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?