Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Google Translate Meets Google Spreadsheets

I just learned that Google Spreadsheets has added a new function: GoogleTranslate(text,from,to). It works just as you would expect, allowing you to translate from among dozens(?) of languages. While I'm not sure yet how I'd use this feature, I have a hunch it'll be really useful.

Here's a toy example:

Other possibilities: Mix the admin interface idea with translations, to automate the creation of multi-lingual apps; store text on sheet, the translation on another, and create a sort of basic flashcard system.

Arrogance - a novel way to sell beer

In my pursuit of beer tasting I came across Arrogant Bastard Ale.

They have to have one of the cleverest beer sites I've seen to date. It's mostly text, with a landing page that says:

Title: Are You Worthy?

Arrogant Bastard Ale: This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory -- maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it's made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beer will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better. Perhaps you're mouthing your words as you read this.

I just love this notion of taking on the competition with pure attitude. To me, it's simple and effective.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Choosing a publishing platform - Blogs, Wikis, Oh My

I was talking to a client the other day about the best way for him to publish on the web. Two obvious choices are to setup a blog or setup a wiki. But, how should he choose the right platform? After mulling this over, here's the advice I gave him:

Choose blog software your primary goal is the accumulation of information; choose wiki software when your primary goal is refinement of information.

At the risk of over simplifying matters: blogs are for quantity, wikis are for quality.

In other words - while both blogs and wikis are collaborative, and can start with a small seed of content, their finished products can look significantly different.

A few reminders:

  • There's free software for hosting your own blog or wiki available
  • There are free services that allow you to start blogging or wiki'ing with no tech experience needed
  • There are blogging options and wiki options that don't look like traditional blogs or wikis, yet allow you publish information as described above.

A Yom Kippur Thought and Story

Ahhh, the day after Yom Kippur. Has there ever been a day of eating and drinking that's been as wonderful as this one? Forget elaborate meals, just being able to take a sip of water when the thought comes to your mind - what a privilege.

That's actually not the thought I wanted to blog about. I want to mention a thought I had yesterday on the topic of fasting. There are a great many reasons why Jews don't eat and drink on Yom Kippur. I'd like to add one more (which of course, may not be an original thought).

Yom Kippur is a time when you examine the last year and look for behaviors you need to change. It may be tempting to simply write off these bad habits as necessary and part of our basic makeup. At the same time we're doing this introspection, we're resisting the very real temptation to eat and drink. One result of fasting, then, is to concretely demonstrate to ourselves that our minds - not our bodies - are the ones in control. Need proof that you can take on your bad habits? Well, there you go.

Now for the story.

During services our rabbit told us the story of Max Fuchs. I won't risk watering it down here - just watch the 6 minute clip:

Amazing story, eh?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur Begins

In just a few minutes, the holiday of Yom Kippur will begin. Oh yeah, this is a big one. No eating or drinking for 25 hours, and lots of time spent in shul. It's a day that isn't easy to connect with - but one worth the effort.

I found this article to be a useful reminder that making the day meaningful may mean looking for personal ways to connect with it.

I wish you an easy fast, and a meaningful day. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year - G'mar Chatimah Tovah!

Oh, and if for some reason you think you've done anything wrong to me in this last year - you're forgiven. Poof! Any hard feelings I may have had, are gone.

Meeting Zahava Haya

We just got to meet our newest friend, Zahava Haya! Being just a few days old, she doesn't have a whole lot to say. But I can tell you, she's got one heck of a sense of humor - what with surprising her parents by arriving 1 month early and all. I can tell we're going to get along great.

What a perfect, 5 pound, bundle of joy!

A big Mazel Tov to her parents, we're so excited for them!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Site of the day: Hebcal.com

We're in the midst of the Jewish Holiday season, so now more than ever I need to know the exact times the various holidays begin. For years, I've been using hebcal.com. It's a wonderfully simple and effective site.

Along with giving you the most relevant holiday's timing with a single click, you can get a month view, imports for Google Calendar and Outlook and calculate yahrzeits too. My new favorite feature is the super-simple, fridge friendly (read: printable) year view.

They also allow you to embed the info right on your own site or blog - such as the timing info below.

Oy vey, look at the time - I better stop blogging and get ready for Shabbat!

Friday Funnies: Obama ragging on Rahm

I know I've already posted one funny this week, but I can't resist posting another one (yeah, it's been that kind of week).

I happened to get Google results that included an except from this page. Reading the excerpt, caused me to do a double take. When I finally read the whole context, I got a good chuckle:

I'm glad to see the House Democratic Caucus is getting by just fine without my Chief of Staff. (Laughter.) I don't know how many of you were at the Alfalfa dinner, but I pointed out, you know, this whole myth of Rahm being this tough guy, mean, is just not true. At least once a week he spends time teaching profanity to underprivileged children. (Laughter and applause.) So he's got a soft spot.

I wonder if the speech writer comes up with this material, or if they have an expert write the jokes?

Friday Funnies: Star Wars Stormtrooper Photos

This set of star wars stormtrooper action figure photos are absolutely wonderful. They're humorous, and an excellent reminder just how far creativity will take you in photography (and story telling, for that matter). The concept is simple, the results are amazing.

For a fun subset of these photos, check out the what storm troopers do on their day off.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

As usual, I've got stumbleupon to thank for this one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What A Moment

While stumbling yesterday I came across this photo. Check it out, and tell me you aren't just a little bit amazed.

“This photo was taken by photographer Jack Bradley and depicts the exact moment this boy, Harold Whittles, hears for the very first time ever. The doctor treating him has just placed an earpiece in his left ear. Date unknown. “

That's what the deficit looks like?!

Sure, I've heard folks toss out numbers to explain the deficit, but this graph from the Congressional Budget Office is down right amazing to me:

Help, my country has fallen off a cliff, and I can better see why people may be afraid we can't get up.

I've been buying into the invest-our-way-out of the deficit philosophy, and this graph doesn't change that. If you've gone to med school for 3 years, and are hugely in debt, stopping med school won't fix it - finishing, getting a great job, and paying back your loans is the best way to get back in the black. I think the same is true with us.

But still, wow.

Note to self: next time someone goes on and on about the deficit, listen.

Incidentally, I highly recommend you check out the CBO's website and especially their blog. The CBO effectively allows you to listen in on the queries they receive from Congress, and the responses they give. The result is a wonderful form of transparency.

I especially like the blog because in a lot of respects it's written like, well, a blog. Take this cute little nugget from when the head of the CBO was invited to the white house:

People have asked whether it was exciting to meet the President and be in the Oval Office: Yes, and my kids will be jealous when they get back from summer camp and hear about it. Of course, the setting of the conversation and the nature of the participants do not affect CBO’s analysis of health reform legislation. We will continue to work with Members of Congress and their staffs, on both sides of the aisle, to provide cost estimates and other information as health reform legislation is considered.

I guess I also appreciate the somewhat random nature of the posts - from Coast Guard Cutters to housing prices, the CBO has something to say on it all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review: A Walk In The Woods

A Walk In The Woods is Bill Bryson's description of his hike along the Appalachian Trail. It's absolutely classic Bryson. Which is to say it's part travel journal, part educational text and part gut-busting-laugh-out-loud-till-you-cry story. Yeah, it's that good. If you have any interest in hiking, travel, or laughing, you need to read this book.

The previous Bryson book I read was The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, and while it was good, I found it a bit too cynical and biting at times. But not a Walk In The Woods - it seemed to find the right balance between kvetching, admiration, and everything in between.

I'm probably a little biased, as I'd put Bryson as one of my top 5 writers to read. He could probably write out the local telephone directory, and I'd be eager to read it.

Check out this book, and tell me you aren't eager to hit the trail?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gotcha Of The Day: cmd.exe is most definitely not bash

Yesterday, I was happily plugging away on a Windows system using the UnxUtils package to let me work my command line magic. I've found cmd.exe a passable shell environment - what with it's crude tab completion and all.

I wanted to zip up a bunch of files I had worked up, and rather than add to the archive I wanted a fresh archive. So, I typed out a command I regularly use on Linux:

 rm files.zip ; zip -r files.zip wp-content/themes wp-content/plugins

In English, this says: remove the file named files.zip, then zip up the themes and plugins directories into a file named files.zip.

I hit enter, and got some sort of strange warning on the screen. Then I got a sinking feeling. It took a few moments for the gravity of what I had just done to set in. My train of thought went like:

Hmmm, wait a second - ";" isn't a command separator on Windows, like it is on Unix. That means I just ran the command: rm files.zip zip -r .... And this command, is in fact equivalent to: rm -r files.zip files.zip .... And rm -r is a recursive delete.

Holy smokes! I just deleted the exact files I wanted to save, and at the same time, deleted the files.zip backup. Oh Crap!

In the end, this ooops only took a few minutes to recover. There was a recent backup of the files, and many of the files were still open in my editor, so I was able to simply re-save them.

But still, what a scare - it's been a while since I've had one of those.

Note to self: on Windows, use one command at a time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ignorance Is Scary

I don't believe that this video reflects the majority of 9/12 marchers. And, I also don't believe this sort of video could only be made of conservatives (heck, if I looked around YouTube I'm quite certain I could find a similar one about liberals).

But, I do believe this video shows that leaders in both parties have some serious work to do to educate their constituents. To allow this level of ignorance to exist is ludicrous and potentially dangerous.

A Rosh HaShanah Wish

We've finished up Rosh HaShanah and are now in the 10 days of repentance. It seems appropriate then, to reflect back on the last couple of days that have started off this new Jewish year.

Over the two days of Rosh HaShanah I played the role of Gabbia (along with a couple others), which meant I was responsible for distributing various honors, and making sure people were standing in the right place at the right time to actually have these honors. Essentially, I'm played the role of Jewish traffic cop.

On a typical Saturday, we hand out about 10 honors - during Rosh HaShanah this gorws to 40 or 50. The pessimist might suggest that this provides for plenty of opportunities to mess up - give the wrong person the wrong honor; forget to get the right person in the right spot; etc. And in some ways, he's right.

This year, as in years past, there were the usual little glitches, but really, the process went very well. Everyone left services happy.

Thinking through this it occurs to me: it wasn't the absence of problems that made for a pleasant day, but how they were handled. In other words - folks cut me some slack, I cut them some slack, and the result was most excellent.

And so that's my wish for you in the new year: may this be the year that you give a little extra slack to your friends, family (and even me!) and may you get that same slack in return. Lord knows, we all need it at times.

L'Shanah Tovah Umetukah! And here's to a meaningful 10 days.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The First Two Apps To Install On A Windows Box

The other day, I was asked to investigate a Windows based setup. I Remote Desktop'ed in and started poking around. Quickly, I realized I was going to need to install some software to make myself at home and effective. I quickly tired of depending on Windows' Notepad.

I found that by installing the following two apps I was off and running:

  • Notepad2 - This is a tiny, yet featured packed version of notepad. It's lighter-weight than Textpad, and doesn't force me to contend with licensing warnings. Oh, and it's trivial to install - download the zip, copy the .exe into a directory. As a bonus, it has color highlighting for PHP and other languages.
  • UnixTools - OK, technically this isn't really an app. It's really just a zip file that contains a whole bunch of standard Unix commands. For a complete setup, I prefer Cygwin - but cygwin can take forever to install. The UnixTools zip takes a few seconds, and means that basic commands like grep and tail are immediately available.

As I settle in on this machine, I'll no doubt install more software, but for a crufty Unix Geek, the tools above definitely satisfied my short term needs.

Update: Ooh, I think I forgot one more: Firefox. Can't live without it.

Google Chrome Tips

Lately I've been using the Google Chrome browser as my primary window into Gmail. I've found it to be a bit more stable than Firefox, which overtime seems to be brought to its knees by Gmail.

While most of the features of Chrome are pretty standard, I did find these pages helpful in getting me on my way to Chrome-Power-User status:

The White House Blog Shows Some Teeth

I was a bit shocked at the White House blog entry tackling the question about Czars in the administration. It struck me as being quite sharp:

Last week, when the President addressed the Joint Session of Congress in a speech on health reform, he referred to some of the untruths – okay, lies – that have been spread about the plan and sent a clear message to those who seek to undermine his agenda and his presidency with these tactics: "We will call you out." So consider this one of those calls.

Over the past several weeks, we've seen with increasing frequency and volume issues raised around the use of "czars" by this Administration. Although some Members have asked serious questions around the makeup of the White House staff, the bulk of the noise you hear began first with partisan commentators, suggesting that this is somehow a new and sinister development that threatens our democracy.
[...]

But of course, it’s really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s use of "czars", had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration’s use of "czars". Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint "czars" to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges.
[...]

The article goes on to name names, and supply other evidence.

It's hard to believe that about 8 weeks ago the President laughed off the idea of death panels.

I suppose the White House seriously underestimated the web and TV's ability to spread what are essentially conspiracy-theories-of-the-day. To their credit, they have adapted fairly quickly and are taking this kind of chatter seriously.

Folks like the 9/12 marchers wanted to be heard, and I think they got their wish.

Now, if we could just tease apart their real arguments about, say taxes, from their insane ones, about say Obama setting up concentration camps for citizens, I'd be really happy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Google Docs Tutorial - How to not take yourself too seriously

Checkout this intro to Google Docs. It's meant to highlight the basic features of the site, but does so in a way that I found irresistibly cute.

It's easy to want to get all serious with these types of videos, making sure you've clearly stated all the features your site or app offers. This was a fun reminder that's not always the best way to go. Besides, people don't really want to use their app - they want to be happier, or more organized, or get stuff done faster, or in this case, ask a girl out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

4 Mile Run Trail Mystery

Shira and I took a walk on the 4 Mile Run Trail and came across this fenced in column.

It was important enough to fully enclose, yet not of enough consequence to merit a plaque explaining it.

Any ideas what the heck it is?

This section of the trail parallels the WO&D trail, which like the 4 Mile Run train is quite impressive. The wooded surroundings more or less let you forget your proximity to the city, and the trail itself is immaculate. The various creeks that the trail cross over just add to the ambiance.

The whole experience made me proud to live in Arlington.

Ant Hack: From Log Message To Exception

I was annoyed that a particular Ant target I was using was logging its exception, rather than throwing it. This results in a useful error message printed to the screen, yet the task succeeds as though all went just fine.

Here's a work around I put together to capture and analyze the output and turn it into a real failure. Note - other than using some tags from the Ant contrib package, this is all standard stuff.

The basic strategy I used was to capture the task output, read it into a property and then analyze it.

 <delete file="${foo.report.log}"/>
 <record name="${foo.report.log}" action="start"/>
 <!-- ant target that prints out info, but should fail, goes here -->
 <record name="${foo.report.log}" action="stop"/>
 <loadfile srcFile="${foo.report.log}" property='foo.report.content'/>
 <propertyregex property="foo.report.failed"
                input="${foo.report.content}"
                regexp=".*Exception: (.*)"  <!-- You should tweak this exception -->
                select="\1"/>
 <fail if="foo.report.failed"
       message="foo failed: ${foo.report.failed}"/>

Facebook Networked Blogs - Yet another distribution opportunity?

I just took a few minutes and started publishing my blog to the NetworkedBlogs app on Facebook. I know very little about this app, so this may be a bad idea - but I have a strong hunch it isn't.

Does the world need yet another way to find my random writings on the web?

The answer is a definitely maybe.

One of the big lessons I learned about Facebook is that it's an excellent tool for content distribution. Essentially, there's a big segment of folks who would never find my blog on the web, but are glad to browse through it as a Friend on Facebook. The result is that having my blog in Facebook is actually helpful, and not just an act of redundancy mixed with hubris.

And so it goes with NetworkedBlogs. By publishing my content there, yet another slice of audience can find me who might normally not stumble on my blog.

I suppose it all boils down to this: rather than hoping your readers come to you, why don't you go to where your readers hang out?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two Lessons From The US Open

I've been watching way more tennis than usual. Shira has been enjoying the US Open, and for big chunks of it, I've been staring at the TV set by her side. As such, I couldn't help but observe the drama and come away with a few lessons for myself.

Handling The No Win Situation

The whole rise of Melanie Oudin was remarkable. But that final game of hers wasn't as easy to watch. In the end, she was not a happy camper, as her amazing run came to a close with somewhat embarrassingly quick loss.

And who could blame her? She clearly had her nerves to contend with. And who likes to lose, much less get trounced?

With the benefit of hindsight, I think she may have had better success if she had considered changing her goal. What if she decided she wasn't planning on winning. What if she decided she wanted to score X number of points, or win a single set, or maybe just go out and have a good time?

It was easy to get caught up in the hope that she'd perform a miracle and beat Wozniacki. But the reality is, that wasn't going to happen. Maybe with time and practice she'll be #1, but she was the long shot hopeful for a reason.

So the lesson I take away is this: when the odds are impossible, change the game. Pick goals you can succeed at, and find joy in that.

It's Never Too Soon To Rewrite History

I watched Serana William's now famous outburst with the same confusion and amazement as everyone else. Man, did she lose it. And in doing so, it cost her game, set, match and tournament. Youch.

But, what I found truly interesting - and educational, was that (a) she thanked her opponent on the court and wish her good luck, and (b) managed to carry on an amazingly upbeat post-match press conference.

Within minutes of completely losing it, she was back to being positive - talking about learning lessons and how her opponent won because she outplayed her. When a reporter dangled an excuse about the weather in front of her as the cause of the outburst, she told him that was ridiculous.

Like most people, I'm a bit disappointed that she never really said "I'm sorry - I screwed up." Instead, we've gotten the classic apology-like statements we're so used to seeing in politics.

But still, having the discipline to go from being 100% of the rails, to having on your teaching-moment face is quite something else. The lesson I take away here is that this is something that you have to work at, and commit to. And even if inwardly you aren't ready to come to acceptance (you're probably still stuck in anger), outwardly it pays to do it.

Review: Walking The Appalachian Trail

After doing a minuscule amount of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (about 1% of it), and making my way through Bill Bryson's, A Walk In The Woods (a fantastic book, with a reviewing hopefully coming soon) - I got interested in how one actually hikes all 2,100 or so miles of the trail.

How much prep work do you need? How long does it take? How do you manage food drops? What kind of gear do you need? What are the biggest challenges?

These are strictly armchair adventure questions, as I can't imagine dedicating 6 months to a year of my life on nothing other than this one task.

I was hoping that reading Walking The Appalachian Trail, by Larry Luxenberg, would clear up these questions. Alas, it really hasn't.

Larry's approach to the book is to essentially survey hikers who have made the treck and to document their opinions and responses to various topics. This definitely gives you authoritative responses, but I found that the book never really went into depth. It was good at covering the high level aspects of the trail (e.g., it will feel more like a job, than a carefree adventure), but I found the book lacking in details.

If you know little to nothing about the AT, this may be a good place to start. But, if you want to know specifics, I think like me, you'll be left with lots of questions. I give the book a 6 out of 10 - it's somewhat entertaining, but for me, misses the mark.

Friday, September 11, 2009

When A Friend Becomes A Competitor

I get asked all the time, how do I know nobody is going to steal my idea? A while back, a site I follow regularly ran into just this problem.

The Setup

You can read all the details here, but to make this a very short story I'll summarize the issue as:

Site A decides to collaborate with site B; they do; it goes so well that site B decides it can do the service of site A, but even better; site B steals the name of site A and stops communicating with site A

(Got that? Again, this is a very brief one sided view of the story - but for our purposes it should work)

At this point, site A is pissed and publishes his whole side of the story - including personal e-mails - on the web. Things get ugly. While some readers of site A are supportive, a great many are not.

My Two Cents

After much thought, I've come to the conclusion that I think the owner of site A was out of bounds - he shouldn't have publicized the argument and gone all guerrilla warfare on site B. Why? Two reasons:

Reason 1: Normally, I should try to explain this point with a sports analogy. But what do I know about sports? I know programming, so here ya go. In programming, the programming language sets the rules, not the programmer. While the programmer might like to assume the following is true:

  "2" == 2 == 2.0

(In english: the string with the letter 2 equals the integer 2 equals the floating point number 2.0)

Depending on the programming language, this may be true or false. In other words, just because you're used to PHP where the above is true, doesn't mean that you can say the above in C and expect it to work.

What the heck does this have to do with our controversy? Everything. Let's say the rules of business in the US require that if you want to use a name exclusively you have to trademark it - well, then, if you didn't trademark it, and your competitor starts using it, tough noogies. Doesn't matter if you own the domain name, or you were using it first - what matters is the law of the land.

If site A's name was so precious, he should have talked a lawyer and got it protected properly. If he didn't, and he loses the name, he has no one to blame but himself.

Naturally, if A did have his name properly protected, and B started using it, the way to handle the issue isn't publicly, but through proper legal proceedings.

Reason 2. I'm sure the owner of site A was beyond bummed when he thought he had been swindled out of his name and concept. But here's the thing - in my opinion what's going to make his site, and businesses in general, successful isn't a name, or idea in general. No, it's two words: endurance and innovation.

OK, so site B is now offering the same service as site A. The service, in this case is publishing interesting programming examples. This, for a geek is fun to do. But, in a month, or 6 months, or a year, will it still be fun to do? That's where the endurance part comes in. If site A is in it for the long hall, he really doesn't have much to worry about - because offering the service he does is something that takes effort, and statistically speaking, his competition (site B) probably doesn't want to put in all that effort.

Let's suppose though, that site B is just as serious as site A and they both have the endurance side of things down. That's where the innovation part comes in. Sure, site B may be able to coast by on their name or reputation for some time, but if site A is truly being innovative, people will find their way back to site A.

The Verdict

While I sympathize with owner of the site who feels like he was cheated, in the end, I think he was handed a terrific teaching moment - and handled it poorly. If something is important to you in business (or life) don't assume it's protected - invest the time and money to know this. And at the end of the day, it's not the name idea that decides the success of your business, it's just how hard you're will to work, on how creative you're willing to get.

Incidentally, the issue has been since resolved. Site B is no longer using site A's name. Huh, maybe site A's approach was effective after all?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Apple Store Policy Worth Copying

Tonight was my first encounter with the Genius Bar at the Mac store. Heck, it was probably the first time I walked into a Mac store with any sort of purpose at all.

Having experienced it, I have to say, the Genius Bar is, well, a genius idea. Give people fair access to smart employees for their help is an absolutely no-brainer idea. Why doesn't Best Buy do this? Heck, why doesn't Nordstroms or Home Depot do it? Sure, the notion that every employee in your store is ready to help is a great concept, but in reality, having specialists who's only job is support, not sales, is really valuable.

But this post isn't about the Genius Bar. I've only been their once, for all I know, it's a terrible idea.

This post is about another practice I ran into tonight. Here's how it played out:

  1. I walk into the Apple store, dazed and confused looking for the Genius Bar
  2. The place is a buzz with activity, but after a few seconds I make my way back to what looks like a bar where smart folks would hang out
  3. Of course, the bar is surrounded by existing customers - and it hits me, I don't really know what I'm supposed to do next
  4. Then, to my left, an Apple employee asks me how she can help me, and checks me into the Genius Bar

What was cool about this experience was that the person ready to help me wasn't behind the Genius Bar, but was in front of it. As soon as I got close, she could detect my dazed and confused look, and could jump on me. Not only wasn't I forced to interrupt some existing conversation between a customer and tech, but I didn't even have to say anything to get someone's attention.

This idea of putting employees in a strategic, though unlikely location, seems like an exceptionally smart move. I don't know if I got lucky with this, or if this is Apple policy. Either way, I like it.

Blogging From The Field

Here it is, my first official blog post from the an Apple Store. How cool do I feel?

Here are some thoughts going through my head as I wait for my Genius Bar appointment to start:

  • This mac keyboard is funky. Oh, and this mouse is cute.
  • Everything in here is so pretty
  • The Genius Bar - what an awesome idea. Why doesn't anyone else do this?
  • Why is this place always so busy?
  • This is by far the most intimidating store in the mall. All these people seem to belong to a club that I'm not part of
  • I wonder if this browser will save my blogger password and I'll find random posts from individuals on it?
  • Are they going to come over here and ask me if I want to buy a mac? Oh gosh, I hope not.
  • My T-mobile G1 is so chunky compared to the iPhone I picked up. Mine is a Chevy, theirs is a Porsche
  • Where the heck is the Home key on this keyboard?
  • I better stop now, before I miss my appointment...

Oh, this has been actually kind of fun.

The Web Based Boss Key

And here I thought the Boss Key went out with DOS, and yet, TBS shows that it's alive and well on the web.

See what I mean - you're watching TV (or, in my case, doing some important web based video immersion usability analysis) like so:

Hit the big red Boss button, and you get a fake spreadsheet:

The "spreadsheet" even includes the important notes:

What do all these numbers mean? We have no clue.
NOTE: These statistics are totally meaningless. Seriously, don't use them in a real presentation

If there's any lesson to take away from this, it's - if you're site is supposed to be entertaining, then it's worth it to add some unexpected details.

Man, I'm easily entertained today.

A Flat Morning

Uh oh, I think it's going to be one of those days. I hopped in the car to head to minyan this morning, only to get a block away and realize the front left tire was flat.

D'oh.

Think anyone would care if I went back to bed and took today as a loss?

Update: I just completely surrendered my manhood by calling Acura Care to have some Real Man come out and change my tire. I figured, we already pay for the Acura Care service, why not use it? And besides, the amount of time it would take me to change the tire, I could be doing billable work - so isn't it smarter for me to leave it to the pros? Still, I totally feel like a pansy having someone else change my tire. Stupid ego.

Update: I was partially vindicated for taking the chicken way out and calling in the pros. When the tech put on the spare, he found that it was in fact flat. He had to use his compressor to blow it up again. This means, that had I changed it myself I would still have needed to call them, as I don't own a compressor. Or, I could look at it as: I just missed out on a great reason to buy an air compressor!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mercury, Vaccine Safety and Other Swine Flu Questions Answered

My brother Dave sent me this really informative interview that raised and answered various Swine Flu questions.

If you're concerned about the flu or the soon to be released vaccine, this is probably a good place to start your research.

I wasn't able to find this clip with an embedded player, so you have to download it directly. D'oh.

Site of the day: TreasureMyText.com

While poking around LifeHacker I came across TreasureMyText.com. The site's concept is simple: it provides a single source to reliably archive your text messages.

I've actually been wanting a site like this for some time. My mom is a text messaging guru, and between her and the rest of the family, it's become of the standard for exchanging information. Knowing that I'll be able to pull up important bits of information, like phone numbers and dates, even if I delete the messages off my phone, is really handy.

I also think it will be interesting to look back at the collections of messages that are sent during important life events. While a single message may not capture the emotion of a hospitalization or the announcement of a new job, having the stream of all messages exchanged may be able to do just this.

While the service works with any mobile phone, it works especially well with the Android as there's an app that automagically does the archiving for you. Still, if you have an older phone, this service may be especially important as you may have limits as to how many messages you can save.

Oh, and it's the right price to use - free. Go, check it out.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Dose Of Comedy and Drama

Thanks to StumbleUpon I came across these two photos - well, technically, one's a photo album - which touched me.

So here you have it: your comedy of the day and your drama.

Powerful stuff, right?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Diane and Eyal Are Wed

What a wonderful wedding! We're so happy for our cousin Diane, and so glad to welcome Eyal to the family. Their wedding was amazing - the food, the music, the desert - it was all perfect.

Man, did I feel like an old fogie when at midnight, Shira and I headed back to the room - the party was still going strong, with a DJ just taking over on the sound system, and Chicago Hot Dogs being delivered to the crowd. Amazing.

Some photos below - man, did we have a good time...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Diane and Eyal Event

We've been hanging out in Chicago for the last couple days, and having an absolute blast with the family. Last night's party was amazing, with excellent food, dancing and generally an an awesome time.

Photos from the party and today are below...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Walking Chicago With The Fam

Shira and I are in Chicago for my cousin's upcoming wedding and had a chance today to explore the city with my parents and brother. My parents grew up in Chicago, and while we've been to the area a great number of times, we haven't spent all that much time downtown.

My Dad and Mom took us on an informal walking tour of the area. We found out the site of the Woolworths they used to visit on Christmas Eve to watch the chaos, and the park that my Grandpa forbade my dad from taking my mom to (and of course, did).

I also tried to pay special attention to the architecture of the area. Come to think of it, I can recall a city that had such a nice mix of new and interesting buildings interspersed so perfectly among older, classic ones. Even someone like myself who has so little knowledge about this sort of thing could appreciate this.

It was definitely a wonderful way to start off what's sure to be an excellent weekend.

The Republican Leadership Gets A Gayle Quinnell Moment

Remember that moment in the 2008 campaign when Gayle Quinnell explained to John McCain that she didn't trust Obama, because he was an Arab? And McCain's response: "No Ma'am, he's a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States."

While there are still plenty of folks who are, to this very day, terrified of Obama, it was still an important and necessary act for McCain to try to bring his supporters back to Planet Earth again.

I think the Republican leadership is getting the opportunity to do this again.

The White House has announced that it will give a pep talk to students on their first day of school. If I'm understanding the logistics of this, Obama is going to talk from Wakefield High in Arlington, VA. He's picked that school because it's diverse, not well off, yet is managing to improve itself and its students. The goal of the speech is to "urge students to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and to not only stay in school but make the most of it."

Could you criticize this as fluff? Sure, probably. As a high school student, I'm not sure how I would have taken being addressed by the President. I'd probably have had other things on my mind. As an adult, I think it's smart and creative move.

Yet some Republicans have managed to turn this into yet another let's get people terrified about Obama event. The Washington Post cites:

Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said the speech is an effort to "spread President Obama's socialist ideology" and "justify his positions" on health care, the economy and taxes. Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin claimed that "the left has always used kids in public schools as guinea pigs and as junior lobbyists for their social liberal agenda."

And WorldNetDaily goes even farther:

The plans announced by Obama also have been cited as raising the specter of the Civilian National Security Force, to which he's referred several times since his election campaign began, but never fully explained.

"He's recruiting his civilian army. His 'Hitler' youth brigade," wrote one participant in a forum at Free Republic.

"I am not going to compare President Obama to Hitler. We'll leave that to others and you can form your own opinions about them and their analogies. ... However, we can learn a lot from the spread of propaganda in Europe that led to Hitler's power. A key ingredient in that spread of propaganda was through the youth," wrote a blogger at the AmericanElephant.com blog, where the subject of the day was a national "Keep-Your-Child-at-Home-Day."

Oh. My. Gosh. I find this nauseating. And I'd like to believe I'd feel just as sick to my stomach if people were saying these things about Bush.

So, like I said, I think this is the perfect opportunity for the Republican leadership to stand up and say - "Uh, no, you're wrong. We don't agree with Obama's policies, but you guys are way off base here. Way off."

For heavens sake, how ironic is it that the party that prides itself on personality responsibility is demonizing the president for expressing this very same message?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Any Room For A Centrist?

I'm sure you're town-hall-videoed-death-panel-debating-tort-reform-calling out, but in case you're not - check out this clip:

Can there be any room for a centrist at a health care reform town hall meeting

I think the author of the clip absolutely nails it. So, how do you get more voices like this in the debate?

Google's My Maps - A Protest Organizer's Best Friend

Ignoring the politics of the Tea Party Movement for a moment, I have to say, I'm really impressed with their use of Google's My Maps to help plan out their protests. See what I mean?

Their approach highlights some novel best practices:

  • Use the description area to summarize and outline the event
  • Highlight where the protest will start, stop and the route it will take inbtween. This is useful for planning, as well as for folks who show up late.
  • Highlight places where folks can get food/drinks, which is a nice courtesy for out of towners
  • Metro and bus stops are highlighted to make it easy to arrive and leave the event, again, assuming you don't know the area well*
  • Bus dropoff points are suggested to avoid traffic congestion and general confusion
  • Multiple collaborators can manage the map, which means that there's not a single person responsible for maintaining it
  • The high view count (299,000+!) helps to show the general interest in the event
  • The comment section gives folks a chance to coordinate and psyche each other up (or, if you're an outsider, get just a bit scared)
  • The map is embedded on your website, which means that it will be easy to find and makes the website look especially savvy.

Alas, I won't be able to actually attend the rally that day. I bet it's going to be really interesting one, though.

*I think there's just a tiny bit ironic that people protesting the government and how inept and wasteful are using public transportation to get to and from said event.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Save For A Politically Crazy Day

It's so easy to get fired up when reading and writing about politics. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, and have a good laugh.

When that time comes, visit PoliticLOLz.com. Yes, it's a goofy site. And no, it's not really original. But, you should get a chuckle, and that can be priceless.

I was surprised that @BidenNews, the apparently official Vice President Biden news feed, mentioned the site. But, maybe I shouldn't be - this is Biden after all.

Good Enough Is Great For Entrepeneurs

This month's Wired magazine has an excellent article on what they term the Good Enough Revolution. For the small business / entrepreneur, this is an absolute must read.

The article chronicles how various apparently technically inferior products are winning against their high end brethren. The Flip video camera being an excellent example:

After some trial and error, Pure Digital released what it called the Flip Ultra in 2007. The stripped-down camcorder—like the Single Use Digital Camera—had lots of downsides. It captured relatively low-quality 640 x 480 footage at a time when Sony, Panasonic, and Canon were launching camcorders capable of recording in 1080 hi-def. It had a minuscule viewing screen, no color-adjustment features, and only the most rudimentary controls. It didn't even have an optical zoom. But it was small (slightly bigger than a pack of smokes), inexpensive ($150, compared with $800 for a midpriced Sony), and so simple to operate—from recording to uploading—that pretty much anyone could figure it out in roughly 6.7 seconds.
...
Today—just two years later—the Flip Ultra and its subsequent revisions are the best-selling video cameras in the US

The article doesn't just discuss gadgets - military and health care applications are mentioned as well.

One of the key takeaways I had was that this lo-fi approach isn't merely about price. It's not that the Flip was cheap, and Canon's video cameras were expensive - it's that the Flip prioritized simplicity and accessibility above all else. Simplicity and accessibility don't happen by accident, they happen because a great amount of effort went into the design of the product. Still, that effort can be relatively inexpensive compared to cost of developing advanced feature, after advanced feature.

Take a close look at the space your business is in (or the business you want to be in): is there a simple and accessible solution out there yet? If not, why not be the one to create it? And if it doesn't seem possible to come up with a simple and accessible solution, all the better. Your competition will be ignoring the opportunity while you're revolutionizing the industry.

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