Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Continuing Caffeine Saga

As a quick update to my earlier post on caffeine, I wanted to mention the Black & Decker Brew 'n' Go coffee maker.  It's easy to use and clean, and makes a good cup of coffee.  In fact, it makes a 16oz mug, which beats those K-cup machines.  It comes with a "travel mug" which looks insulated, but don't try grabbing it right after brewing.  Use the handle.  Trust me.

Also, the first couple of cups may taste a bit gritty or metallic, especially if you ignore the instructions about washing everything out and cycling some plain water through it first.

Finally,
Happy New Year to All!  

We'll be back in 2011 with more whiny complaints and general unpleasantries.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Caffeine and Trade

In an earlier post, I talked about finding sources of caffeine.  I must say I'm tempted by the single-serving coffee makers.  There are some varieties of coffee that taste adequate, and you can't beat the convenience.  I also like the fact that you can whip up different varieties of coffee to satisfy different tastes or moods.

However, I'm really put off by the waste.  The predominant single-serving maker around here seems to be Keurig.  For every 8 oz. cup of coffee, that machine uses up a small plastic cup, a foil lid, a filter bag, plus the actual coffee grounds.  Just look in any office that uses these, and you'll see trash cans and bags full of these little suckers.

But they're so convenient!

What to do?  I was wondering if there's a way to offset the environmental damage of all this waste.  Perhaps by publicly railing against these coffee makers, I can dissuade enough people who might otherwise use them to offset my own use.  Surely getting 5 or 10 others to stop using a Keurig machine would more than make up for my use of one, right?

Can I extend this idea?  Before I started telecommuting, I used to bike to work fairly regularly.  Can I sell offsets for the gas I didn't use, and the emissions I didn't spew into the atmosphere?  Since I have no commute, can I just go for a recreational bike ride and sell the offsets?

It all reminds me of the old joke about the guy who boasted to his friend that he saved $2 every day by running to work behind the bus.  His friend, unimpressed, suggested he could save $15 a day by running behind a taxi.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Traditions

Once again, Christmas is at our throats.  And with it comes the usual barrage of spam from E-tailers, wanting us to know about all their latest specials.  Apple, for example, seems to think everything they do is pretty special, so they continually send me enticing emails inviting me to take advantage of ... THEIR REGULAR PRICES!

Barnes & Noble, on the other hand, is offering me 40% off on whatever I want, so long as what I want is the complete Elf on the Shelf collection, including a book, a doll and, as if that weren't enough, a box!  Elf on the Shelf bills itself as a Christmas tradition ... a tradition dating way back to 2005 or so.  As near as I can determine EotS is more than a book.  It's an industry.  There are, of course, books, dolls, videos, etc. all based on the incredible literary breakthrough of rhyming "elf" with "shelf."

The gist of this industry, apparently, is that you're supposed to delude your kids with the idea that an elf is hiding in your house, reporting their good and bad deeds to Santa.  You're then supposed to hide the doll in various places around the house during the month of December, thus simultaneously fostering their acquisitiveness and their paranoia.  A splendid time is had by all.

Of course, in this day and age, and especially in light of the recent WikiLeaks disclosures, Santa is far more likely to do his information gathering via the Internet.  Perhaps I should publish A Gnome on the Home Page, or A Ghost on the Web Host.

In our house, we prefer our own revered tradition (ca. 2010) of singing Broadway show lyrics to the tunes of various John Williams movie music.  Fiddler on the Roof meets Harry Potter.  Try it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be Demanding

I started getting daily emails from eBay.  eBay Daily Deals they called it.  Why on earth I would want this is beyond me.  I go to eBay when I'm looking for something in particular, or when I want to sell something.  I have no interest in simply browsing eBay to see what I can pick up.  (But Martha, we really needed this combination apple corer and Blu-ray player.)

Anyway, I decided to make the supreme sacrifice of unsubscribing from eBay Daily Deals.  So I clicked the requisite link.  Yes, I really want to unsubscribe.  I was informed that the change might take up to 10 days to take effect.

10 days?  TEN DAYS?!?!?  A lifetime!

I pictured some underpaid clerk, with garters on his shirtsleeves and a sweat-stained green visor, sitting at a tall oak desk with a stack of unsubscription requests to plow though.  I'm sure eBay has a special building just for these clerks ... one with gas lamps and a coal stove.

Hmmm.  I'm having trouble making the segue I want, so let me just jump the rails for a minute.  If things suck, it's because we tolerate it.  We tolerate paying ATM fees so the bank can employ fewer tellers.  We put up with being groped at airports because we're already used to being handled like baggage.  We wait hours for a 10 minute doctor's appointment ... longer if the medical center charges for parking.  We eagerly buy software that destroys our data, and we immunize the makers by agreeing to incredibly lopsided end-user license agreement.  And, of course, we keep all the makers of junk food and soda and cigarettes alive by buying their toxic wares.

Somebody once said "You get the society you deserve," or something like that.  (I don't know.  It's not on the first page of Google.)  In any case, it's profoundly true.  After 15,000 years or so of civilization, we can pretty much conclude that people can be exploitative in the extreme, and corporations are even worse.

So, what does eBay's spam have to do with the rest of this misanthropic rant?  Nothing.  I'm just gearing up for the holidays.

Cheers!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Merger Mania

I must have too much free time.  I just keep thinking of names of companies resulting from the merger of two or more current companies.  Of course, you have to come up with a business model too.  Here are some of mine:

Microbe - Publishing software that infects your computer.
Goohoo - Search engine that's also ... well, a search engine.
IBsoft - Hardware and software.  (Should have happened decades ago.)
Applebook - School supplies.
Amazonic - Maker of the 50-inch plasma Kindle reader.

Got any?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Human Factors

How's THAT for user friendly?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't mess with my email!

So Facebook is going to revolutionize electronic communication? Again? The New York Times quotes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as saying that, in The Times's words, e-mail was too formal, too slow and too cumbersome, especially for young people who had grown up communicating using online chat and text messaging systems.

Too formal?  Have you seen some of the email that ends up on various lists?  Even such staid groups as children's writers, cross-stitchers and cat lovers have email lists liberally peppered with obscenity, vitriol,  innuendo and just plain bad writing. The philosophical conundrum of the age is whether the anonymity of email causes all the mild-mannered Doctors Jekyll on the internet to post like Mr. Hyde.  Formality is not one's first impression.

Perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg is referring to the fact that e-mail encourages you to use actual words and sentences.  Granted this degree of formality seems excessive, but certainly not all e-mailers feel bound by these shackles. I personally receive many e-mails written in reckless disregard for convention or grammar (though admittedly a large percentage of these are proposing sexual hook-ups or various aids for same.)

Too cumbersome, especially for young people?  Evidently, Mr. Zuckerberg does not have parents, and has never seen any.  Young people do not find email cumbersome at all.  They can do it in their sleep.  It's the parents (and grandparents) who barely manage to muddle through.

There may be a case for "too slow" though.  Certainly the anxiety of waiting 30 or even 45 seconds for an e-mail message to cross 11 timezones is too onerous for anyone, let alone an impatient youth.  Surely instant messaging is a necessity in today's world.  Unfortunately, Facebook's track record does not suggest that whatever Mr. Zuckerberg has in mind will be anywhere near instant.

If you ask actual people what's wrong with email, they don't cite speed and convenience as problems.  Rather, the usual complaints are about privacy, security and spam prevention.  Not exactly Facebook's strengths.  Can you imagine sending a private message to your BFF, and having your boss comment and your mother "like" it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Inevitable Fall

Shakespeare wrote: "That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, / Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."  Or, for you text messagers, "ateotd i m ateotd."

But I'm not talking about my age.  I'm talking about autumn in general, and Shakespeare's disparagement of this fine season.  This poem, Sonnet 73, goes on and on about what an old, decrepit wreck the speaker is, and how the listener must really be in love, to love someone so close to death.  Geez, what a drama queen!
I was out biking today where yellow leaves, or none, or few were still hanging on the boughs.  It was freakin' beautiful.  I love autumn.  Days can be cool and clear.  Nights are downright cold, which is great for piling on the blankets.

Now granted, I don't know what autumn is like in Stratford, or what it was like in Shakespeare's day, before climate change made everything go haywire.  But I can't believe autumn in Old England was any worse than winter in New England, and even that doesn't fill me with the moroseness and self-pity that seems to have inspired the Bard.  The man was positively gloomy about autumn.

Oh, wait.  They didn't have football.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Keeping Up

I knew I should have waited for the 3G model.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Electile Dysfunction

It's been a week since the latest U.S. election.  Once again, voters sent a clear mixed message to government.  That message is: "Shape up or ship out.  Unless you're from California.  Or Massachusetts."  Seriously, voters were hot to jettison incumbents out of sheer boredom.  Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party candidates were so much more entertaining than a bunch of boring old incumbents who just pass laws and institute reforms and generally go around incumbing things.

The U.S. House of Representatives switched from a Democratic majority to a Republican one like a warning shot across the bow.  "Come on, Obama.  You've had two years.  Why haven't you fixed everything?"  Of course, voters did not give Republicans enough control to actually institute the changes they want to make.  Hey, they're not that crazy!

Obama clearly got the message, calling the election results a "shellacking" and planning a sequel to his earlier book, The Mendacity of Hype.  Now he's gone to India to try to outsource his job.  Pretty soon, the hotline (Do they still have that?  Who's at the other end?) will answer "Your call is important to us.  Please hold for the next available ..."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Telecommuting Priorities

If you've been working in an office, becoming a telecommuter requires certain adjustments.  You need to accept Casual Friday on Tuesday (and every other day).  You need to find a way to be excited about every bird or squirrel your cats see.  That's the office gossip.

But mainly, you need to find a caffeine delivery system.  I don't mean "delivery" as in some person who brings coffee to your house (though that would be great!)  I mean a system for producing ingestible caffeine, usually in liquid form, and enabling the consumption of that caffeine.

You may have gotten spoiled in the office by having coffee always ready, or even having one of those cup-at-a-time brewing systems that make fresh coffee and landfill at about the same rate.  You may be used to running to your nearest Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts for a dose, but that requires pants, a frivolous luxury for the home worker.

So now you're reduced to having to eke out caffeine from raw materials found in the home.  It's like being on Survivor.  Luckily, The Tech Curmudgeon is here to help.

Let's start by introducing the basic concepts and we can get into the details at a later date.  Most often, caffeine is purchased in a form called coffee.  This is usually either dark, crunchy beans that taste like high priced dirt, or a powder whose very aroma could revive the dead.  There are devices, called grinders, to convert the beans into the powder, usually at the decibel level of a Boeing 777.

Once the powder form has been obtained, the trick is to put it into very close proximity to hot water for some period of time.  Experts differ on how hot the water should be, how long the powder and water should be together, and how to separate the powder from the water so you can drink (the water) without that grit-in-the-teeth sensation of a surfer face-planting on the beach.  We at The Tech Curmudgeon are vigorously researching these questions, and will issue a full report once we have sufficient data.

Meanwhile, we feel it's appropriate to have a special toast for those about to drink coffee, similar to the toasts for alcoholic drinks.  Here's our proposal ...

Zoom!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Elections

In the confusion that followed the 2000 U.S. presidential election, President Clinton said "Never again will Americans be able to say 'My vote doesn't count.'" (Or something like that.  I can't be bothered looking it up.)  Anyway, the real message of that election was just the opposite.  Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision  (Bush v. Gore, 2000), ALL American's can say "My vote doesn't count."  Or more precisely, my vote won't be counted.

But the real bottom line here is that close elections suck.  For one thing, much as we'd like to think elections are a reasonably fair process, all the evidence of 2000 and later elections say it just ain't so.  Registration can be questionable.   Ballots are subject to overvotes and undervotes.  Voting machines and counting machines can have serious defects.  And that's not even considering the human aspects of the process.

There's a huge possibility of an election swinging one way or another based on chance.  Bad weather affects elderly voters more than others.  Exit polling and predictions have an effect on outcomes in later timezones.  And jackbooted thugs kicking down doors of minority homes tends to limit voter turnout among those groups.  In a close election, seemingly minor factors can have a huge effect.

So get your ass out there and vote tomorrow.

Unless you're a Republican.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Miscellanea

In the spirit of this campaign season, I'm going to talk about a bunch of random things that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

I keep getting notices that someone or other is now following me on Twitter.  Really?  Why?  Someone I've never met nor heard of wants to see the random bursts of nonsense that I infrequently tweet?  I have enough trouble following the people I actually know or organizations I actually care about.  Twitter is like buying 800 TVs and having every channel playing at the same time.  Sure, you don't miss anything, but you miss everything.

Why do all the airline ads focus on service, and how caring for their passengers is the top priority?  Everyone knows this is complete crap.  They're really just throwing tubes of human cargo through the air like flying Pringles cans.  Enjoy your flight?  Ha!  Like I'm really going to enjoy six hours wedged between two sumo wrestlers, drinking flat soda and eating stale pretzels while watching the umpteenth rerun of "The Back-up Plan."  I don't think so.

And speaking of campaigns, the theme of this season seems to be "Rational politics don't work.  Let's try stupidity."  Really.  We had eight years of plutocracy under the Bush folks, followed by two years of chaocracy brought to you by the Democrats.  Now, in reaction, the country seems to be getting solidly behind dumbassocracy.

In Massachusetts, there's a ballot question about rolling back sales tax not to the previous 5%, but to 3%.  The 3% is obviously a number someone pulled out of his rear end.  (I take the liberty of using the masculine form, since only a man could be that stupid.)  The argument put forth for this rollback is that government is spending too much.  Get it?  We cut taxes as a way to reduce government spending.  That's like deciding that you're spending too much money on DVDs, and asking your employer for a pay cut to solve the problem.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Procrastination

Um ... I'll get back to you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seven Billion

Various estimates of world population put it pretty close to seven billion.  Give or take a few hundred million.  What the heck does that mean?

Ever go to a sports event in a large stadium?  Fifty thousand people is a reasonable estimate for the the capacity of a good size stadium.  Not counting cheerleaders.  (Actually, going by the Wikipedia List of American Football Stadiums By Capacity, the average is probably higher, but fifty thousand is a nice easy number to work with.)  The larger stadiums seem to hold close to 100,000 fans.  So, for argument's sake, let's say fifty to a hundred thousand (plus the cheerleaders.)

So two stadiums (or one big one) hold 100,000 people.  Picture the lines at those bathrooms!  And that's only 100,000.

So ten times that ... ten or twenty stadiums ... is about a million people.  Ten to twenty football stadiums full of chest-painted, big-foam-finger-wearing, beer-swilling fans ... a million people!

Now take those ten or twenty stadiums, and multiply by 300.  Three to six thousand football stadiums.  That's a lot of football stadiums.  That's like having a football stadium every 25 to 35 miles all across and up and down the entire United States.  Think about it.  Anywhere in the U.S., you're never more than about 20 minutes from a football stadium  And that would be just about enough stadiums to hold every man, woman and child in the U.S.  Three hundred million people.  All watching football.

Now three times that number, 9 to 18 thousand stadiums, that would be about a billion people.

And the world has almost seven times that many!

So is it possible, just possible, that all those people driving cars and flying jets, using TVs and computers, chopping down trees, eating food, burping, cheerleading, etc. just might have some impact on the world's climate?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Apple Products

The success of the iPad has spurred Apple to introduce a new line of oversized products, including:
the big MacBook ...

the big iPhone, and ...

the big iPod Shuffle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Human-unkind

I love humankind.  I really do.  Except on airplanes.

On airplanes, dozens or hundreds of us are packed into rows of seats like corn on the cob, and then instructed to "enjoy" our flight.  I think I have a very different concept of enjoyment.

Now I'm not a small person, but I don't overflow the airplane seat like some people I know.  Who sat next to me.  On a recent long Delta flight.  You know who you are.

So I spent many hours with my upper body listing to port at a 72 degree angle.  That meant I was encroaching on the space of the petite woman on the other side of me, who slept in the most contorted positions imaginable for most of the flight.  It also means I still stand like a hockey stick.

Both seatmates seemed unable to endure the arctic blasts of the plane's circulation, so they covered themselves head to toe during take-off with the blankets provided. It was like traveling between Sulley and Mike Wazowski clad in fire engine red burkas.

Meanwhile, the man in front of me decided to recline his seat back as far as possible, so I could stare at his scalp during what amusingly passes for the in-flight meal.  And if that weren't enough, he decided to raise his arms and stretch during all the climactic moments of what amusingly passes for the in-flight movie.

Between the overflowing burkas and the recumbent stretcher, I felt like that first dollop from a new tube of toothpaste.  Ok, it wasn't like being trapped in an underground mine for three months, but they're out now, and I'll have to get on a plane again.

So no, air travel does not make me feel philanthropic.  Nor does rush hour traffic.  Or restaurant waiting areas.  Or any waiting areas. Or the beach. Or ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ad Hokum

The local airport has "free" WiFi ... free, that is, if you agree to watch a sponsor's ad.  You get a list of sponsors, and you can choose whose ad to watch.

We all know Google's billions are primarily advertising revenue.  Is this the model of the future?  Maybe we can eliminate lots of payments simply by agreeing to watch ads.  Those folks in Tennessee whose house burned down because they failed to pay the annual fire department fee?  Suppose they could simply have agreed to watch a Geico ad in exchange for fire fighting service?  Okay, that's a bit cruel, but some insurance ad.  As long as it wasn't an infomercial, some of their property and pets might have been saved.

Could this model be extended to cover police, sanitation and other services?

Isn't this really the best answer for health care?  The more serious your condition, the longer you're likely to be laid up.  And while you're taking up a hospital bed, you can be watching all the latest Nasonex or Cialis ads.  (Of course, sponsors might not want to cover terminal patients.)

Ultimately, if you can pay for everything by watching ads, then even the goods and services that are advertised will be paid for by watching other ads.  Hmmm.  This has possibilities.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Downsizing

Yeah, we had to downsize to a home cubicle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

I lose my geek bona fides if I don’t respond in some fashion to The Social Network, the new movie that claims to be about the origins of Facebook. I say claims because the movie really follows a typical  manipulative Hollywood plot: nerd loses girl, nerd starts $25 billion company to get even, nerd … well, I won’t spill too much, since obviously the ancient origins of Facebook are shrouded in mystery.

On the official site for the movie, the tag line is: A story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook. Not The story, as in what actually happened. Just A story. I think that about says it all.

You might think watching a bunch of brainiacs type at computers for two hours could get tedious, but this is broken up by thrilling action sequences of lawyers talking in conference rooms.  And yet, I have a number of problems with the film. Specifically,
  1. The flashback approach is interesting, but considering that in the present we jump back and forth between two different lawsuits, the plot gets a bit scrambled. In one suit, founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin are co-defendants, in the other, Saverin is suing Zuckerberg.  Maybe a flashback blocker would help.
  2. Although this movie is inspired by and devoted to nerd-dom, it can’t resist nerd-bashing. In one montage, campus parties abound with unbridled hedonism, while Zuckerberg and his cohorts sit hunched over their computers. The nerd idea of a good time, as shown later, is a hacking competition performed while the contestants drink shots.
  3. I don’t know what former Harvard president Larry Summers is like in real life, but I somehow doubt he’s really Groucho Marx reincarnated (especially since Marx was alive when Summers was born).
  4. Despite his fascination with making Web sites to facilitate relationships and coupling, Zuckerberg himself seems asexual. In fact, he seems completely emotionless  about everything. He just shuffles along while others hurl money at him. A slight trace of a grin after a hasty  sexual encounter is his only hint of libido, and that was apparently brought on by no less an aphrodisiac than a lecture by Bill Gates.
Just as the movie dodges any probing of Zuckerberg's personality or lack thereof, it also begs the central question: Why Facebook? Sean Parker, creator of Napster, is shown taking credit for single-handedly bringing down music industry giants like Tower Records, ignoring the influence of Apple's iTunes or the MP3 format in general.  But outside Hollywood, causes and effects are rarely that simple. Why did Facebook so completely eclipse earlier sites like Friendster and MySpace?  Perhaps the answers are too complex for a glib screenplay.  Maybe we have to resort to the anachronism of reading the book.  
    Though the movie feels like Revenge of the Nerds for grown-ups  (okay, Revenge of the Nerds for anyone), ultimately, it is a morality play, preaching that success leads to sex, drugs, and home repair. Heck, for a few billion dollars, I’ll take that chance.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Microbe?

    I was going to write about the secret of happiness, but the recent revelations about a possible merger between Microsoft and Adobe come first.

    The New York Times reported on a secret meeting between the CEOs of Microsoft and Adobe to discuss how to contain Apple’s growing dominance in mobile devices. Reportedly, a merger between the two giants was one of the options considered.

    Now the really interesting thing about this is that neither Microsoft nor Adobe has any credible mobile device. This would be like Häagen-Dazs and Fruit-of-the-Loom teaming up to take on Toyota.  Apart from Java Chip underwear, what have they got?  Sure, Microsoft has been trying to upset Adobe’s Flash supremacy with Silverlight, but that’s just Microsoft being Microsoft. Actually, Adobe attempted to do the same thing to Macromedia before they relented and took the “If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” route.

    Microsoft has made several unsuccessful forays into the mobile device operating system game, the latest one being on the market for less time than the product announcement took. It seems that having smart phones run the same OS as desktop computers may not be as appealing as having smart phones that are useful.

    As for Adobe, their presence in the mobile market is currently limited to having a few apps that run on various iThings. Adobe has re-invented itself more times than … well, than Apple. First they were the printer software company. Then they were the graphic arts and photo-retouching software company. Then they were the other document company (Xerox being the document company.) Then they were the rich internet applications company. Now they’re the rich internet applications and other documents company.

    Wouldn’t Microsoft be better off marrying Google? At least Google has Android, the principal rival to Apple’s mobile software. Of course, a Microsoft/Google merger would be like a love affair between Glenn Beck and Nancy Pelosi.

    And if Adobe’s going to sell out to some other giant, maybe they should consider Google. At least they’re both in the Internet applications arena. And after all, what are mobile devices but Internet browsers? Even phone calls these days are done over the Internet.

    Anyway, what are they going to call this Microsoft Adobe hybrid? Microbe?

    About that secret of happiness thing? Relax.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Telemarketers

    A point I neglected to make in my post on Telecommuting is that you get to appreciate how many telemarketers flagrantly flout (Like that? Notice I didn’t say “flaunt”.) the Do Not Call lists. Since I put up that cubicle in my living room, I’ve taken dozens of calls from everyone from cat walkers to refinancing operations who can turn my years of equity into abject poverty while I remain on the line.

    But the worst offenders must be chimney sweeps. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but I think there must be roving bands of top hat or derby-clad Cockney blokes wandering all over town. Every call starts with “We’re in your neighborhood …”

    Now I’m as fond of those loveable lads from Mary Poppins as anyone, but one of the reasons I switched from oil to gas was to stop worrying about the constant clean-up of soot, and focus my dwindling attention on the more important things in life, like gas main explosions.

    And speaking of gas main explosions, the other type of telemarketing call I get with great frequency is solicitations to switch my telephone, TV and Internet service from one overpriced company to another. I wouldn’t mind this so much, but half the calls I get are from the company I just switched to. Evidently their high-speed, state-of-the-art, all-encompassing technology has not yet clued in to the fact that we’re already customers.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Education and Entertainment

    Entertainment is education. Unfortunately, the converse is not always true. That’s why made-up words like edutainment are redundant. It’s like saying infodata or buggy software.

    So what makes something entertaining? Usually it’s a story … something with characters the audience cares about facing some conflict. So how can we apply this to teaching something like, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem?

    Pythagoras (from the Greek Pythagoras meaning “a guy whose name is Pythagoras”) had this theorem, which is like a theory but in math. His theorem said that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

    Digging further, we find that in math, a square is something multiplied by itself. Of course, all literature from the Bible on down tells us you can’t multiply by yourself. It takes two to be fruitful. (So when one angle says of another, “Hey, that’s acute angle. We’d be so right together,” it’s not just being complementary.)

    Suppose the sides of a triangle are streets in the heart of a town, and Mr. Pythagoras wants to build a store on one of these streets. Stretch the imagination even further to suppose that each block in this town is a perfect square. This picture sums it up.



    So, if Pythagoras wants the biggest possible store, does he build on East-West Street, or on North-South Street, or on Hypotenuse Street? Pythagoras came up with his famous theorem that the block on Hypotenuse St. is the size of the other two blocks put together.

    But then he said "Screw it!" and decided to build right on the triangle in the middle! He gets more walk-in traffic, and he has three sides facing main streets to put up windows and show off his stuff. If he needs more room, he’ll just build up. Besides, a triangular building will get some interest.

    But then Amazon put him out of business.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    INTJ Comic

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Telecommuting

    One of the benefits of our internet age is the advent of telecommuting (from the Greek tele-, meaning “far”, and the Latin commutare, or “curse at one’s fellow travellers”). Technology has enabled us to enjoy road rage from the comfort of our homes.

    Telecommuting is based on information technology, and typically only applies to information technology jobs. There are few manufacturing workers, for example, who can take advantage:


    Toss that transmission on the conveyor belt and I’ll assemble it when it reaches the bedroom window.

    It’s also challenging for health care professionals:

    Come by the house at 4:00. I can look at that goiter right after “Spongebob.”

    Since telecommuting is a relatively new concept, I thought it would be helpful to share some insights. In particular, …

    The Top Ten Things About Telecommuting:

    • 10 - Garlic bagels for breakfast.
    • 9 - No wasting money on razor blades, shampoo and soap.
    • 8 - Dress casual (or not!) everyday … but watch out for that webcam.
    • 7 - Get your traffic report from Speedtest
    • 6 - Spend quality time and really bond with your cats. (Dogs, gerbils, ferrets, whatever)
    • 5 - Use your commuting time to … work.
    • 4 - Forget the stupid little single serving coffee makers (and their environmental carnage.)
    • 3 - Check email during meetings. Oh, wait … you did that anyway!
    • 2 - Renew your driver’s license when line is not two miles long.

    And the number one thing about telecommuting:

    • 1 - Do the words “executive washroom” mean anything to you?

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Google for TV?

    Someone once said the sum of human knowledge is on the Internet, but not in alphabetical order. This is essentially the problem which made Google a viable business. Information is useless if you can't find what you need when you need it. Anyone who's seen my office understands this.

    Fortunately, there is Google. There are even alternatives, for those who don't care for Google. But the word google itself has now become a generic term for seeking information. And it's how the Internet, or more specifically, the World Wide Web, has been tamed.

    On the other hand, I now have something like 1500 or 1600 channels available on my TV. Ok, I don't actually subscribe to all of them, but they're there if I need them, just a remote control click away. And yet, with all those channels, plus On Demand, I can rarely find something I actually want to watch. (Once you've seen all the reruns of Frazier, Friends, and Everybody Loves Raymond a few times, they wear a bit thin.) I page through the on-screen program guide until my eyes glaze over: four screens of sports channels, a picante helping of Spanish-language channels, a smattering of Golden Age sitcoms and infomercials, and plenty of just plain crap. I swear I'm getting repetitive stress injuries in my Page Up/Page Down operating fingers.

    So what we really need is Google for TV. Think of it. A single screen where you can enter what you want to watch ... and get it. Just type "romantic comedy" when your brain's on sabbatical. "Thriller" gets you those great Brian dePalma movies ... once you scroll past the Michael Jackson videos. "Scifi" brings you to the real thing, Lucas films having been categorized as "space opera." "Cops," "Doctors," and "Lawyers" bring you all the current one-hour dramas, while "mindless" gets you to sitcoms.

    Unfortunately, "news" comes up empty.

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Pump and dump start-ups?

    I'm wondering if the relatively short duration of patent protection, coupled with the ease of contesting a patent, contribute to the pump and dump high-tech culture. People start companies with the business model of developing just enough technology to attract a buyer for the company.

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    I paid, you paid, we all paid for iPad

    Today the much ballyhooed Apple iPad officially goes on sale. Looking much like a large electronic placemat, this device has become the focal point of speculation of the subject of ... well, what the hell use is it? Regarded by some as an overgrown iPod Touch, and by others as a rather limited netbook, it really defies all the traditional (i.e., 3 month old) classifications.

    So of what use is this really? I'm favoring the placemat idea. It would be particularly striking to create an animated table setting with accompanying iPod Touch coasters. But there are many other ideas. Here are at least a dozen:
    1. A remote control that's hard to misplace.
    2. A heavy clipboard. (Clip sold separately.)
    3. A wireless keyboard. (Keyboard sold separately.)
    4. A cat lounge.
    5. An electronic document reader.
    6. An electronic paperweight.
    7. A sticky note board.
    8. A catalyst for the fashion industry's next big thing ... iPants.
    9. A glass table top (when used on top of a non-glass-topped table.)
    10. The world's tiniest sovereign state.
    11. An electronic newspaper. (Newspaper sold separately.)
    12. Ok, I'll have to get back to you on this one ...
    It's rumored that Apple, already buoyed by the iPad's success, is working feverishly on other super-sized products, including a 12" iPhone, a MacBook Futon, and an iPod Shuffle visible to the naked eye.

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    What if ...

    What if, in the fashion industry, tailors decided what each year's garments should be like. What if they added as many buttons, zippers and pockets as they wished, and then called in designers to pick the colors and fabric?

    That's pretty much how the software industry works.

    Friday, February 26, 2010

    Belated Valentine's Day Post

    With Valentine's Day now safely behind us, it's time for the First (And Possibly Last) Annual Belated Valentine's Day Post. Rather the reciting the litany of loved ones, all of whom are dearer and more important to me than I can say, I'm going to write about technology I love.

    In particular, there are two products that are currently my All Time Favorite Products ... this week, at least.

    The first is a recumbent tricycle, better known as a 'bent trike. I started bike commuting a few years ago, and expanded that pursuit into more recreational riding. Once I started riding just for fun, I started thinking about less practical, but more fun human-powered vehicles. In researching this, I wound up borrowing a 'bent trike from some neighbors who just happened to have one sitting in their basement. It was an older model, but still very functional once I made a few adjustments.

    Wow!

    After a few short rides, I was completely hooked on this. The feeling is like sitting in a comfortable lounge chair, and yet being able to zoom around anywhere you want. You're still pedalling, and you still feel it when you're climbing hills, but even then, it's a complete pleasure. Let's face it ... a 150 to 250 pound person balancing 3 feet off the ground on two bike wheels, each about an inch wide, is just not that stable. Sure bikes are very efficient and practical, and once you learn to ride, you never forget. But I live in New England. What about snow? Ice? Wet leaves? The trike has no problem with any of these conditions. You just keep rolling.

    After failing to pursuade my neighbors to part with their trike, I was forced to buy one. My particular trike is a TerraTrike Cruiser with the optional 26" wheel upgrade, but there are plenty of other models to explore. Unfortunately, it's hard to find places to try them out. Ask your neighbors!

    The other item of technology that has endeared itself to me is formally known as the Fujifilm FinePix REAL 3D W1. Most users I know of just call it the 3D Fuji or the W1 or something. I've been taking stereo (3D) photos for over 15 years, but as film got scarcer and harder to process, the options were limited. Nobody made an actual digital 3D camera, and even with a rig cobbled from two separate cameras, it was difficult to get synchronized shots, and even more difficult to view them in 3D.

    The W1 is not only a decent quality (10Mp per image) stereo camera, but it's extremely portable, and has a built-in 3D viewer on the back! That's right, you can see the 3D, without special glasses, right on the back of the camera. Ok, it's not immersive like, say, an IMAX screening of Avatar, but it's still pretty impressive. Since 3D requires a bit more care in composing the shot (objects that are too close or partly cut off cause problems), the viewer on the back provides a great way to quick-check the shots immediately, so you can re-shoot if necessary.

    This is also the most compact 3D camera I've ever seen, and fits nicely in a shirt pocket. For an opportunistic photographer like me, it means I can have it with me at all times ... even when riding my trike!

    I mention these products because I'm getting great pleasure from them. I paid full price for them, and have no relationship with the companies other than being a very satisfied customer.

    See? I'm not such a curmudgeon!

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    Agile Schmagile!

    There's a lot of talk about Agile development in the software world. Basically, this means that instead of planning big projects by figuring out what's needed, and then methodically building it, you take baby steps. You set small goals, and have teams work their butts off to achieve them in a few days or weeks, with frequent brief meetings to keep everyone on track. There's more to it that than, but that's the high-level, non-technical, other-hyphenated-adjective view.

    So what's the point? The point is that things change too fast for classical long (e.g., 12-18 month) software development projects. In the Web market particularly, companies have to react almost daily to changing technology, changing demands, viral cults and fads, etc. Plus, the ability of the Web to deliver upgrades continuously or nearly creates the expectation of constant newness. In theory, atomizing development into projects of a few days' or weeks' scope helps companies be more reactive ... agile! Get it?

    The only problem is that for all its flood of buzzwords (agile, sprint, scrum, stand-ups), Agile methodology (actually, methodologies, as there are already multiple factions with the Agile development world), really just boils down to: do small steps quickly. There's no new idea here. The difference between Agile and more traditional methodologies is one of quantity, not quality.

    Also, many of these methodologies are observed only by lip service. This approach is so trendy that everyone wants to be a part of it, even if only by renaming their status meetings stand-ups, and their now much abbreviated project cycles scrums. I know one place that holds stand-ups in a comfortable lounge area. Everyone sits.

    I can certainly appreciate the goal of formalizing development methodologies. I've seen plenty of utterly chaotic organizations. But in those places where the methodologies are formally applied, they often become more of a hindrance than a help. There's only one methodology I've seen as universally successful: Hire good people!

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Can't Sit Still

    I recently joked that the technical support people in my company were basically like the engineers, but with social skills. This remark was met with great amusement by the support folks. Less so by the engineers.

    I mention this because, although an engineer, I've always taken a certain amount of pride in my social skills. I can create effective presentations, speak comfortably in front of crowds, and parlay my technical knowledge into sales when called upon to do so.

    I can also sit still in meetings. It's a minor point, but I confess I've looked somewhat disparagingly at those who jiggle their appendages while listening to someone else speak. I've sat next to leg shakers and foot waggers, not to mention cell phone fidgeters and that classic type, doodlers. While this is hardly anti-social behavior, it can be a bit distracting. Moreover, it suggests that the mover and shaker is feeling some unease.

    Then I read this New York Times piece. Olivia Judson argues that sitting still is, in fact, unhealthy. Fidgeting, twitching, and even getting up and pacing around are ways to stave off obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Who knew?

    So nervous is the new cool. That will take some getting used to. I'll have to find some ways of making myself uneasy. I'll have to give myself that sense of deep disquiet that overwhelms repose, and spurs the body to action. I'll have to find some way to maintain that perpetual state of anxiety. How can I do that?

    I'll start by reading the rest of the New York Times.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Can't get decent help

    Suppose you hired an assistant to help you with various work and life tasks. Suppose when you asked the assistant to do something for you, he or she would just randomly stop and start doing something else. Suppose the assistant said your task was getting done, but in fact, it wasn't. Suppose when you needed something critical, the assistant has to go shop for some new clothes first.

    So why do we put up with this from our computers?

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    Top level domains

    Why isn't there a .blog top level domain? You know, www.so-and-so.blog or www.whats-his-name.blog or my-stupid-blog.blog, etc.

    For one thing, then you could register your blog name without having to compete with a bunch of adolescent hackers who think they're starting up a goldmine.

    Most importantly, you'd know if the link someone sent you has real content, or just a lot of stupid posts like this one.

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Take Two, Tablets ...

    Regarding the expected Apple tablet, Tony Bradley writes in PC World: "The biggest obstacle to simply using the iPhone as a primary mobile computing device is size."

    Huh? First of all, size is the biggest advantage the iPhone has. You can stick it in a pocket, and have it anywhere. That's the breakthrough that smart phones represent ... that ubiquity. The snazziest laptop in the world is worth squat if it's not with you.

    But secondly, the biggest obstacle to using the iPhone as a mobile device is the lack of text input. Almost any serious communication device requires either voice (e.g., the telephone) or typing. How do you send email? Or tweet? Or update your Facebook status? Ok, the iPhone has a virtual keyboard, but how useful is that?

    True, the Apple tablet will undoubtedly present a much more impressive on-screen keyboard, but really, it's still just tapping your fingers on glass. Personally, I'd rather see a return of something like Palm's Graffiti ... I found that to be at least as fast as typing on a virtual keyboard, and you could hold the device in one hand and "write" with the other.

    I give Apple generally high marks for its innovations, but I don't see how this tablet is going to win. It will have all the cumbersomeness (all the cumber?) of a laptop, combined with the limited input of an iPhone. Aside from displaying a really large mug of beer or a koi pond, what's the advantage?

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Wizards vs. Vampires

    Coming soon: Wizards vs. Vampires in 3D

    This epic battle pits young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) against his one-time rival Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson). Far from being killed by Voldemort, as audiences of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been led to believe, Diggory has morphed into a sexy teen-aged vampire who, inexplicably, is now named Edward Cullen. Mayhem ensues.