Monday, July 23, 2007

Hokey Smoke!

Just because this made me laugh this morning - apparently Iran is being spyed on by highly trained squirrels.
"A few weeks ago, 14 squirrels equipped with espionage systems of foreign intelligence services were captured by [Iranian] intelligence forces along the country's borders. These trained squirrels, each of which weighed just over 700 grams, were released on the borders of the country for intelligence and espionage purposes....

Even Boris Badanoff can tell you, you have to be careful of "Moose and Squirrel!" Rocky Squirrel

Monday, June 25, 2007

Moving on style

Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)is moving up in the world - GoogleTalk is now doing group chat; and Facebook's latest chat client is XMPP based. Good to see our little open source hero making its way in the world!

Monday, June 18, 2007

While you were out...

Dean and I have been on the road a lot lately, and we are woefully behind on blogging. In the meantime, our friends have been keeping quite busy:

Monday, May 07, 2007

The applications Corporate IT didn't put there

I have a shiny new laptop at work. My corporate IT folks ghosted the standard corporate app suite to my hard drive, downloaded some special applications that I have licenses for (such as Microsoft Project) migrated my MyDocuments, email, and other data folders and gave me back the machine to configure to my hearts content.

Even though all my data is there, it always takes a while to get a computer just the way I like it. I have a number of little applications that make life easier, and many of them do not come from corporate. I was at a conference last week when one of the presenters made a good point: "How many of you use Google?" Who gave you permission? Consumer applications are as much a part of my job toolkit as are the corporate issue applications. When I started listing applications I needed to download, and I was amazed at the length of the list. Some highlights:

  • Yahoo Desktop Search/X1
    I swear by this tool: It is the best email search tool ever. This is my knowledge management tool for email.
  • Opera
    I don't use opera much anymore, but its nice to have to check for browser compatibility
  • Firefox
    My usual browser. I'd use it for everything if it weren't for crappy microsoft applications (Sharepoint, Outlook webmail) that require IE.
  • Google Toolbar
    In just the 4 hours of not having this installed, I realized just how much I rely on that little search box.
  • toolbar
    So I can bookmark things I'm looking at. I particularly love the Firefox version, which replaces my bookmarks entirely.
  • Firefox extensions: Spell check
    Spell check keeps me from looking stoopid.
  • GAIM
    For the bajillion different chat logins and clients I seem to have.
  • Google Talk
  • Because Google does some non-standard things with their XMPP (like use TLS), sometimes GoogleTalk is just easier.
  • Skype
    This isn't really a work tool - this is how Dean and I talk when we're on the road, without incurring $200 in long distance charges...
  • Beyond Compare
    For syncing files between my computer and the share drive. It costs $17 but its soooo worth every penny.
  • SnagIt
    For capturing screen shots, and doing limited photo editing. Also costs $, but I have the project cover the cost because preparing documents/screen shots is what we do.
  • DeskPDF
    This little tool lets you print from any application to PDF. I use it mostly for sharing visio diagrams with other people.
  • Textpad
    For code. Costs about $30.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Location, Location, Location

Yet another buzz on the next socialnetworking idea: Kyte. Read/Write Web gets it right though - the big deal isn't that you can share things online - there are tools galore for that. The big deal is the seemless integration to phones and chat. This is where Web 2.0 has the ability to really explode - the revolution will not be televised. And it will not be online. It will be everywhere else. Phones are already everywhere, more people have mobile phones than have computers - about 2.8 billion phones, which is 1 in 3 people worldwide. Location matters: The phone is more important real estate than the browser.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Staying Tuned

Paula and I have played midway through the fourth episode of Sam & Max from Telltale Games. I've waited this long to post something about the series because of my fundamental blogging laziness, a reverence for the old Sam & Max Freelance Police game, and reservations about the new episodic gaming format in general. It's taken me a few months to overcome all three weaknesses.

Not that nostalgia for the glory days of Lucasarts adventures is a bad thing, mind you. Those games deserved all the praise they get, as I think I mentioned in a previous post. But sometimes fondness for the old can blind you to the goodness of the new.

That's not the case here. Telltale games have gotten it exactly right: They deliver compact, well-written adventures on a monthly basis. (They got the third episode to us a week early, in fact.) I settled in to the game right away, and was soon rewarded with more wacky one-liners and obscure non-sequiturs than I could shake a mixed metaphor at. Sam and Max are back, and the episodic format suits the rabbit and dog duo extremely well.

This season ends after another two episodes. I hope their experiment in reviving a classic gaming genre will be judged a success. It's a model that would work for all the adventure gaming greats. I'd like to see a few of my other favorites revived as episodic adventures, too.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What the buzzword of 2007?

The last thing we need is another buzzword. Every year has one: ERP, CRM, Web2.0.....

I hate to encourage the development of yet another bad label, but thought I would posit the question: What will the buzz word for 2007 be? Web 2.0 is so 2006 (or heck, 2005!) what is the buzz for 2007?

Some thoughts from Read/Write web on that matter, branded Web 3.0 would be (that Web 2.0 is not). In brief: Web 2.0 + Context.

Crystal ball time: What is the buzzword of 2007?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fallout from the Google Bomb

Paula's been doing most of the posting lately, because I've been writing a lot of articles on the TOWER Software corporate blog. I've tried to be careful about letting work articles bleed over to this blog, but I couldn't resist this topic.

Simon, in a gutsy, possibly career-limiting move, publicly questioned the reason for TOWER Software's existence. The question he posed is: With search tools like Google available, why bother to organize or file anything? Just let the algorithm find it for you.

This is one of the "big three" strategic challenges that my company faces. I've got it and the other two written on my whiteboard at the office. (No peeking!) We've been thinking about how to address these issues at TOWER Software for quite a while, but it's been an internal discussion.

Not any longer. It's in the blogosphere now; Gordon has already posted his response. Here's mine.

Google is not magic

When Simon titled his controversial article "Why Bother Organizing?" he stated that you could dump all your electronic content into a big pile and have Google sort it out for you later. This is true. But he also implied that organization itself is unnecessary. This is absolutely false.

Google organizes things all the time. That's what it does. "Organizing the World's Information" is Google's mission statement. Google is nothing but a gigantic indexing and organizing engine -- and it has plenty of help.

Google deploys an untold number of automated spiders, crawlers and bots to find information and index it. Google employs a small army of software developers and mathematicians to tweak and maintain the PageRank algorithm. Companies and individuals notify Google when they create their websites. There's an entire industry devoted to helping Google find things.

We're part of it, too. Every time we click on a search result, we're voting on how high Google should place the webpage in its index. Every time we make a hyperlink, we help Google relate information. Every time we write a webpage that includes title and meta tags, we're helping Google organize the web.

Without this massive amount of support and assistance, there's no way that Google could present the results it does. Google search results don't spontaneously appear. Creating order out of chaos requires organization, and organization requires work. That's not a slogan: that's the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What Simon's really talking about in his post is far more personal: "Why should I have to organize this information?" The magic of Google is not that it creates something (search results) out of nothing (a big heap of disordered junk). The magic of Google is that it has so thoroughly abstracted the hard work of organizing from the end user that technically savvy folks like Simon don't see it happening. Brilliant!

When you look at it this way, the challenge that Simon posed is not really an existential question for TOWER Software and other players in the ECM industry. It's an execution question. The challenge is to dramatically improve the design of ECM solutions so that systems appear to organize the information without human intervention.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Always trust your audience.

I was recently reading an article about comic Phyllis Diller in Smithsonian Magazine. She recently donated a 48-drawer card catalog of one-liners to the Smithsonian.

Card Catalog

I thought the archive was an outstanding example of a personal knowledge library. The information age accelerates the need for a personal library, but the problem has been around long before the computer. A card catalog may be a low-tech, but the problem they solve is similar.

I also thought Phyllis had an insightful metric for what stayed in the files and ultimately the success of a joke: If the audience laughed, it was funny. "You never blame the audience" she says. Period.

That seems obvious, but how often do people cling to bad ideas that flop? Bad designs that users don't like? Documents that do not make their point clearly? Training guides that confuse? It is human nature (and, human ego) to assume we know better. If our audience doesn't understand or appreciate, they must be wrong. Sometimes we do know better - sometimes innovated ideas are not recognized by the greater public until later. But a majority of the time it is as easy as the Ms. Diller's audience test: The definition of funny is making someone laugh.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Internet Radio finds

I love my Sonos. ahem, I mean Dean really loves the Sonos I got him for Christmas.

One of the unexpected benefits of the Sonos, besides having music playing allover the house 24/7, is the internet radio stations that come with the Sonos system pre-loaded. When our computer is not connected, The Sonos can still play from the Internet radio list. The list has some hits, some misses, but amongst all that I found a pretty cool little internet radio station: Martha's Vineyard Radio.

They play an eclectic mix of 80s and 90s that ranges from REM, U2, Elvis Costello to Blues Traveller, Wallflowers, and Belle and Sebastian, then randomly they throw in stuff like a evening blues show and some other random but good genres. It makes a nice alternative to the iTunes library.

Dean is busy engineering a way to hook in our Sattalite radio (XM) stream, so prety soon we will be able to play any genre of music, any time, all over the house. Heaven. I'm willing to go on a starvation diet to buy more Sonos parts, because there are still parts of my house that I don't yet have covered in music.

Which reminds me of a post that Gordon blogged about - some products invoke emotional attachment. iPod was one, but I've found a new love - Sonos. If only all products were that huggable.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Yesterday our closet light bulb burned out. This managed to coincide with a current news item - California legislators are proposing to ban the incandescent bulb in favor of energy efficient light bulbs.

I have to agree with the desired end state - use the power of government influence to control energy consumption and reduce the power hungriness of the average California household. But the means are all wrong. They shouldn't be banning incandescent light bulbs, they should be taxing them.

My closet light bulb demonstrates the challenge. The ceiling fixtures in our townhouse have a decorative glass cover around the light bulbs. Dean was all excited to replace the current incandescent bulb with one of our newfangled energy efficient bulbs. (Not necessarily out of environment concern - more that I can never again make him climb a ladder to change the light bulb....). Unfortunately, Dean's plan was adverted - the energy efficient light bulbs are actually a fraction larger than their incandescent counterparts. The glass cover doesn't fit. And so instead of an energy efficient bulb, an energy hogging incandescent went in.

Which led us to conclude that the right answer is taxation. There are always those for whom aesthetics (or, engineering necessity) requires a standard incandescent bulb. The market driver now is to by the old bulbs, because at the point of sale they are cheaper. Even if their lifetime cost is less, consumer behavior is very sensitive to upfront cost. So to change behavior, instead of enacting an outright ban, California should just tax incandescent light bulbs at 200%. Most consumers would buy the energy efficient bulbs, but those who needed the older bulbs for a specific cause could still purchase them. Ultimately supply and demand would also influence price, and the less-demanded incandescent bulbs would be more cost more. This would eventually also replace the need for incandescents for old fixtures - consumers like us would realize that it may in fact be cheaper to replace old closet light fixture than to pay the incandescent tax.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

United Sux

United Airline Sux. Our customer service nightmare with them continues. After cancelling our flight, sending 400 people into a customer service line with one representative, and having a completely worthless phone system, we finally gave in and flew Delta airlines out of Baltimore so we could make it home for the holidays. Then, to add insult to injury, United lost our luggage for three days after telling us no less than three times that it was "being sent".

We managed to make it to Denver and back without incident (Which means, we were "only" 30 minutes late..."), and the only human being we can reach so far in customer service is when we call after hours and talk to the India call center. So far they haven't exactly been helpful. Fortnately we're back home again, but United stil owes us $1400, and by my account, a free flight or two... which is why I'm proud to announce that Delta Airlines is the new official airline for the Thrashers!

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