Books — Maelstrom, Third Degree, T is for Trespass

Some airplane reads:

* “Maelstrom”:amazon by Peter Watts. World at risk as cyber/nano/bio advancements spin out of control, helped by misguided human conspirators. The unique part of this tale is the abuse backstory of the protagonist and how that affects her actions. Amazon says 4 stars, might be a bit rich, but a solid effort.
* “Third Degree”:amazon by Greg Iles. OK suspense tale, a control freak rips apart family when events happen out of his control. I am not sure why I bought, Amazon says 3 stars, that is probably about right.
* “T is for Trespass”:amazon by Sue Grafton. First I’ve read in this series, perhaps that was a mistake. When do authors really hit their stride in a detective series? I’d imagine it is probably in the 4th or 5th book, not the 20th. The characters and cases are mundane, the detective misses massive issues to keep the story going, the plot really flags through the middle 50% of the book, this just doesn’t feel like a lot of effort went into it. I was really bored halfway through. Amazon says 4 stars, I’d say 2. Perhaps if I had read others in the series and was familiar with and invested in the characters, I would feel differently.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-30

  • I used Shazam to discover Blinding by Florence And The Machine #shazam #
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  • RT @smartfootball: …USC starting a freshman in Barkley is not a good thing…bodes poorly #
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Quick software/hardware trial notes

* WPTouch plugin for wordpress is awesome. check out from your iphone.
* Messing around with Slingbox finally. Works well tho I had to massively reconfig home network to get rid of routers — configuring to get through one router was reasonable; getting through two was nearly impossible; getting through the three I had in place would have required several PhDs.
* Download Manager Tweak. Probably prefer download statusbar
* Vacuum your firefox db. No idea if this actually did anything. Didn’t seem to make Firefox explode so I guess that is a plus.
* Polymath. Lots of great links to math formatting services for the web.
* Gliffy plugin for wordpress. Seems like it could be useful as well.

Mac vs PC anecdote

My Macbook had a motherboard failure two weeks ago. Both USB ports on left side blown, wifi chipset blown. (Blame Tekkcharge but that is another discussion). Discovered this at about 4pm on a Wednesday, went to and scheduled a genius bar appointment at 830pm same day.

At 830 I roll into the Bellevue Square Apple store, in 30 seconds someone approaches me and logs me in for my appointment. In a few minutes I am at the desk describing my problem. The genius asked me if I had Applecare, I sheepishly admitted not. Crap, I am going to have to pay for this. Wait says the genius, perhaps your MacBook Pro has the faulty NVidia chipset, in which case it is a free warranty motherboard replacement! And indeed, my machine fails the NVidia stress test, so free motherboard for me! The genius says this will in all likelihood fix my problem — but if not, not to worry, once Apple has cracked the case and messed with the motherboard, if the system is still failing, it is now their responsibility!!! Awesomeness.

Two days later they called and said the motherboard had been replaced but one of my RAM sticks was faulty, and so they were going to replace that as well. For free.

Within a week I got the machine back. New motherboard. New RAM stick. My hard disk and software safely untouched. Total cost to me: $0. The only complication was discovering that Aperture would not run, the activation logic ties the product guid to the processor guid, and so Aperture felt it was not a licensed install. again, scheduled a callback, in one minute an Apple rep called and we were finally able to resolve (they were going to get me a new activation once we established my proof of ownership, but I eventually found the original install media).

OK so the MacBook Pro is way more expensive than a PC but I just got hundreds of dollars of parts and service out of warranty for free. And, despite a tragic hardware error, I lost no data, and had the machine fixed locally in under a week. Basically the extra costs for the Mac represent prepaid parts, prepaid service, and retail store staffing to make the lifetime experience of owning a Mac painless.

I don’t even know how to replicate this in the PC world. BestBuy is the remaining significant retailer of PCs. And the service levels are dramatically different. You can’t get much in the way of service there, when we had a broken PC purchased through BestBuy it got shipped away for repair, and took weeks. And just the simplest store experience in BestBuy is worlds different. I was in BestBuy this morning to buy a microSD card reader. I found what I wanted easily enough and went to the checkout. There were two checkers working, each busy. 4 of us in line waiting to checkout. One checker finished with her customer, and apparently decided it was breaktime, and left her station and wandered away. 4 of us in line waiting with money in hand, just needing someone to give it to. The other checker was involved in some complicated transaction so we wait and wait. Meanwhile there are 10s of BestBuy employees walking through the store all doing super important things. I finally spot one and yell across 30 feet of floorspace “Hey, can we get some checkout help here, 4 of us are waiting?” She looks around for someone to help us and goes back to what she was doing. !!!! Finally she comes over and starts to help check us out.

If I was running a retail business, I think I would instruct my employees that job 1 is taking money from people who want to give it to us. Apparently that is not the BestBuy priority. I really can’t fathom this, what does BestBuy tell its employees to do all day??

It is not that PC hardware is necessarily terrible (some of it is but some is just fine), or that the software on it is awful (though again some of it is), but the entire experience from purchase through support over the lifetime of the PC is dramatically worse than the experience available from Apple. As a smart guy said to me recently, “PCs are now throwaway”, when they quit working, you really have no choice but to just chuck it in the trash.

Enough ranting. Glad my MacBook is back humming.


I guess I have been a little inattentive to my home network config. I’ve been installing a Slingbox and installation keeps dying during router config. I suspected that I had some unnecessary router complexity. As I dug in, I realized I was putting the Slingbox behind 3 (!) routers — the Moto cablemodem, a Linksys in the wiring closet distributing out to house, and a Dlink wired/wireless in the room with the Slingbox. The odds of me configuring all the port mapping/forwarding correctly for this chain of routers are basically zero. Time to simplify…

Gadget packing

A sad fact of modern life. When I pack for a trip these days, my packing planning and time is dominated by gadget packing.

Just carrying the gadgets isn’t that hard. MacBook, iPhone, Kindle, Canon 5d. Ok I have to plan lenses for the Canon a little, and actually there is a whole endless morass of camera decisions brought on by carrying a good dslr — lenses, filters, cases, tripod, etc. But let’s pretend this all away.

Power is the next challenge. Wall wart for MacBook. Wall and car chargers for iPhone because the iPhone wants to be charged often. Kindle charger if travelling for > 5 days or if not fully charged. Extra canon battery and/or charger. Tried ChargePod as a charging consolidation device for a while but hardware failed. Tried one of the aux battery packs for iPhone, it was not effective.

Ok, next, various connectors for playback and transfer. Earbuds, check. Currently using Shures and happy with them. iPhone USB cable (part of charging kit thankfully). Want to output Macbook video/pix or iPhone video/pix to tv/monitor? Bring the connectors. Need to get photos off canon onto MacBook during trip? CF reader. Oh and a USB flashdrive always helpful.

Long trip? Will need extra CF cards, as well as external USB drive with master photo storage.

Ok that is all the physical. Virtual packing now. Kindle is easy, holds all the books I can read on even the longest trip, and updateable over the air (in the US). Music? My Iphone can’t carry all my music, do I have right playlists and subset? Movies on iPhone? Same issue, do I have the ones I want loaded? Docs — I use google Docs, so easy to get access, as long as I can get wifi. Tv shows? Trying to get slingbox working right now to solve that.

Convergence has allowed me to dump some devices — vidcam (canon or iPhone are fine, and I don’t vid much), nintendo ds (iPhone casual games are fine). Those would have all their own attendant power/connector/media issues.

I use Eagle Creek pouches in various sizes to organize all this. Otherwise you have a mad tangle.

What would make all this better? Clearly better battery life, wireless charging would be great. Great cloud storage with local cache for all media would help. Device convergence is not something I care about, there are reasons why dslrs and ebooks and phones and pcs should be different devices. I will be interested to see what my kit looks like in 5 years.

Books — Modern-day Vikings, City of My Dreams

Scandinavia week, I may be visiting the area this fall:

* “Modern-day Vikings”:amazon by Christina Johansson Robinowitz and Lisa Werner Carr. Subtitled as a practical guide to getting along with Swedes, this book is a brief guide to Swedish history, culture, and manners. A quick and interesting read. 4.5 stars on Amazon, not sure any book in this genre can really be a 4.5 star book, but a useful book.
* “Denmark – Culture Smart!”:amazon by Mark Salmon. Not quite as good as the book above but still useful.
* “City Of My Dreams”:amazon by Per Anders Fogelström. Purportedly a popular novel in Sweden, the tale of a young man coming to Stockholm and living his life during the very early days of the industrial revolution. A poor brutish but honorable existence, with moments of hope, joy, and kindness. A very human tale, 4.5 stars on AMazon. I liked it, much more readable and less overwritten than say Dickens.

Stuff I Want But Don't Need — Leg Lamp edition

Remember the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story?

* USB Aroma Diffuser/Hub/Moodlight — good to see that the tech industry inventive spirit remains alive, with products like this the US economy will remain a juggernaut for years to come.
* Paperclip Lamp. I bet it breaks if you adjust it too many times.
* GSelect. A whole site of overdesigned stuff that I should probably avoid.
* Infinite Attic. To store all the crap I shouldn’t have bought. Sadly I could really use this…

OSU's reloading challenge; helmet schedules

The BigTen Network has a nice page summarizing all the watch lists for this season. Which nicely highlights OSU’s challenge this year — compared to years past, OSU has way too few players on these lists. For OSU to achieve the top 5-10 finish predicted by a lot of pollsters, some relative unknowns are going to have to have breakout seasons. OSU certainly has the talent but will it develop and gel?

BTW, get your helmet schedule here

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-16

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I need to get smarter about the healthcare debate

Having spent way too much time with healthcare providers, insurance companies, etc, in the last 4 years, I certainly support change. Almost any change, change for change’s sake, is worth trying, because the system is not very satisfying right now. We should clearly try to do something. So I am inclined towards supporting the new proposals in Congress. I need to get smarter about the details.

In general, shifting power away from the monied interests — insurance companies, pharma companies, large healthcare organizations — and towards the individuals — patients and doctors — is the right thing to do. Do the proposals achieve this? I don’t know. Certainly some insurance companies are pissed off which is probably a good sign, tho other pharma and insurance companies are funding support ads which is concerning — if they are so excited about the proposals, it probably means money in their pockets, and that money is coming from someone.

I kind of hate the fact that all these large organizations — pharma, insurance cos, the various NGOs — are even participating in the discussion. My view is that only voters/citizens should participate, it should be illegal for all these other entities to fund ads and lobbying efforts.

Demographics and long term competitiveness in college football

Article in today’s WSJ about “Fasting Dying Cities” and Ohio is all too well represented (though Canton is growing, what is the story there??).

So let’s look at the big picture — college football competitiveness. It is not so much that Ohio and neighboring states are losing population — in fact they are staying pretty constant. So on the one hand, there is no reason to think that the talent pool will get any worse for the recruiting grounds that OSU tends to dominate.

However…the population in Texas, Florida, California continues to grow significantly and therein is a problem. Assuming that physical skills and coaching quality is distributed similarly in both sets of states, the top of the bell curve in the southern states will just continue to have even more great candidates while the midwest states will be flat.

Thankfully we are in a scholarship cap regime, so the leading schools in the southern states just can’t sweep all these kids up — OSU has 8-10 kids on the roster from Florida this year, a couple more from Georgia and Texas. And as population countrywide grows, while scholarship limits stay flat, you have to believe that talent will continue to spread out as it has done in basketball, creating greater parity throughout Division I in the long run.

Also, the southern states are not dominated by a single school the way Ohio is — Florida has UF, Miami, FSU, and all the up and comers like FIA, FAU, UCF, etc; Texas has UT, A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, SMU; California has USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, SJSU, Fresno State, etc. And every neighboring state is trying to poach from these states — Oklahoma and OSU and LSU poaching into Texas, Arizonas and Oregons and Washingtons poaching into California, etc. This happens in Ohio too of course, Michigan and ND and PSU poach into Ohio, and increasingly Pitt and MSU and Cincinnati. Thankfully IU and Kentucky are kind of moribund.

So long term — I suspect OSU can hold its own; however, you have to assume that the lead institutions in the fastest growing, high population states will have a builtin advantage due to a greater talent pool around them — UF, UT, and USC. OSU will have to work hard to maintain at this level — continuing to dominate Ohio recruiting, picking up great talent from neighboring states, and having a healthy flow of kids from Florida, Texas, California, etc. The pipeline from Florida seems to be working, and there is some representation from Texas though we could do better there. California is thin, and boy that is a long way culturally and geographically for an 18 year old to travel.

Oriented Assembly of Metamaterials — Science

Oriented Assembly of Metamaterials — Stebe et al. 325 5937: 159 — Science — good article.

“Such metamaterials may, for example, be used to create cloaking devices or light-based circuits based on manipulations of local optical electric fields rather than on the flow of electrons.”

“The challenge now is to move from hit-or-miss assemblies of academic interest to the creation of technologically relevant devices that combine particle and patterned assembly via large-scale processes.”

It is this latter challenge I find most interesting.