Monthly Archives: January 2012

John Scalzi reminds me we are all short timers

OzymandiasJohn Scalzi wrote an “excellent essay today on the impermanence of art”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/01/30/a-small-meditation-on-art-commerce-and-impermanence — none of us know the top 10 books of 100 years ago, or even the authors of the books.

I’m betting the same dynamic holds true in popular music, or in almost every other area of human endeavor. Certainly holds true in software, with obviously even faster aging out.

Enjoy what you are doing today, work with people you like today, help make people’s lives better today, because in the long run, our efforts are largely immaterial.

You could view this as depressing but I view it as wonderfully freeing — don’t worry about making mistakes or heading down the wrong path or looking the fool, in the long run it really doesn’t matter, so take some chances today and try to make a difference now in someone’s life.

Feeling a little contrary today — Taxes, IP, Apple

“Mitt pays $3M+ in taxes a year”:http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-romney-tax-20120125,0,7825338.story — that is a s%^tload of money, whatever the rate. And people want another $3M a year out of him? When I see numbers this size, I wonder more about where it is all going — shouldn’t we spend more time on what the heck the government is doing with all this money? OK yes I am a big fan of fairness and I hate the shenanigans that have gone on at our largest financial institutions, but we ought to spend a lot more time looking at what we are getting for all our tax dollars. I get more outraged about handouts to big banks than I do about this tax rate issue.

“SOPA and PIPA are beyond dangerous”:http://www.slashgear.com/ted-talk-video-on-sopa-and-pipa-makes-it-all-crystal-clear-18209813/ — the whole tech industry has been railing like crazy against these, it sure would be good if the industry would focus instead on how to help content creators protect their IP and get paid for their work. I’d like to see authors and singers and movie directors get paid a lot of money, I think they should be allowed to charge whatever they want for their products, I don’t think any of us have the right to copy their works willy nilly. These industries employ a lot of creative people in good jobs in the USA and I think we should encourage this. It is easy to sit back and pee all over the movie industry and the Senate and House, but we should spend time on more productive activities that help solve the problems.

Apple blows it out. Ok I lied, I am not feeling contrary about Apple at all. Blowing it out of the water, customers love them, competitors in disarray, upside internationally and in PCs, iPad 3 and iPhone 5 and Apple TV opportunities ahead of them. Apple has only their own egos to fear.

The day you stop learning is the day you start dying

My grandfather once told me “The day you stop learning is the day you start dying.” I’ve had a lifelong commitment to education and I am still learning every day. There is so much going on in education, the choices are broader every day, with so many efforts to increase access and lower costs. Some things I’ve been learning about:

* played around this weekend with Apple’s new ibook publisher — Tons of coverage of the event announcing this week, see for instance http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/19/apple-textbook-event/. The goal is noble — allow millions of people to create textbooks, targeting the iPad of course, and dramatically cut the price of textbooks, and the carrying weight of textbooks. The tool works although it is a little buggy yet. I made a first textbook — basically i poured all the portfolio company summaries from the ignition partners website into a textbook format (a tool that would automatically pour CMS content into a textbook would be handy). These textbooks are really just another form of app for the iPad with a dev tool that is substantially friendlier to use than Xcode. If you can author a powerpoint presentation, you can author a textbook. There is nothing super revolutionary about the resultant products but this is a good step towards electronic textbooks.
* signed up for a course at udacity.com — We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we’ve connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Know Labs was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online for very low cost. A few weeks later, over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled in our first class, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” The class was twice profiled by the New York Times and also by other news media. Now we’re a growing team of educators and engineers, on a mission to change the future of education.
* thinking about taking a course at “Digipen”:https://www.digipen.edu/ as well. They’ve done great work, the team for Portal came out of Digipen.
* at Wolf’s advice, learning about the “Dalton research group at the UW”:http://depts.washington.edu/eooptic/. A traditional university setting but exciting content.

My brain’s a little tired but excited about the opportunities!

Another reason why corporations shouldn’t be permitted to make political contributions

From today’s NYT article on Apple’s offshore manufacturing:

“We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries”, a current Apple executive said. “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”

I’m not completely angry about this view, this might be the correct and legitimate attitude for a multinational corporation. But it is clearly not the correct attitude for a US citizen and participant in the political process. Citizens do have an obligation to solve America’s problems.

B&N, I expect more than this

On a table labelled “Noteworthy Fiction” at the downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble I find the following 3 books along with about 20 others:

* “Halo Glasslands”:amazon by Karen Traviss. Based on the hit XBox game, the 8th in the series.
* “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Dominion”:amazon by Eric Van Lustbader. Not a new Bourne novel by the (deceased) Robert Ludlum but something contracted by his estate.
* “The Sixth Man”:amazon by David Baldacci. Baldacci.

These may be incredibly entertaining books, I have no idea (tho based on Amazon reviews I am pretty sure I would hate “Halo Glasslands”). I’m not a book snob. I read tons of escapist fare, I love the Jack Reacher novels, I like Harlan Coben, I read science fiction voraciously, I enjoy YA fiction and graphic novels (or “comic books” as I still call them). I read some highbrow stuff too but I enjoy popular fiction. I’ve read every original Ludlum work, I’ve played Halo, I might even be the target audience for these books.

However, I would never call a Reacher novel “noteworthy”. No one is going to be discussing Lee Child novels 100 years from now in a literature class. I expect something of import on a table labelled “noteworthy”. The latest from a Nobel winner. Man-Booker nominees. Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees. Edgar Award winners. Maybe a Hugo or Nebula award winner. Works that will surprise and challenge me.

B&N has plenty of room, they can have plenty of other tables with bestsellers and hot books and the best beach reads and books for long airplane rides and books for Stephen King fans and movie tie-in books and all the other kinds of books that may sell well and may be entertaining. But dammit, can’t they have a table that shows some thought in its selections, that appeals to people who buy and read a lot of books?

This is (one reason) why retail bookstores are in trouble. There is nothing thoughtful or special about the in-store experience. B&N has taken away book space and given it to Nook displays, calendar displays, DVD sales (really? who pays these prices for DVDs?), in-store cafes, etc etc. They’ve invested nothing as far as I can tell in merchandising and selling books. I buy 100s of physical and ebooks during a year, but I left B&N empty-handed. If B&N can’t get me to buy a book each time I am in their store, they are screwing up, my bar just isn’t that high.

Tools I Want But Don’t Need — January 2012

Since I am semi-retired from Halloween prop-building (tho I still have 2 storage pods full of gear if anyone wants to buy some skeletons, tombstones, etc…) I have not been buying as many tools and workbench gadgets as I used to. If I was buying, I’d be trying these out:

* “Planet Pocket Tool”:http://atwoodknives.blogspot.com/ — small handmade tools with an arty bent. I never have time to follow the site and get in on the deals.
* “Grabber”:http://toolmonger.com/2011/02/14/a-third-hand-with-lots-of-fingers/. indispensable for fat-fingered guys like me.
* “Fathead tweezers”:http://toolmonger.com/2011/02/10/fathead-tweezers/. ANother very nicely machined tool.
* “Blackfire flashlight”:http://www.blackfire-usa.com/proddetail.php?prod=001. Always need a clampy light.
* “Cubify”:http://cubify.com/index.aspx. I would LOVE to have a cost effective 3d printer.
* “Inpection Camera”:https://www.google.com/search?gcx=w&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=cordless+inspection+camera. OK no real use for this but isn’t it cool? I am sure I could justify somehow.

* “Photo Lens Burrito Wrap”:http://www.petapixel.com/2012/01/16/photorito-protect-your-lens-burrito-style/. Seems awesome.

Ignition news roundup — Symplified, Whiptail

First off, we are surving the 2012 Snowpocalypse. Office traffic is light but folks are here.

On the business front, it was “announced that we led a round”:http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/18/ignition-leads-20m-round-in-cloud-security-and-identity-company-symplified/ in “Symplified”:http://www.symplified.com/. Great company building some pretty essential tools to manage employee identity and engagement across the web, can’t imagine how companies manage their voice and presence without this.

We also “joined the investor group”:http://www.geekwire.com/2012/ignition-bankrolls-flash-storage-startup-whiptail behind “Whiptail”:http://www.whiptail.com/, who build high-scale SSD arrays to replace spinning disks. Spinning disks — seems like we will look back at these in 100 years and laugh, or at least class them as a steampunk kind of gadget.

Excited to work with both companies.

Recent software trials — Trello, PicScatter, Tivo iPad

* “Trello”:www.trello.com. I really want to like this, the simple notecard interface is nice. But a little too structured for me, I’d prefer basically free form notes and less database-y feel. And I need an iPad/iPhone app, an iPad version of this could be awesome. Maybe I just really want a little better organization tools in Evernote, I don’t use the Evernote folders and tags much, I don’t really understand when to use tags and when to use folders.
* “Picscatter”:http://picscatter.com/. Great way to create a Facebook timeline header picture.
* The Tivo iPad app seems to work very well. Way easier to use than the onscreen guide and tivo remote. I’ve also used the xfinity/comcast app which is not surprisingly a little clunkier. It is sad how marginalized Tivo has become tho, they really overplayed their hand. Tivo doesn’t seem to have created a win/win partnership opportunity with cable/satellite providers and so they have all created and pushed their own crappy DVRs. I am sure Apple has learned from their iPhone experience and Tivo’s missteps, I would expect Apple to create upside opportunity for their partners and to have much greater success than Tivo.

My current photo backup recommendations

“Johnz”:http://www.igncap.com/who_we_are.html#john-zagula recently asked me about photo backup and sharing strategies.

I’ve settled on two basic schemes for the moment.

* My “autonomic” choice is “backblaze”:backblaze.com tho you could just as well use carbonite or crashplan or any of the other N choices. This is a “set and forget” system — I tell it to backup my hard disk, and it just chugs away all the time and keeps me backed up. If my machine ever explodes or my house burns down, I have a recovery option. Now I’ve never had to test the recovery, so fingers crossed, but I have a plan. And this provides me great backup, but provides no sharing features or even remote use for myself.

* For more intentional sharing and remote use, I use “smugmug”:smugmug.com. A little overkill for amateur photographer, but provides great viewing and sharing features. And integrates well with Aperture or Lightroom. And has a decent iphone app.

An alternatives I’ve considered: Dropbox would be super easy to use if I just cared about my own remote access, and is pretty appealing. But no sharing. But I could dump intentionally shared images up to facebook or flickr. This would not be an unreasonable combination to use.

Mix and match all these as you wish…but I hope you are using something, because it would suck to lose all your photos to a machine failure.

January Books (so far) — Timeless Way, Ventus, Thurber, Last Lecture

A little all over the place so far this month:

* “The Timeless Way of Building”:amazon by Christopher Alexander. Good discussion of a classic design methodology, applies to software as well as architecture. Not a scalable scheme at all — the author argues for intensive customization with great involvement from the intended users — but still important for some classes of projects, and most importantly, talks about the need to really inject character and soul into design, which is important for all projects.
* “Ventus”:amazon by Karl Schroeder. Classic coming of age myth, with a little high fantasy, nanotechnology, and space opera thrown in. Quite engaging.
* “My Life and Hard Times”:amazon by James Thurber. I read this years ago, and it ages well, Thurber was a fine writer. He was a contemporary of my grandfather’s at OSU I believe, so I feel a little personally attached to Thurber and his tales.
* “The Last Lecture”:amazon by Randy Pausch. I had watched part of the lecture some time ago, but finally got to the book, a gift from some nice folks at CMU. If you read only one biographical book this year about a tech industry figure dealing with pancreatic cancer, this is the one to read — a great message by a very thoughtful man.

I read all these in paper versions as I am trying to dig thru the pile of paper on the nightstand. This paper stuff seems so antiquated compared to the Kindle.

Korrio’s work on sports and head injuries is a good step

One of the companies in our portfolio, “Korrio”:https://korrio.com/, is bringing out tools to allow “parents to monitor the brain health of their child athletes”:http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2012/01/startup-korrios-focus-on-head-injuries.html. This is a great step, I wish this had been around when we had young student athletes in the family. You don’t have to dig around very much to see the frightful effects of head impacts in sports, and anything that raises awareness of the issue and provides tools to manage is a very good thing. There is a lot more to do, I’d love to see impact monitors in helmets that track instantaneous and cumulative impact forces, but this is a great first step, awesome to see this work happening.

No time to blog, so here’s a link roundup

* “Cutting the Cord on Cable”:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203550304577138841278154700.html. Wish I could get there but live HD sports still keeps me stuck to cable/satellite provider. I’ve tried the streaming options and they are weak — poor selection of games/sources (I need ESPN/ABC channels + BTN + Fox Sports channels + upcoming Pac12 network), lots of stutter, not HD content. I will probably be one of the last cable subscribers in the country.
* “Men with deep voices lack sperm”:http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-men-deep-voice-lacking-sperm.html. I was a tenor in choir.
* “Do programming puzzles in interviews work?”:http://gadgetopia.com/post/7314. I don’t think I’ve ever asked these kinds of questions, or at least not in 20 years.
* “Gamification sucks”:http://inessential.com/2011/12/23/gamification_sucks. Respect your users.
* “The Verge”:http://www.theverge.com/ and “The Wirecutter”:http://thewirecutter.com/ — good tech sites.
* “If you are busy, you are doing something wrong”:http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/11/if-youre-busy-youre-doing-something-wrong-the-surprisingly-relaxed-lives-of-elite-achievers/.
* “10 new-ish programming languages”:http://www.infoworld.com/d/application-development/10-programming-languages-could-shake-it-181548. WOuld like to learn more about Chapel, haXe, X10, OPA.
* “DSLRs are a dying breed”:http://www.stuckincustoms.com/2012/01/04/dslrs-are-a-dying-breed-3rd-gen-cameras-are-the-future/. Not another “camera phones are going to win” article, but a smarter take on the mirrorless trend.

Every piece of sporting equipment will be instrumented soon

“Rich writes about his biking obsession”:http://www.tongfamily.com/archives/2012/01/bike-bike-bike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bike-bike-bike, I had no idea that you could get power-sensing pedals those days. Guys at Cornell are putting “accelerometers in golf clubs”:http://arxiv.org/abs/1001.0956. Many many groups have put accelerometers in football helmets to study concussions. The NFL is “discussing sensors in balls”:http://scientificathlete.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/sensors-built-into-footballs-could-render-instant-replay-obsolete/.

Given the continued reductions in cost, size, and power needs of sensors, you have to believe that every piece of sporting equipment will be instrumented in the near future. Balls will report their speeds and acceleration, clubs and rackets will report forces applied and where the ball hit, helmets will report impact data and alert coaches as to when players should be pulled off the field. The NFL will know exactly and definitively when a touchdown is scored, when a first down is achieved. Pro sports will use this technology to protect players, to drive even more stats and on-screen graphics and in-stadium pageantry. Recreational equipment providers will use this to sell more gear and better instruction — enthusiasts will buy anything that will improve their game. Youth sports will use this to protect players — parents will spend on child safety.