Sunday, December 21, 2008

Microsoft has to get Silverlight working on x64, pronto



This makes no sense to me. Microsoft has a lot of incentive to make 64-bit popular. I'm not sure why all of their software doesn't support it.
Furthermore, Adobe has been dragging their heels with a 64-bit version of Flash for years now. Why not beat them to the punch on this?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Steve Jobs

One thing I didn't note in yesterday's rant, but should have, is that I noticed the WSJ has changed their drawing of Steve Jobs. They've replaced the healthy Jobs with the gaunt Jobs we saw during the iPhone 3G announcement earlier this year. Here are the WSJ drawings before (circa 2007) and after:




I found the change to be oddly significant. The day of the iPhone announcement, I asked everyone if Jobs was really sick. I had kind of forgotten about it since then, but this change in the image reminded me of it.

Today it was announced that Jobs won't be at MacWorld in January. Apple's stock dropped 3% after hours on that announcement, but I think Apple fans should be much more concerned than that drop represents. Apple has played down the announcement with a bunch of lies about how trade shows aren't their thing anymore, but... correct me if I'm wrong here... hasn't MacWorld basically been Apple's super bowl for several years? The internet abuzz for days about whatever they're going to announce there? It seems absurd that they would not participate unless:

a) They have nothing novel to announce.
b) Jobs is ill.

I personally can't imagine that someone doesn't have the inside info on Jobs' health. The man is the largest shareholder and board member of Disney and CEO of Apple. Many Apple investors have done so because Jobs is in charge. It seems... for lack of a better word... dishonest for those companies to withhold information about his health.

In any case, I wish Jobs luck. He and Wozniak inspired me when I was a kid. I was an Apple user from 1981 until 1996, a NeXT guy from 1991 to 1993 and Mac user from 1998 to 2001. He's only 54, and if it's true that he's very ill, that's really too bad.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Apple will get decimated by a recession, what else is new?

I just read the article "Apple Loses Some Shine as Mac Sales Slow", wherein analysts warn that "some nicks have started to emerge" with Apple?

Yeah, ya think? Duh.

How about a history lesson for all the numnut analysts out there. In every recession since Apple's inception, Apple has been hit hard. Here are the years of massive downward swings in their stock price.

1983: -60%
1987: -40%
1991: -42%
2000: -78%
2008: -61%

See a trend? Those were all years with massive consumer spending slowdowns. Apple's sales are completely based on consumers. They have no business in business. At all. Only high flying dot com trendy guys spend money on Macs when they have Sequoia's money to play with. The rest of us are happy when Microsoft comes out with a free service pack for Windows 2000, because that's all our employer will give us on 7 year old PC hardware.

As the US consumer goes, Apple goes. And last I checked, the US consumer borrowed all of their money from their home equity to buy Apple's shit. Hyperinflation aside, I'd say Apple will be no higher than 30 in 2 years time, when people are saving their money for government cheese over an shiny new Mac laptop that costs $1000 more than a PC.

ps - My iPhone officially sucks. AT&T sucks. I could not hold a 5 second conversation with a friend while I was in the Safeway parking lot the other day. I wish Apple luck trying to sell this piece of shit phone to consumers at Walmart, if that's their plan.

Whenever the hell Verizon releases an Android phone, I'm so there.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I don't get Python 3.0

I often get a lot of crap from friends and co-workers for being an early adopter, but I can tell you that one thing I can't see myself adopting soon is Python 3.0. I just don't get what the benefit is. Most of Python's ugliest warts are still there, and the things people liked have been mucked with.

For example.

len("string")

Why am I still typing this when strings have been a first class object in Python for more than 10 years? "string".length(), right? This is how every other language where strings are objects has handled it, and Python should.

Another example.


class A:
def blah(self, i):
print("The number is: %d" % i)


This example changed something that didn't need to be changed and didn't change something that did need to be changed. The former is, of course, the ever-controversial print statement in Python. This is probably the change that will break more lines of code than anything, and did it really need to change? And I loved the way the % operator worked.

The latter is the "self" in every method of an instance. Why... oh why... do people have to type this? "self" is absolutely needless, and tricks with methods that don't, I think, are confusing and should have been broken with this release.

The bottom line is, if Python 3K is supposed to be the last time for a long time there's a major breaking change to this language, then why not fix everything? Why not work out a solutionj to the GIL? Guido works for Google, and Google uses Python. He should have the resources to fix this stuff, right'?

I've used Python for 13 years now. 3.0 makes me wonder if I should migrate to IronPython. Not only can I write extensions in C# and use the .NET Framework, but it runs on the CLR.

Friday, December 05, 2008

80s music is starting to depress me

Many of you know, I'm a longtime connoisseur of 80s music. And you know what, it's starting to depress me. Sometimes I listen to a song that reminds me of something in grade school or high school and it makes me feel really old.

Some examples:

  • Journey's "Separate Ways". Reminds me of a high school field party I went to and Astra sang this song with her band. Makes me feel old now to think of that party. [BTW, her rendition of it was awesome. It's no wonder she's a bona fide Rock Star now.]
  • Foreigner "That was Yesterday". Doesn't remind me of a specific memory, but maybe it's just the fact that it's about it being yesterday that depresses me.
  • John Cougar "Jack and Diane". I remember very well driving around to this song after our sitter Susie just got her driver's license. Again, making me feel old.
  • Anything by Pink Floyd. Well first of all, it's mostly just depressing music. Second of all, it reminds me of the earlier years of high school where I used to sit around listening to it all the time. I was like, "Two Suns in the Sunset... that's sooo deep man. It means nuclear war. ". It was pathetic.
  • The Unforgettable Fire. Oh my god I listened to this album on the bus every day for at least a year. It's a spectacular album but when I hear "Wire", all I can flash back to is sitting on the bus with my yellow Sony Sports walkman, trying to drown out the tongues-speak of an evil bus driver.
  • Most hair-glam like Slaughter or Warrant. I never liked these bands, but they remind me of working at FlipSide (a defunct record store) in Wauconda.

Although, that's not to say I don't have recent stuff I can't listen to anymore because it reminds me of scarring times in my life. I won't go into the whys of these:
  • Black Grape, the entire album of "Stupid Stupid Stupid"
  • Garbage "2.0" album, esp "The Trick is to Keep Breathing"
  • Cursive "Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes"
  • The Postal Service.
That's all. So this probably explains why I'm constantly searching for new music on my Zune Pass (here's my profile) -- to avoid the depression of feeling old. Right now I'm listening to Erlend Oye, who has no depressing memories associated with him and is very enjoyable as a result.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Don't even bother with Search in Outlook

If you have Vista installed, download Windows Search 4.0 and use that. Outlook's built in search in 1997-2003 was notoriously awful, granted. Many people bought Lookout for that reason. 2007 was supposed to fix all of that, and they upgraded their search engine. Well, it turns out the upgrade wasn't that great. It still sucks, pretty much.

So try installing Windows Search, then doing a search in Outlook vs. a search in WS 4.0. It should take milliseconds in WS 4.0 and take minutes in Outlook.

VPN on a VM Rocks

My employer refuses to upgrade to Cisco's AnyConnect VPN server, so, like many out there, I've had no VPN for my Vista x64 machine at home. The other day, I bit the bullet and installed Virtual PC to run VPN in a virtual machine. I installed Vista x86 in the VM and away I went.

Let me just say that this is the way I should have been using VPN years ago. Not only can I use it on my big home computer monitor (as opposed to my small work laptop), but I can still use my normal cable modem and home network rather than routing everything through VPN.

So even if my employer buys the latest VPN software, chances are I'm going to continue using it inside of a VM. It's a great setup.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ever wonder why the Detroit Lions always play on Thanksgiving?

Ok, maybe you haven't. But I have. They suck. They've sucked forever. The only reason they used to be acceptable to watch on Thanksgiving was because of Barry Sanders.

Anyway, here's why they're still included on Thanksgiving along with Dallas:

http://autocognition.co.uk/ESW/Images/Ford_logo.jpg

Yes, Ford motor company. They spend more money on advertising with the NFL than any other company. And, surprise! The Ford family also owns the Detroit Lions. Is it any mystery why the Detroit Lions somehow seem to have more of a say in this league than they should?

The NFL has recently introduced a third game on Thanksgiving. This year it looks like it will be the best game of the bunch: Arizona at Philly. It will only be on the NFL Network though, so most of the nation won't even be able to see it.... again. Lame.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The real person behind Prop 8's passage: Gavin Newsom

As the night wears on, it appears Prop 8, the "marriage is between a man and a woman" proposition, is going to pass. For the purposes of this post I'm going to assume it does, because I'm headed to bed.

I'd like to throw a shout out to the single man I think responsible for having such a thing added to the California Constitution: Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Mayor who blundered his way into setting back gay rights more than ever imaginable.

A proposition much like this one passed in 2000, called Prop 22. However Prop 22 established a California law to this effect. To challenge this law, in 2003 or 4, Newsom started issuing marriage licenses for gay couples. The validity of these was challenged and eventually, the case was taken to a court wherein the justices threw out Prop 22 as unconstitutional. Prop 8 now will add this same verbiage to the Constitution. Therefore it cannot be ruled unconstitutional (at least not within California courts... Federal Courts maybe).

As you probably know, local laws are usurped by State laws, and state laws by Federal Laws. So when Newsom began issuing these licenses, he was in violation of state law. Even at the time, though I agreed with the premise, I thought he had overstepped his bounds and was going to suffer a backlash. People do not like executives who break the law, especially a law approved state-wide. But it got worse. His challenge to this ended up in the hands of Courts. People do not like it when judges decide against a law they put in place. But the real kicker... when this decision came down, Newsom made his now infamous "whether you like it or not!" declaration. People in a Democracy will never stand for executives telling them that, oftentimes no matter how they think of the issue academically. The "Yes on Prop 8" campaign certainly used that one to their advantage.

Newsom's political acumen and foresight was incredibly off in every way possible. Maybe not in San Francisco, where he's been re-elected, but certainly almost everywhere else in this state and country.

It's very easy to amend the California Constitution, and that's where we are today. Instead of the progress towards rights for gay couples that has been steadily gaining steam for many years, the people of CA amended the constitution to forbid it. There goes that idea.

Furthermore--this is water under the bridge tonight of course--Newsom should be held at least partially responsible for the 2004 victory of George W Bush. His lack of foresight ended up making gay marriage a voting issue that year, and brought out a nationwide conservative push in a year where GWB should have certainly lost (in my opinion) due to the political and strategic blunders he had made in the two prior years in Iraq.

FWIW, I voted against Newsom in the last SF election... and probably could have just based on his lack of judgment on this issue alone. I'm somewhat surprised more people haven't woken up to the responsibility he should accept for this debacle. And that Heather Fong should be fired. We're again on track for more homicides in SF than the prior year.

In pretty much every way I can imagine, Newsom is one of the worst Mayors in any city I've ever lived in.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Azure in theory is great, in practice, not sure.

For those who don't follow this kind of thing, Microsoft announced and deployed the first version of their "cloud computing" offering called Azure this week.

Azure is really different than EC2, Amazon's "cloud computing" offering. Here's the difference:

  • EC2 is essentially like a big VMWare system. You take an image of an entire Linux server, or entire Windows server, and start it up. It runs just like a computer in a rack somewhere would run.

  • Azure abstracts that further. You write a piece of C# code and it runs somewhere, out there, and concerns at the OS level that you'd have with EC2 aren't necessary.

There's more power in the EC2 system if you know what you're doing and have the time. You can customize your infrastructure to whatever you need. I could use EC2 immediately with third party, licensed software like Mental Ray, for example.

Academically, I prefer the pure theory of Azure. It's a lot like Google App Engine... write some code and it just scales using the existing scalability of the company's infrastructure. And Azure has some signifcant advantages over Google App Engine ... C#, the best IDE out there, a more robust API. Plus, Microsoft has a lot more invested in the success of Azure than Google does the App Engine. So I don't think it's just something that was thrown out there on a whim kind of like GAE was (sorry guys, given the lack of progress that's just how it seems).

That said, Microsoft has a larger challenge than Google. The knock on GAE is that it requires developing for a platform that's not easy to get off of. Microsoft has the same knock, and they're additionally Microsoft. The reluctance of people to jump on board something proprietary to Microsoft may be high. On the other hand, if it can be shown that deploying on Azure is much faster than other solutions, it might not be such a difficult thing to sell. After all, Salesforce has a proprietary development environment that people seem ok with.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This is my 301st post

And I just have to say, what application developers giveth, the web developers taketh away:


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Most apps run fine in user mode?"

I heard Sinofsky, ScottGu or someone claim that today during the PDC keynote about UAC in Windows 7.



I don't care if there's a slider for UAC in Windows 7. UAC is the devil's spawn and apparently not even Microsoft's Visual Studio developers can do anything without admin rights.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For most of us, Personal Tax Accountants and Financial Planners are a Scam

After years of experience with this, I'm convinced that unless you're Warren Buffett, most people you hire to manage your money for you are just about as clueless at finding a good investment as you are. Warren Buffett and hedge fund managers hire the accounting and finance brainiacs who are at the top of their class. Who do you think hire the people in the middle or bottom of their class? That's right: normal people like you and me who only spend $150 on their taxes or 3% on a paltry investment amount or whatever.

Exhibit A:

I hired a tax accountant because I had moved from New York and didn't want to deal with two-state tax returns. He printed out my tax form from Quicken and left in forms I wasn't even supposed to have to do (estimated taxes for New York, for example). I had to call him because I was confused and he said that the computer just does that. Really? So why did I hire him when the computer just does that and I needed to call him and straighten it out?

Exhibit B:

Next year, I hired a different tax accountant. She had a very fancy office in a building in San Jose and many coworkers went to her and recommended her. I gave her all of my (relatively simple) tax information sometime in early February. Early March, still no tax return. I call her and she says "It's been sent to packaging and should be there anytime" (whatever that means). Early April, I realize I have to leave for Japan on a business trip and I call again. It turns out she had mailed it to my address from two addresses ago. And even though I called her a few times, she never thought it was suspcious that after two months I still hadn't gotten my tax return from her. No one knows whose hands that tax return ever ended up in, but fortunately they don't appear to have been an identity thief. Oh, and she had the gall to try to bill me the full amount. Since then I've done my own taxes.

Exhibit C:

Last year I decided to investigate a financial planner after years of investing on my own. Mostly my wife and I just wanted to get a list together of all the stuff we had to do like wills, trusts, life insurance, blah blah blah. But I was willing to consider her advice for investments and the idea of her managing my money.

This was in June, 2007. Her suggestions?
  • Buy a new house. She was convinced that the real estate market was still the best investment around in June 2007. Common knowledge today is that real estate peaked in 2006, which I argued with her at the time and she didn't believe.
  • Invest in US Large Caps for the most part.
On the way out after I told her we weren't going to hire her, I believe I told her that she should consider buying Gold ETFs for herself. Here's how our two investment strategies compared head to head. You be the judge.

Exhibit D:

This is the one that gets me the most. Someone I know who is around retirement age has a financial advisor who has had the gall to say the following to her amidst this crisis:
  • Don't sell, because if everyone panics and sells, thats just drives investments down more.
  • He believes that right now, with the Dow at 8500, we're in a great buying opportunity.
  • He wrote a letter where he quoted Warren Buffett saying something like "When everyone's fearful, I buy, when everyone's buying, I get fearful."

The responses I've told this person to pass on to the financial advisor are:

  • I will not lose my money because you believe selling drives prices down for others. It takes years and years to get confidence back in battered stocks. Therefore, I will sell. And if these look like a good investment later, I will buy them again.
  • The Dow will bottom out at no more than 7700, which is where it bottomed out in 2002 -- a time of crisis much less ominous than this one.
  • If you believe that people should be buying now because others are fearful, why weren't you selling when everyone else was buying in 2006-7? Why weren't you selling CROX short?

Buffett has billions upon billions of dollars. He can turn a company around with his money. A grandpa investing $100K can't do that. If he invests $100K, he's riding on the coattails of others. He has to sit around hoping that that money will go up.

So it's great to quote Buffett to encourage people it's a good time to buy when others are fearful, but in my opinion, financial planners should be the ones telling us to sell ahead of the curve. Not telling us to buy into overpriced markets or become bag holders for the rest of the world, as the financial planners I've mentioned here are wont to do.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

H.264 coming to Silverlight

I missed this, but ScottGu announced about a month ago that Microsoft is incorporating H.264 into Silverlight. Meaning I need to update my chart from last year -- the only hold out on the list for supporting H.264 was Silverlight.

Questions I have:
  • When, exactly, will it be available? Or is this another vaporware announcement?
  • Why did it take a year for Microsoft to realize that Flash's incorporation of H.264 was the death knell of VC-1 on the web?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Who's responsible for your home losing value?

Answer: you are.

You bought at too high a price. You knew it at the time. I don't care if the money was easy to get because you knew better. Home prices were having unsustainable double digit increases year over year and yet you still bought into that market because you thought it was an "investment". In fact, you probably offered over the asking price.

The problem with buying illiquid assets for too much money is that you can't unload them quickly enough when that price drops. And with liquid assets, you wouldn't offer too much because you can always find a cheaper deal. How often have you ever offered 10% over the asking price for a share of stock? Never (unless you're a corporate raider). And yet people did this routinely with houses.

Homes are just now being sold at the fair value instead of the uber-ridiculous prices that people bought in at a few years ago. And with the price falling back to a reasonable price for the quality of home and location, they're complaining that they're "losing value." I hear this complaint all the time. But if someone bought a home for the right reasons, even though they paid too much they shouldn't care that a neighbor's home is selling for the fair value now. Because, even as we knew at the time, individuals trying to be real estate speculators is a road to disaster.

So either stop complaining or go bankrupt so I can buy your homes for pennies on the dollar. Yes, I'm a bottom feeder.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The 100% Honest Debate Results

While every other blogger and pundit on earth is trying to tell you who "won" the debate last night, I'm going to share with you the 100% honest results from last night's debate.

Both candidates did about the same. They avoided the politically hard topics as best as they could and instead continued to stake out their politically easy topics. Jim Lehrer gave up trying to get them to say anything new or real after the first 20 minutes or so.

When I say politically hard vs. politically easy, here are some examples of each:

Politically easy: Abortion, Iraq War, earmarks/"government waste", education, defense budget, Russia/Georgia, "sitting down" with terrorists, oil drilling

Politically hard: Illegal immigration, the bailout

And both candidates avoided the politically hard topic (the bailout) Lehrer threw at them within milliseconds. Lehrer tried to drill into them on it but they avoided it again and again and again for 9 minutes.

Politically easy topics may not seem easy at first -- yes, they're hard actual problems to solve. But they're politically easy because you stake out one end of the spectrum or the other and one-issue idiots will vote for you.

Last night's debate didn't include abortion but it's a great example of political ease. One-issue-idiot-pro-lifers will vote for McCain and one-issue-idiot-pro-choicers will vote for Obama. We knew that before the debate. We could have predicted 20 years ago which way one-issue-idiot-abortioners were going to vote in this election, even though Roe v. Wade was decided 35 years ago and no major changes have come about in abortion rights with pro-lifers dominating the White House for most of that 35 year span.

You do this as a politician because you keep the votes you already had. This is why every politically hard topic must be pushed into a politically easy one.

So back to the politically hard topic that both Obama and McCain deftly punted on: the Bailout. The vast majority of the population is against the bailout. 70% are against this bailout plan. Congress has been flooded with angry calls, emails and faxes all week long. Every Bailout article on the Wall Street Journal is taken over by venom from voters against it.

And neither of these guys said a word about it in either direction -- really for it, or really against it. Just that "we have to do something" and having "faith that an agreement will be reached". Then they went back into the politically easy topics that they already had staked out positions on. Obama talked about alternative energy when asked about the bailout. Alternative energy!

Aren't the two gentlemen on stage supposed to be Senators who represent the will of the people? If so, this was an easy target to gain points on. Be against this crappy plan. Say that the Federal Reserve Act should be repealed. Do something major.

But no. That would have alienated the people who give these clowns all of their money in the first place. The George Soroses of the world. And that's what makes these politically hard for them. Their donors are the 20% who are on the extreme "for" of illegal immigration, the bailout, and other politically hard topics.

Where was the change platform last night? Aren't both of these candidates now supposed to be the candidates of change? I didn't hear about much change last night... and the bailout is a topic that would have been easy to declare how to make some major changes. I honestly can't recall one serious change issue last night from Obama except that he wants to get out of Iraq earlier than McCain. That's it.

So anyway, that's the 100% honest debate results -- neither won. They did about the same. They properly avoided hard topics and staked out their extreme positions on the easy ones. Congratulations guys. If I want the exact same type of politician we've always had in the Federal Government, you're both succeeding at convincing me that you're suited for the job.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Proud Parent Inflection

For those of you who are getting bored of my economics rants, I'll take a time out to describe what I call "Proud Parent Inflection".

Proud Parent Inflection is the tone of voice you invoke when a stranger at the park asks you the name of your child, for example. Or her age. That's when you say (example child name): "Jehn-ny". Not just "Jenny", but "Jehn-ny". The tone of voice says "Future-Olympian-Brain-Surgeon-Cancer-Cure-Discoverer-Astronaut-World-Series-MVP-World-Cup-Star-Nobel-Peace-Prize-Winner Jenny, YEAH. And by the way you loser, I chose a GREAT FREAKIN NAME!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is burning the Constitution Unconstitutional?

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.


That's right... the $700b proposed to be given to the Treasury to buy bad mortgages must be spent without any oversight or reviewed in any court of law. Unconstitutional much?

Here's the full text.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We're all communists now.

Cramer occasionally has decent insight -- when it's hindsight.




[Edit] -- oh sorry, one thing I don't agree with here is that FDIC is "safe". FDIC is completely NOT safe. If WaMu folds, FDIC will be completely depleted by several times over. You won't be getting your money back unless the federal reserve prints more.

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5i-pLQW20k50DG8EF0T3RFrFdH96wD9384DM00

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dumbest idea ever.

What the government can do to speed up this process is to establish a
modestly-capitalized agency that will offer to buy any house up for sale at a
price not greater than three times median household incomes in each market. As I
pointed out last week, the national average is currently 3.6 times
This guy is an "economist"? Unreal.

Click here

Stop talking about Palin

She's irrelevant.

If you believe McCain is too old and might die in office, you shouldn't vote him anyway.

If you believe she's too inexperienced, remember that the only Consitiutional duty of the VP is to break tie votes in the Senate. She's too inexperienced for that?

Basically Palin is a weapon of mass distraction... and it's working. She's all anyone can talk about. She's "rallying" the Republican party base because she's a moose hunter or something. The Democrats have deployed a platoon of dirt-fact-finders to Alaska to dig up everything they can on her.

Meanwhile, the Dow just dropped 500 points, 25,000 people got laid off from HP and when AIG goes under, 100K people will lose their jobs. But let's spend our time worrying about whether Palin's future son-in-law graduated high school. Cripes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

OK I like the second ad better

Maybe they will make something out of this campaign after all.

Friday, September 12, 2008

On the weekend, beware of your government screwing you over

Don't let a category 2 hurricane distract you this weekend -- it appears the US is poised to bail out yet another investment banker.

Two weeks ago it was the Fannie and Freddie bailouts. A few months ago it was the bailout of Bear Stearns via JP Morgan. This weekend it looks like they're going to print money to bail out Lehman Brothers.

Your country is being given away to Wall Street investment bankers even more than it already was, my friends. And for those of you who think Lehman failing is just another bank failing, this is not the same as FDIC which actually aims to protect the depositors. This is a government takeover to prevent private businesses from folding and affecting their investors and debtors. The difference between an investor and a depositor is that one expects a far better chance of getting their money back than the other.

Where's the march on Washington about this? Where are the demands on the two candidates, forcing them to own up to a plan to fix this? In the late 1800s and early 1900s, banking was a huge issue in this country. Every election was focused on the topic. Today it seems no one cares who actually prints our money. The Federal Reserve Act is abused more than ever, in an open public fashion on the weekends by Hank Paulson and his Wall Street cronies. There's no outcry about that, but there will be hell to pay if someone says something about lipstick on a pig or sex education for kindergartners.

As Jim Rogers said so eloquently last week, "the US is now more communist than China".

Sunday, September 07, 2008

RIP Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed has died, the man who played Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit and is pictured in the upper right hand corner of this blog.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Crispin, Porter + Bogusky EPIC FAIL

You may remember my last post, "Cripsin Porter + Bogusky hit another home run"

I'm now changing that to EPIC FAIL. I also am not sure they did Mojave stuff, given how crappy this new campaign with Seinfeld is.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Git

For about a month and a half, I've been secretly using Git at work for my local source control management. Shhh.

At work we manage code in Perforce, so eventually my code has to work its way back into P4. Still, I now am finding it difficult to imagine working efficiently without using Git on a daily basis, and the thought of continuing to bridge new projects with the P4 repository makes me cringe a little.

Git is extremely powerful partly because it allows you to make fast branches in-place. How many times have you heard this: "I'd like to try that, but I would have to create another Perforce branch because I've got too much going on in my branch right now." I don't know about you, but I've heard it a lot. I've said it a lot. P4 developers on large projects are only going to have one branch because it takes so long to get a second one going. Spinning two all the time doesn't help unless you use it regularly. You don't use the second branch it for a while, you integrate down and you have to recompile everything from scratch. With Git, on the other hand, switching to the branch is in place. So the compiler only has to recompile and re-link the difference between the branches.

Git also has the ability to easily share between peers. Well, that's all it does, actually -- so it can be a downside and an advantage. The good part is that two people sharing their code doesn't require copying files up to a fileshare and copying them back down (lest you want to do file integrations in P4, which aren't very fun).

Git can work completely offline, so you're not dependent on a central server to check in code and share with others. Granted, I don't think the future holds much for "offline" technologies, but for the time being this can be pretty advantageous.

A question arises with git, "Where's the main development line"? In my case, I just integrate it back into our Perforce server using one of the many P4-git bridge scripts. Normally though, it's not always that straightforward to identify "dev line." The issue with Git is there's (potentially) no central server and any checkin from any other Git repository can be pulled over into any other. Github has a nice graph and explanation for how this works.

In practice one can make a central line for their code and let everyone submit to it, just like Perforce. Once you do this, however, the advantages of using git are lost somewhat. The idea of a central gatekeeper who lets code through is lost at that point. Git works really well for open source projects because of this "gatekeeper" concept, however I still am unsure how it would go with a large scale development.

Probably the biggest downside to Git is that it's pretty darn obscure. Apparently the last two years have been spent trying to make it usable by anyone except Linus Torvalds. The Windows ports are relatively poor and non-Windowsy, but they do work.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Crispin, Porter + Bogusky hit another home run -- this time with Vista

From the guys who brought you Whopper Freakout...






How do you convince the public that Vista is a good product?

Why, you tell them it's not Vista.

http://www.mojaveexperiment.com/

Edit: I just noticed the extremely angry customer at around 7 minutes in Whopper Freakout has a "Mojave Electric" shirt on. I wonder if that's where they came up with Mojave for the code name of the next version of Windows!

One more edit... a blog post about Mojave reminded me of this classic Chris Farley skit.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where and why cloud computing will be successful in "the enterprise"

So with regards to yesterday's EC2 post, I have a few more thoughts.

Cloud computing isn't a panacea. I agree with those who think that major enterprises won't be headed there anytime soon (at least on the scale Microsoft or Amazon may be hoping for). Small startups like SmugMug have nothing to lose by going with S3. On the other end of the spectrum, it takes a long time to steer the Titanic QE II. Thing is, people at Fortune 500 companies often innovate by way of subversion, not by committee. Today's story:

After yesterday's EC2 experience, I thought I'd find out how easy it was to replicate it on my company's private "cloud" -- i.e. VMWare and several racks. Could I make an image, store it somewhere, then fire it up anytime I needed to try something out? It turned out that it wasn't that simple. The virtual host allocation process was one of regiment. I think I'll be able to get it set up, but it might be a few days because other projects might have those processors reserved, etc.

I think my company will come around to this, but IT processes in large companies are designed to be careful and slow so as not to break things. The risk enterprises run here is not being able to cater to those who need to produce on a dime. Developers -- in my case, hackers -- are the guys who realize at the drop of a hat that they need to see what Idea X can do for them. Do they scour around to try to install everything on their machine (and risk downtime on one's desktop), try to convince their IT department to let them have a virtual machine, search around for a host to take over, or do they just fire up EC2?

This is where companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, whomever, get their start in remote cloud computing for the enterprise.... individuals. I find it highly suspect when people start talking about large companies' IT departments proposing a move like this.

Monday, July 28, 2008

EC2 is awesome

Tonight I wanted to give an open source project a try, and the project is not easy to set up on Windows. Usually that's OK, I just log into a RedHat 9 box I have access to and install it on there. Well, that didn't really work out for this project, since RedHat 9 is old and missing a lot of packages. So I'd have to compile basically everything it depends on, since there are no RPMs available for RH 9 anymore for newer software.

In trying to figure out if there were any other options, I contemplated Virtual PC for a minute or two, or trying to coax an Ubuntu partition on a second machine back to life. Both of these would have taken hours, and I already blew probably 15-20 minutes on figuring out this wasn't going to fly on RH9.

Then I came across a wiki post about the project that described someone saving off an EC2 instance for people to try. After about 5 minutes of trying to find Amazon's awful Java toolset on my machine (since no Java apps come with installers on Windows), I discovered ElasticFox. It was perfect! I just entered in my EC2 login information, selected the public EC2 instance the wiki mentioned (which ElasticFox lists right there), and fired it up. A minute later I'm using the open source app! I played with it for a couple hours, downloaded a couple SVN branches to the instance to see some additional code, then shut down the instance (deleting all of the data). My total bill is $0.20. Hey, $0.20 to save all of that time dealing with crappy linux installs.

I never really had thought of this before tonight, but all open source projects should start doing this -- where applicable, i.e. non-GUI server projects like JBoss, Rails, Django, etc. It would make it so much easier to try some of this software than to look up instructions on what you need for your distro, then download all of that crap with apt-get/yum or rebuild stuff that isn't available when you have an older distro.

EC2 and S3 have gotten kind of a bad rap because spammers are using EC2 and S3 had a massive outage about a week ago. However the tech is relatively new and people are only starting to scratch the surface with them. There will be bumps. Now if we could just run Windows in an EC2 instance. Looks like Microsoft might make that work before Amazon.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Apple Critic's iPhone Review

Many of my friends and co-workers were shocked to find out that I bought an iPhone, given that I've been very critical of Apple's high prices for lackluster products. Truth be told, I'm an equal opporunity critic. I can tell you how much Microsoft's -- or Motorola's, or Nokia's, Samsung, HTC, Nintendo, Sony, Linux -- products suck too.

The bottom line is that iPhone 3G is the best fit for my priorities in a device I carry with me at all times. Here are those priorities:
  1. Browse the web or run apps that use web services to get info (e.g. weather, stocks, facebook)
  2. Read and reply to emails
  3. Take calls
  4. Keep everyone's full contact info with me and sync that stuff
  5. Send SMS/IM without having to spell things out on a numeric keypad
  6. Keep my calendar with me

The reality is, most communication I have with people these days isn't over the phone. It's over IM and email. And actually, I mostly hate talking on the phone except to about 10 people in this entire world (I prefer face to face conversations, or written). That's how I arrived at these priorities.

As far as the iPod features go, I pretty much couldn't care less about that. Though the screen is a bit better on the iPhone, 16 GB won't hold all of my music anyway (around 42 GB), nor enough videos and music for a long trip. Without a subscription music service like my ZunePass, I simply don't care about iTunes music store. More on this in the Microsoft section below, and how Microsoft is blowing it.

So you may be disappointed to hear I'm not going to rail the iPhone in this review. I'm pretty happy with it. It lacks a lot of features, complaints about which you can read about in the Gizmodo comments and the like. I don't think serious smartphone users will find iPhone at all acceptable. Someone who uses a Blackberry very seriously for work, for example, will probably not find it to be feature-rich enough for them, or too slow downloading emails.

On the other hand, I commented to a friend the other day that if Steve Jobs could sell a toaster with no slots, he would -- and he'd be successful! Without consideration of price, the population prefers ease to openness, every time. So the fact the iPhone has no expandible memory, cut and paste, open platform, MMS, whatever... these are just meaningless to 99.9% of the population. The iPhone is the most perfectly closed consumer experience ever delivered in a device. If you're a typical consumer and don't know anything about what other smartphones offer, you just want a device to take to a "Genius Bar" when it breaks or the battery dies, then this is the perfect device for you and 200 million other people in this country. End of story.

Most people will like the iPhone itself. So let's take two companies that deserve to be sacked: AT&T and Microsoft.

I'll start with AT&T (aka "The Death Star"). If my #3 priority with a mobile device is to take calls, why should I care about the network quality? Verizon has a great network. I've found it to be remarkable at times where they have coverage and no one else does. Verizon has great coverage everywhere except three key places:

  • My work.
  • My mother's house.
  • My in-law's house.

And my work is covered perfectly by AT&T, since my employer has a microcell for their service in the building. So I pretty much figured I was getting mostly an upgrade in terms of time spent in locations to the performance of the network.

Kinda. Turns out I might have underestimated the importance of the VZ network. I make most of my calls in the car, and AT&T has proven to suck for that in just the first week driving on 280 and 101.

The problem isn't the GSM network. The GSM network has been fine. The problem is AT&T's 3G network. It's like navigating through a pound of Alpine Lace from the deli counter. In a single call the other day, I got 2 drops and at least 2 failed redials when trying to call back. The other night 3G dropped my call while standing still in my house. Nice.

Some cities have UMTS (aka 3G) deployed on 850mhz, like New York. 3G might work a lot better there. But for cities like San Francisco where it's deployed on 1900mhz, it just won't cut it. I was not able to get a solid 3G signal until I got to the airport. For those of you who know San Francisco, you know exactly how bad that is.

The iPhone 3G allows me to turn off the 3G network, but then what was the point of buying an iPhone 3G at all? For those of you who have an iPhone EDGE, I would recommend waiting unless you absolutely need GPS for some reason. Just upgrade your software and you'll get most of the benefits.

Now onto the biggest loser here: Microsoft.

Microsoft has all the money in the world. Seriously, they could buy most countries. They had a, what, 8 year head start with Windows Mobile (nee WinCE)? And still, Windows Mobile sucks ass. It has no streamlined, slick user interface. Put any consumer down for 5 minutes with an iPhone and any Windows Mobile phone. 9 times out of 10, they'll like the iPhone more even though:

  • It has less features than Windows Mobile
  • It has less support than Windows Mobile
  • It's less open for development
  • It doesn't run on your carrier (e.g. Verizon, Sprint)

Given that list of areas WinMo trumps iPhone, wouldn't you say Microsoft must have the worst marketers in the world? How come no one has ever lined up for a Windows Mobile phone, like, ever... in the history of mankind?

Furthermore, Microsoft is blowing any kind of chance to develop an ecosystem around their products.

My iPhone "just works" with my AppleTV and iTunes. If I'm watching a movie on the AppleTV, then I sync my movie to my iPhone, you know what happens.. it actually resumes at the place I left off! How's that for synchronicity? Simple usability features like this go completely unnoticed by Microsoft in developing their entertainment ecosystem -- i.e. Zune and Xbox 360.

The Zune's greatest strength is its subscription music. Yet from my Xbox 360 I can't access anything on the Zune store. I have to plug in my zune to play music from it on the 360, and even then i can't listen to the subscription stuff. The Zune software is great, but it's completely separate from everything else. I install Windows Media player and I still get the stupid URGE store. Microsoft is so inconsistent with all of this it's ridiculous.

Microsoft needs a healthy dose of reality for bringing all of this stuff together. They have the ability and money. Now it's time for someone with a clue about consumer products to take over the reins. J Allard is the closest thing they've ever had to this person, and maybe he's the right guy. If Microsoft comes out with a Zune phone -- and marketing wise they might want to drop the Zune name for that -- they should also drop all separation between Xbox Live, Zune, Windows Media, Media Center, and anything else media related and sell it all as one slick product to work with your Zune phone. Why does Microsoft cater to third parties like they did with Urge and PlaysForSure? Screw all that, make an amazing product in a closed system that Steve Jobs adores and maybe you'll finally get consumers on your side. Closed but easy, that's what people want and Microsoft hasn't figured out at all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

iPhone review coming

As you can tell from my MobileMess post, I can haz iphone.

I've heard that some readers are interested in my review of the iPhone. I'll be posting one later this week, after I've gotten more time with it. Expect exciting analysis of AT&T's 3G coverage and how Microsoft has screwed up badly with mobile!!!1111!!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

MobileMess

Or "MobileMe sucks" or "MobileMe Epic Fail" -- added for googlers.

I declare mobileme officially a complete disaster.

  • Created a new calendar in mobileme, got 15 copies of it on my iPhone.
  • Can't subscribe to other people's public calendars
  • Extremely slow web interface. Just selecting a contact can take 30 seconds to update.
  • ICS cards sent to you can't be added to a calendar (also a limitation on the iPhone itself- WTF?)
  • No easy push of Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo mail. (or calendars or contacts from any of the above)
  • No importing of contacts except via sync (e.g. import from CSV file).
  • No way to sync calendar events from a particular computer to a particular calendar on your MobileMe (e.g. work computer syncs with work calendar).
  • Set up MobileMe on two computers? MobileMe constantly tells you it can't sync because the other computer is syncing. By default it's configured to do this because it will hang on a warn of replacing 5% of your data.
  • Tells you it doesn't support IE when you log in?! If you can't support 85% of the world, you're not ready for launch.
  • And hey, if you install iTunes 7.7, MobileMe is installed. Way to put confidence into every IT administrator in the world to block iTunes.
  • As mentioned by many people, push works intermittently and inconsistently. At night it's working great again, but all day would have huge delays. God help us on Monday morning.
Even if you excuse the interruption of service problems, for a pay web service, MobileMe is an epic fail. I'm considering asking for a refund, or at least complementary service until they work out the major problems.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Life Stats: Driving

Total Miles Driven last 190 days: 7186
Projected amount spent on gas this year: $2,700+

Average Speed: 37.6mph
Projected time spent in car this year: 2 weeks, 1 day, 7 hours

Cost of commuting in Soul Bucks™: $55,071.88



Note: Soul Bucks™ are computed by charging myself $150/hr for my free time. At one point, my employer charged this for my time and I thought it was a good number (that number went has high as $500/$750/$1000/hr, but that's a bit high for free time). I think this number is a good motivator to not waste time. This is why I don't pick up pennies -- the time to do it costs $0.04 in Soul Bucks™.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I should be able to click to download/buy an episode of any show in the last 10 years

And yet I can't.

I want the episode of Conan O'Brien that aired in 2005 where Conan is explaining to the audience that the guests don't get paid. Then they cut to Jeff Goldblum sipping his coffee backstage watching on TV when Conan says that. He throws his coffee cup down, trashes the craft service table, punches a nun, then stumbles out to Conan and yells "That's it O'Brien. No pay, No Goldblum." It's a classic.

Why can't I buy this clip? Why can't I even find it anywhere? I would have at least expected to find it on Youtube. Don't pirates have their Xvid encoders running on all channels 24/7?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Observations on Playground Basketball

I see the same trends over and over when playing pickup games of basketball and wanted to point them out. (I'm guilty of some of these)

Note: These observations do not apply if you have a talent level that of Earl "The Goat" Manigault, people like that win no matter what they do.

  • Behind-the-back passes often go wrong. If one works, it's because you were extremely lucky, not because you're Jason Williams.
  • Zone defense in 5 on 5 games almost never works because no one out there knows how to play it effectively.
  • Hardly anyone looks for picks, so if you're going to set some, know the person you're setting them for.
  • Pick and rolls are extraordinarily effective, but most people do not roll to the basket, they set a pick and then roll outside.
  • The midrange jumper is the most underutilized effective shot out there.
  • Teams who can only shoot the three usually beat teams who only drive, teams who can regularly hit midrange jumpers beat both.
  • Many people don't know how to set up for an outside shot, instead they get the ball and dribble immediately. Then they try to take a three while on the run.
  • A team that turns the ball over once or twice can win. More than two turnovers is almost certainly a loss.
  • Cherry picking works.
  • At many playgrounds, the backboard is more of your friend than the rim.
  • Big men who can shoot the three can pull their man outside, not always post up.

And now for a clarification of the rules -- on the playground:

  • There is no backcourt violation in playground ball.
  • There is no 3 second violation.
  • Offensive fouls are never called.
  • Moving picks are never called.
  • Over the back is very rarely called, much less than it actually happens.
  • If you call a ball out, or call travelling, carrying or double dribble, be prepared for an argument.
  • The offensive player getting hacked repeatedly has the right to ignore those fouls, getting his own rebound each time and then decide the fourth hack one is the one that made him miss the shot. That's his right in this game.

The Daily Grind of Working on Windows

Trimbo [4:59 PM]:
hey, when i freak out my computer so badly that i cna't see my cursor anymore...
Trimbo [5:00 PM]:
how do i get it back?
Trimbo [5:00 PM]:
i've tried lock/unlock
Mr. X [5:00 PM]:
alt+tab?
Trimbo [5:00 PM]:
will a explorer kill/restart do it?
Trimbo [5:00 PM]:
no that doesn't help
Mr. X [5:00 PM]:
um
Mr. X [5:00 PM]:
try win+r, cmd.exe, enter, then toggle full-screen with alt+enter
Mr. X [5:00 PM]:
won't work in vista, though
Trimbo [5:01 PM]:
nope
Mr. X [5:01 PM]:
what'd you do?
Trimbo [5:01 PM]:
i tried explorer kill/restart, nope
Trimbo [5:01 PM]:
and win+r, cmd.exe, etc
Trimbo [5:01 PM]:
reboot here i come
Mr. X [5:02 PM]:
no, I mean, what'd you do to trigger this?
Trimbo [5:02 PM]:
ran about 5 VS [Visual Studio] sessions at once
Trimbo [5:02 PM]:
the computer gave a nice "i'm dying" keyboard beep
Mr. X [5:02 PM]:
next time don't concentrate so much evil in one place
Trimbo [5:02 PM]:
hahahah
Trimbo [5:03 PM]:
i should post this IM exchange to my blog
Trimbo [5:03 PM]:
names removed of course
Mr. X [5:03 PM]:
go for it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Web is Broken

The other day I came across a pretty good/entertaining Anti-Web Rant.

But as I sit here typing this in Blogger's half-assed "WYSIWIG" text editor, where I can't even use the TAB key, I just am reminded of how the web is a completely broken. The user experience is nothing less than completely dreadful. You may say "Oh well, the web is still evolving." The thing is, there's some precedent here towards UI consistency. We've had 25 years of mainstream GUI computers. Not to mention, the very first Mac rolled off the assembly line with something that actually resembled a consistent interface. Apple's legendary Human Interface Guidelines followed soon after. Mac programmers have always taken UI consistency to heart. Yet many of the current Mac users are web programmers, and those guys are creating slickness, not usability. Even the worst MFC apps are more consistent than web pages, DHTML and Flash applications.

On the technology side, yes, the browser is a hodge-podge of hacks. Who would have imagined that in 2008, the standard of a production networked user application would be to create and ship a dynamic language over the wire in order to make a silly UI widget work? Banks are doing this. Fortune 500 companies are doing this. Once upon a time companies like that used to require that guys in horned rimmed glasses, white button down shirts and black ties first prove that their sorting algorithm is O(n log n) before they implement it. And now those same companies hire guys to consume 250 megabytes of dynamically allocated RAM in my browser so my bank can play a video credit card ad while I reconcile my account. That's amazing.

Except, why do people laugh about this and then go back to doing the same old Javascript hacking shit they just complained about? It's like "Hahaha. Oh well, the old adage remains: worse is better. We'll just have to suck it up because 100 billion people have these craptacular browsers. Maybe ECMAScript 4 will make it suck less. I'm going to read Slashdot now. Look at this nifty new hack where you can use XmlHttpRequest to..."

NO.

People out there are trying to make this stuff suck less. Why don't you start using it? Microsoft has come up with a way to code for .NET (including IronRuby and IronPython) in the browser called Silverlight. It doesn't suck, it's a small install, so use it. There's this OpenLaszlo thing that allows you to abstract applications in XML and have them run as either Flash or DHTML. It doesn't suck and requires no install. Use it.

I'm sure a lot of people out there believe that this will fizzle and go away because it's just Microsoft's "Flash clone". I'm here to tell you: nope. It's not going away. I've spent a fair amount of time looking into it now and it will be useful for a great number of existing Microsoft customers. The new 2.0 version is perfect for those who want to deploy lightweight .NET applications to intranet users. At least for the time being, Silverlight is the only browser application framework I've seen that is fairly well thought out and consistent, plus gives you real development tools.

That said, I doubt anything will supplant Flash or AJAX in a year -- however, someone had to start using Flash when there was no Flash. I'm not sure why those same pioneers wouldn't start using Silverlight/JavaFX/Whatever in the face of a very broken web browser experience with the hope to make it just a little better.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Teachers, Firefighters and Nurses again telling me how to vote

Why is it that every time elections roll around, actors playing teachers, firefighters and nurses appear on my TV and tell me how to vote?  Just a few months ago, they were telling me to vote for Prop 93, which as we well know, was a BS proposition (as most are).

More recently I got spam mail to tell me to vote "yes" on proposition B in San Francisco next Tuesday.   I open up the glossy spam mail and again, model/actor teachers, firefighters and nurses are inside smiling away, telling me how to vote.

Proposition B has nothing to do with TF+N.  It has to do with the retirement age of police officers.  Who cares what TF+N think of this proposition -- not that I actually believe that every TF+N in this state agrees with this proposition.  Most probably don't even realize their profession/union is being used this much for political gain.

Seriously, is our election system so broken that the only way people decide whether to vote for something is whether nurses, firefighters and teachers would do it?  I guess if you're going to trot out any three groups of people that can't possibly be hated by a majority of voters, those would be the three.  If I was a TF or N, I'd be pissed.

Over the weekend I'll read the text of these propositions and give you my voting guide, in the remote chance anyone out there is at all interested.  Prop B might actually be a "yes".  Prop A is already a "no".  I've read it, and Prop A exempts everyone over 65 from paying the tax.  Now that's BS.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Brilliant Bipolar LISP programmer

This might be one of the best posts ever on a comp.lang newsgroup.

The Bipolar Lisp Programmer.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Live Mesh

Live Mesh could be either an extremely useful online product, one of the most irrelevant or the most insidious thing Microsoft has ever done.

It begins to solve one of the fundamental desires I have for online sharing, which is direct peer-to-peer sharing of baby photos and videos with my family. When I share photos, the full resolution original that I want to share should just end up on their hard drives. Google's "Hello" service -- which is shutting down on June 11 -- was one of the first and most flawed attempts at something like this. The basic problem is that it required everyone to constantly be logged in to the service long before people started leaving their computers on (or had broadband).

Live Mesh sort of solves this problem by having an intermediate "Live Mesh Desktop". 5 gigs of space on Microsoft servers that acts as an intermediary. When you share something, it ends up on your Mesh Desktop, then gets synced down to the computer of whomever you invite to your folders and sets up a Windows client to sync that folder. You can work on your Live Mesh desktop through a web browser, to see what's there, view stuff (via Silverlight), and manage the folders. Sharing is great because I can simply save to a local folder and it ends up on my Live Mesh. The program syncs it in the background.

We've seen this before, but this time it's built into Windows and supported by Microsoft. Great, right? Why might it end up being irrelevant?

Well, for one thing, I don't think a lot of people are yearning to keep giving essential services over to Microsoft. Although Microsoft does a very good job of making Mesh appealing for those who want sharing because it's so easy to use, there's the dark cloud of critical data being stored at evil, evil Microsoft. Granted, it syncs this stuff locally, but that doesn't change perception.

Second problem is that it doesn't really fit nicely into the media sharing ideals. I would like my family to get and sync the original digital photos so I know they're preserved across the country in NY and Chicago, not just on Microsoft's servers. Great, it does that. At the same time, it's not apparent why this is better than Picasa at first glance, even though Picasa only does JPEG. Picasa has an easy interface for uploading pictures, they have a better previewing system than Live Mesh, etc. Live Mesh is like an OS. To view a picture online through Live Mesh, the Silverlight preview control has to download the whole picture. If I'm storing originals, that could be megs and megs. One more time: for someone to even see what's there before they decide to copy it local (assuming they're not syncing all the time), they would have to download the whole thing to see the preview. Without a clear advantage for things like picture and video sharing, Mesh, at least for sharing media amongst other people, isn't that great (again, assuming your audience doesn't just want to sync the whole thing down).

The third major problem which may make it irrelvant, but also contributes to the third aforementioned thought about the product: Live Mesh is one of the most insidious things I've ever installed on my computer. Frankly, I'm surprised I still have it installed. When you install the Live Mesh client, it opens your machine up for Remote Desktop. If you want to sync folders, you must turn on this feature as well.

Windows has never been a commandline friendly OS, so remote desktop is arguably the most useful feature in Windows for IT professionals. Heretofore, it's a setting that you have complete control over. Someone wants to remote desktop into your machine, they need a password into your machine and a direct connection. It's entirely peer to peer it's simple to block remote desktop with a firewall, and someone would need the IP address of your computer to find you in the first place anyway.

Not so with Live Mesh. Anyone who hacks into your Hotmail account can now directly access your computer! Live Mesh punches a hole through the firewall in order to do this. It's so convenient, in fact, that all you have to do is log into my Mesh account, click on my computer and it will open up a remote desktop in an ActiveX control. Oh goodie.

Granted, it requires you to then log into the computer at that point, but how many people don't have the most secure passwords in the world on their home computers?

Now, for those of you who want Remote Desktop on Vista Home Premium, you can have it. So a lot of people are raving about this feature. But, I have found very few security concerns with this feature. WTF? I don't really understand why Microsoft had to take Live Mesh to the level of enabling Remote Dekstop and not being able to turn it off while keeping the syncing option. Live Mesh is sure to be banned from almost any self-respecting employer's computers soon enough because of this feature.

In any case, Joel Spolsky dismisses Live Mesh as just another syncing platform. Maybe he's right, but in my opinion the syncing issue hasn't been solved, and another difference is that Live Mesh would be one built into Windows. I agree with a lot of what he wrote anyway, and even though I see a lot of potential for the service, I'm not sure I'll use it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Audio Engineering

I love checking out music I've never heard before. One of the reasons I've moved to Zune from Rhapsody (as opposed to Amazon or iTunes) is so I can continue to subscribe to an entire collection of music and take it with me on the go. As a result, I listen to a LOT of bands. It can take time to find music I'd like to give a spin, but I've been trying to listen to at least one or two new bands or albums per workday since ever having Rhapsody (started using it in 2003, switched to Zune Pass in March 2008).

From listening to all of this music, I've developed an opinion about something that I'd like to share: the drums are too loud. Ok, not all the time, but a lot of the time.

Check this out:
  • The drums should not be louder than the singer.
  • The drums should not be louder than the hook.
  • Drumming does not make a melody.
  • And by the way, I used to play drums.
Let's take guidance from the greatest drummer in the world, Neil Peart. Are the drums too loud on Rush albums? No. Where does the core "hook" of a Rush song like Tom Sawyer come from -- a song that prominently features the drums at the beginning? It comes from the keyboard, guitar and Geddy Lee's singing.

Take this band that I'm checking out called The National. I actually really, really like their music. I was in my car both yesterday and today listening to the album The Boxer, and enjoying some songs while the drums are overpowering on many songs. I thought to myself, "Ok, the drummer in this band has to be the brother of the singer or something. There's no other explanation for this prominent, annoying drumming." Sure enough, he is! He's brothers with the guitarist. And my opinion on the best songs -- the ones without overpowering drums -- jives with the "top played" list on Zune. Quelle surprise.

So there you go... the easiest mistake to make when mixing an album is making the drums overpowering. Sure, they get people's attention, but no one ever bought the single "Who Can It Be Now?" by Men at Work for the initial snare drum.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Zune Hatin'

Today there was an article on Ars about the new Zune 2.5 update where even the title expressed its distaste for the device. I just installed the update though and I think it made a device I already like a lot even better.

The main reason I got a Zune is because I wanted subscription music to go. With this new 2.5 release, Microsoft has proved that their "social" idea for the Zune is a pretty cool one, and they're making the music subscription a must-have for Zune owners. The new update allows you to automatically sync all of the music your friends are playing. Since Zune records what you're listening to and gives you the option to share that information with others on your "Zune Card", they just take this information and push the music you've listened to down to other people who have the music subscription.

Now, this might not sound that great reading it here in a blog post, but imagine if you automatically got the music that Paul van Dyk was listening to on his Zune, or Barack Obama, or whoever you want. Right now the Zune guys have offered a few DJs for this purpose, but I can see the possibilities here and they're pretty cool.

Furthermore, Microsoft fixed the gapless playback problem, one of my annoyances with all of these devices over the years and one that Apple took its sweet time fixing for the iPod.

In any case, I don't really get the Zune hating. Microsoft released a software update that does cool stuff with existing hardware. Even for an iPod fan, shouldn't this competition for Apple be applauded?

Friday, April 18, 2008

5 Thoughts inspired by the movie "I Am Legend"

I should put this on my movie blog but this isn't really a review of the movie. The movie is eh.

Thought 1: Yay, someone used 'Scope for a movie again.

Anamorphic photography--aka Panavision, 'Scope, or Anamorphic 2.35. Anamorphic lenses squeeze the picture horizontally so you can still use the full frame of film. You know how on VHS everyone used to get skinny during the credits? That was usually an anamorphic film transferred directly to TV. Of course, we don't have that "skinny people" problem any more because of DVD's letterbox acceptance.

The benefit of 'Scope is that it squeezes that picture into the whole frame of film. This means less grain and a vastly better picture. As someone who has looked at this stuff pixel by pixel, I assure you, it's a meaningful improvement.

On the flip side, the format du jour is Super 35, which wastes a TON of the film frame (about 30%) and then has to be re-squeezed into anamorphic for distribution anyway. It ends up with a very grainy image, one that's hard to manipulate and looks crappier. However, cinematographers love Super 35 because they can use spherical lenses, rather than anamorphic ones that give artifacts like weird rack focuses.

As long as we use film -- which won't be very much longer, I guess -- it would be nice to see people shoot in Panavision some more. Having grown up in the heyday of Panavision, the artifacts it has are something I like, not something I hate. I assume this director felt the same way, although he did shoot some of this movie in Super 35. In fact, some back-to-back shots were done in Panavision then in Super 35. It was a little weird.


Thought 2: We like movies about viruses because the audience has a complex that makes them believe they'll be the one who's immune.

Not much more to say than that. When I watch movies like this, I always start thinking "wow, this could happen, and I could be the only one alive, that would be freaky." The next thought is, "No it won't. There would be a 95% chance I'd be one who dies."


Thought 3: Why does every virus movie mutate into a fucking zombie monster movie?

Here's a riddle for you.... how many killer viruses do you know of that also make people into super strong, nearly invincible night-stalkers? Even among viruses that don't kill, how many have you heard of that do that?

Right. Every virus I know of, including the common cold, turns people into a blubbering mess. Yet in every virus movie made lately, the virus inevitably mutates so that it creates super strong zombies vampire/monster people. WTF.


Thought 4: Production value sells.

A co-worker of mine thinks the future of video gaming is casual gaming. I say it's not. The reason is the same reason the future of movies isn't all small budget indy films: production value sells.

High production value movies sell, just like high production value video games sell, because they're easy to sell. When something has a very high level of appearance which you've spent tens or hundreds of millions developing, it's easier to do what I like to call "engineer a hit." Marketing can take very cool looking imagery and get people to buy it. They can't do that for something that looks like Tetris.

Bottom line, people won't line up overnight to shell out $150 million on launch day of Puzzle Quest, but they will for Halo 3. Now why is that? Production value sells. If you don't have it, you require luck to be successful and luck sucks.

Thought 5: Stop making movies where man's "meddling with nature" is the entire problem.

If Hollywood ran science, we wouldn't have polio or smallpox vaccines, computers, trains, cars, airplanes, nuclear power, a moon landing or any technology with potential downside. After all, wouldn't the polio vaccine seem unreasonably dangerous in the mind of one of these screenwriters, since it uses actual dead polio virus to immunize people? OMG, it could mutate and make zombies!

So chalk up this movie as yet another "god has to fix the mistakes of man" empty vessel. I really had high hopes for this movie, but it was especially weak in trying to make a message that god does the right thing or something like that. In contrast, Terminator is one of my favorite movie series of all time, and it too is a Luddite theme, fearing computers and AI. However, at least it's not trying to point to god while saying "man + technology... bad...bad!!!"

BTW, in "I am Legend", why'd the blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, to keep people from going from Manhattan to Long Island? Yeah, that makes sense. I wouldn't want to go to Syosset anyway.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ahem

Best thing in Vista

The new ClearType fonts: Calibri, Consolas, Cambria, etc. Not that I'd pay $400 for these, but they are a great new feature that comes with Vista and Office 2007.



Of course, you can get them for XP right here, with the 2007 Powerpoint Viewer, or Office Compatibility Pack, but they are still a nice feature that comes with Vista.

In honor of Vista's best feature, I've included these fonts in the template for this blog.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lost, pointless, Sun now getting into codec business

Hey everyone, Sun has a new business strategy... create royalty-free video codecs that no one will use!

So let's check in on Sun's wheel of corporate strategies (original wheel lifted from FSJ):


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Regarding the demographics of my C++ post

I had to turn on comment moderation after my C++ Desktop Applications post hit reddit and got a few thousand visitors and many anonymous comments.

In any case, I started looking into the demographics of who viewed that post.
  • 48.48% Windows
  • 27.41% Linux
  • 22.47% Mac
  • 0.42% iPhone
  • 0.28% FreeBSD
Compare that to the regular inter-nets:
  • 91.51% Windows
  • 4.91% Mac
  • 2.02% Linux
  • iPhone/BSD, too low to count
I also find it interesting because most of my other posts are about Windows-oriented stuff, even though about 80% of the time I spend coding (which is about 15% of the time), I do it in Python.

Furthermore, check out the browser stat:
  • 67.82% Firefox
  • 13.92% Safari
  • 6.16% Opera
  • 5.11% Internet Explorer
  • 5.00% Mozilla
  • 1.05% Konquerer
  • 0.59% Camino
  • 0.03% Galeon
Wow, only 5% using Internet Explorer to view my post, versus 75%+ of mortal inter-webs users who use IE.

Also, of that Firefox demographic: a whole 23.52% are on 3.0 (I am too).

I had to look up Galeon. It's a Gnome project that uses Gecko for rendering. I wonder what inspired that one guy to pick up that browser and start using it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Non C++ Desktop Applications

I'm sitting here trying to use an awful application supplied by one of our vendors that's written in wxPython. It got me thinking, are there any desktop applications not written in C/C++ that you use? Are there any not written in C/C++ that you'd pay for?

I think Windows Live Writer is all in C#, and that's not bad. I wouldn't pay for it, of course. Paint.NET... but again, would you pay for it?

Can't think of many in the .NET or Java worlds. Even Eclipse and Azureus require a C++ UI component, the SWT, to be acceptably usable Java applications.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Kelsey's Road House

One gem in my hometown is a restaurant called The Kelsey Road House, which can be found over on... well... Kelsey Road.

It's referred to as Kelsey's Road House by everyone I know, either because it was once called that or because nearly all restaurants in Chicagoland end with 's. Therefore it's automatic that we append it to all restaurant names as a result. Even today I've been known to refer to fancy restaurants with 's, like "Michael Mina's".

Kelsey's is an underground road house, so there's no real facade to feature, but here are some pictures anyway.

Here's the old-timey looking sign out front.



Here's a picture of their pizza



Above the stairs there's a stained glass picture of the "kelsey girl". This is the outfit the waitresses used to wear there. Of course, this outfit has presumably has earned Kelsey's a number of lawsuits, and this outfit is long gone, but now you know why this restaurant had a lasting impression on prepubescent boys in the early 80s.



Anyway, the point of this post is to note how strange it is when music triggers memories. Today I was listening to a playlist that should just be called the Kelsey's Mix, because it was all of the songs that were on the radio when I was there as a kid.

  • Steely Dan - especially "Peg" and "Hey Nineteen"
  • Chicago
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Genesis
  • And, of course, Gerry Rafferty's legendary tune "Baker Street". This song must have been on "loop" for a couple years.
So if you're ever looking at my Facebook or Zune profile and are wondering how I could possibly be listening to Steely Dan -- which my wife calls "elevator music with no soul" -- now you know. It all comes back to Kelsey's.


ps - their menu looks like it is completely random, however one of the things I used to love there when I was about 8 were their tacos. Not sure if their pizza is as good as it was when that picture was taken about 7 years ago.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hard hitting commentary about globalization

Looks like the guys at Imageworks had some fun making this video

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why ASP.NET is a rip-off.

Every so often, I consider setting up one of my home/toy websites in ASP.NET. Right now, most are using Ruby on Rails and I'm actually running one of them on ASP.NET on Mono on Linux. So I've been known to buy some Windows hosting here and there for some experimentation with ASP.NET.

Why do I never follow through with it? Because ASP.NET is a rip-off.

I've written a bunch of ASP.NET sites at work (mostly web services). At work it made sense to choose ASP.NET because C# is our main tools language, we have a lot of expertise with it and our main platform is Windows. But after a few years of this, I've concluded ASP.NET not made for any kind of sensible web development without those requirements.

Here's why, in a nutshell, that it sucks: ASP.NET was originally designed to try make everything stateful. Just about every problem I have with it is related to design decisions that try to shoehorn that mantra into place. Trying to configure gridviews to sort properly and connect those up to the proper place, etc. Spend about 5 minutes playing with ASP.NET and you'll see what I mean.

The other day at work I was trying to do this, very, VERY simple thing:
  • Query database on page load
  • Set a protected variable on the page to display the image or not
  • In the ASPX code, if my variable is set to true then show an image
That's all. But after mucking around with trying to figure out which Page Event to put the database query, how to structure the <% %> code, and whether I could use <%# Eval() %> in CSS, etc., etc. I finally gave up and used and set the visibility flag directly on that control in Page_Load.

Why is this a colossal failure of ASP.NET, you might ask? Because it required throwing out a trivial chunk of HTML templating that I've been doing for years with the likes of Clearsilver and replacing it with a deep C# class that probably added far more overhead than possibly required for this task.... and introduced a silly controller dependency on the view code to boot!

Another case in point, has anyone ever been able to use Sql/ObjectDataSource for anything beyond trivial queries? It looks like some of this stuff has stellar caching mechanisms... if you're doing the most trivial SELECT statement ever seen. After buying books on ASP.NET, reading all over the web and such, I've concluded that if you want to use ObjectDataSource seriously, the only way to do so is to subclass it.

Don't even get me started on viewstate, by the way. Viewstate is evil and ridiculous.

So frankly, I have no idea how sites like MySpace or Microsoft themselves do it -- how do they actually manage to run a site that large on ASP.NET? It's a mystery to me. The only way I can imagine making those sites work is writing custom HttpHandlers and doing all of the processing in my code, completely throwing out WebControls, DataSets, etc..

At which point I'll have replaced everything about ASP.NET except for writing it in C#.

Although, MySpace has Viewstate turned on for their front page, so I guess they've figured how to make some of this stuff fast... for now. Performance wise, it appears things are getting worse with every .NET Framework release. Google around for "linq performance" and you'll see some reports that the future of data binding in ASP.NET takes upwards of 500% longer than plain old DataReader.

All I've heard is how spectacular Linq is -- and I agree it's great for XML queries -- but it isn't at all straightforward to use and certainly 5x longer queries is unacceptable. But you never hear about that. You see, Microsoft's got a new Visual Studio and a bunch of books to sell you and "MVPs" on the MSDN forums are busy trying to get their "answered your question" votes rather than give critical feedback on deep problems with this stuff.


Jeff Atwood had a very good point about a year ago where he said that choosing a language often means choosing a platform. C# is pretty solid and a fast language, plus Visual Studio is a very nice IDE for editing this stuff. 2008 has great Javascript editing, probably some of the best I've seen.

However, choosing C# means you're choosing ASP.NET as your platform. And let's see what you're into once you do that. You've got development tools at $700 a pop, plus $350 upgrades every other year. Every host you want to set up requires at least a $350 Windows Server Web license. You'll probably run your database on Windows, so that's a couple thousand in licenses, easily.

All that cash for something that, at least in my experience, doesn't make anything easier.
Unless I've got a bunch of C# I need to use, did all of that money spent make development faster or better? No, it won't. And that's why ASP.NET is a rip-off.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

R.E.M. lied to us all

They were supposed to have retired by now.

If you weren't aware of the R.E.M. countdown, my understanding of it was that it was supposed to count down their albums until retirement. I started wondering about it when I saw the liner notes from Life's Rich Pageant.

Here's how it went:

Murmur: 9-9
Reckoning: 7 Chinese Bros. (yes, this is out of order)
Fables of the Reconstruction: Driver 8
Life's Rich Pageant had the word "six" written in the liner notes.
Document: Obviously the cover
Green: The track number for "Stand" was supposed to be a 4, but was replaced by an R.
Out of Time: Low, Low, Low ... three letters, three times, third track

Then it stopped. And they started making really crappy music. And now in 2008 we have like the 5th album from R.E.M. after they're supposed to have gone away, WTF?

This new album does seem to suck less than everything they ever did in the 90s, but still, shouldn't these guys have gone away quietly by now according to their countdown? I hate liars. Plus, the muddled awesomeness of albums like Reckoning and Life's Rich Pageant just make new albums by these guys seem depressing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who are you people?

I'm always curious to find out who could possibly be bored enough to read this blog. So let's take a look at some of the top search keywords that are bringing people here:

"Chernobyl: Life in the Dead Zone" (and variations on that): I once wrote this was a good show, but if you are coming to my blog looking for anti-nuclear sentiment based on the show, you came to the wrong place.

"Mac Mini Power Consumption": Yes, it's true, Vista uses less power than MacOS X when run on the same hardware.

"NVidia Tesla Benchmark": We're about 6 months past when NVidia claimed these machines would be available and still no one has definitive benchmarks for these. Looks like Tesla is just a bunch of vaporware after all. I highly doubt they'll ever ship these for all of the reasons I mentioned anyway.

"Netbeans vs. Silverlight": Whoever is googling this combination is not on my list to hire.

Many Microsoft error messages end up in the keywords because i post them to my blog, so welcome Microsoft error debugging bretheren.

"Is Maggiano's Fancy?": No it's not fancy, and it sucks.

"Nvidia Hat": Hm, should I start selling some to make a little cash on the side?

"Old Windows Explorer in Vista": Sorry pal, you are SOL on that one. You're stuck with Vista's.

"Port Ellen Scotch": Whoever you are, if you have some, I'd like to buy it from you.

"pure virtual function call javaw.exe": If you need to translate this error, here you go: Sun's Java runtime for Windows sucks.

"trimbo timer": Tick, tick tick tick... boom!!

"why have i lost my sense of taste": Too many drugs.