Saturday, December 30, 2006

i am The Flash

Thanks to the folks over on the LifeDev blog, I took a superhero quiz this morning to find out I'm Flash of all heroes. I guess I'd better get used to wearing red spandex.

I am The Flash Fast, athletic and flirtatious.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Friday, December 29, 2006

idea for the Gmail team

I'm a huge fan of the Gmail interface, and I especially like that its so easy to access from my Treo 650.

If I could change but one thing, it'd be the "delete all spam" function in the spam folder.

I try to keep my spam folder clean, and I love the "delete all spam messages now" button that appears at the top of the page. However, when I click the button, I'm challenged with an "are you sure?" prompt that requires yet another click. Two clicks to delete all the spam.

However, if I choose to select all messages from the selection menu (that's one click) and then choose delete (that's two clicks), I get the same result.

IMHO, the "now" function should be a one-click function, n'est-ce pas?

Maybe they have those lazy users with pages of spam in mind for the now function?

My DirecTV HD DVR bug workaround

As posted earlier here and here, I'm still having trouble with my DirecTV HR20 HD DVR. In talking with Customer Support and poring over the DBStalk Forum, I've discovered a troubleshooting sequence for the IKD bug (aka the Instant Keep or Delete bug):
  • If your program is infected by the IKD bug (when you try to play, it immediately asks you to keep or delete the program), try to play the infected program several times in a row, answering "no, don't delete" each time. There are reports that this technique has gotten the programs to play... I'm still waiting for the magic to happen to me.
  • If the above doesn't work, try a soft reboot (press the red button in the compartment where the card slot is, front right bottom of the HR20) to see if they'll work... DirecTV Customer Support has this trick in their support script.
  • If all else fails, do a hard reboot (i.e., unplug it from the wall, wait 20 seconds, plug in and power up) to erase the IKD-infected shows from the play list.
Yesterday, the IKD bug struck my HR20 again. Before calling customer service, I tried the above steps and finally had to do a hard reboot and I lost the 12 programs that had been "recorded" in the last day. So, no Scrubs, The Office or 30 Rock this week. And no Windtalker off the HDNet Movies Channel.

I spent 20 min on the phone with Theresa at DirecTV Customer Support last night and she apologized for the inconvenience and reported that the IKD is a known bug and they'll be releasing a software update again soon (per forum, the IKD bug was first reported on 9/27/06). Interesting, I'd heard that promise before.

My HR20 DVR has been running the "latest" software upgrade (ver. 0x10b) since Tues, Dec 19, and according to Jamie, the Tier 2 support rep I spoke with on Dec 15, the latest upgrade was supposed to solve this IKD bug. Needless to say, it hasn't.

I told Theresa (phone call on Dec 28) that I still hadn't been called back by a service tech (from phone call on Dec 15) to help resolve my "disk almost full" problem. She said that's unacceptable and someone will call soon. I'm not waiting for the phone to ring today.

They've once again failed to follow through. I've decided I'm going to call in each time I have problems so as to build a case for their failing to uphold their end of the service contract I've signed. In case I want to switch back to TiVo and splurge on a Series 3, natch.

100 things we didn't know last year...

The BBC has pulled together its list of trivia, pulled together from its Magazine's weekly "10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week" segment.

Among the full list of 100 facts, my favs include:
  • The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions. (more details)
  • When filming summer scenes in winter, actors suck on ice cubes just before the camera rolls - it cools their mouths so their breath doesn't condense in the cold air. (more details)
  • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs is the term for people who fear the number 666.
  • Music can help reduce chronic pain by more than 20% and can alleviate depression by up to 25%. (more details)
... and to settle the argument once and for all:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

DirecTV HR20 HD DVR problems, cont.

Grumble, grumble.

It's now four days since Tier 2 Support at DirecTV informed me I'd be getting the software upgrade that will prevent my DirecTV HR20 HD DVR from skipping recording the shows I've asked it to. Turns out that's not a bad thing, as once the software upgrade comes through, I've been warned I'll lose the ability to get help from Customer Support because they won't know how to support the build (why doesn't this bother me more than it does?)

The good news: I've only had to reboot the machine once since then (because the remote decided to stop functioning, even after fresh batteries were installed). And I've found the DBStalk forums for lots of geeky advice on how to work around issues related to the HR20.

The bad news: My progress bar shows that we have only 15% of our hard drive free due to the phantom "new items" that were recorded but I can't get to thanks to the software bug. And I don't have the frickin' time to be trolling the DBStalk forum trying to get this device to work.

When I visited the web site, I was more than a little surprised to see that "due to unprecedented demand," the DirecTV HD DVR is waitlisted. It's either high demand, or they're still trying to iron out the bugs before shipping more of the units (see what's happening in the DirecTV HD DVR forums).

I see there's a deal over on for a new TiVo Series 3 for "only" $649.99. If I get my purchase price refunded from DirecTV for the malfunctioning equipment, the gap closes to something palatable. It's sorely tempting to jettison the DirecTV HD DVR and go back to good old TiVo, but I'll have to read the fine print on the HR20 purchase agreement to see how long I'm shackled to a poorly functioning device... I'm sure the large switching penalties are tucked in there somewhere.

Friday, December 15, 2006

DirecTV HD DVR recording problems

I just got off a 65 minute call with DirecTV trying (unsuccessfully) to retrieve the last week's worth of "recorded" shows on our DirecTV HR20 HD DVR. Even though I've been credited with a month's worth of programming on our bill, I'm pissed that we've lost a week's worth of shows. What's the use buying a time-shifting device when it's unreliable?

The playlist on our DVR has been filling up as it's supposed to with the names of shows we've asked it to record. Since I've been gone on business, Melanie didn't watch any of the shows so we can watch them together.

When we went to watch the season finale of Amazing Race (recorded last Sunday), we chose the show from our playlist, pressed play and were greeted by a grey screen and an immediate popup of the "Delete Recording?" message that usually comes up when we reach the end of a show that's been recorded.


We tried it on a few other shows in the list, and it was the same thing, no matter whether the show was in Hi-Def or standard-def.

I called the DirecTV support line and the first thing it tells you to do is reset your receiver (the old "reboot" solution). So I did... And I went back to the playlist to find that every single show that was "recorded" since Dec 8 has mysteriously disappeared from our playlist.

Again, WTF!?!?

The disk space indicator on our Playlist indicates that the shows should be there. The History list indicates that the shows were recorded. But there's no way to watch them.

By this time, I'd been shuttled forward to "Tier 2" support for the new-fangled, complex equipment supplied by DirecTV. After 10 minutes on hold I finally spoke with Jamie and described my problem. She indicated this was a novel one and put me on hold again (with my consent) while she looked up the solution.

When she came back, she asked me what software version I'm running (version 0acf, downloaded on 11/22/06) and this seems to be the problem. Since this software was downloaded, several others have encountered the same issue with "phantom recordings" in their playlist.

BUT, no one else seems to have the disk space anomaly that I've got.

We did a hard reset (unplug from the wall for 15 seconds) of the system so that the next software patch will initiate within 24 hours. At that time, we'll be upgraded to version x10b, which is the new version that has supposedly fixed the Nov 22 version's phantom recording glitch.

Whether or not this is going to resolve our faulty disk space indicator is unknown, and Jamie was kind enough to forward the details to the engineers to take a look at (and hopefully resolve). Part of me hopes the shows are still on the drive, but just in need of some remote button hack sequence to free them.

However, given the fact that Jamie says the next step is usually to reformat the hard drive, thereby erasing all my recorded programming, I'm not holding my breath.

As I told Jamie, this really feels like a horribly designed product. Why should I be forced to give up months worth of saved television programming as a "troubleshooting technique"? The DirecTV product design folks really missed the mark on this thing.

I want my TiVo back.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

back in the city

Landed at JFK airport about 90 minutes ago and am back in NYC for the first time in a little over a year.

The view out my taxi's window on the BQE looking toward the Manhattan skyline at dusk was stunning. All the skyscrapers are in their holiday light finest.

Odd to notice I've been here so infrequently, it's still suddenly odd to find the WTC towers missing.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the perfect gift for your cook

It seems like years ago that I saw a blurb in the San Jose Mercury News Food section announcing that there was a cookbook editor seeking recipe testers. Thinking it'd be fun to test recipes, I submitted my contact info and a short bio asking to be included as a tester. The promised mention of "credit" in the book as well as a copy of the book for my own collection wasn't my prime motivator: I wanted to see what it was like to take a draft recipe and give feedback that'd help idiot-proof the thing for the next user.

I remember testing recipes for broiled chicken (where I learned how to get the skins extra crispy), a blueberry pie (waaaay too sweet), cheese sticks (came out a little on the salty side) and submitting my comments to the editors. Unfortunately, I lost my recipe printouts with notes scribbled on them while mixing/sauteeing/baking, but I have the originals in my gmail box.

And now the book has been published, and I have my very own autographed copy on the shelf alongside all my other cookbooks. As a tester, I've been forwarded the following special deal to share with you all. You can get a copy of this book for yourself (or to give as a gift) and you'll find me and the other testers in the Appendix in the back.

Get your autographed copy of The Good Home Cookbook for only $15! You will also receive a FREE retro magnetic grocery pad!

Plus you will be entered to win a FREE gift box containing our best-selling Retro Diner and More Retro Diner cookbooks, a large diner-style coffee mug, and The Good Home Cookbook apron.

Offer expires December 15 so don't delay! Order at: Enter the code "DEAL" to receive this generous offer. Order a few extra for gifts at this incredible price!

Of course, if you ask nicely, I'm happy to autograph your copy, too. ;^)

Monday, November 27, 2006

giving away united premiere status

Thanks to my having flown over 40k miles on United this year, I've been given the privilege of bestowing United Premiere Associate status on someone.

Here's what being a Premiere Associate will get you:
  • Access to United Economy Plus - Stretch out with up to five extra inches of legroom in the special seating section in the front of economy. Available on a first-come-first-serve basis at the time of booking
  • Dedicated call center lines - Provides single-source convenience and enhanced customer support
  • Premium check-in - Access to airport Premier check-in lines
  • Priority waitlist - Higher priority than general members for waitlist clearance (e.g. upgrades, access to Mileage Plus membership benefits)
  • Priority security - Ensures speed and convenience by providing access to elite-level security lines (where available and permitted by local airport authorities)
  • Priority standby - Gives priority above general members for same-day standby travel
  • Priority boarding - Permits boarding in Seating Area 1, allowing you to board earlier and have access to overhead bin space and extra time to settle in pre-departure to relax
  • Alliance Silver - Allows access to priority waitlist and priority standby benefits across the Star Alliance network
  • Upgrades at Elite Level Pricing - purchase upgrades at a discount elite price
  • Earn more miles with the Mileage Plus Visa - Premier Associate members have no limit to the miles they can earn with the Mileage Plus Visa
  • Preferred upgrade clearance on 500 Mile Upgrades - Upgrades are confirmed 36 hours before departure, based on availability
  • Non air awards - Redeem miles for car rentals and hotel stays. For more information visit and
  • Unlimited Confirmed Y/B Upgrades* - With the purchase of a full-fare Economy-class ticket (on select Y/B fares*), elite members, plus one companion traveling on the same reservation, can upgrade one class of service for travel within United States, Canada, Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America free of charge, using no miles. Subject to availability and specific fare codes. Not valid on Government fares.

If you, or someone you know, would like this perk, just drop me a line at

First come, first served.

:UPDATE: and the offer has been taken. Thanks for all who pinged me. Will let you know if the opportunity arises again.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

travel humor most needed

Given the amount of time I've spent on planes recently (Premier Executive, here I come), I'm hugely appreciative of the humor invoked in creating the SkyMaul catalog.

I wish I weren't so familiar with the pages of the real SkyMall, but when my MacBook Pro battery dies, the Hemispheres magazine in the seat back is too quick a read (and someone has undoubtedly messed up the crossword AND the sodukus beyond repair), so I'm forced to flip through pages and pages of crap-I-don't-need, but are a free AirPhone call away.

Enjoy the preview pages of SkyMaul online, and buy it today.

Friday, November 17, 2006

my milky way writes back

Well, what do you know.... even though I've fully digested my Milky Way bar, star of a previous post, I got an email response to my query today. In all, I'm rather impressed with the tenor of the response (tho note the lack of mention of Snickers):
In response to your email regarding MILKY WAY BAR.

Thank you for your email.

Although peanuts are not part of the recipe for MILKY WAY BAR, we have added the statement "May Contain Peanuts" to our packages. Consumers who are highly allergic are accustomed to reading the ingredient declarations of products to look for the allergens to which they are sensitive. We feel it is important to provide these consumers with all related allergy information.

Masterfoods USA provides products that consumers who are allergic to nuts can safely enjoy. They are SKITTLES BRAND Candies and STARBURST BRAND Candies.


Consumer Care
Masterfoods USA
A Division of Mars, Incorporated


While I'm not entirely sure what the string of letters and numbers at the end of the message means, it may just be the poor milky way bar banging its head against the keyboard for having to recommend another Masterfoods USA competitor in case I'm one of those allergic-to-nut jobs. ;-)

And here I thought my Milky Way had a name like "Mike" or "Michelle" instead of the corporate-esqu "Consumer Care."

Maybe my Milky Way needs its own blog?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

emailing the milky way folks

So much to do tonight, I just couldn't help the procrastination kicking in...

Craving something sweet, I stuck my hand in one of our big bags o' leftover Halloween candy and came up with a fun size Milky Way bar. Not my first choice, but a satisfactory candy-roulette result so I flipped it over in my paw to begin to tear open the wrapper when an email address caught my eye.

Specifically, the exhortation:
Questions or Comments? call 1-800-551-9985 or email us at

My candy now has an email address? What would a candy bar say if it could talk? What would a candy bar write if it could email? What the hell would I ask my candy bar?

Inspiration greeted me on the other side of the wrapper:
So I responded to my muse and sent the following off as my introductory email to my (now fully digested) Milky Way:


Love your Milky Way candy bars. I was looking at the wrapper of a fun-size bar I got for Halloween and noticed it says "MAY CONTAIN PEANUTS"

Who decides whether a Milky Way bar will contain peanuts or not? Wouldn't including peanuts make it a Snickers?

Your fan,

Will let you know what comes back my way. It's already been to long for the old auto-reply trick, but I think the email/call centers in Bangladesh are running at full steam at this hour.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

clouds at sunset off waikiki

clouds at sunset off waikiki
Originally uploaded by thomas pix.
Made it out of today's meeting in time to dash upstairs and grab my camera to rush out and take pictures as the sun set.

Our meetings have been really productive, but at the cost of not being able to enjoy the sun and sand here in Hawaii.

I'll get some time Saturday to go out and about, but the enjoyment will be a little hollow since I won't have the family with me. Traveling solo is fine and all, but I'd much rather share the experience with Melanie and the girls than take it in on my own.


Monday, November 06, 2006

treo 650 sync to meetingmaker universal - success!

Last spring, I volunteered to be the MacBook Pro guinea pig at our office: the first one to move to the new Intel chip and all the delightful challenges the new chip presented. You see, my 12" PowerBook was in the midst of its death throes, and I just couldn't take losing days of data (in between backups) anymore. Much as I loved the take-it-anywhere size of the 12" PB, the overheating and constant crashing and general surliness of a machine that's lived beyond its time got to me. I was at the top of the list to get a shiny new MBP the day they were shipped.

The biggest hurdle at the time (the day the MBPs were delivered to the public) was that we at the office run MeetingMaker as our group calendar, and the Universal version of MeetingMaker wasn't released when the MBP was shipped. To satisfy my role in guinea pig-dom, I had to run two different calendar apps:
  1. MeetingMaker - to participate in the group calendaring exercise at work
  2. Palm Desktop Calendar - to have a portable version of my calendar on my Treo for those times (read: most of my life) when I wasn't carrying around my MBP
Quite a pain-in-the-ass setup, really, but after years of having my calendar at my fingertips, it was the only way I could respond properly to someone when they asked what I was doing Saturday next other than to shrug my shoulders and say "I don't have my calendar with me."

I got in the habit of reserving 15 minutes at the end of each day to pull up MeetingMaker and Palm side-by-side on my desktop and making sure they mirrored each other before synchronizing the Palm version to my Treo 650. Not a bad deal when the changes to my schedule were confined to just the upcoming week, but as we started scheduling more and more things weeks and months out, it was a pain to try to remember how many invitations I'd received in a given day and therefore needed to mirror in both apps before going home each night.

About 3 months into this setup, our IT guy announced the MeetingMaker Universal client had been released and I could go back to one calendar. I resisted taking him up on the offer because I didn't want to sit through hours of downtime because so many times before it'd been an ugly mess when trying to sync one calendar program to another.

Now, it's five months later, and I've just installed the Universal client. And I've just sync'd my Treo directly to MeetingMaker with great success (it only took me 15 minutes to clean up all the dups).

I'm giddy knowing I've just reclaimed over an hour of productivity each week now that I no longer have to mirror two calendars.

Now, if I could just figure out those damn S01, S02, S03 files... I have it on reliable source they're generated by SnapperMail, though. Maybe I'll spend my bonus hour poking around the site for info.

in praise of opposable thumbs

Those who've spent any time in the same physical space as me have noticed I have a thumb thing... actually, it's a complete lack of respect for my own thumbs.

Or, what's left of them. I've joined an elite group of folks who can count to ten by half-digit increments. Actually, that's not true. I can only make it to 9.5, thanks to a rather unfortunate (read: dumb) run-in with a fast-spinning motorcycle chain when I was 20.

So, my left thumb ends in a nice smooth curve at the end of the first phalanx (at the knuckle), thanks to the skillful surgical handiwork for Dr John D Smoot, the plastic surgeon on call that day at Scripps Medical Center. The second phalanx (thumb bone) and its tell-tale thumb nail are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry... (Clementine)

For the longest time, I went through life half a thumb down and thought that was the worst it could get. Then, on a crisp August morning in 2001, I was a little overzealous trying to pull a flag during flag football practice and managed to tear in two the ulnar colateral ligament (UCL) in my right thumb... what had, until that point, been my "good" thumb. I now have a two inch scar at the V between thumb and forefinger indicating where they drilled a hole through my first phalanx to reattach the UCL. It's been over five years now, but I still don't have my full grasping power on my right hand (or my left, for that matter).

All this is back story for why I'm writing about thumbs today. I spent all day yesterday building a retaining wall to keep the dirt under our concrete patio from washing away in the winter rains. As part of building the wall, I used a post-hole digger to dig eleven post holes into the clay and rock below our patio.

I was prepared for sore muscles after this effort, I just had no idea how much my forearms would hurt from post-holing. Specifically, the muscles that flex when you grasp a handle: the abductor pollicis longus and extensors pollicis longus. These are the two muscles that traverse from the back to the front of your fore-arm just above your watch band. I never realized just how much I use them until I strained them post-holing yesterday. Even this morning, my left pollicis longus (longi? longa?) are swollen and fiery.

Just another reminder at how useful it is to have opposable thumbs (what's left of them)... and a sharp reminder I need to respect them a bit more if I plan to keep them working as best they can until I take my last breath.

A blurb from Massage Today caught my eye while self-diagnosing this morning via Google (can we call is google-nosing?).
We have two sesamoid bones associated with our first metacarpophalangeal joint. These bones serve as attachments of thenar muscles. The abductor pollicis brevis and flexor pollicis brevis attach to the lateral sesamoid and the proximal phalanx, while the two heads of the adductor pollicis attach to the medial sesamoid and the proximal phalanx. Both of these attachments continue on to the extensor hood, as well. It seems that over evolutionary time, some carnivore taxa had a more developed lateral sesamoid bone. This developed into a large sesamoid bone, as seen today in the Giant Pandas. Other mammals, like the raccoon, have sophisticated grasping function, but not nearly as sophisticated as ours.
Perhaps those not as intimately familiar with degraded thumb power aren't as enthralled with the anatomical bits as I am... but trust me when I say the folks at Massage Today couldn't have picked a better closer than this:
Take good care of your thumbs. They serve you well.

Monday, October 30, 2006

fedex must hate amazon

FedEx crunch!
Originally uploaded by thomas pix.
This picture seems to effectively answer the question "I wonder if the FedEx guy ever tires of carrying around these Amazon boxes?"

Sure, I paid for two day shipping, and the contents (books) got here in one piece, but c'mon! How about a little careful handling on the way?

This helps me understand why the speakers I bought from Amazon arrived a little worse for the wear.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Oishi rolls and sashimi at Chiso

The oishi rolls are a delicious mix of tempura shrimp and asparagus inside with a spicy crab spread atop. A delightful melding of colors on those rolls alone, but toss in the fresh fresh nigiri and sashimi, and you've got a tummy buster going on.

Part of our delicious dinner at Chiso in the Fremont District of Seattle.

This has been one of my better culinary trips, by surprise.

Friday, October 27, 2006

hilarious zefrank the show episode

laugh out loud funny: the 7/14/06 show

r.i.p. todd skinner, climber extraordinaire

I saw the news today, oh boy...

Google News: Todd Skinner, the consummate free-climber, passed away in a freak fall while practicing a new ascent of Leaning Tower in Yosemite.

His belay loop (the strongest part of a climbing harness) gave way during a rappel and he fell 500 feet to the rocks below. The SF Chronicle story has a good wrap up of what happened.

I can't even count the number of times I just hung out way up high in mid-air by nothing more than my belay loop, confident nothing would happen (and it never did). Spooky

maximizing the findability of your blog

Another great panel this afternoon at the Blog Business Summit with Dave Taylor, Tris Hussey and John Battelle all about maximizing the findability of your blog (SEO)

Dave leads the discussion panel, and tells us to take a look at the Yahoo webmaster help page and Google's webmaster resources to see exactly what they tell you to do to increase your search results. This is all white hat (acceptable to the search engines) stuff. The black hat (unacceptable) stuff will get you blacklisted, a fate as good as death.

1. Keyword research pays dividends
- spend time understanding how folks search for the keywords around your product (your blog). You want seven keywords to match your stuff, not one. Maximize the chance they'll find your stuff!
2. Keyword Density matters - but it's an art to find the balance between too much (spammy) and too little (nondescript)

Don't write like this: I really like this thing, and it's cool. You shoud buy one of these, you should visit this place, you should send your business to these guys. (what are your keywords?)

Or like this: I really like free concert tickets and by going to free concert tickets to buy my Who tickets, I got great seats! Yep, free concert tickets really rocks. (this is spammy)

The key is somewhere in between. (that's the art part)

3. The Secret of inbound links
The way to get inbound links? Give outbound links. Be careful, because you bleed visitors every time you link.

4. SEO Best Practices
  • Good titles (what appears in the browser title bar -- this is critical!)
  • Good headlines
  • Reasonable Keyword Density
  • Occasionally emphasize a keyword with bold or italics, as appropriate
  • Good category names (do keyword searches on these categories, too)
TIP: The way to tell if you are in a search engine? do site:yourdomainname and or link:yourdomainname and you can tell. Anything other than a list of your pages means you're hosed.

(making a note here that I changed the title of my blog from the cryptic "HVY TK" to what it is today thanks to this panel)

the next big thing (rss mashup tool)

Listening to John Battelle here at the Blog Business Summit, and he was asked what he thought the next big technology would be. (disclosure: my employer invested in Federated Media Publishing)

John's answer: a developer tool that allows them (developers) to easily mashup RSS feeds into products.

If I'm looking for a list of hotel rooms on the I-40 corridor that are family-friendly and accept big dogs as guests, the info's already out there on the web, it just needs to be mashed into one query answer.

So, it makes sense (to me).

RSS seems like it'll always be a geeky phenomenon, and most folks likely won't deign to correctly configure their aggregators (why aren't they simply called "feed eaters?"). I've seen way too many folks click on the RSS badge instead of control-click-copy-link-location as should be done.

Maybe the tool's already out there? If so, where?

flash fiction: get to the point

I'm scanning the results of a recent six-word meme rebirthed thanks to Wired Magazine. I first saw the results in print (how old-school!), and now am seeing it crawl around the sites I visit

The archetypal flash fiction is attributed to Ernest Hemingway in the brilliant little ditty:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Maybe I need to cut down on the length of my posts here.

15 scoble-ific ways to a killer blog

Robert and Maryam Scoble gave a great standup session at Blog Business Summit. They profess to be doing the presentation together as couples therapy, but their love for each other really shows through as they entertain us with the following pointers (their preso is illustrated by the talents of Hugh MacLeod at

  1. Blog because you want to ... it'll show through in your writing.
  2. Read other blogs ... know who's out there and know how to find the thing that'll distinguish you from everyone else.
  3. Pick a niche you can own (be different) ... and it doesn't matter if you're "late to the game" (see TechCrunch, a latecomer) if you're good.
  4. Link to other blogs ... the reason it works is that it shows others have your attention (and paves the way in kind).
  5. Admit mistakes ... people will keep piling on until you take the time to admit your mistake. Short-circuit the (usually profanity-laced) cycle earlier than later.
  6. Write good headlines ... don't be cute, be relevant. It'll pay off in the search results and RSS aggregators.
  7. Use other media ... it's no longer just about text. Add in photos, or a podcast or a video blog. Again, another great differentiator. (people read online 30% slower than on paper, and pictures help break up the rivers of text).
  8. Have a voice ... let people see you as a human, not just a "facts, ma'am" delivery of content.
  9. Get outside the blogosphere ... yes, connecting online is nice, but it's NEVER enough. The relationships you see online likely were started (or stoked) offline.
  10. Market yourself ... don't link to the web site, link to the blog.
  11. Write well ... before you publish, read it again, check your spelling, check your state of mind, check your state of heart, make sure you really want to hit "publish" so the rest of the world can see. Write short paragraphs, put the most important info up front.
  12. Expose yourself ... (not that way, unless you really want that kind of traffic).
  13. Help other people blog ... get them into the tools, teach them the metaphor, share what you've learned and build the community.
  14. Engage with commenters ... participate in the conversation, not just on your own blog, but elsewhere (remember it's not all about you).
  15. Keep your integrity ... you are what you appear to be. Disclose your influences. Don't try to hide what you are or who you are.
Update: Pat McCarthy's got a great parallel post of this (replete with picture of the Scobles) over on ConversionRater.

i heart firefox 2.0

Have been using Firefox 2.0 (download here) for the last couple days and absolutely love it. Maybe it's just the thoughtful little UI tweaks, but I swear my pages are loading faster.

Came across a cool list of config tweaks over on Life Hacker, and what's been great is now even better.

seattle eats: harvest vine

Based on a very reliable foodie recommendation, we had an unbelievably delicious meal at the Basque-themed Harvest Vine (2701 E Madison, Seattle, WA, 98812) in the Madison Park neighborhood of Seattle. What an unexpected treat on this trip!

Like many good restaurants I've come to love, you'd drive right by it and wouldn't know to look there without address in hand. The location was rather nondescript: at the edge of a retail block tucked amidst houses and apartments and townhomes. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought we were somewhere in Northwest DC.

The restaurant itself is quite small, at least as far as seating is concerned. There's a copper bar overlooking the cooking area and it's long enough to seat 12 patrons on stools, and there are three small four-top bistro tables in front of the picture windows looking out. Downstairs (where I didn't go) there's a private dining/wine cellar that can seat up to 28 people, according to the head chef Johnny.

Needless to say, there was a wait to get a seat. 50 minutes of waiting, to be exact. In hindsight, I'd have waited twice as long.

We sat at the bar (the best seat in the house, imho) where we could watch the chefs crank out tapa dish after tapa dish in a well choreographed dance around the small cooking space. The printed-that-day menu offered about 30 different cold and warm tapas, and I was at a loss as to where to start. Luckily, we'd sat down right next to a couple (Lisa and Michael) who were regulars. In fact, Lisa's been coming to Vine Harvest every week for two years. Who better to take recommendations from?

(her inside scoop: there's nothing less than "great!" on the menu)

While exchanging pleasantries with Lisa, the amuse bouche arrived which was a matchbook-sized piece toasted bread with a wonderful pureed garbanzo bean concoction on top. A great taste of things to come.

I didn't feel like analyzing the wine list for the best bottle (the whole list looked very good AND very reasonable, btw) and instead chose to have the same bottle of Rioja that Lisa and Michael were drinking: a bottle of ViƱa Alberdi Reserva, La Rioja Alta 2000. Over the course of the meal, the wine opened up from a tight burst of plums and cherries to a smooth, earthy rich red that was a perfect accompaniment for the chocolate dessert.

So, wine in hand, and at Lisa's urging, we got the Plato de Chacineria (cold plate of cured meats), and Totadas de Foie (foie gras and a chantrelle mushroom on top of toast points). After the cold plates, we moved on to the Vieiras (scallops pan-fried to perfection and perched atop a wonderful carmelized onion dollop), and Perca (pan-fried sea bass served with brussel sprouts) and ended the savory part of our meal with Venado (venison cooked "a point" and served on a short tower of mushrooms).

We wanted to try the lamb loin, but as our waiter Juan Carlos explained, "the lamb, she is no more." Laughingly, I thought, "wow, talk about fresh ingredients!" The "is-no-more" became the running joke of the meal.

Each plate was presented beautifully: The Plato on a large white round platter that framed the round cuts of meats perfectly, the Tostadas on a small square plate just barely containing the food. The four Vieiras were spaced out evenly along a long narrow plate, and the Perca was in a shallow bowl just big enough to contain the fish and sprouts and hold a delightfully aromatic jamon stock that had been brought to a furious boil moments before it was drizzled over the fish and veggies. Johnny and Joey were great artists with their sauces and the basil oil they used to paint the finishing touches on each plate.

So glad I was at the bar to overlook this all.

By this time, the restaurant was emptying (the doors were locked so no one else could enter), and Lisa and Michael said their goodbyes. We ordered our desert of Profiteroles and Pudding de Pan (because the flan, "she is no more") , and I watched as the chef who normally worked at the cold prep table entered the kitchen to make the staff meal of Chicken Katsu with a cabbage salad and rice.

It's not often I'm inspired for my next meal while finishing the dessert of the current one, but it was mesmerizing to see his knife skills turn a head of cabbage, a green apple, a carrot and roasted red peppers into a wonderful mix of deep colors for the salad base. He then created an oil and vinegar emulsion to toss the veggies in. The breasts of chicken (pounded flat and dredged in flour and bread crumbs) were quick-fried in the pot of oil on the stove and then popped in the oven to finish cooking through. Nine plates were prepped with the salad, the Katsu sauce and white rice. When the breasts were done, he sliced each of them up (with a satisfying crunch through the crust) and laid them out atop the beds of rice.

If not for the fact that our taxi had arrived to take us back to the hotel, I'd have tried to find room to try this staff-only chicken katsu. You can bet I'll be coming back to Vine Harvest again and again. Glad to see they share recipes so I can try to duplicate things at home.

If you decide to go to Harvest Vine: make sure you sit at the bar to watch it all come together on your plate. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

how do you measure blogger influence?

Mary Hodder, speaking at the Blog Business Summit about The Live Web, encourages folks to set up search feeds in various services to see how you (or your company or your product or anything you care about) is being bandied about the blogosphere:

The link metrics used to weigh bloggers' influence, and why the counts differ from service to service:
  • Technorati: counts of all inbound link sources for last 6 months
  • Bloglines: the count of all links for all time and the subscription counts
  • Sphere: uses links plus other weights for relevance
  • Feedburner: counts subscribers (but only for owners of those feeds)

How subscription metrics can differ:
Example based on BoingBoing traffic in August 2005:
  • measured in Bloglines: 26,856 subscribers
  • measured in Feedburner, 1.2 million subscribers to feed
  • why the difference? Feedburner shows all subscriptions whereas Bloglines just those results of who subscribes to the feed using Bloglines
Possible other metrics you can use to judge the relative "influence" of a blog (no one tool out there will give you all these, you need find these yourself for the better picture they paint). You're a smart person and can interpret the pattern painted by the below better than any program could:
  • inbound links: to a specific post URL
  • inbound links: to the blog's URL
  • comments to posts
  • frequency of blogging a topic
  • subscribers to RSS feeds and blogs
  • incoming traffic links
  • outbound blogroll
  • tagged URLs (like those captured in
So how do you find the influencers out in the blogosphere?
  • read posts, comments and follow conversations
  • find communities of self-tagged bloggers in Technorati by topic
  • find communities of sphere lists
  • look for the link and subscription counts of those who link to you, BUT high numbers are indications of popularity (not authority, don't confuse the two)
  • look for key word and tag references to photos, blog posts, URLs and to you...

how to get more visits to your blog

According to Tris Hussey and Andru Edwards speaking at the Blog Business Summit, here's how the different traffic factors influence the visits to your blog:
  • posting frequency (assuming compelling, well-written posts): higher frequency posting leads to higher quantity traffic. Multiple times a day is better than once a day is better than once a week is better than once a month, etc.
  • do blogrolls matter? not in sending folks your way, no. They're great to show your friends you like them, but they're no good for linky love.
  • comments: don't bank on comments as a traffic indicator... you can be popular and not have many comments on your blog
  • pinging: if you ping, they will come. This is how you let the search engines know you're new. Keep training them you update often, but proactively ping to get indexed on your time, not theirs.
There is no one tool to use to determine if you're being successful. Here are some of the tools you can use, keeping in mind you're looking for what are your trends? Look at the big picture: pageviews, comments, trackbacks, mentions elsewhere. Watch the rise and fall, the pattern, not the specific numbers.
  • HITS: How Idiots Track Success... it means nothing as far as success. "I had 50,000 hits" says nothing about your traffic success. It measures how hard the server has to work to display your page.
  • Server Tools are tailored to those hosting sites and can show you your bandwidth used, your files most frequently requested, etc. They're daunting and scary at first because there's so much info, but if you can brave your way into them, they're a goldmine. Good news: if you buy your hosting from a big web hosting company, you have these available to you. Sample tools: AWStats, Urchin, Analog, ClickTracks,
  • Java tools are typically tailored to bloggers and are visually appealing and show the trends, even across multiple blogs without changing web sites. Google Analytics, MeasureMap, BlogBeat, MyBlogLog.
  • Blog Traffic Tools like Technorati, Feedster, PubSub, Alexa (unreliable), BlogJuice all miss pieces of correct measurment, but suing all of them you can fill the holes. Armed with these, you can say "I had X number of mentions in the blogosphere last week."
  • RSS Metrics Tools: FeedBurner is a start (Pay for ProStats, it's worth it), but not the whole picture. Use Bloglines subscriptions info: is about 20% of traffic and is easy to get your subscriptions numbers, Google Reader may or may not have accurate RSS info in it.
There's a lot of geekiness you need to immerse yourself in to be equipped to understand how valuable you are. Embrace the inner geek while "the one tool to tell it all" is developed on some PC somewhere.

One caution for those who use Sitemeter, if you use SiteMeter in the clear, anyone can see your metrics. Many folks think it's "none of your business" to know the stats because potential competitors might find out their blog sucks and swoop in.

And, don't forget to look into the community gathering around your blog. If someone links to you, send an email thank you!

If you're running Google AdSense, you can run the report, and it shows your impressions (you know Google has scrubbed them of duplicates, etc) and that name recognition is gold eith your advertisers (potential or real).

what are these Treo 650 apps?

For the most part, I really like my Treo 650. Yes, I know there are newer versions out, but I'm not willing to shell out the dough to upgrade what is a perfectly functional PDA/phone/web device.

There are two things that really bother me, though, and I'll try documenting progress toward solving the two:

1) I have a 2005 BMW 325i with the communications option package. What this means is that there's an SOS/breakdown button on my rearview mirror that I can push and via cell technology, I'm connected with the BMW assist folks who'll send an ambulance or a tow truck (or both) depending on my needs at the moment the button is pushed. On my steering wheel, I've got phone controls that allow me to use a bluetooth-enabled phone paired with the car to make phone calls using the car's mic and speaker system.

Enter: Verizon Treo 650. The phone pairs with the car just fine (yay!) but whenever I try to initiate a call, Verizon re-boots the phone (dropping the call) because Verizon has decided not to support this feature. BMW says its a Verizon issue. Verizon says its a Treo issue. Palm says its a Verizon issue. Since folks with Treo 650s on Cingular are able to use their phones with the same model car, I have to think it's a Verizon issue.

Now that the spiffy Treo 700s are out (Windows and Palm versions) there's diddly squat on the Verizon support site on how to workaround the cripple. And BMW shrugs their collective shoulders while pointing out if I'd like to upgrade to the 2006 version of my car, things would work like a charm. right.

Still looking for a solution, and when I find it, I'll post it here. Any tips out there in reader land?

2) Issue number two: my Treo 650 memory seems to fill up awfully quick. I have a 1GB media card to which I save all my photos and videos, but the 25Mb baked into the phone itself gives me fits, especially as I've got these mysterious "application files" that propagate to fill up the space. They're cryptically named s01, s02, s03, etc. and each is about 250Kb or so in size. Fine if there's one or two, but they just keep propagating and crippling the other features (like web browsing) on my phone. I've taken to deleting them (starting with the lowest-numbered file first) and don't seem to notice any difference in my Treo experience, but I don't know how thin the ice is on which I'm skating. I *think* they have to do with Snapper Mail, but can't find anything to support this.

Google searches have come up empty so far, but I'll let you know if I find any info.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

work for us... wait, we've moved!

I'm navigating around the home page today using the oh-so-spiffy new Firefox 2.0 browser. What appears below the market ticker list? A jobs ad for the Central Intelligence Agency.

As Hannah would say, "now that's something you don't see every day."

Curious as to who they're trying to woo, I clicked through and was directed here, a page that, for all intents and purposes tells you that the page you were looking for has moved.

On the one (clever) hand, this could just be some covert campaign to lure folks to the CIA who like the challenge of a good puzzle: why did you advertise on the front page of the WSJ yet send me to a "we've moved" page? Is this the start of a puzzle I must solve to find the appropriate CIA position hidden somewhere on the new encrypted site?

Or is it on the other (more likely) hand, that the ad agency engaged by the CIA has botched the ad placement and we're witnessing yet more waste of tax dollars in the execution?

No time to wait for you answer, I'm busy trying to figure out where they moved the jobs to!

make it rhyme to talk all the time

Got wind of Scott Adams (yes, that Scott Adams) blogging about his his travails over the last 18 months battling Spasmodic Dysphonia, a condition where part of the brain that controls speech shuts down.

He does a great job of describing how folks (and their brains) cope with communicating anyway. Some can sing, but not speak normally. Some can speak on stage to an audience but can't speak 1-on-1. Fascinating that Adams found out he can speak in the context of rhyme!

The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.

I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.

Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal.

The latent linguist in me (and my dust-covered degree) are totally geeking out to this news. Makes me want to go back and dust off all the experiments I designed as an assistant in the Laboratory for Linguistic and Cognitive Studies.

findability and recommended reading

Just listened to Dave Talor (of Ask Dave Taylor) talk about the Future of Findability here at the Blog Business Summit in Seattle.

Great tips on SEO stuff for blogs and how to train them to look at your blog more and more often, or to ping them (the "secret weapon" of blogging) pro-actively to come index what's just been published. He mentioned Pingomatic as a service that automates this activity, and at first glance looks simple enough to do.

What I really appreciated was his recommended reading list (of which I'm half-way through already thanks to #1 and #3). From the sounds of it, reading Cialdini's Influence will change my life (go figure).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

those damn overheard costs

those damn overheard costs
Originally uploaded by thomas pix.
So is this what happens when the sotto voce budget costs are finally counted? What've they been listening to instead?

In a way, it's nice to see even the NYTimes falls prey to the faux spell-checker-fix-all on this front-page blurb (twice, no less!). More fuel for the fire when folks demand a spell-checker to help save their souls when a quick glance back would do a better job.

Monday, October 23, 2006

i know how this is going to end (poorly)

To say I've really enjoyed these first four weeks of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a gross understatement.

I like the actors, the writing, the production, even the music. It's witty, fast-paced, believable and gorgeous.

It's not often I've felt a show hit on all cylinders with me, and that's why I'm already missing Studio 60. It's too good to go on like this. One week I'll check my DVR and find some repeat of Law & Order: DOA in its place.

While there seem to be another 8.4 million viewers like me who tuned in last week, I'm not sure we're enough to convince NBC to go the whole season with us. What with saving $750M and all, we're getting teed up for another "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" deluge, only this time it'll be Howie's "NO DEAL!" shouting at us nightly from 8-11p.

The last time I looked forward to the weekly episodes of a show, it was Sports Night (another Aaron Sorkin show, back in the days before TiVo), and that ended prematurely, too.

Now that I've come to terms with the show's early demise, I'll stop deleting them off the DVR, so I'll at least have something to hold onto as I wait for the abbreviated (unedited!) series to come out on DVD.

I'll put it on the shelf next to Sports Night as my homage to Sorkin.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

i'm just so proud...

You Passed 8th Grade Science

Congratulations, you got 8/8 correct!

technical quest update

As I posted a few weeks back, I'm on a technical quest to simplify the HT setup here at home. Here's the status so far:

  • Signed up for HD programming and an HD DVR from DirecTV. The install was seamless, if a bit late in the day (service window: 1-5pm, after a courtesy call to say they were running late, installers showed up at 5:45pm). Rave: The HD programming is amazing and, in my mind, justifies the cost of this whole setup. Rant: the DirecTV HR20 receiver/DVR is by no means a TiVo. Still getting used to the setup (and is plenty of fodder for a post unto itself). From the reviews, it looks like I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction. Hopefully with enough software updates they'll squash enough of the bugs so that I can actually watch the shows I've asked it to record. Amazing to see how all these years of time-shifting have spoiled me. grade: B-
  • Plasma as Mac Mini monitor. The DVI-HDMI cable works like a charm. Since I only had room to run a single HDMI cable up the wall to the TV, I've got a manual HDMI switcher to go back and forth between the Mac and the DirecTV feed. The signal was perfectly clear with the Mac Mini feeding into switcher port 1. When I moved the Mini's HDMI to switcher port 2 (and put DirecTV on port 1), the Mac's image output got pixelated. I'm still working to figure that out, but I need to get a wireless keyboard/mouse for the Mini to do any serious diagnostics. The borrowed keyboard/mouse from our Tangerine iMac is just too frustrating to use in the new setup. grade: incomplete
  • Mac Mini as music source. I tried using my Belkin optical audio to connect the Mac Mini to the AV Receiver, but it didn't work. I took the RCA out instead, and it works sufficiently (but nowhere near as good as the optical, I'm told). I've got a new (Harman Kardon) AV receiver on the way, and will post again once it's here and hooked up. grade: incomplete
  • Mac Mini as DVD player. To test the DVD capabilities of the Mac Mini, we popped in Ice Age. Our jaws dropped at the detail and 75 minutes later the test was over to much satisfaction. grade: A+

Overall, it's a nice clean setup with just the three pieces (AV/DirecTV/Mac) in the entertainment center. In retrospect, I'm very glad we mounted the TV on the wall. In addition to cleaning up the look of the whole thing (no dangling wires), I don't worry about anxious little hands accidentally knocking the Plasma set over.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

where do you click?

Ingenious design on this remembrance home page that really drives the message home and transports us back to what things used to be like. Given the options, which link will you choose first? (assuming you're like me and can't help but look into both of them)

fries with that?

Old news: McDonald's gave out over 40 million toy Hummers (think: match-box size toy cars) with Happy Meals.

Today I learned of a very inspired response from the environmental movement that can be found at It's a play on the church sign widget that allows folks to put their own message on a MickeyD's sign.

On the site, you can even vote on your favorite among the 132,000 signs already created. Really cool demonstration of turning over the power of crafting the message to the folks who aren't professional PR folks.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, they're allowed to use these images and marks thanks to their being satire.

UPDATE: and to pile it on to the Hummer brand, this (profanely titled) site allows folks submit their pics giving the one-finger salute to Hummer H2 vehicles. Interesting to see the site go sustainable via selling the montage poster they've created using the photos submitted by users.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

comcastic solution

And a conclusion (I hope) to the previous comcastic, indeed! post:

I decided to pay the $18.38 owed to Comcast and be done with it. The collections group offered to take payment online (instead of via a check mailed to them), but when I got to the part of their online payment form that asked for credit card info, I saw I'd be billed an additional $5 service fee for using my credit card.

I instead closed the browser window and paid $0.37 for a stamp to send in the check and use up at least $5 of their resources opening my mail, endorsing the check, crediting my account and depositing my check.

It continues to amaze me how bass-ackwards the fee system for conducting business online is at some places. Shouldn't the cost savings for the automated process be passed on to those of us who are not taking up the time of some accounts receivable clerk to process paper-based payments?

Perhaps in another life time.

In any case, good bye, Comcast. And good riddance.

Monday, October 02, 2006

unacceptable behavior on a sliding scale

Watching the fallout over Rep. Mark Foley's follies over the weekend, I wonder why I'm not so surprised to find out Foley's checked himself into a rehabilitation program over the weekend, after his sudden resignation from the House.

It would seem there's a bet being placed from someone in his camp that the capital-P Public will be less revulsed by an alcoholic pedaphile than we will a sober predator of young boys.

In a statement released by his attorney, Foley says:

"I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems... I deeply regret and accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused."

Given Foley's very public stance and authority against the very private behavior that was his own undoing, I wonder if seeking help for his suddenly public alcoholism problem isn't a prelude to a forthcoming "I was drunk at the time and didn't know what I was doing."

Let it be known I'll call bullshit on the so-drunk-I-didn't-know excuse the moment it comes out.

And if folks knew what he was doing for months before ABC news got wind of it, why didn't they urge rehab for his drinking problems earlier if they knew he seemed to get over-friendly with the kids after a few sips?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

cut, bundled, bagged, delivered

Transferrable skills, my friend.

Our 2006-2007 season tickets for the San Jose Sharks arrived in the mail early this week.

They came in a pretty nicely designed book that had the tickets grouped into four tickets per page, perforated to hold them together. The designer used a curious alternating orange and blue color scheme to the tickets, but they were printed on a nice card stock (weight of paper... kinda like the thickness of a paperback novel cover).

Now, I share the season tickets with a couple other folks, so it keeps the cost of the season low. To divide up the games, we've used a spreadsheet in the past. This year, I created a wiki for us to use (thanks, PBWiki!) and boy did it work wonders.

After taking turns in a wicked fast wiki session over the course of a business day, we had dibs on all 44 games distributed between us.

I spent the next morning carefully separating the tickets from each other by the perf lines, then bundled them up according to the wiki results and bagged them in little ziploc sandwich bags. The plastic bags were then stuff inside business envelopes for transfer.

The next morning , when I handed the engorged business envelopes to the recipients and got money in return, it all felt so very black market. I couldn't tell if the rush was from the fantasized illicit nature of the exchange or from my realizing the first game of the season is mere weeks away. I think I'll just enjoy the rush and not dissect its source.

Go Sharks!

Friday, September 22, 2006

my technical quest

As I begin this quest, I have:
  • Toshiba 42HP66 42" plasma HDTV
  • Toshiba SDK-850 HDMI DVD player
  • Sony SAT-T60 DirecTV TiVo receiver (no HD programming)
  • Yamaha AV 5.1 receiver, model HTR-5140
  • Harman Kardon HKTS 14 6-Piece Loudspeaker System
  • Apple Mac Mini 1.66 Core Duo
  • Sony CDP-C350Z 5-disc CD player (old as the hills)
  • Apple AirPort Express
When I come out the other side of this quest, here's what I'll be looking at (and listening to) in our living room:
  • Hi Definition TV programming
  • HD DVR (TiVo, preferred)
  • Plasma TV as monitor for the Mac Mini
  • iTunes collection (40Gb) through the AV Receiver
  • HD DVD from Mac Mini to TV and 5.1 sound through AV Receiver
I'll remove from the stack of equipment the DVD and CD players (thanks to the Mac Mini).

To start things off, I've got the DVI-HDMI cable on order from to handle the Plasma-as-monitor bit.

If I'm lucky I can use my Belkin optical audio cable to run sound to the AV Receiver and remove the Toshiba DVD player from the stack right quick.

Details to be blogged mid-next week. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

comcastic! indeed

I'm now into my third month of feeling Comcastic! but I don't think this is the feeling the marketers had in mind when designing the latest advertising campaign.

On July 12, I called Comcast to cancel our high-speed internet account, as we were moving to our new home in Redwood City, and I 'd tired of paying $58 a month for cable modem service and was going to try AT&T Yahoo! DSL for $20 a month at the new place (FWIW, I haven't noticed much of a difference between the two services, except the extra money in my pocket). Our scheduled cutoff date was (note the past-tense foreshadowing employed here) supposed to be July 21.

Movers packed the old house (including the cable modem) on July 19 and cleared the boxes out on July 20. The house was empty when the cable modem access was cut (again, supposedly).

All seemed fine (except for a challenge with AT&T that was quickly resolved) as we awaited the disconnection notice and final bill from Comcast.

On August 3, our final bill arrived informing us we owed a balance for the High Speed Internet (w/o Cable, own modem) service through Sept 10 (a whopping $113.90) PLUS a $99 charge for Unreturned equipment.

Beg pardon?

I called in to Comcast to dispute the bill thinking I had logic and reason on my side. Remember, per my 7/12 request, service was supposed to end July 21 and if they wanted the Comcast install disk back (the unreturned equipment in question?) I'd gladly send it back.

In speaking with the customer service rep, he was quick to admit fault for billing us after the cutoff date and agreed to reverse off the charges. However, the unreturned equipment was another matter. Evidently someone at Comcast thought I had leased one of their cable modems and had absconded with it even though I'd been paying the rate charged to those providing their own equipment for the last 35 months straight.

When I pointed this out to him, he agreed it seemed strange and referred the account to the Billing & Account Research team to resolve. I gave him my cell number to call to follow up since we'd disconnected (without forwarding) our old number, the one listed on the account, when we moved out.

The following Monday, (August 7 for those of you following along) I got a call from someone at Comcast asking if I had a copy of the receipt for the modem I "bought" and had used for three years to access the internet via Comcast. I stifled a laugh (so I thought) while denying I'd been so thorough as to keep a receipt for this legacy equipment purchased so long ago. "OK. We'll have to keep researching and get back to you," was the dismissal on that call and I thought things might resolve themselves shortly.

No word from Comcast for 10 days, until...

I arrived home from work on August 17 to find a PAST DUE - PLEASE PAY notice from Comcast forwarded from our old address. The good: they'd reversed off the charge for unused internet access, but the $99 unreturned equipment charge was still there.

I called up Comcast Customer Service (1-800-945-2288) and spoke with Marquita who looked over the notes from the previous calls, saw that the Accounts Research team had found in my favor (the modem was mine, by golly!) and they'd just failed to reverse off the $99 charge. I asked that she please send me a clean bill (showing all I owed was the pro-rated $18.38 access fee), and she assured me it would get sent out in the next billing cycle. At the end of the call, I took the automated survey and gave Marquita high marks for satisfying my needs and delivering outstanding customer service.

I should have waited.

Flash forward to my mailbox on September 16 wherein I find a notice from a Collection Agency that they have now been given the task by Comcast to collect a seriously past due amount of $18.38, and won't I please remit payment as soon as I am able.

What the fuck?

I call Comcast and work my way up the supervisor chain (on a Saturday evening) until I reach supervisor "Faye" and explain my concern: I've been a model customer to Comcast for three years, paying on time (and sometimes early but never late) my cable bill to the tune of $1800 over those three years. Now that I'm no longer a customer, I've been sent to a collections agency for an $18.38 charge that is thanks to an accounting/paperwork problem already determined to be their fault. I refuse to let my good credit get dinged by Comcast's ineptitude. Faye tells me they tried to contact me several times but the number was disconnected. I remind her they have my cell number on file (remember the call back in early August?) as well as my email address (remember where all the electronic notices of my electronic bill being due were sent?) and they couldn't get a hold of me to tell me they were sending me to collections? And by the way, where was that clean bill that Marquita promised? If she'd told me it'd come via collections, I'd have politely declined.

After 35 minutes of hold music peppered by Faye reporting back the status of her conferring with the others working a Saturday night in Comcast Customer Service (in Concord, CA), I conclude the call smiling now that Faye has taken down two phone numbers I know work PLUS my email address. She's even recommended that the balance be adjusted off given the challenge I've had resolving the issue. I ask when I'll hear back from the Accounts Research Team that the bill is resolved and she assures me they'll call in the next few days. I take Comcast's "short survey on customer satisfaction" at the conclusion of the call and when asked if Customer Service had taken care of my needs, I reply with a premature YES.

Silly man I am.

Wednesday night comes, and I've yet to hear from anyone at Comcast. I decide not to wait for them this time and call in to customer service again. This time I speak with Miguel. After briefly explaining why I'm calling (I was expecting to hear from you by now!), he asks for a moment to read the notes on my account.

"It appears you owe us $18.38, sir." Ah, thanks, Faye.

I ask if there's record of Faye's submitting the account for review. Yes, he's looking at the form in front of him on the screen. Is there record of her requesting the outstanding balance be adjusted off? Nothing of the sort is anywhere on the form. She'd lied to me, and I'd been dumb enough to give her high remarks on her performance (= ability to deceive).

I'm at wits end and I ask Miguel to tell it to me straight:
  • "Has my account gone to collections?" Yes
  • "Has this action been reported to the credit bureaus yet so that it'd impact my credit score?" No
  • "If I simply pay the outstanding balance, will this all go away?" It should, but keep a record of your payment.
I'm ready to throw in the towel and just pay the collections notice to get it all overwith. I thank Miguel for his time and hang up, avoiding the offer to take the customer service satisfaction survey.

Instead of calling the collections group, I try to pay my balance online. When I try to sign in, the error message informs me my account has been uncoupled from my user ID on file. When I try to recouple them (by supplying the account number and phone number of our old place), I'm informed I need to call 1-800-COMCAST to do so.

I close the browser window and fight the urge to kick the dog.

Now, I've taken on these big companies before and won. I have a refund check for $0.02 from Chevy Chase Bank still waiting to be framed. Simply paying off the Comcast account feels like a loss at this point... as it won't provide any record of the hours I've now spent trying to get them to fix the damn problem THEY started.

What to do, what to do.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

how does your wikipedia grow?

Great to see the research being done to show how content is added to Wikipedia. Contrary to popular belief (based on analyzing the edits logs to gauge content creation), it's the outsider/one-timers who add the new content and the editors who make it encyclopedia-worthy (via lots and lots of edits).

When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site -- the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.

And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Writing an encyclopedia is hard. To do anywhere near a decent job, you have to know a great deal of information about an incredibly wide variety of subjects. Writing so much text is difficult, but doing all the background research seems impossible.

On the other hand, everyone has a bunch of obscure things that, for one reason or another, they've come to know well. So they share them, clicking the edit link and adding a paragraph or two to Wikipedia. At the same time, a small number of people have become particularly involved in Wikipedia itself, learning its policies and special syntax, and spending their time tweaking the contributions of everybody else.

Other encyclopedias work similarly, just on a much smaller scale: a large group of people write articles on topics they know well, while a small staff formats them into a single work. This second group is clearly very important -- it's thanks to them encyclopedias have a consistent look and tone -- but it's a severe exaggeration to say that they wrote the encyclopedia. One imagines the people running Britannica worry more about their contributors than their formatters.

Friday, August 25, 2006

One-Handed Rubik's Cube solve (20.09 seconds solve)

my fastest ever solve (back in the day) was right around 30 seconds, but that was using both hands. Mad props to this guy.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

creationism's innovative tactics

Interesting to see this discovery reported in the NYTimes today. Ironic to see how the Creationist's insidious tactics are evolving:
Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students....

The program provides $4,000 grants to third- or fourth-year, low-income students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics; technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed “critical” to national security.

The list of eligible majors (which is online at is drawn from the Education Department’s “Classification of Instructional Programs,” or CIP (pronounced “sip”), a voluminous and detailed classification of courses of study, arranged in a numbered system of sections and subsections.

As the article details, it's no small task for a major to be removed from the list, and the current pleas of "clerical error" strain what little credibility I have for folks in the department.

It's disturbing to see a tactic so brazen as to impose creationist religious beliefs through omission in a program like this. If this goes unchecked, I hate to see what's next.

Monday, August 21, 2006

How Crayons Are Made

Can you tell me how to get here?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

desert soundtrack

On the flight from SFO to Salt Lake City, we spent a lot of time flying over the deserts of northern Nevada and western Utah.

While I had my nose buried in a book, I did glance out the window rather frequently, and I realized the perfect soundtrack for flying over the desert was playing on my iPod: Arvo Part's Alina.

Sparse notes across a barren landscape studded with craggy hills. And the land below looked a lot like that, too.

Friday, August 11, 2006

proportionality is a slippery thing

From Le Monde Diplomatique:

Attacks targeting towns, villages and civilian infrastructure have forced some 600,000 people out of their homes. Under international law such actions count as war crimes. The 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention clearly defines the principle of proportionality: “An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. Who could ever imagine that the stated objective, to rescue two soldiers, justifies the death and destruction caused by the Israeli bombardment? Is a Lebanese life is worth less than an Israeli life?
This lack of (objective) proportionality reminds me of the conclusion of the recent NYT op-ed by Daniel Gilbert, He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn’t:

Neither [party in the experiment to deliver retaliatory, yet equal blows] realized that the escalation was the natural byproduct of a neurological quirk that causes the pain we receive to seem more painful than the pain we produce, so we usually give more pain than we have received.

Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

None of this is to deny the roles that hatred, intolerance, avarice and deceit play in human conflict. It is simply to say that basic principles of human psychology are important ingredients in this miserable stew. Until we learn to stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves — there will continue to be tears and recriminations in the wayback.

make way for the living

This music video shows an 8000 flag installation on Salt Spring Island which represents the humans that die each day due to HIV/AIDS. The African reality is from Lesotho. The song is by Harry Manx (I'm a huge fan of his work).

Friends of mine from the community are behind the broader project of creating these flag installations across Canada. I couldn't be prouder of them and their work.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

states i've been

Thanks to Christine, I found these "been-there" widgets from those durn Google folks:

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Evidently, I've had no reason to traipse along the northern border of the contiguous states (yet).

And the global view shows I'm really a Northwest quadrant kinda guy, even though my aspirations are much further afield. Better go unpack that passport of mine.

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Friday, July 28, 2006

Day of the Longtail

Day of the Longtail

Sweet little video parody of the power of all of us to change the status quo. Will you watch? or will you participate?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

DSL Success!

As evidenced by my previous post, today's tech time with AT&T could have gone to either extreme (really good or really bad).

Thanks to a very customer-service-oriented technician named Chris, things went extremely well. He was at our house for about 30 minutes testing this and testing that.

Being the inquisitive sort that I am, he didn't mind explaining what he was doing as he was doing it. I could really tell he was passionate about his work, and maybe the fact I was so interested made our time fly by.

In direct contrast to his brethren at the call center(s), Chris seemed focused on making my experience with AT&T start off on a good foot. As he put it, "it makes sense to me that if you can start the relationship off in a good way, the relationship will last a lot longer." Maybe the pleasant interaction is thanks to the fact Chris has to look the customer in the eye, or that the customers don't have to navigate voicemail hell before interacting with him. I enjoyed uor time together so much that I wasn't feeling as bent about paying the $60 service call.

To top it all off, Chris stipulated there was to be no charge for his visit. AT&T has (blessedly) been smart in their management approach and put the power of determining when to charge in his hands. Maybe that is intended to let the customer dictate the terms of the relationship, too. If I was an ass, I'd get charged. If I was nice, the charge could be waved, and Chris was the arbiter of my disposition. (maybe I'm reading too much into that)

When I get home tonight, I'm going to use my brand new DSL connection to send a direct thank you to Chris's boss. Let this post suffice as a very public show of my gratitude.

Looking forward to being an AT&T customer for a good long time, especially as they roll out fiber that'll carry voice, data and video all in one to my doorstep.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

DSL roulette

Having just changed residences, I decide it's time to ween myself from the high-bandwidth Comcast internet and plug into ATT Yahoo! DSL instead. Should be easy enough, right?

I fancy myself tech-savvy. There was a time in my life when I managed a network of Macs at an ad agency where I pulled double-duty as a graphic designer. I'm pretty handy at diagnosing (and fixing!) computer-related problems. Thus my consternation with the DSL line and AT&T's taking advantage of a bad situation and making it worse.

Before we moved, I went online (using Comcast internet, the irony!) to AT&T's site to set up service. Our new phone (and DSL) was to be hooked up on July 20. The DSL modem and filters for our phones all arrived on the 19th. The transition was looking easy.

Then I tried to fire the thing up. No dice. The DSL modem light flashed red (a bad thing) instead of shining a solid green, and I couldn't get any internet connection on the line.

I rebooted my computer and rebooted the modem. I rebooted the modem on its own. I unplugged all the cords (power, ethernet, phone) and replugged them into the appropriate jacks. Still the flashing red light.

So I called AT&T at 6pm on a Sunday night. Matthew was good enough to spend 15 minutes on the phone with me walking through his script. Actually, I spent a good 10 minutes of the call on hold while Matthew click-clacked away in the background and apologized for how long it took to file a trouble ticket. Final result: AT&T would call me back within 24 hours to follow up. Keep the modem on so they can diagnose it from the Central Office (the "CO" to the tech folks).

At 6:15p Monday night, I called up AT&T and got patched through to Robert. I asked if he could update me on the ticket and he informed me no ticket had been filed. Would I like to file one? GRRRRR. 15 minutes later I had my first (according to them)/yet another (according to me) trouble ticket filed. Final result: AT&T would call me back within 24 hours to follow up.

AT&T left a voice mail indicating I needed to call back and schedule a technician to come out and check our equipment. I called and spoke to Ellen and was all set to pull the trigger until I heard there might be a $60 charge involved.

Excuse me? Can you tell me what "might" means?

If the technician comes out and finds out it's a problem with the external box (outside the house), there's no charge.

If the technician comes out and finds out it's a problem with the DSL modem, there's no charge.

If the technican comes out and finds out it's a problem with our internal wiring, there's a $60 charge to fix it.

If the technician comes out and finds out it's a problem with our internal wiring, and I tell him thankyouverymuch I'm going to go back to cable, there's a $60 charge for his diagnosing the problem.

Ellen informs me that it could be my computer that's bad (uh, no, am using it now to post this blog item) or that my phones aren't working (uh, how have I been calling you my dear?) or there's no dial tone (answered that one already), so we'd need to pay the technician for his/her time to come inform us of that problem.

So, by scheduling the service tech to come out, I'm playing roulette with $60 on the table. I'm pretty sure there'll be no charge, but I'm completely powerless to hedge my bets because AT&T won't tell me how to self-diagnose where the problem is.

Oh, and the kicker is that I'm paying for DSL service all this time it doesn't even work.

Great way to start off our relationship with AT&T, no?

A quick Google of ATT DSL sucks should have warned me to stay with Comcast. But then a quick Google of Comcast cable internet sucks says pretty much the same thing.