firefox, the amount of spyware infection they incur has been down almost 100%. I'm pretty sure the reason I have to say "almost" is because of an attempt to download and try out the new beta version of IE.)

Everybody who wants to view pages and sites on the Web should use Firefox. In addition to its much greater level of security, Firefox also is better at using the standards of the Internet to display content in exactly the way that the people who write Web pages intend you to see them. My main personal reasons for using Firefox are two-fold: portability and extensibility.

Firstly, I use Firefox because it is portable. It works in (nearly) exactly the same manner whether you run it on Windows, Macintosh OSX, or the many flavors of Linux. This means that I can browse the Web in the same way, with the same interface, no matter what computer I happen to be using. Since I use both Mac and Windows, this is a big deal.

In addition, I use Firefox because I can customize it to work exactly how I want. It works perfectly fine if you just download, install, and use it "out-of-the-box," but the ability to install extensions is really cool. Extensions can do things like add toolbar buttons with interesting features or automatically change the size of the text on Web pages you visit (I've got a really high-resolution screen and the words can come out pretty small, so enlarging all text makes things much easier on my eyes).

The most important Firefox feature, however, is the high security I mentioned above. When malicious hackers find minor flaws in Firefox (like they do in every piece of software), the holes are quickly patched and updates are automatically installed on every version of Firefox higher than 1.5. Since it's free, there's no reason not to go try it out and set it as your computer's default browser!

Version reviewed: 1.5.0.3
Price: free
License: Mozilla EULA
Web location: Mozilla Firefox
Download size: Win - 5MB, Mac - 16MB, Linux - 8MB

Sunday, May 21

Getting Things Done: Defining Your Areas

I promised a few days ago on Lifehacker that I would share my latest and greatest GTD breakthrough, and here it is: Define your areas.

What do I mean by that? Well, the answer is found in three more questions:

  • What are your inboxes?
  • Where do you file reference and support information?
  • How do you mark media for your "to read/listen/watch" list(s)?
If you're like me, I'm sure you have a number of inputs into your system. I, personally, have physical inboxes at work and at home, email addresses for business and personal use, voicemail at work and on my cell phone, and an answering machine in my bedroom for those weird people that insist on getting in touch with me via that archaic land-line in my apartment.

Defining these inputs as specific locations helps immensely in figuring out where to go next in bringing new information into my system. Instead of just waiting until something new hits the horizon of my attention, I have a specific list of places and things to check when I need new information.

But defining the inboxes is only the first step. Next, I took these inboxes and categorized them by context:
  • Office - in tray, voicemail, Lotus Notes
  • Internet - gmail (this includes the voice notes I leave myself via K7.net and daily digests of subscribed RSS feeds via Squeet)
  • Home - unread mail basket, answering machine
  • Mobile - cell voicemail
When I'm in my office at work, I have access to the Office, Internet and Mobile contexts-- and those are the inboxes I survey, in order, when I'm looking for items to process. When I'm in my car, only Mobile is available. Having a concrete list of inputs is a great boon when sitting and wondering what to do next, and also in convincing myself that I've checked them all lately and I better get over to a Next Actions list and start working.

In addition to defining inboxes and placing them in context, I also find that it's important to specifically define what my filing systems are:
  • Office - physical files, central filing server
  • Internet - gmail, del.icio.us, writely, Powerbook over SFTP
  • Home - physical files, Powerbook, Windows desktop
  • Mobile - expanding file folder, Powerbook (only when traveling)
Knowing exactly where all of my filing systems are, and exactly what sorts of information I keep in each, makes recall of filed items incredibly fast.

Finally, the last set of areas to define are my "to read" piles:
  • Office - lower tray (I have a two-tiered inbox)
  • Internet - del.icio.us ("toRead," "checkOut," and "lookAgain" are tags I use to mark online reading materials I'd like to peruse)
  • Home - nightstand
  • Mobile - iPod (for podcasts and Audible content), expanding file (one pocket is labeled "to read")
When I have a few minutes of down-time, or I need to read something to "cleanse my productivity palate" between tasks, I have specifically-defined areas to which I can go and find material to keep me occupied.

And there it is. By defining my areas, I make sure that I know exactly what I'm supposed to be accomplishing when I'm performing certain tasks. I make sure that the steps of collecting and processing are kept distinct from the work of actually finishing next actions, and I know exactly where I should look (and, perhaps even more important, the only places I can look) when I need to retrieve filed information. I even have specific places in which to store reading material for down-time! By defining areas and keeping them distinct from each other, I avoid the tendency to wonder where to look to find new information, and what to do with it once it's been found.

Thursday, May 18

Macbook arrives without the "Pro," still pretty compelling

It looks like Apple's new MacBook with the glossy screen and optional black plastic case is pretty darn cool. It's got the Core Duo processor (so all Mac laptops now run Intel), an iSight camera, and a new keyboard.

Check it out (review below)!

Macworld: Hands on with Apple's new MacBook with Windows

UPDATE 5/24/06: Way better (and easier-to-read) review over at David Pogue's blog.

Tuesday, May 16

Software reviews

I've decided to add a new element to this blog: software reviews. I use a ton of software for a number of tasks, and I have played with hundreds of titles in my quest to find just the right tool for the things I like to do with my computer. More often than not I can find a solution with little or no monetary cost, and I want to share the knowledge I have gained in my Web travels.

Before I start down the road of sharing my favorite software with readers, I want to describe my method. Each review will contain the software's Web location, price, download size and will let you know the version number I'm using as a basis for my comments. I'll talk about the type of users for whom the software is designed, why I use it, and what sets it apart from other applications designed to do similar things.

I'll also tell you about the license under which the software is distributed. I'm a big fan of a movement often referred to as FLOSS; i.e. Free/Libre and Open Source Software. (I didn't come up with the acronym; I just use it. It's pretty silly, of you ask me.) The addition of the word "Libre" is crucial: since the word "free" has multiple definitions in English, Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation have chosen to make explicit the difference between software that is available for zero cost (as in "free beer") and software that is liberated from constraint (as in "free speech"). Free/Gratis is the term used to describe the former, and Free/Libre the latter.

Open Source software is that for which the programming instructions (i.e. the "source code") used to create it is available to be seen, reviewed, and even contributed to by anyone with the knowledge and ability to utilize it. This ensures that the program is as error-free as possible, since the world at large is invited to make comments and help in its construction. A common analog with which many people are more familiar is the online reference Wikipedia, the community-driven encyclopedia that owes its level of accuracy to the fact that there is a worldwide community that polices its content.

While I have a strong predilection for FLOSS, not all applications I mention here will be open-source. I'm also cheap, so if I find a closed-source project for which the download is nevertheless free I will likely include it here. Also, the vast majority of my computing is done on a Macintosh, but I will do my best not to focus solely on applications designed for Apple's OS X. The best part about most FLOSS, though, is that it can be easily used on a variety of operating systems, so I will also refer to versions for Windows and/or Linux when they are available.

Later, I will devote my first review to that flagship of open-source programs, Mozilla's Firefox web browser. Look for it (hopefully) within the next week.

Saturday, May 13

This blog is 2 years old!

I forgot to mention it yesterday (the actual birthday of this blog), but I've been blogging here for two years now!

Wednesday, May 10

Getting Things Done: Minimizing Inputs

One of the things David Allen mentions in The Big Book of GTD is that it's important to have as few inputs into your system as you can handle. That makes things just that much easier to process, since you have fewer "inboxes" to check.

He mentions that inputs can include physical inboxes, email inboxes, voice recorders, and pads of paper (with notes from meetings, seminars, etc.) These are all useful in their own individual ways, but choosing to keep track of too many of them will make a GTD system a bit top-heavy and likely to fall over.

One of the best tools I have found to eliminate one of these inboxes is K7.net. This is a free service that provides a free telephone number that can accept faxes and voicemails and forwards them to the email address of your choice. I set up one of these numbers, so now putting a new idea into my system is as simple as picking up my cell phone and recording a short message to myself.

I have a voice recorder on my phone, but I never remember to check the messages I leave for myself until three months later when the Google search I was contemplating isn't the least bit interesting to me anymore. Since I'm constantly on top of my email, these nuggets of personal wisdom no longer fall through the cracks. The best part is that I can make these notes to myself from anywhere, even when I'm driving and unable to write anything down.

The number you're assigned is in a Seattle area code, but as long as your cell phone has free US long distance (and who in this country doesn't these days?) it's only a matter of using a minute worth of your coverage plan for each note you record. The message comes to you as a .WAV attachment in your email. A fax is received as some sort of an image file, but I haven't used the service in that way yet.

Check it out! It's free, easy, and full of GTD goodness!

K7 Unified Messaging, free Fax and voicemail to email.

Monday, May 8

More Mac Baloney

This is essentially the same thing Dvorak said about Apple while back... except Kantor says that the migration to Windows will be due to decisions made by the users, not Apple itself.

Either way, Mac users are not going to give up OS X. While Boot Camp allows Intel-based computers from Apple to run Windows, I seriously doubt that anyone would opt to use it as their primary operating system when they've got something much better and more secure just a reboot away.

USATODAY.com - Boot Camp will start exodus to Windows

Tuesday, May 2

Getting Things Done: I Changed Pens!

Those who know me well realize that I'm never without a pen somewhere on my person (well, hardly ever, anyway). In college, when somebody needed a writing implement, eyes automatically turned to me. And since college, my chosen ink-based instrument of inscription has been the retractable medium black ballpoint Pilot EasyTouch.

When buying the index cards for my new Hipster PDA, I bought a new pen. This is a monumental moment in the life of my shirt pocket. Instead, I got the retractable .7mm black roller-gel Pilot G2. I really like it, but once this pack runs out I'll probably go for its .5mm extra-fine counterpart.

The main thing that was bugging me about the retractable EasyTouch was the propensity of the clippy bit to break off without notice. Since I usually wear shirts with front pockets and prefer to keep my pen there, lack of a clippy bit makes things difficult. The G2 looks to be a bit sturdier in the regard.

Also, the size I've been writing on my hPDA cards is not particularly conducive to the medium ballpoint. The text is small enough for my printing to start collapsing in on itself with the thick lines my old pen was producing. Not to mention the fact that the ballpoint often needs a kick-start to get the ink flowing properly.

So the new pen is doing well, at least for now. I'll let you know how it goes.

(Did I just spend a whole blog post talking about my pen?!?)

Getting Things Done: am I a Hipster now?

Well, despite the nifty Applescripts I posted on Saturday, I've come to the realization that my iPod is not the best place to keep my GTD lists. Managing them is difficult to do on the fly (since it has to be hooked up to a computer), and the screen is too small for the amount of time I feel I'll need to be spending with the lists.

I've gone the route of the Hipster PDA (PDA is intended to stand for Parietal Disgorgement Aid, since there's nothing digital about this personal assistant). I'm keeping all of my next actions lists on index cards held together by a small binder clip. These are infinitely portable, modifiable on the fly, and easy to reorder.

The act of physically writing my actions down (as opposed to typing them) helps me to think of them as more permanent than the ephemeral bits that were keeping them together before. And there's nothing quite like actually crossing something off of a list... it's a way better feeling than hitting the 'Delete' key and watching letters disappear.

This is still in the testing phase, but I think it will work well. I'm still using a version of the scripts I mentioned (just to keep calendars and contacts on the iPod), but all of the TextWrangler bits have been removed from my personal copies.

Apple's new TV ad campaign

These ads (see the link below) are awesome. I just saw the "iLife" one on TV last night, and I was very impressed.

John Hodgman (the "PC") is an author and humorist who has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Justin Long (the "Mac") has been in movies like Dodgeball and Galaxy Quest.

Watch the ads. You'll like them, I promise.

And get a Mac. :-)

Apple - Get a Mac - Watch The TV Ads

Saturday, April 29

iPod scripts

Well, as requested last week by a commenter visiting from Lifehacker, here are the scripts that I mentioned in a Lifehacker comment about GTD software.

I use Plaxo to keep my contacts in sync on both my Macs, and Google Calendar is my home-base for calendar information. I subscribe to my Home and Work Google calendars on both machines, as well as the US Holidays calendar from apple.com. My home Mac also publishes a Birthdays calendar (taken from the birthdays of all my contacts in Address Book) to icalx.com, and I subscribe to it via gCal and on my work Mac.

Now that I've explained the data in my system, here are the scripts (hopefully they're well-commented; otherwise you can leave comments here if you need more explanation):

iPod scripts

The iPod_script_office and the iPod_script_home both reference themselves in "tell" blocks (they're each saved as "iPod_script" on their respective computers, so they won't compile properly unless you've already got an iPod_script application available. Either create a dummy script app via the Script Editor, replace the "tell" block by something else temporarily, or just read the scripts in a text editor so Script Editor won't get confused.

Tuesday, April 25

Thoughts on the HTML Specification

I was looking through my bookmarks on del.icio.us yesterday, and I noticed a glaring inconsistency in the way my bookmarks are named. I usually post links using the bookmarklet, so (at least initially) they are given names identical to the originating page's <title> tag.

The problem here is the different ways in which different sites format their <title> tags. Lifehacker uses "<headline> - Lifehacker" (i.e. "<headline> - <source>") and Playlist uses "<source>: <headline>". CNET News formats titles as "<headline> | <source>" and the New York Times uses "<headline> - <source>" (which is the same as Lifehacker).

Each news source formats their <title>s in their own way when listing the headline and the source; in fact, Wired used to use "Wired News" as their page titles and not include the article headline at all! I suggest an easy way to standardize this by incorporating a new HTML header tag: <source></source>. This will allow the end-user to customize their format for viewing the headline and news source (we can keep the <title></title> for headlines since it's already established) so that all news they read and/or bookmark can be attributed in one common manner.

Of course browsers would need to be updated to support this, and I have no idea if the HTML spec is open for changes, but I've had this idea lately and I needed to write it down so I could get it out of my head. If you got this far, thanks for sticking with my rambling.

Microsoft Beats a Dead Horse with IE7

John Dvorak hits upon some insight in this discussion of the Internet Explorer browser. I can't really think of anything of my own to add here that he didn't already cover, so just go read the article.

Column from PC Magazine: The Great Microsoft Blunder

Thursday, April 13

Google Calendar CL2 is released!

Google Calendar (codenamed CL2) has hit public beta! This is an awesome online calendar that allows you to set up multiple calendars and subscribe to each individually with any .ics-compatible calendar client (Apple iCal, Mozilla Sunbird, etc.).

Only one problem so far: it can send SMS notifications to your cell phone to remind you of events, but Verizon is not yet supported. However, the ability to have a web-based calendar that I can get into my iPod (by subscribing to it in iCal and then pushing the subscription out via iSync) and bring with me wherever I go is HUGE!

UPDATE: one other problem: Google Calendar does not support iCal to-dos... only events.

Google Calendar

Monday, April 10

ABC starts to "get" digital delivery

In the linked article from Macworld (below), ABC's decision to stream TV shows is announced. Finally, an American network gets the concept of digital delivery and time-shifting! The BBC has been doing this for quite a while (for radio, anyway): shows on all its radio networks are available to be streamed via RealPlayer for one week after their initial broadcast.

If ABC did something like that, it would be tremendous. They can even leave the ads in; I wouldn't care. Their test plan seems to consist of making television episodes available via Flash streams during May and June of this year. No mention is made of which episodes will be available, or how long each will be accessible online, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

Shows to be aired this way will include Commander in Chief, Desperate Housewives, Lost, and the whole last season of Alias. I'll definitely check some of these out once they've been put online. However, this still puts ABC behind the times... the BBC recently started podcasting new episodes of The Now Show, with a license that allows then to be downloaded for up to seven days after the broadcast and then stored in perpetuity provided they are only used for personal entertainment.

BBC has podcasted a number of shows in the past, including Radio 4's Today program(me?), but The Now Show is the first entertainment offering they've made downloadable. The significance of this, of course, is that the show will be portable. I can listen to a downloaded MP3 via my iPod nano while working out, washing dishes, or even driving. RealAudio streams are nowhere near that flexible.

In a perfect world (at least, in my perfect world), all radio and television content would be available for download and on-demand consumption. I don't care if they contain ads, or even the time period following on-air broadcast during which downloading is permitted. As long as I have the ability to listen/watch on my own schedule rather than following the strictures of network execs who decide when programs hit the airwaves, I'll be happy.

ABC takes shows online for free, with ads - Macworld

Wednesday, April 5

Run WinXP on a Mac - no hacking required

There has recently been a hack published that allows owners of an Intel Mac to install Windows XP and dual-boot the icrosoft and Apple operating systems. This took quite a bit of know-how to set up, and the Windows software didn't have any of the correct drivers necessary to operate the Macintosh hardware at full capacity. Apple's monitors were not fully supported, and while running WinXP there was no way to even operate the Mac's internal fan (which is necessary to cool the system as it runs).

But now, Apple has released the public beta of software named (at least for the moment) "Boot Camp," which will allow Windows XP SP2 to be installed on Mac hardware running Intel processors.

THIS. IS. AWESOME.

Apple Unveils Software to Run Windows XP - AP

Saturday, April 1

All That Stuff to Do...

So, I recently started reading David Allen's book Getting Things Done, which is just about the most popular book in the blogosphere. I've been reading about it for at least a year, but I was hesitant to get into it. Basically, the reason I shied away was due to some misconceptions about it:

  1. I misunderstood the concept of "next actions," thinking that I would have to define every action throughout a project right at the outset. I don't claim to fully understand it yet, but the truth is that you only need to define the one thing that you have to do next, and you don't worry about the step after that until after the first action is completed.
  2. I was under the impression, based on certain reviews, that it heavily relied on Eastern mysticism. In actual fact, he just draws on aspects of Eastern thinking to clarify his ideas (at least so far).
In general, I'm very impressed with the book so far. I'll be blogging later about the process of figuring out what he means, and about the processes I'm working on in my own life to make all the "stuff" easier to deal with.

In the meantime, go read Merlin Mann's excellent blog, 43 Folders. It's chock full of great GTD tips (which I might find more meaningful after having actually read the book), and is one of the main reasons I actually decided to give the book a go.

Tuesday, March 28

RSS icon



Huzzah! I now have an RSS icon on the left that links to the blog's RSS feed! (This is just for you, Chris.)

Dvorak on Computer Crime

John C. Dvorak waxes philosophical (yet again) on the recent issues relating to DMCA protection and the use of unprotected Wi-Fi. I pretty much agree with what he has to say: ripping off movies and music digitally is punishable, but not to the extreme Hollywood would like to punish people, and Wi-Fi stealing is not theft of any kind.

Wireless routers should have detailed instructions for how to set up WPA encryption right in the manual (they probably already do, to some extent). If the owner of the router does not take the necessary steps to secure their access point, then it should be allowed to be freely available to the public. If you left your front door unlocked and somebody came in and took things while you were away, I don't think your homeowner's insurance should reimburse you for things you didn't take any measures to protect.

To hear Dvorak and others (including Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton) discuss these issues, listen to the latest This Week in Tech podcast: TWiT 47: Delayed.

(Column by PC Magazine: Oh, Those Crazy French!)

Thursday, March 23

High-Speed connections breed online newswatchers

And that's certainly true for me. I get almost all of my news from online sources, from Yahoo! News to CNET to Wired. We subscribe to a weekend newspaper, but all we basically ever look at are the comics, the coupons, and the Parade magazine that come in the Sunday edition. Every once in a while I'll turn on TV news, but that format just isn't appealing to me since you would have to watch the whole show to get all the news, and I just can't set aside that much time.

I do get news on the radio sometimes, but since lately I've spent more time with podcasts than with broadcast news/talk radio that hasn't happened much in the past month or two.

But online news... that's perfect. Especially with RSS feeds to keep track of it. I don't have to be present as every news story is reported; I can just check the feed at my own leisure to get all of the recently-posted items. Previously-mentioned Squeet helps out with this by e-mailing me the latest items for my subscribed feeds on a daily basis so that I don't have to manually check them constantly (as I was doing before I started using Squeet).

And having high-speed, always-on access at home makes it possible.

(Study: Online News Popular on Broadband - Yahoo! News)

Macintosh marketshare will likely rise this year, analysts say

Since Windows Vista has been delayed until next January, consumers will have the choice of either the aging Windows XP or the fresh, modern Mac OSX for both the back-to-school and holiday buying seasons this year. According to some experts, this could be a very profitable turn for Apple.

(Vista delay could add up to Mac sales | CNET News.com)

Monday, March 20

Huzzah! del.icio.us offers private links!

Sick of sharing *everything* when you save bookmarks to del.icio.us? Now you don't have to! Links you add still are shared by default, but now you can activate "private saving" (settings > private saving > check "allow") to enable a checkbox on every link-editing screen that says "do not share."

So if you wanted to save a link to the stats page for your website, or to your online banking login page, and not let everybody and their brother see it... now you can.

Private links still show up in the Quicksilver catalog if you have installed the plug-in, and it seems that your unshared bookmarks won't contribute to the to the total "saved by X other people" number.

(del.icio.us: private saving ryan)

Friday, March 17

I've been Squeet-ified!

OK, I'm sure you're wondering what that headline means. To be honest, I'm just being a linguistic moron here.

In any case, I'm totally sold on the free service offered by Squeet. It is going to totally replace Bloglines for getting news and blogs in front of my face.

Squeet is an RSS reader that operates by sending items in your subscribed feeds to you via email. The best part is that you have multiple options for its email sending times: Live (one email for every feed item), Daily (All feed items concatenated in one daily email), Weekly (guess what this does), and Manual (sends you email updates only when you go to Squeet and request them).

With Bloglines I was checking my news and blog feeds almost compulsively, since it keeps track of them all basically in real-time. With Squeet, I am kept apprised of feed additions (and all feed additions) but I'm not continually wondering if I my subscriptions contain anything new. It's basically meting out my subscriptions to me and preventing me from going to "just see what's new" 45 times a day (NOTE: this may or may not be an exaggeration).

Basically it allows my Yahoo! News feed to act like a newspaper: its contents are delivered to me daily, and I won't waste any time "keeping my finger on" all the world's goings-on.

There are a few things that I would change (allow updates from multiple feeds to be combined into a single email, possibly allow some feeds to be updated more often than "Daily"), but as it is it's exactly what I've been looking for in a feed-reader. Check it out!

(Squeet - Free Email RSS Reader)
- via Lifehacker

Will anybody actually want a UMPC?

Microsoft's Origami project appears to have died before it ever even got off the ground, say industry analysts.

I think the problem lies in inventing a new "level" of computing. Currently we have Desktop, Notebook/Laptop, and Handheld/Palmtop, which pretty much cover the needs of computer users today. The new Ultramobile PC (UMPC) is trying to occupy the space between Notebook and Handheld, but I think the gap between the two is two small to fit a whole new style of product.

The UMPC is too big to fit comfortably in a pocket, but it has too little power to really be worth carrying around in a case. If the makers plan to market it as a multimedia device (rather than a full-featured Windows computer in a small form factor), its price is no match for the iPod and PSP.

Basically, this is a nifty little niche-market style of product that's finding all of its intended niches already filled. Sorry, Microsoft and Intel, your UMPC doesn't work. I'd rather carry around a tablet PC than own one of these things.

(Ultramobile PC Is Already Teetering, Analysts Say - PC Magazine)

Thursday, March 16

OK, forget what I said about Windows never running on a Mac...

It's interesting that the "Boot XP on an Intel Mac" contest has been won (and with a $13k prike at that!), but most amazing is the following quote from the NewsFactor story about it:

[Yankee Group analyst Nitin] Gupta speculated that the successful installation of Windows on a Mac will put increased pressure on Microsoft to develop an OS for Mac hardware.

Creating a version of Windows for the Mac could be a win for Apple, he said, because many more people would be willing to give the Mac a chance if it could run their favorite Windows applications natively.

Increased pressure or no, said Gupta, Mac users probably will have to wait a long time before they see any software coming from the Redmond developer because a version of Windows for Macs would be an insignificant revenue stream for Microsoft.

If Microsoft actually develops a Windows OS for Mac hardware, it would mean that an Intel from Apple would be the perfect machine. Also, since Bill Gates makes his money just from selling the software, it really wouldn't make any financial difference for him whether it ends up running on an Apple or a Dell.

I would hope that, with the dual-core Intel processor in use in the iMac and MacBook, Microsoft would attempt to create a version of Windows that could run parallel to OSX (if they do this at all). If we could run Windows on one core and OSX on the other core, so that programs written for either operating system could be executed with equal facility without requiring a reboot, I would be in line for the product right away (well, as soon as it hits the second generation, anyway).

(Mac Hardware Successfully Runs Windows XP - NewsFactor)

Saturday, March 11

How not to dispose of unwanted credit card applications

The writer of this real-life anecdote doesn't get his point across very well since his sarcastic tone is hard to interpret for those who don't know at the outset what he's attempting to prove.

What he's actually saying through the course of the story is that ripping up a credit card application is not enough if you want to dispose of it. He was able to rip up an application into small pieces, reassamble them with tape, and fill out the application complete with a change of address and phone number... and Chase sent the card to the other address and allowed it to be activated by the alternate telephone number! (He used his parents' address and his cellular phone.)

The lesson here is that disposing of a credit card application by ripping it up and throwing it away is not enough. Any industrious garbage-digger could reassemble the application and submit it with their own address and phone number listed in order to gain access to credit under your name.

This story really makes me glad that I asked for (and received) a paper shredder this past Christmas.

(The Torn-Up Credit Card Application)

Your way, right away, at... In-n-Out?!?

I'm sure everyone is aware that In-n-Out has an unpublished "secret menu" (who hasn't ordered a burger with grilled onions, a 3x3, or asked for "protein-style"?), and the link below goes to an attempt to write down all the options you have when ordering at the famous burger joint.

(Buried deep in the comments is a link to a story about a group ordering a 100x100 burger. There are pictures of the mega-burger there, and they are definitely not for the faint of stomach. You have been warned.)

(Badmouth - in-n-out’s secret menu)

Friday, March 10

Google Office in the works?

Google's recent acquisition of Upstartle, the makers of Writely, seems to suggest that they're attempting to create a "Web 2.0" office suite. I would be on board for that, as long as they didn't try to scan all my personal documents for ad placment. I don't mind so much that they do that to my email, but personal documents is a bit much.

Also, the recent leaked screenshots of Google's private-beta CL2 calendaring application add fuel to the rumors.

(Is Google prepping an office suite? | News.blog | CNET News.com)

Thinking about running Vista on an Intel Mac? Think again...

"Windows is a legacy OS," [Apple Senior Software Architect Cameron Esfahani] said to laughter and applause from the crowd. "We don't have legacy support."

According to this article, only 64-bit versions of Windows Vista will boot via the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) that Apple uses on its Intel Macs. Apple is only using 32-bit chips thus far, so versions of the new Microsoft OS that will be compatible with the processor architecture will likely still be using the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) to boot and load core services.

This means that there will be no version of Windows Vista that will be able to run easily and smoothly on the Intel machines from Apple. At least Apple hasn't made any promises... the desire to run Windows on a Mac has been created entirely in the minds and hopes of users, and has not been specifically egged on by Apple or its officers in any way.

I think it was Phil Schiller who said that Apple wouldn't stop users from attempting to run Windows on MacIntel machines, but that doesn't even admit that there is a possibility that it will ever even work with the fluidity that seems to have been expected by Mac users worldwide.

I agree with Cameron Esfahani... if Windows Vista does not support EFI in every one of its numerous versions, it is a legacy operating system that has no business parading as the "next new thing" in the modern computing world.

(No Vista on Mac's horizon | CNET News.com)

Tuesday, March 7

OS X System Preferences weirdness


Oddly, my OSX system preferences went weird yesterday (see image on the right).

Each system preference (well, most of the Apple-provided ones, anyway) shows as a "Preferences switch" icon, with the icons for the individual panes in the lower-left. Of course, this used to show with the small left-hand icon bits as the whole image for each preference pane.

Has anybody ever seen this before? Is it indicative of any system weirdness other than the odd appearance of the sysprefs window? Is there a way to return it to the original state (short of an OS reinstall?)

BTW, I'm using Tiger (OS X 10.4.5 PPC) on a G4 Powerbook.

Friday, March 3

testing, testing...

1, 2, 3...

Today's Calvin and Hobbes

Pretty prophetic, considering this comic strip was originally published on March 2, 1995... (link below)

Saturday, February 25

Test post

I'm posting from Google's new "Blogger Widget."

Well, I was trying to post that previous sentence. It seems that I can't post it since Blogger has that new Word Verification feature for posting... hopefully it'll post now that I'm using the blogger.com posting engine.

Friday, February 24

Here I am!

I'm still here; I'm just busy. In fact, my car got broken into last night, so I'm getting all that taken care of. More news on that later.

Don't unsubscribe! I'm still here, ready to disseminate my thoughts, but it'll probably be a bit longer before I'm able to do so as often as I'd like.

Tuesday, February 14

Brrreeeport

brrreeeport. There, now I said it. Don't ask me why; it was Robert Scoble's idea.

Monday, February 13

How to Value Ratings With DVR Delay?

This article is pretty cool: it seems that time-shifting television programs with digital video recorders is adding to shows' ratings (particularly for Grey's Anatomy, our favorite show). So, ABC guys with $400 suits... if DVRs are getting more people to watch a show you inexplicably scheduled at 10pm Sunday night, how many more people will watch it if you sold its episodes on the iTunes TV Store?

Seriously, people...

Saturday, February 11

Neb. Professor Uses IPod for Lectures

Very cool. I wish I had been able to time-shift lectures when I was in college...

Wednesday, February 8

Why not break free?

This article from the Times Online talks about how easy it is these days to get into the FOSS (free and open-source software) paradigm, even down to your operating system.

People whole know little or nothing about computers are easily running Linux and other open-source alternative software, showing that it's not just the domain of the über-geek anymore.

Speaking of which, I might soon be setting up a friend with Linux on his 3-year-old Windows laptop that's been getting a bit long in the tooth.

Friday, February 3

Intel and the Art of Branding

This is the funniest John C. Dvorak column in quite a while. (Note: at least a basic knowledge of CPU technology required to get most of the jokes.)

Additionally, this recent column (again by the illustrious Mr. Dvorak) is pretty insightful.

Tuesday, January 31

Warner Bros to sell movies on net

"One of the most effective weapons for defeating online piracy is providing legal, easy-to-use alternatives," said Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros Home Entertainment Group.

Huzzah... Web-based entertainment takes a giant leap forward with the introduction of legal downloadable movies. Using file-sharing as the mechanism to get the videos to consumers, no less.

Abe Lincoln’s Productivity Secret

This blog post (linked below) has some great ideas about planning projects, based on a quote from Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, January 30

Does legal action against file sharers dissuade others?

I can tell you that I'm not dissuaded. However, if ABC put Grey's Anatomy up on the iTunes TV Store, I wouldn't have any reason to go to file-sharing in a not-quite-legal way. I would gladly pay $2 to catch up with the show (which is the only one my wife and I watch with any regularity) if I missed an episode. The only reason I've ever downloaded episodes of the show (which I promptly delete after watching) was to see the first season after starting to watch the show regularly this year, and once I downloaded an episode I missed while in Chicago on business.

But if it was available on-demand legally, I wouldn't even think of going to BitTorrent to get somebody's pirated copy. I'm sick of having to watch TV shows only when the networks choose to air them; I can't guarantee that I'll be free from 10PM-11PM every Sunday.

On-demand media like podcasts and online newspapers are the only press I consume these days (with the exception of some live radio every now and then)... and that's definitely where news and enertainment organizations need to be headed if they want to keep making money.

Sunday, January 29

What childhood toy from the 80s are you?

speak and spell
You're a Speak & Spell!! You nerd, you. Just

because you were disguised as a toy doesn't

mean you weren't educational, you sneaky

bastard.


What childhood toy from the 80s are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, January 25

iTunes downloads boost network ratings

While this article gets some important facts wrong (the NBC pay-for downloads are not a podcast, in the current meaning of the word), but the point it makes is a good one. NBC's ratings figures are proving that the new Internet mode of distribution is the Next Big Thing in terms of getting consumers to watch television shows.

Internet television (or IPTV, as it's know in "the industry") is certainly where content distribution is headed. And with Steve Jobs grabbing at least some part of the reins at Disney, this transition to online entertainment can only be accelerating.

Steve's new Job

Steve Jobs is now poised to become the great unifying element between entertainment and technology due to the purchase of his animation studio Pixar by media giant Disney. In the merged enterprise, Jobs will be the largest individual shareholder as well as hold a seat on the Board of Directors.

I think this is fabulous. Steve Jobs is the most visionary technologist in the world today, and with strongholds in these powerful companies there's no telling what he'll be able to do.

Thursday, January 19

Blogger Andrew Rilstone's take on the Chronicles of Narnia movie

Much more in-depth and better-expressed than my own review, this post talks about the reasons for some of the changes I previously derided.

This is a great analysis, and it allowed me to see the movie in a new light (and with a bit more respect for Andrew Adamson). However, while I now see it as a better movie than I had thought, I still stand by my comments regarding the actual faithfulness of the film to the original novel.

Tuesday, January 17

The Chronicles of Narnia

My wife and I saw the Chronicles of Narnia movie yesterday. It was fun to get out and do something fun together outside the house, but I have mixed feelings about the quality of the movie.

If you've read and enjoyed the books, go see the movie. Undoubtedly. The visuals (costumes, cinematography, and effects) as well as the acting (well, at least on the part of the children) was superb, even down to the dead blue-bottle on the windowsill of the wardrobe room.

However, the dialogue was absolutely horrible. The constant re-writing and deletion of key lines (and sometimes even moving them to the wrong parts of the story) was atrocious. Lauren even said that, for at least half of the movie, she was just watching the pictures and following along with the story in her head.

Overall, I give the movie a B. The depictions of locations and charcters was fantastic, but the script really left something to be desired. If you know enough about the story to fill in all the important gaps, definitely go see it. Otherwise, you'll just be confused by the pathetic attempt to retell the story.

Sunday, January 15

Discovering Music, Legally

This post, from David Pogue's blog at the New York Times, talks about the new offering from Real's Rhapsody online music service. Real is now allowing anyone with a free account to listen to 25 free full songs from its catalog every month.

This won't make me a RealRhapsody subscriber (I have an iPod nano and get my digital music via iTunes), but it's nice to be able to sample full tracks rather than the 30-second clips proffered by Apple. Real certainly didn't create this program to facilitate customers' purchases from other online music retailers, but unfortunately that's just what they've done.

The other cool thing about the offer from Rhapsody is that it works just as it was intended on a Mac running Firefox. You don't see a whole lot of webapps from major players that do that purposefully, so I congratulate Real for taking the time to ensure universal compatibility.

Friday, January 13

iMac Core Duo and MacBook Pro: A Comparison

Everybody seems to be singing the prises of both the new iMac Core Duo and the MacBook Pro, but there have been very few comparisons between the two. After comparing specs, I have found that the specifications of Apple's new portable are nearly as good as, and in some aspects better than, the new desktop computer.

Similarities
Among the four new Macs (two iMacs and two MacBooks), there are a number of features which are the same across the board. For instance, all of the new machines have a 667MHz frontside bus, 2MB of Level 2 processor cache, and 667MHz RAM chips (with a total available RAM capacity of 2GB).

All have an ATI X1600 graphics card, 54Mbps 802.11g AirPort Extreme cards built in, and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR wireless peripheral connection. (Other similarities include pre-installed iLife '06 and built-in microphone and speakers, but I'm concerned mainly with processing power in this comparison.)

Differences
There are several differences between the four machines as well. The processor speeds vary from 1.67GHz to 2.0GHz (both the faster MacBook model and the slower iMac model are rated at 1.83GHz; right in the middle), and the faster MacBook comes standard with twice as much RAM as any other model. The 1.83GHz MacBook Pro has 1GB of memory, while the other three models ship with only 512MB.

Both of the laptops have 15.4-inch monitors, while the desktops' displays are 17-inch and 20-inch. All of the new Macs have 128MB of GDDR3 video memory, again with the exception of the 1.83GHz MacBook (which has 256MB). The 20" iMac is expandable to 256MB of VRAM, but this is not the standard configuration.

Laptop/Desktop divisions
A number of the differences are sharply split between the laptop and desktop lines. For peripheral connections, both MacBooks have only one FireWire 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports. The iMacs have two FW400 ports and 5 USB 2.0 ports (they even have two USB1.1 ports, but these reside only on the USB-connected keyboard).

Both portables have 5400rpm hard drives (80GB in the slower and 100GB in the faster model), while the desktop machines' platters spin at 7200rpm (160GB and 250GB, respectively). And, while all four models have SuperDrives, only the iMacs can record dual-layer DVDs.

Did I mention the price?
And, of course, the iMacs are cheaper... $1299 and $1699, as opposed to the MacBooks at $1999 and $2499.

Conclusions
The MacBook Pro certainly can be seen as a true "desktop replacement" Macintosh. Though it has a slower hard drive and a smaller screen than the iMacs, it is my opinion that the abundance of RAM more than makes up for these deficiencies. I'm sure Apple will eventually come out with an Intel PowerMac that will blow us all away, but it's nice to know that Apple doesn't have a consumer-grade product (the late G5 iMac) that is so far ahead of a professional-grade product (the G4 PowerBook) anymore.

(All specs used in this comparison are taken from apple.com.)

Wednesday, January 11

Apple releases new software & hardware

Steve Jobs had an excellent keynote speech yesterday at Macworld, in which he introduced a lot of cool new things.

I'm still in shock. Everything is great, especially the new iMac and the PowerBook-killing MacBook Pro. But I really have no comments to make. Just visit the pages, view the specs, and be amazed.

Sunday, January 8

Modest Change: Cancel something

Over at 43 Folders, Merlin's current focus is on "Fresh Starts and Modest Changes," or what I like to call "the antidote to New Year's Resolutions." One of his recent posts deals with clearing out the clutter we've allowed our live to collect: Cable TV subscriptions, the constant checking of Web sites (or their RSS feeds) for new content, and Anything of the Month Clubs.

My biggest time-consumers are RSS feeds and podcasts, with a couple of email discussion lists thrown in (but they deal with professional development in my career, I rationalize to myself). I monitor my RSS intake pretty constantly, throwing out unimportant feeds often and keeping a maximum of 20 subscriptions in my Bloglines subscription list at any given time. And I'm only subscribed to two discussion groups, the Finale list at SHSU (a forum for discussing the Finale music notation software) and the SMT-talk list from the Society fo Music Theory.

That leaves podcasts. And boy, do I seem to like my podcasts. I have been subscribed to up to 20 of these at a time, which kept me hoppin' with more Internet audio than I could even think about making time to listen to. So I've pared it down to just 4:

  • Merlin Mann's 43Folders podcast (Updated very infrequently)
  • Diggnation (videos) (A video podcast updated weekly)
  • Jawbone Radio (updated infrequently, but usually at least one or two per week)
  • Radio Leo (This is the big one, since it's actually a single feed that delivers all shows in Leo Laporte's podcast network. There are 3-5 updates per week in this podcast).
This diet of podcasts will give me enough audio to listen to on my way to and from the office without inducing the "need" to always have my earbuds in "just to keep up."

Also, I'm going to use the extra time I was spending on the MacCast, NPR's Sunday Puzzle, and The Word Nerds (plus several others) to read more. Books, I mean. I'm currently reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, a book I've been meaning to read since I was a teenager, and it's great to get in the habit of spending time with books. I've missed it... I don't think I ever went more than 12 hours without a book in my hand (and this doesn't include textbooks) from the time I learned to read until I graduated from high school.

Oh, and one other thing on the "Cancel Something" front: I've stopped using my PDA (a Palm Tungsten E2). I recently got an iPod nano, and since it can carry out the basic functions of a PDA (i.e. store contacts, calendars, to-do lists, and memos) I've completely switched. Now, instead of pulling out my E2 every time I've got a bit of downtime and playing Pyramid Solitaire, I actually stop to notice the world around me.

By the way... I know that the nano doesn't have any data-input capability. That's why I carry around a blank index card as well for important "remember this!" data, which I input into my computer before my next iPod sync. Props for this idea again go to Merlin Mann (here's his article on the nano), self-styled electronic hobo and productivity evangelist. Link to Merlin's "Cancel Something" article follows below.

Saturday, January 7

Internet lampposts to be trialled

This is an awesome idea... solar lamp posts that take energy from the sun (even on cloudy days) to power both the street lamp and an internal wireless Internet access point. This is a great idea; I hope it "works well" in whatever way those in charge want it to work. It could be a boon for bringing Internet access to the world at large, so it would be great if it is deemed profitable enough to be expanded.

Friday, January 6

Two More Pennies For Your Letters

Did anybody know that the postal rates were going up again? This is he first I've heard of it.

Starting Sunday, first-class postage will now be 39 cents, with postcards and additional ounces going up to 24 cents.

I remember, when I was a kid, reading in my mom's 1965 World Book Encyclopedias that letter post was only four cents. Oh, for the simpler times of yesteryear.

Feeling the iPod's presence at CES

I really could care less about the rest of this article (sure, there are some neat new iPod things in it), but can anybody tell me what kind of case that nano is in near the bottom of the page? I'm talking about the picture of the Griffin TuneFlex and iTrip. I'm pretty sure there's some sort of cover on that nano, but I'm not sure which one. Does anybody recognize it? Let me know in the comments if you do. Thanks!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author (use the link above).




The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

-----BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK-----
Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+
------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------


If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.