Compelling reads over the last couple weeks

* Tim on limits — “The most important is that the less you can put into a solution or system, the less risk there is to it failing to provide a return on the investment of time and resources. Conversely, it provides the potential for a higher margin if it is indeed successful.”
* Ballmer on being first — “When Ballmer gets talking about how Microsoft must be first with technology innovations ? which, so far in Microsoft’s history, has not often happened…” — amazing how critics continue to miss the obvious areas where Microsoft was first. The refactoring of the PC industry from vertical all-in-one boxes to today’s horizontal build-your-own didn’t just happen by accident, there is a ton of software innovation that occurred to support and motivate that shift.
* Mini-Microsoft pulls no punches — “Is something rotten in Redmond? Yes! It’s the rotting, fleshy mass of way too many misdirected, underutilized, and unneeded Microsofties.” And on a more prescriptive note: “My humble suggestion: flatten the Microsoft product team management chain.”
* Which ties nicely to some good stuff Tom Evslin has been writing — the flattening of organizations, the flattening of information retrieval.

Cendant — the most evil company?

Man these guys at Cendant are abusive.

Not for the first time, I got a $10 “check” in the mail apparently from Budget Rent A Car. In the fine print on the check it mentions that cashing will activate a membership in the National Home Protection Alliance program.

More fine print on the back. Wow, I also get a 2% rebate on all credit card purchases. Oh capped at $5000 of purchases, but $100 bucks is something. Oh and I get more discounts, and some kind of insurance benefit on household expenses.

Now the kicker. Well on in the fine print, I see it is going to cost me $39.99 a month for all this. $40 a month!!!! My gosh.

The entire piece of mail is designed to deceive. The true nature of the offer is buried in fine print. The casual customer of Budget will think they overpaid or something and are getting a legitimate refund.

I was going to write a letter to the CEO of Budget, suggesting that they might want to stop selling their customer names to Trilegiant, the organization that is sending out this abuse. But of course — Budget and Trilegiant are both subs of Cendant!


Software roundup 2/25/05

Recent items of note:

* One man’s list of blackberry add-ons — Phil’s 411 app gets a nice mention.
* Rootkitrevealer. Not really sure I know how to make the most of this but another nice tool to sniff out malware.
* Haven’t tried Replay Music yet but seems to be the ultimate tool to bypass all the lame DRM in various players
* Another great list of small software utilities — Pricelessware
* Thanks to Jon Udell for the pointer to Linky, a great firefox extension.
* Logparser 2.2. Loved earlier versions, haven’t had time to play with this yet.
* Via Mike Gunderloy, XMLMarker — great little XML editor.

Sadly I have no great utilities to recommend to Steve for home/consumer-oriented backup — I too have a ton of storage at home, I use scripts to copy precious data to backup locations every night, very kludgey but cheap.

mac mini as htpc

So after a week of playing with my new mac mini as my hometheater pc, i am mostly happy. I’ve configured it to grab downloaded AVIs (via bittorrent) off my windows file server — the mac connected pretty easily to windows, in some ways it is easier than connecting two xp machines. Per this guide, i installed vlc to play the downloaded avis — works great. (Wow I had forgotten how easy it is to install apps on the mac).

Still looking for two things to complete the experience:

* a great 10 foot ui for playing avis and dvds. Myth is overkill, i don’t want all the pvr functionality, i just want the 10 foot UI.
* a wireless remote. I have the bluetooth kb and mouse but I want a remote. Maybe this griffin airclick tho it doesn’t seem to be shipping yet?

So just a few more pieces and it will be perfect. And for once the mac is the price leader — compare with windows-based systems that people are building. And of course the mac is the style leader — compare with this ugly brute.

Recent Books

OK while I was sick I found it hard to even read, but a few books did make it through:

* “Samaritan”:amazon by Richard Price. A great story of a guy whose need to help people is his undoing. A great cautionary tale — when you are trying to help people, don’t do it for your own gratification reasons, as this will often cause you to do the wrong things. Really put yourself in their shoes and help them in a way that is about them, not about you.
* “The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 18th Annual Collection”:amazon, editted by Gardner Dozois. Always a great collection — a great way to get names of authors and books that you should read, rather than what the bookstore is promoting.
* “Wolves Eat Dogs”:amazon by Martin Cruz Smith. I have no idea what moscow and the ukraine are like … But gosh, smith is good at transporting you, with very few words. Story drug a little long but great imagery.
* “The Laughing Sutra”:amazon by Mark Salzman. Reco’d by a very smart friend. Interesting story, intertwining of myth and today. But compare/contrast with Martin Cruz Smith title — I never felt transported to China in this book, the imagery and dialog just didn’t do its job, this story could have been set anywhere.

Ignition blog round up 2/14

I’m way behind and so missed a lot of good stuff. But a few things I noticed on Ignition blogs (or blog posts about Ignition or its portfolio)…

* Rich is tracking the emerging voip wars, and the most recent skype device announcement — wow, isn’t this device the kind of thing that HP should have made back in the “HP Way” days?
* The Jobster team has gone live with a company blog.
* A post I’ve been hanging onto for a while, Martin points to a blog all about the best of 2004 and wonders how to make a business out of. Does seem like a natural starting point for a nice little ecommerce business.
* Martin also continues his biodiesel adventure
* One of the folks at Ignition has some Ethiopian family members — here is a cool post on the Ethopic number system, I had no idea.
* Some criticism of Melodeo’s service — not sure I totally agree with, I think the Melodeo offering is a reasonable tradeoff of convenience and fairness, but I understand the point.
* Rich’s pc hardware investigations — iscsi at home and Does SLI matter (yes!). Crap, not only do I not have a water-cooled PC, now I also don’t have iSCSI or an SLI config. I am a loser.
* Martin likes these web radio stations. I’ve never really understood the attraction, I am an ipod and in-car music listener. But I should try.
* Nice press for network magic (disclosure — I’m on the board).
* Fred points to Martin’s posts on tag systems. I am not a believer in tag systems. I think humans just want to do free text searches — let the computers figure out how to parse and tag content. But certainly a lot of heat around tags right now.

Fixing my avalanche blind spot

My Chevy Avalanche has a blind spot in which you can hide Mount Rainer, it is just huge. Backing up has always terrified me as I could easily be running over a child, a horse, a small car, and I’d never know it.

The good folks at Benchmark Motoring helped me out — they installed a rearview camera with fisheye lens, just mounted above the trailer hitch. When I shift into reverse, it takes over the nav screen and displays a rear facing video feed.

I didn’t think it would help that much…but I am hooked. I can’t imagine ever getting any car without this again. Not only is it a great safety feature, but your parallel parking becomes brilliant with this. So much better than a rear view mirror. Highly recommended.

Latest adventures with my sharp aquos

Finally feeling good enough to start tinkering again, and to blog about it.

I’m continuing my odyssey to attach every piece of technology I can to my sharp aquous beast of a tv. My Mac Mini arrived last week and I have it hooked up now to the DVI port. Looks great. The gotchas: Apple saves money by shipping the mini with no cables, so you have to go buy a DVI cable ($70 at least) and a stereo mini-jack cable (Aside — why does Apple even bother putting a speaker in the mac mini???). 2nd gotcha — the sharp defaults to an analog video signal from the pc, and you have to go wade thru the menus to force it to look for a digital signal — seems like this could be auto-detected. The mini makes a great hometheater pc — small, quiet, a fine dvd player. And I have bittorrent running on it to fill up the hard disk with tv content.

For additional fun I plugged a kingston pcmcia hard drive into the pcmcia port on aquous. What a bizarre feature. I can play slide shows and videos off the pccard. Oh and I can take snapshots and video captures of the current signal, as long as it is from a crappy analog input — analog coax, analog s-video. the tv won’t capture the signal from a digital input or from the component inputs, probably to make the mpaa et al happy. So basically it is a really funky and limited DVR. Just goes to show again how much trouble Tivo is in — it is trivial to slam DVR software into any box now, and storage is cheap.

I still have to fill up the hdmi and 1394 inputs…


Been quiet for a while, had a killer bronchitis/flu thing. Lost a week plus to fighting this thing. Don’t get it. Probably worsened by the fact that, 15 years ago, I inhaled an aspirin tablet and had to endure 4 bronchoscopies, a hospital stay, and numerous other indignities, and now have a permananently scarred area in my upper lungs. Ask me for the full story sometime, it has its hilarious moments.