Monday, December 31, 2007

Blackberry shortcut: how to mark multiple messages as opened

I finally figured out how to fix one of the little things that's been keeping me from fully enjoying my Blackberry 8830 World Edition: I can now manage the "opened/unopened" status of multiple messages at once on the Blackberry.

I used to spend a good 10 minutes each day in my Blackberry message folder navigating from one message to the next (press N to move to the Newer message or press P to move to the Previous message) so that the read/unread status would match my computer-based email applications (Mac Mail and Gmail).

Now, I've discovered I can mark whole days' worth (if not weeks' worth) of messages as opened by doing the following:
  • In the Blackberry Messages folder, scroll down until you've highlighted a date separator
  • Click the scroll wheel to bring up the popup menu
  • Select "Mark Prior Opened" and all the messages received that day (or any day prior) will be marked as opened and your unopened messages ticker will decrease in size accordingly!
Alternatively, at the date separator instead of clicking with the scroll wheel, you can use the menu button just to the left of the scroll wheel and you'll see the same "Mark Prior Opened" option plus a "Delete Prior" option for cleaning out the messages entirely.

PS from what I can tell scrolling through the Crackberry Forums, this shortcut works on all Blackberries.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

travel security spectacle laid bare

Over the course of 2007, I traveled just shy of 90,000 miles on airplanes, including three jaunts overseas and multiple hops across the country and back. While my United Premier Executive status allowed me to sidestep a lot of the cattle-herding-and-molesting measures put in place by the TSA, I still witnessed a whole lot of "you've gotta be kidding me" measures taken on behalf of so-called traveler safety.

Whether it was the feeble grandmother in a wheel chair forced to stand and be wanded for metallic items or the blatant ignorance of TSA screeners looking away from the screen to talk to each other while several bags passed through unchecked or general unprovoked surliness on both sides of the screening process, I saw a lot of unpleasant and ridiculous stuff.

In retrospect, I dutifully acquiesced to the theatrics/process each time instead of raising a stink, so I really was part of the problem, wasn't I? Yet I always meditated on the "how exactly is this making us safer?" question to pass the time in line. (the answer was always: "It doesn't")

So imagine how pleased I was to see in yesterday's NYTimes Jet Lagged blog pilot Patrick Smith hitting the nail squarely on the head in condemning this theatrical display of security via his post titled The Airport Security Follies. Read the whole thing yourself, or skip to the punch line here:
How we got to this point is an interesting study in reactionary politics, fear-mongering and a disconcerting willingness of the American public to accept almost anything in the name of “security.” Conned and frightened, our nation demands not actual security, but security spectacle. And although a reasonable percentage of passengers, along with most security experts, would concur such theater serves no useful purpose, there has been surprisingly little outrage. In that regard, maybe we’ve gotten exactly the system we deserve.
I'm with Cory at BoingBoing: if there's a revolution, tell me where to bring my pitchfork and torch. I'm there.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

IHT's 2007 in pix: good photos but bad UI

The International Herald Tribune has released its slideshow of 2007 in pictures: images capturing the compelling stories of 2007.

When you follow the link, you'll see they actually put the slideshow of 58 images up on December 18, and I'm only sharing the news with you now because it's taken me this long to scroll through the interface for the pictures one... at... a... time and wait for two ads to load on each page.

Such an infuriating UI. No way to scan the pix. You're locked into their choice of order, and heaven forbid you're stuck on a slow connection. While the pix average 64Kb, you've still got to load two ads per page to see the pics.

The only saving grace? Each photo is captioned and includes a link to the related article. You win some, you lose some. Still looking forward to a Flickr-like preview page for these "best of" collections.

Friday, December 28, 2007

freezer recovers crashed iBook hard drive data

In January of this year, my wife's iBook died a horrible screeching death when the hard drive failed in spectacular fashion. Eleven months later, thanks to help from our refrigerator's freezer, we revived the iBook long enough to grab our "irrecoverable data" from the grave.

A little bit about the iBook's untimely death: it was over rather quickly, as the open applications started slowing down and the beach ball lingered after each click much longer than it should have. Our typical tech solution (rebooting) was the exact wrong thing to do. After the Apple "BONG" signaled the restart, the screen stayed black while we listened to something scrape across the hard drive. We didn't hear the scraping for long, as my wife's shrieking "NOOOOOOOOO!" drowned the scrape out in short order: she hadn't backed up her files. Ever. And the scrape signaled the loss of the outline and 40 pages of a nonfiction book she'd been researching for months.

We went into recovery mode: The iBook was out of warranty by a good two years. No matter, we'd pay for the fix. A trip to the Apple Store's Genius Bar got nothing but a sympathetic "sorry, dude, we can't help" from the genius in residence. We then requested a quote from DriveSavers to extract the data and they came back with a "it'll be no more than $2300, but we can't promise we can get anything at all." That's almost $60 per page of the draft... too much. So, we decided to chalk it up to a learning experience (easy enough for me, it wasn't my book that vanished) and buy a new MacBook and begin backing up our data. The iBook took up residence in the storage room downstairs and was forgotten by all by my Dad.

My dad had heard somewhere that freezing the drive could help recover the data and was itching to see if it really worked. So, on the first day of my Dad's Christmas visit he asked if we still had the iBook (yes) and a thumbdrive (yes). Then he asked if we had room in the freezer for the laptop (no, but could be arranged). Finally, he asked if we were up for an experiment (sure).

We put the iBook in the freezer about 2pm Christmas afternoon and when dinner was over that night around 8pm, we took the frozen laptop out, plugged in the power cord, plugged in the thumb drive and depressed the power button.

The familiar startup chime sounded loud and strong from our frozen iBook.

We saw the screen flicker as the raster (the grey desktop) appeared and then we saw the load icon begin to swirl. Could it be true? We hadn't gotten this far at the Genius Bar back in January.

Then the OS badge appeared and, sure enough, moments later the desktop loaded back to what we were looking at last January just before the crash. The iBook even connected to our wireless network again!

Moving quickly (we didn't know how long we had), we dragged and dropped my wife's critical files from the iBook's hard drive onto the thumb drive. Success!

I didn't test to see how long the iBook would last in its frozen state, but I was able to switch users and grab some files from my own user desktop before shutting down about 20 minutes after it came back to life.

I would never have believed this were possible if we hadn't done it ourselves. I would NOT recommend this method as a first line of defense when trying to recover data from a crashed hard drive, but if you've gotten to the end of your rope and are ready to kiss your data goodbye, try popping your laptop in the freezer before rebooting one last time.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Maytag refrigerator repair: holiday surprise

Our Maytag Ice 2 O regrigerator (model MFI-2568-AES) went on the fritz last Wednesday night around 8:30pm. Thanks to the Web, and Forbes Appliance Repair, we had the fridge fixed (for free) within 24 hours... what a surprise!

To set the stage appropriately, we like our refrigerator a lot: it's got french doors, a bottom freezer drawer and an in-the-door console with ice and water dispenser. We bought it off the floor of Lowe's when we moved to Redwood City in July 2006, and it's served us well, for the most part.

So when this thing went "on the fritz," I mean the lights on the control panel started flickering in a Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind fashion while the flap on the ice cube dispenser methodically opened and slammed shut. What kind of pissed off kitchen gremlin had decided to take up residence in our 16-months-new fully stocked fridge the week before Christmas?

Left Coast Mom and I began searching for the owner's manual to try and troubleshoot the situation (in the index under "P" for "Possessed") but couldn't find the manual anywhere in the kitchen or the files or the storage room bookcases (later we'd find out we'd stored it conveniently on top of the fridge in case something malfunctioned). So, we took to the web in search of help on our dueling laptops.

I found the owners manual online at the maytag web site and 58 Mb of file download later, I found nothing in the manual that was any help beyond how to turn off power to the control panel (remove the cover over the door hinge above the panel, then unplug the wire harness) to stop the infernal dispenser racket. We were out of warranty, and I was desperately scanning the web for any information on how our problem could be fixed and how much it'd cost us.

So I googled "maytag MFI-2568-AES troubleshoot" and about half-way down the results list I discovered the ComplaintsBoard forum overflowing with posts from folks (like us) who were confronted by malfunctioning control panel/ice dispenser. I found nine pages of forum posts, to be precise, starting Feb 9, 2007, when Cheryl M posted the following:
I bought my maytag ice2o French door refrigerator from home depot 8 mos ago. Loved it when I got it, but soon after had problems with the ice maker. They replaced the ice maker. Now the ice maker is still having problems. Its not strong enough to break up all the ice. The ice cubes freeze in big blocks causing the system to clog. Last night the thing took on a mind of its own. All the lights are flashing on the control panel, the ice and water maker don't work at all. The flap is constantly opening and closing all on its own, constantly making a clicking noise all night long. Finally we had to unplug it so we could get 4 hours sleep. Plug it in this morning and its still doing it. My biggest concern is what happens after the warranty runs out. I already know this thing has mechanical problems. Did I get a lemon or is it junk?? Either way I'm stuck with a $2,800 refrigerator that seems like it has bad engineering.
It was great to follow the arc of the discussion going from first post to group-wide resolution:
  • In the first 60 days, a dozen folks chimed in to say they were affected by the same problem.
  • Within 90 days, the forum was picking up speed and the group had diagnosed the High Voltage Control Board (part # 12920710 Board HV C) as the culprit. At least one workaround had been posted to the $200-$400 "official" fix for those of us out of warranty.
  • On Day 133, the first "we're investigating a potential class action suit" post appears.
  • By Day 150, folks begin posting success with Maytag's fixing the units for free and the discussion turns to strategies for navigating the customer service phone tree.
  • By Day 180, the complaints are now focused on the repair services, not on Maytag. From the posts, it seems A&E Factory Service is either heaven-sent or demons-from-hell depending on which city you live.
  • By Day 210, the forum is mostly full of folks expressing gratitude for all the previous posts and tips and reporting success in getting their own fridges fixed.
I called the Maytag customer service line (make that the "Whirlpool Customer Care Line" now that Maytag's been purchased by Whirlpool) and found out I'd have to wait until 8am Thursday morning to speak with a live person.

Thursday morning, I got a hold of Lorraine at Whirlpool and reported my problem. Within 10 minutes, she'd issued me a QI code and offered to set up a service call for me with A&E Factory Service the day after Christmas (6 days later!). I declined the offer and instead tried to go with a local shop, leaving a message with Forbes Appliance Repair here in Redwood City.

Bill (at Forbes) called me back around 3pm to get more details. I told him the problem and he admitted he probably didn't have the part in stock and couldn't get it until after the holiday.

I tried calling A&E myself to see if I could get a Friday appointment since I assumed they'd have the part in stock. Within 2 minutes of dealing with the customer support rep at A&E, I'd learned enough to know I was dealing with the demon variety and decided to stay with my instincts to go local.

I called Bill back and asked that he order the part and come install it. Bill took my info and was surprised when I gave him the part number he'd need to order (I had it thanks to the forum posts). He said he'd put in the order and would call to let me know when it was due to come in so he could come replace it.

Within 30 minutes, Bill called back with an unexpected question: "When can you be at the house?"

Beg pardon?

Bill happened to have the part in stock and offered to come to the house to install it that evening. All I had to do was move the fridge away from the wall so he could access the panel in the back to replace the board. (In moving the fridge, I discovered where we'd stashed the manual.)

At 6:15p, Bill knocked on the door. By 6:30p, the fridge was fixed and Bill was packing up his stuff and wishing us a Happy Holiday.

Happy Holidays, indeed. So refreshing to get good customer service from a local provider.

So, thanks to Forbes Appliance Service (650-366-8388) here in Redwood City, our fridge was fixed in record time. Here's hoping your appliances never go on the fritz, but if they do, give Bill a call to come fix them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Reuter's Pictures of the Year 2007

Glad to see that Reuters has posted their own Pictures of the Year 2007 collection,

Bummed to have to warn you that the navigation through their collection is painstakingly laborious, at best.

Why can't they do something like the Flickr set thumbnails view instead of forcing us to scroll-and-click, scroll-and-click?

I have to admit I only made it half-way through the collection out of frustration with the interface. I'm hoping I didn't miss too much good stuff.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Twitter connections in KL

Itsthomas from Twitter
Originally uploaded by Choconancy1
Funny how small this world is.

Until today, I'd only known Nancy (Choconancy1 on Flickr) from Twitter, with a minimal sprinkling of Facebook and phone. Our work has us running in the same circles of people but until we met here in Kuala Lumpur.

Based on tweets, we knew we'd both be in KL at the same time attending the same conference, so bumping into each other was inevitable.

However, in a break between meetings, I tweeted I was about to go visit Central Market here in KL to prop up the local economy. Nancy caught the news and tweeted back to ask if she could join.

10 minutes later, we met in the lobby of my hotel and hopped a cab with my friend Sanjeev and were on our way. Nancy snapped this picture during the rain-soaked cab ride back to the hotel and uploaded our tale to her Flickr stream (

And now we've got photographic proof how the world gets smaller every day.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

using blackberry 8830 in asia

I'm here in Kuala Lumpur and very happy to see my Verizon Wireless Blackberry 8830 is working like a charm: both voice and data work smoothly via the "my celcom" network in downtown KL.

It also worked just fine at Singapore's Changi Airport in transit here.

I was surprised, however, to find out that the data network does NOT work at the Hong Kong airport. There was a weak voice signal there in the terminal, but absolutely no data stream available for email or web browsing.

Maybe it was a fluke the morning I passed through (Dec 8 at 7am)? I doubt it, though.

In any case, I'll be trying again on Dec 14 when I fly home. Unless I post differently, you've been warned not to expect data on your BB 8830 in the Hong Kong airport.

Don't get me wrong. In all, I'm still pleased with the phone. I'm just surprised at what constitutes a "world edition."

eating local food in Malaysia

plate of local fresh fruit
Originally uploaded by thomas pix
It's been a good initial 30 hours here in Malaysia.

Every chance I've gotten, I've made sure to eschew anything resembling traditional Western food for something more local (at least to this part of the world).

Last night for dinner, a group of seven of us at at the Little Penang Cafe (on the top floor of the Suria KLCC mall). Unlike American malls, the food court at the Suria Mall is actually a destination place to eat good food.

So, I had a bowl of prawn mee (spicy fish broth with noodles, prawns and bok choy) for dinner and a cincau (slightly sweet tea-like drink that's full of ice and gelatin blobs). Definitely not Western fare, and decidedly yummy and filling. The tab for all seven of us to eat? 102 Ringgits or roughly US$34. sweet.

At breakfast this morning (inclusive at the hotel), I skipped the stuff I'd expect on an American buffet breakfast and went for the Eastern stuff: dim sum, maasala, sushi, samosa, Mango juice (YUM!!!) and fresh fruit. Oh, wait, I did have coffee and a miniature pain au chocolat as well (it's a weakness, I admit). Again, delicious.

And at one of the break periods in today's meeting, I couldn't help but get a plate full of fresh fruit to go with my coffee (those flecks of chocolate at the bottom of the plate are just that... I ate the bite-sized mousse first).

I just can't get over the visuals on the fruit here. None of the melons really taste like what you'd expect in the States. In the picture, the polka dot fruit (dragon fruit) tastes like raw pumpkin, the yellow fruit tastes just like watermelon and the pale fruit tastes like muskmelon, maybe the closest to what I'd get at home.

While the guide books all say "AVOID FRESH FRUIT" I'm assuming they're talking about street-purchased fruit and not the stuff professionally prepared in restaurants and catering joints. Just in case, though, I'm taking preventative doses of the pink stuff so as not to come down with TD (Traveler's Diarrhea).

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

National Geographic photo contest winners announced

My favorite time of year is here: the announcement of winners from all manner of contests as well as folks announcing their "Best of 2007" lists.

First up to be featured here, National Geographic's International Photography Contest. Of course NG lives up to expectations of curating a great set of pictures. Unfortunately, the pix are trapped in a presentation method that doesn't allow me to link directly to individual photos. As per usual, my favorites aren't the feature photo on any of the splash pages for the sets below.

In the International Winners category, four photographers are chosen from 148,203 images submitted to
the International Photography Contest.

In the English Language Winners category,
Four photographers are chosen from over 24,000 images submitted to the English Language portion of the International Photography Contest.

Honorable Mentions and other selections are featured in their remaining Animal, People and Landscape Galleries.

Monday, December 03, 2007

oncoming trains can't disrupt this marketplace

Watch how quickly this Bangkok marketplace reconstitutes itself on the train tracks once the very-real train has passed. I'm most impressed with the placement of goods sitting on the ground, between the ties, so that the train barely clears them. These entrepreneurs clearly have done this many times

I'm trying to imagine what this might look like in Redwood City on the Caltrain tracks, especially when the Baby Bullet comes screaming through.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

good things come via Flickr and Creative Commons

The train to Amsterdam from Schiphol airport Courtesy Flickr mail, I just received notice, yet again, that another of my Flickr photos has been used to illustrate an article.

Back in March of this year, I blogged about my decision to put all my Flickr photos under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and since then, half a dozen, or so, of my photos have been picked up for use by others with attribution back to me (per the license). I get no money, mind you (I'm not looking for $$), but it's a nice little ego kick to see that someone likes a picture I took enough to use it in something they're creating.

This time around, it's a travel guide for Amsterdam that's using a picture I snapped on my Treo of the train at Schiphol airport station. I had an overnight layover, and I was headed to the 'Dam for some Kwok when I snapped a picture of the bright yellow train as a reminder what I'd need to look for as I stumbled back to the station in the wee hours. (kidding!) I was really just so impressed at how yellow the train was... not High-Viz Yellow (like this blog) but a bright yellow nonetheless.

In any case, the picture could have sat in my Flickr stream for a handful of us to enjoy, but thanks to the CC license, more and more people will see the yellow train (and my photo credit) in the travel guide. They might just click through to see my other photos where they could find a photo they need for another project and place it there with the credit. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Or, seeing the photo credit, they might just google my name which will bring them here to the blog where they might find something worth quoting on their own blog with credit back to here. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

BTW, some of my favorite CC'd photo uses so far are this bamboo flooring article showing a bamboo grove pic I'd snapped at Hakone Gardens, and this picture of Mt Hood that's been used to illustrate a lesson on volcanoes in a lesson plan book for middle school students titled Google Earth and GPS Activities for Intermediate Science just published this fall.

Quite the virtuous circle that Creative Commons has facilitated. And to think CC is just about to celebrate its fifth birthday this month.

Who knows where another of my photos will end up next?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

google maps location hack on blackberry 8830

Very happy to see via GigaOm that the mobile version of Google Maps I've installed on my Blackberry 8830 can now closely approximate my location even though Verizon Wireless has crippled the GPS on my device.

Those brilliant developers over at Google Maps are using cell phone tower triangulation to approximate my location that, depending on cell tower density, is accurate anywhere from 500 to 5,000 meters. Given I spend the vast majority of my time in Silicon Valley/Bay Area, there are plenty of towers around.

I tried it out just now, and Google Maps on my 8830 plotted me within a block of my present location. At any time, I can ask it to relocate me (if I've moved) by pressing the "0" (zero) key to recenter the map on my location.

I can't wait to be able to use this along with traffic reports on my way to the Sharks game tonight in San Jose tonight.

Of course, I'd love it if VZW would simply uncripple the GPS on my phone, but I understand they're currently tearing down the walls (via WSJ: subscription required) around their network garden instead.

BMW 3-series subframe cracks: class action evidence?

If you own an e46 model BMW (a 3-series manufactured between 1999 and 2005), you may want to take a look at this investigation about subframe cracks that the attorneys at Wasserman, Comden and Casselman LLP are undertaking:

A class action lawsuit has been filed which alleges that the manufacturing and/or design defect includes a weak or insufficient floor panel in the unibody of the vehicle that causes, among other things, cracking in the floor pan and misalignment, cracking or the complete or partial failure of the rear subframe of the vehicle. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that the rear mounting points for the subframe rip out from their spots in the sheet metal because the rear differential transmits the torsional load from the engine through the subframe, then into the chassis.

The posting at WWC Law also contains pictures of the problem they've collected so far.

While I haven't yet had any problems with my own car (it's been a dream), this is a good opportunity for crowdsourcing of evidence that can help us all. If you have any evidence that might help in the case, please contact the folks at WWCLaw.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

quick and easy language translation on the web

The latent linguist in me is really geeking out this morning now that I've found lingro.

Lingro is a web-based tool that allows you to make each word on a web page clickable to be translated into one of a growing number of languages (English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish so far).

As an example, you can see this blog "lingro-fied" where clicking on any word in the blog will spring the translation popup into action and you can click on the flag at the top of the popup to choose what you want to translate into or from. Bonus feature: you can hear someone pronounce the word with a click of the mouse!

I'll find this most useful in reading sites in languages other than English where I need help with one or two words. Yes, there's room for improvement: idioms and the like, but that's the holy grail for on-the-fly translations, no?

Give it a try!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

clever Apple Guy/PC guy online ad re: vista

Note the clever use of the available ad space on this page:

Glad I haven't made any moves toward Vista yet (the only Windows machine in our house runs XP and is locked in the dungeon, aka the downstairs den). I wouldn't even dream of upgrading my Parallels install to run Vista. XP will do just fine thankyouverymuch.

interesting (ab)use of property rights in Colorado

Saw an interesting article about property rights today courtesy Boing Boing. The Daily Camera reports an Adverse Possession case that includes elements of (potential) cronyism and connections and serves as a stark illustration of how those with intimate knowledge of the legal code can one-up those who don't.

The gist of the article is that a man, who is both a former district court judge and a former mayor of Boulder, and his wife have successfully seized land that another couple has owned for decades by exploiting a hundred-year-old concept in property law known as Adverse Possession. The case is still on appeal, but that hasn't stopped more than 200 people from protesting vividly outside the former judge's home.

Here's the google satellite image of where I think the disputed lots are (gleaned from details in the story and a search on "Hardscrabble Drive, Boulder, CO":

View Larger Map

I'm rather appalled that the judge would do this, but I think it's another great example of why we need free up the legal code so that all can understand what's on the books rather than keeping it locked away for the privileged few (those in the legal system with the resources to pay for access).

Glad to see that Carl Malamud and the folks at Public.Resource.Org are doing something about this.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

arranging application icons on BlackBerry 8830

I'm happy to report I've finally figured out how to move application icons on the 8830!

Since I first got my BB 8830, I've been frustrated with the default themes and the arrangement of the icons on the Applications view. When I'd add an application to the phone, the icon seemed to plop down wherever *it* wanted to, not where I wanted to place it.

After asking a couple other 8830 owners how to change the icon placement, no one else seemed to know, either. So, I poked around and played with buttons and finally figured it out.

In the applications view of your theme (the view where you see ALL your icons in a grid on the screen), use your trackball to highlight an icon you want to move, then press the applications button  (the one immediately to the left of the trackball) and select "move" from the popup menu. You can now use the trackball to push the icon around anywhere you want it to go in the grid. Once you've moved it where you want it, press the trackball button and it drops the icon in place.

You'll notice as you're moving the icon around that all the other icons move to the right of where you're trying to drop the one you're moving. And when the icons can't move right, they drop down a row (far left), so obviously you're moving icons into a stack that flows from the upper left to the lower right corner.

To make your apps window even cleaner, you can create folders to move your lightly used icons into.

You make a folder by starting from the same applications view and clicking the applications button. From the popup menu, select "Add folder" and then name it, assign an icon and click OK. The folder now appears in the top-left corner of your screen, and you can move icons *into* the folder the same way you moved icons to different parts of the screen. When your icon's hovering over the folder, you see the "+" symbol and press the trackball button to drop it in.

I created a folder called "lightly used" and moved my email setup and voice dial and password locker and other apps in there. Ahhh, much better.

The only drag? If you change themes (I use BB dimension today), you have to do the re-arranging all over again.

Have fun!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

video of how to turn a sphere outside in

Along the lines of my previous post on 10th Dimension, here's a great brain-bender illustrating how you can turn a sphere inside out (and outside in).

Lots of great instruction on how to think about turn numbers and circles and the effects of corrugation.

(while the video is 21 minutes long, you can see the payoff within the first two minutes and then the "proof" takes the rest of the time).

What's your turn number?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

ahead of my time: tracking the birth of our PT Cruiser

Listening to a panel of marketing poo-bahs talking all about how great the "my Mini" campaign is (build a car online then track the progress online as the same car is built in the factory), I'm reminded back to 2000 when LeftCoastMom and I purchased a PT Cruiser, sight unseen, at the height of the frenzy.

I used an AOL Hometown home page to update the status (this was in the pre-blog days), and with a little detective work, I found our 2001 PT Cruiser tracking page again.

I regularly updated the status of our car over the five months between putting our $500 deposit down and taking the keys from the dealer's paw. To get the data I had to use several techniques:
Sure, through the process, I learned a lot about the car manufacturing process, the rail shipping process and how difficult it was to get info along the way. But was that a good use of my time? I'm smarter for it, I guess.

Glad to see that the folks at Mini have made it a very transparent process now, and are celebrating the birth of each Mini as it makes its way to its new owner.

(We sold the under-powered PT within two years of buying it... ah, for those option-rich DINC days again)

how to manage your brand when customers control the message

One of the highlights of the Marketing to Online Communities 2007 conference is the session by Thor Muller on "How to Manage Your Brand When Customers Control the Message."

Thor is the CEO of Satisfaction, a startup delivering "people-powered customer service for absolutely everything."

He cited some great examples of episodes on the web that illustrate where a company was forced to deal with customers controlling the message (when the companies' fortress mentality was strained to respond):

"the Streisand effect": the JL Kirk & Associates blog post that kicked up a storm when JLK&A sent a cease-and-desist in response to the negative review of the poster's interaction with JLK&A. Is old news by now, but worth the repeat visit as a reminder of what not to do in this blog-enabled world.

YouTube videos illustrating good and bad ways to react to customer control of the message

Brilliant observation by Thor: "every company has a community, they're just trapped, bound and gagged, in the trouble ticket system."

How many companies are you trapped in?

AOL's approach to marketing to communities

Presented by Marcien Jenckes, VP community brands at AOL

Things critical to deliver to a community:
  1. Communities belong to their participants (not to publishers or advertisers). As hosts, you own the right to facilitate interaction, but the community belongs to the people inside
  2. Help with concept of identity: knowing who the participants are and giving them the ability to manage their identities online
  3. Ability to build/manage social graph: building a list of all the people important to you, who are relevant to the topics and interests to you
  4. creating facilitation platforms: communities are exchanges, facilitating liquidity between people to assist with the exchange of ideas (at AOL: via chat, blogs, discussion forums, etc)
AOL's Advice to Marketers
A. Know what you want to achieve in business terms first
B. Three buckets where can take advantage of commty
1. Get over yourselves, tap into the rest of the world -- use community to get leverage, organize around your brand/ideas important to you
2. Organize people around causes that they and (most importantly) you care about, and commit to it
3. Leverage the talkers and the multiplier effect: get into the viral effects of community by tapping into the power of the natural leaders/communicators within the community

Blogged with Flock

measuring marketing success

Watching David Dunne of Edelman PR present at the Marketing to Online Communities 2007 audience and he noted that the pent up desire for people to communicate is finally getting matched by the capabilities of technology and we're seeing the resultant explosive growth.

However, technology is now giving consumers the opportunity to avoid marketers' messages as never before.

So, what should marketers do to reach their audience?
  • watch, listen and engage
  • become great storytellers
  • become great story gatherers
  • activate the evangelists (your biggest fans)
And, an innovative digital strategy requires an innovative approach to measurement:

Traditional measurements:
  • impressions
  • awareness
  • video views
  • media impressions
Today's measurements:
  • site traffic
  • time spent,
  • pages viewed,
  • repeat visits,
  • open rates (email),
  • click through rates,
  • registrations,
  • search engine visibility,
  • downloads
Future measurements:
  • share of conversations, 
  • frequency of mentions, 
  • participation of brand in forums,
  • ratings and reviews of products,
  • sentiment,
  • return on involvement

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

whole blood donation in less than an hour

I've been donating at the Stanford Blood Center for several years now, and one of my biggest challenges has been squeezing the donation into my schedule. Whether I'm giving whole blood or platelets, the time just doesn't seem to materialize.

Instead of planning ahead for this latest donation, I simply made an appointment for a same-day whole blood donation this week. The blood center was more than happy to take my appointment. In all, it took 90 minutes out of my day to make it to the center, donate and make it back.

Here's how the time to donate a pint of whole blood breaks down:

0:00 - 0:20 commute from Redwood City to Stanford Blood Center on campus
0:21 - 0:25 sign in, fill out the usual forms
0:26 - 0:35 form information reviewed, vitals taken (bp, pulse, temperature, Hgb)
0:36 - 0:40 vein check, iodine scrub, packaging prep
0:41 - 0:47 pint o blood goes from my vein to the bag
0:48 - 0:52 clean up, bandage up
0:53 - 1:08 wait in the canteen (2 cups of guava juice and a cookie) to make sure I don't pass out
1:09 - 1:30 commute back to Redwood City. Done!

So, why do I find it so difficult to fit that into my schedule every eight weeks?

Next challenge: finding a way to fit a regular platelet donation into my schedule. That'll mean tagging on an extra hour, but I can spend the hour reading a book, watching a show, or (hey!) even blogging since they've got wi-fi in the platelet donation room.

Monday, November 05, 2007

getting comfortable with the label "former motorcyclist"

I've had this nagging feeling over the last few months that it's time to hang up the motorcycle helmet for good and get rid of my 2004 BMW R1150RT.

Maybe that's why I'm suddenly noticing more and more content popping up that's making real what's always been at the back of my mind: the risks associated with riding. Heck, even the Doonesbury Sunday Comic weighed in this weekend.

While I do everything I can to manage those risks: always wearing a High Visibility Yellow - HVY- aerostich suit (the namesake of this blog) and helmet and gloves and boots, riding well within my comfort zone at all times, riding defensively, etc. I know the risks are still there.

Since I live within walking distance of work now, I no longer ride the motorcycle to beat the traffic (heck, I haven't ridden since my summer adventure up into Oregon). So, why, exactly do I have it in my garage?

I'll be blogging as I work through the decision process. If you know anyone looking for an RT in mint condition, let me know.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Schneier's point: A War on the Unexpected

Great to see Bruce Schneier hitting it out of the park again with his assessment of this war on terror the unexpected.

[A]fter someone reports a "terrorist threat," the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment.

Watch how it happens. Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to -- a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant -- now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.

This story has been repeated endlessly, both in the U.S. and in other countries...

The comments are great, and I really like the way Jon puts it in the context of a feedback loop:

You're describing a positive feedback loop without any dampening, so that noise will dominate and mask any genuine signal. In economic terms, the cost of all error has been externalized, so there is no incentive to be accurate or minimize false positives; in fact error directly leads to additional positive reinforcement, resulting in news coverage, promotions, additional budget and fancy new gear.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

how to think REALLY big

I know I'm going to have to watch this animation about Imagining the Tenth Dimension again to fully comprehend it, but I'm posting the link here to share with my scientifically minded readers.

When I need to zoom up out of the weeds, this animation will be a most useful tool to think big.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

shirky nails it: arrogance and humility

Belatedly found a nugget by Clay Shirky about Arrogance and Humility in design. It's a quick read, but here's the punch line anyway:  

Arrogance without humility is a recipe for high-concept irrelevance; humility without arrogance guarantees unending mediocrity. Figuring out how to be arrogant and humble at once, figuring out when to watch users and when to ignore them for this particular problem, for these users, today, is the problem of the designer.

Here's to the designers who can solve the problem!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

my haloween costume idea courtesy CIA

Just in time, the CIA (yes, that one) publishes their new "Terrorist Buster" logo for all to see:

I knew if I waited long enough, inspiration would hit! Now if I can just find an International NO symbol big enough...

How much time actually went into creating this thing? I mean, sure, the fade/shadow is retro mid-1997, but did they have to try to emboss the thing? What's with those lines? If it weren't actually hosted on the CIA site, I'd really doubt its authenticity.

how many near-misses do we each get?

Today's Home Fires post on the NYTimes blog is inspiring both in style and substance. 

Lee Kelley employs a great storytelling technique to convey his message that Mortality Strikes all of us, likely when we're least expecting it. After a great setup, he drives home the lessons to be learned in his concluding paragraphs:

But believe it or not, I'm glad the accident happened. I must have needed the lesson because already, after a short 16 months of being home from Iraq, I had begun to take life for granted again even though that is the one thing I swore to myself I'd never do. I feel that I have truly moved on from the war, from divorce, and definitely from my life before the war in a healthy and positive way. I have embraced circumstance and now try to mold it into a respectable fate. I have been forced to reinvent myself as a single parent and I did it happily.

It's amazing how much we all try to get done in a given week, month or life. We're some busy creatures. And yet sometimes, even when we least expect it, mortality strikes our consciences like lightning electrocuting the endless Middle Eastern sky.

In this instance it was a boulder that brought the lesson to me. Two years ago mortars, rockets, and any number of other possible deaths were keeping me honest on a daily basis. I'm hoping that if I keep watching, and keep learning, someday I won't need these blatant wake-up calls. 

I appreciate Kelley's post as a reminder to keep me honest. No more blatant wake-up calls for me, thanks, I think I've already gone through my share.

Monday, October 22, 2007

mossberg says "free my phone"

Great to see Walt Mossberg weigh in on the wireless carrier ecosystem in his Free My Phone opinion piece today on (subscription still required, but is free today 10/22/07). And by "weigh in" I mean "skewer the carrier-run market." Required reading for anyone frustrated by their wireless carrier or equipment as a possible road map out of this hell we're in.

This hits a nerve for me, as I spent the weekend suffering through a nasty situation on my own Blackberry 8830 from Verizon Wireless thanks to a confluence of two "bugs": 1) VZW has crippled the 8830's built-in GPS (known issue) making the OEM mapping tool less than helpful and 2) Google Maps doesn't launch on my phone no matter how many ways I try to install it (anyone else with the same problem?). So, while I could get maps of choice and traffic data on demand on my Treo650 with no problems, I can't bring up useful maps on my 8830 (it thinks every address south of Redwood City is in San Jose) and there's no traffic data available, period.

If I knew I could enable the GPS on my 8830, I wouldn't be as displeased. I'd rather go all the way to be able to use Gmaps with my 8830's GPS, but I'll settle for baby steps at this point.

Perhaps there's hope for a resolution to this consumer-unfriendly situation, as Mossberg closes with the following observation:
Up until the 1970s, when the federal government intervened, you weren't allowed to buy your own landline phone, and companies weren't able to innovate, on price or features, in making and selling phones to the public. All Americans were forced to rent clumsy phones made by a subsidiary of the monopoly phone company, AT&T, which claimed that, unless it controlled what was connected to its network, the network might suffer.

Well, the government pried that market open, and the wired phone network not only didn't collapse, it became more useful and versatile, allowing, among other things, cheap connections to online data services.

I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.
See his vlog about the topic here:

information r/evolution video from KSU

Those folks at the Media Cultures project at Kansas State University are at it again.

This video from Michael Wesch helps illustrate and explain how information is/could be/should be managed on the internet. Wish this video had been around to show folks when we were having our big "how to create a tagging system" debate in our online community.

You'll see the work of both Clay Shirky and David Weinberger highlighted in the video. Their work is required reading, but first, take a look at the video:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

clean solar panels means more clean power

As I've previously posted on Earth Day, we have a bank of twenty solar panels on the top of our home that has done wonders in reducing our electricity bill from $200 a month to less than $200 a year.

This past summer was a nice and sunny one (though mercifully not as hot as the summer of 2006), and we'd thought for sure we'd reap the benefits of our solar panels in banking a bunch of credits from producing more electricity than we used.

We were wrong.

While we did see a reduction in our electricity bills (July came in at a whopping $4), we didn't see the kinds of credits we'd expected. This flummoxed us to no end. We hadn't brought any big power suckers online since last summer (Plasma HDTV notwithstanding) yet our monthly bill showed we were drawing down more power than we were generating. Why?

Well, thanks to the innocent comment made by a fellow parent watching my daughter's soccer team, I think we know why. Our panels are filthy with dust and dirt!

We've never actually cleaned them (which means: rinsing with a hose) so all the dust and dirt and muck that's been kicked up and coated our cars in the last 15 months is just sitting there diminishing the generating power of our solar panels. How could I have not realized that as a cause for our rising energy bills?

You can bet I'll be cleaning the panels tomorrow, and I fully anticipate we'll see the impact on our bill this next billing cycle.

Keep 'em clean!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

my next physical challenge

While I have yet to post the tale that accompanies my Mt Whitney climbing video, I have been able to pick out my next physical challenge: a sprint-distance triathlon.

I found having a BIG GOAL (climbing Mt Whitney) was just the motivation I needed to modify my workout and eating habits. In the 75 days between saying, "yes I'll climb" and actually making it to the summit, I shed a total of 18 pounds from my 6'2" frame (from 218 down to 200). Even now, three weeks later, I've kept the weight off, and I'm in the best shape I've been since my first daughter was born five years ago.

Yet, since coming back from climbing Mt Whitney, I've found my motivation lagging to keep exercising regularly even while I've still kept to a healthy diet and eating schedule.

So, I've set my sights on finishing (with a smile!) the ICE Breaker Triathlon in Granite Bay, CA on April 13, 2008. It's a .5 mile swim – 13 mile bike – 4 mile run race. And while the bike and the run segments don't bother me too much, the swim is of greatest concern because my swimming skills consist of barely managing not to sink in the water. Lots of room to improve there.

I've also set my sights on launching a triathlon-specific blog to share my journey toward completing my first tri, including all advice analysis, training travails and gear getting along my way.

I'll post here on HVYTK the link once the new blog is launched. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: the link to my new triathlon-focused blog is so I'll keep the tri-related posts to a minimum here on HVYTK.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

pint, please (better be Guinness)

On lunch break, I discovered a great blog post over on Head Rambles with advice on how to survive your first Guinness (real Guinness, as in, ordering while in Ireland).

In retrospect, a lot of the same how-to advice applies to ordering a Guinness in the dart bars here around the Bay Area. While the taste doesn't compare, or so I've been told, you've been warned how to act.

teddy roosevelt says, "just do it"

In TechCrunch's post about Yossi Vardi, I found a surprising source of words of encouragement to just do it.

The encouragement came in a 1910 speech Theodore Roosevelt made in Paris:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Even at a century old, the observations ring loudly. I wonder if I'd hold them in such high regard if they'd been uttered just a decade ago?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

more good music from iceland

Listening to my iPod on shuffle yesterday, I happened to hit on Emiliana Torrini's song "Sunny Road" (from her album, Fisherman's Woman) and was reminded, again, just how much Icelandic music I enjoy.

I've been a longtime fan of the The Sugar Cubes and all-things Bjork. Then I stumbled on the so-eerie-it's-cool sounds of Sigur Ros. And now, a little poppier with Emiliana Torrini's music.

I wonder what it is about that small island nation that cranks out so many good musicians?

Wonder what she sounds like? take a listen to Emiliana via this YouTube video for "Sunny Road":

Thursday, October 11, 2007

my new music drought is over

I downloaded my first free album just now, Radiohead's In Rainbows, and I'm listening to it as I type this post.

I've been a Radiohead fan since Pablo Honey dropped in 1993 and I've dutifully purchased every other album since, even defending my purchase of OK Computer to friends who thought the band had gone off the deep end.

So, getting In Rainbows, an entire album from one of my all-time favorite artists, for the price I chose to pay ($0.00) marks a seminal moment in my life. Yes, I could have paid the typical $9.99 for the album, as I've been conditioned to do so by my iTunes (and, now, Amazon) experience. Somehow, I didn't feel compelled to do so, as Radiohead's given me the chance to name my price, and my price at this time, in this format, is "free." When the physical CD is released later this year, I fully intend to purchase it then. But I won't pay for the music twice. Nor will I wait. Maybe I'm just hoping other bands follow suit and give folks a chance to sample the entire album, guilt-free, before spending money to buy the damn thing.

This is a big deal for me, as I've always eschewed the music stealing sites like Napster and Kazaa, and have only ever downloaded music I'd actually paid for or was authorized to download for free by the artist/distributer (at iTunes or direct from an artists' site). I appreciate the 30-second samples available at the music sites, but there's nothing compares to listening to an album straight through to know if you're dealing with a single solid tune, or an album of hidden gems that'll never make it to the charts, but you'll know by heart within the week.

Listening to music has always been a big part of my life, and I think a lot of this comes from having grown up in a small town (Los Alamos, NM. population: 15,000) where listening to the same album over and over and over provided some sense of escape from the day-to-day monotony that is the small-town way.

The radio was a gateway to another world, and I remember my first personal turntable: not the "good stereo" that was in the living room, but a turntable of my own to keep in my room to play whatever I wanted to play on it. I bought my 45s and LPs at the local record shop which meant my collection was limited to whatever was on the charts in the early 1980s.

My tastes, thankfully, swung from Heavy Metal (the official state genre in the 1980s) to New Wave/Punk around ninth grade thanks to a crush I had. When I discovered my crush's taste in music, my collection grew from Pink Floyd and the Scorpions and Def Leppard to include Depeche Mode and The Smiths and Black Flag as I got to know her better.

These were the years of the first Sony Walkman personal cassette players, and I'd go through cases of double-A batteries powering my trips through my own worlds of tones and lyrics and beats and moods created by artists who seemed to somehow know exactly what I was going through as a teen growing up in a small town. I was a member of Columbia House for years, spending my allowance on cassette tapes that each had the tell-tale double-pink stripe on the spine to indicate it was a Columbia House product. I still have most of the cassettes in a box downstairs in the garage, even though I don't even own a cassette player anymore (that's a topic to be explored in a future post, though).

And so I collected cassettes. Lots of them. And I created mix tapes with favorites songs, first by hooking two cassette decks together, then using the same dual-cassette deck once that technology became affordable. Yes, I was that kid in high school who constantly made and distributed mix tapes in quest of the perfect mix.

And when I started driving a car, I think enjoyed the ability to crank the stereo as much as I did to get from point A to point B while listening to the cranked stereo.

Then my parents got me a CD player as a high school graduation gift (my first CD was Suzane Vega's Solitude Standing) and a whole new realm opened up for me. Gone were the days of playing a song then waiting while rewinding to replay the song, always guessing where the beginning of the song actually was, and wearing out the tape in the process. Now, at the click of a button, you could fast forward, start over or shuffle!

And so the next decade of my life was spent acquiring CDs, both through the mail (BMG this time) as well as at the funky record stores around college in San Diego County and then at places like Amoeba Music and Rasputin Records up in the Bay Area.

I had CD players everywhere I could get them (portable CD walkmen, CD/cassette player in the car, CD players around the apartment) and was listening to music just about non-stop. Mix tapes were much easier to make, and the quality of sound was much better. And I could dub multiple copies to give to friends so they'd be inspired to go buy the same CDs I had. I never once thought my mix tapes were taking money away from the artists, because all I ever saw was my friends going out to buy the albums of the artists I'd exposed them to via my mixes.

Then the digital music scene hit, and, while I was an early adopter of computers an online life, I never got into the song-swapping scene. I was too busy ripping my own CDs onto my PC in a format that could be read by my first-generation iPod (remember Rhapsody in those days before Windows-based iTunes?). I'd collected over 800 CDs, so it took a lot of time to rip, and I wasn't about to just give away all this music I'd spent so much time and money accumulating as my own to someone who was just acquiring for the sake of acquiring.

So, I never got caught up in the Napster scene, and after a while, it became a point of pride that I'd never swapped music that way. Sure, I'd still trade (and rip) CDs with friends, but that was on a one-to-one, in-the-flesh basis. But I haven't ever participated in large-scale anonymous music-swapping. Call me old fashioned, by I think this large-scale swapping is theft. And while I think the RIAA is going about the problem (suing folks) the wrong way, I do think these swappers are getting what's due.

So yes, I think the RIAA and the labels have completely blown the opportunity to embrace mass digital distribution as a way to revolutionize the industry and change up their business model. And they'll continue to fail, which will leave room for innovation and experimentation by the artists themselves. Innovations like Radiohead's pay-what-you-like to download the album before the physical CD drops (hell, even before they line up a label to distribute the physical CDs). Wilco and others have shown the free-to-download-digital, pay-for-physical-item model works. Why wouldn't it work this time with extra revenues coming from those who choose to pay twice (for whatever reason motivates them)?

So, legally downloading In Rainbows for free feels good to me. It feels right.

And it's a kickass album to boot. I can't wait to by the CD.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

last week's rubik's cube solving competition

Yes, I'm a geek about the Rubik's cube. My fastest solve ever was back in my prime (my teens) at 45 seconds.

In this year's competition, just held in Budapest, the fastest single solution was recorded at 10.18 seconds.

The overall winner was a 16-year-old japanese kid, Yu Nakajima, who averaged 12.46 seconds after solving it five times.

Not content with just the straight-forward solution (two hands, eyes open), competition categories included solving with one hand, blind-folded, with feet. See the Reuters Video for the visuals (while it's available).

I gotta work on my technique!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

mt whitney climbing video

Still trouble-shooting the dramatic pause at the 58 second mark, but here's video I shot at 13,300 feet on the way up to the summit of Mt Whitney.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 - a dream car

Apologies to the Bare Naked Ladies:

If I had a million Euros... ("if I had a million Euros")
I could not even afford this car! ("no he certainly could NOT!")

Why? the sticker price for the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is 1.1M Euros. And even if I could afford to buy it, I'd only drive it once, to get it up to it's top speed of 407 km/h.

And then I'd put it away in a showroom like the one it's in now with all the great hardwood and lighting and barriers and pay someone to keep the lint off it for the rest of my life.

It's just that beautiful a machine. (Click the photo to see the eight other pictures I took of this car)

Oh, and there was a new Audi R8 in a showroom around the corner that didn't even merit a photo after I'd spent time in the Bugatti showroom. Tough act to follow.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

just back from climbing Mt Whitney

Made it to the top at 14, 497 feet. Much colder and snowier than expected, so it took a lot longer than planned. Finally returned to the cars, triumphant, 20 hours after we left. Only half our party made it to the top, and only a handful of folks made it the entire day we were permitted to be there.
More detail to come, but I've just posted my photos over in my Flickr Mt Whitney set.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

minor improvements to DirecTV HR20 experience

In this latest round of software updates on the DirecTV HR20 HD DVR, they've finally introduced "smart" technology into the experience of fast forwarding or rewinding through a show. By "smart" I mean "forgiving."

The situation they've addressed is to help compensate for people's slow reaction times when speeding through a recorded show. If you're fast-forwarding through a block of commercials and you see the show's started again, by the time your brain sends the signal to your finger to press the PLAY button, you're already several seconds into the show already and have to rewind. No matter how hair-trigger your own response times, you still miss a couple seconds of shows.

The brilliant folks at TiVo took this into account from the start and always backed up the show a few seconds from when you hit the PLAY button when rewinding or fast-forwarding. A nice touch that demonstrates they really pay attention to how folks use technology, and a great demonstration of technology closing an interface gap seamlessly.

So, having been trained on a TiVo for three years, you can imagine our frustration when we discovered the HR20 did not compensate for this gap and we had to relearn how to fast forward and rewind through a lot of trial and error to get our timing and prediction skills honed.

Flash forward to this past week, and the good folks on the HR20 dev team have at last introduced this compensation feature so that the DVR automatically backs up five seconds from the moment you press the PLAY button. At last!

On another front (following up on my DirecTV Ka-Lo upconversion process) we're at last seeing the lineup of HD channels expand. This morning I see in the menu a total of 21 high-def channels (up from eight), and the DirecTV folks are promising 100 High-Def channels by the end of the year. Now we get to see the Weather Channel folks in all their HD goodness 24 hours a day!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

using Blackberry 8830 outside USA? think again

Something's been nagging me for the last couple days about my new Blackberry 8830 and whether or not I'll really be able to use it in Berlin (Germany) when I fly there this weekend. One of those too-good-to-be-true nags that's probably borne of all my past experiences with Verizon's products not quite working as billed.

So I gave the folks at Verizon tech support a call today just to make sure I'd be able to use my 8830 next week in Europe.

Boy am I glad I made the call today.

Turns out you need to acquire (read: purchase) the "Verizon Wireless Global Support Pack" which is a fancy way of saying: you need to get the Vodafone(TM) SIM card which does not come standard on the Verizon Wireless Blackberry 8830 World Edition.

Beg pardon, but what, exactly, makes it a World Edition phone if it doesn't come out of the box equipped to work around the World?

Maybe the same folks who decided to cripple the GPS also made the brilliant decision to ship the phone sans SIM card.

In any case, the tech support rep was happy to inform me all I needed do was stop by any local Verizon Wireless store and pick up the Global Support Pack for $39.99 and install the SIM card and call back to make sure the phone's ready to go before I leave the States.

So, to the store I went, and surprisingly I wasn't charged for the SIM card (thanks to my being a BlackBerry Global Email subscriber) aside from the 20 minutes it took to wait in queue and then wait some more for the sales guy to do all that hocus-pocus behind the scenes to lock my phone to the SIM card from VZW. (If the stakes weren't so high for my making and receiving calls next week, I might've waited to see if I could buy a SIM card over there so as to have a local phone instead.)

In any case, be forewarned: if you've purchased an 8830 thinking you can use it straight away overseas, be sure to call *611 from your phone stateside to see what all you're still missing before you leave.

Can't wait to blog from Potsdamer Platz, but I've got a mountain to climb in the meantime.

UPDATE: I called the Global Support Services team this morning to double-check all is well and ready for my trip, and I was instructed to update the roaming capabilities on my phone by calling *228 from my phone and choosing option 2 from the menu. Did so, and one minute later, I'm all set to go!

Monday, September 24, 2007

three days to the Mt Whitney Summit

Three nights from now, I'll be a couple miles into my ascent of Mt Whitney at this hour of the night (midnight) as part of a same-day assault on the summit. We'll be covering the full 21 miles of hiking (going from 8,360 feet up to 14,497 feet and back down again) in a single day as we have a day permit to be on the mountain Friday, September 28.

I've been training for this climb the last two months with a variety of exercises running, cycling, hiking and lifting weights (in the process I've shed 15 pounds from my frame, to boot). So, I feel I've done everything I can to get ready, now it's just doing it.

I'm leaving the Bay Area Wednesday with my climbing partner, Victor, to make it to Mammoth Lakes (elev 8,000 feet) to sleep at altitude before making our way down to Lone Pine to meet the rest of our party (six of us total) for dinner Thursday. We'll start hiking around 10pm Thursday night so we can summit by dawn and be back at the Whitney Portal by Friday mid-afternoon.

From there, we'll drop back down into Lone Pine to re-feul our bodies and then up to Bishop to sleep (at last!) before returning to the Bay Area Saturday.

In all, it's going to be a great trip. Per the weather forecast, we'll have mostly clear skies for the hike with temperatures ranging from the low 20s to the low 40s at the summit (about 10-15 degrees warmer down the mountain), and we'll have an almost-full moon to help save our headlamp batteries, as well. Couldn't ask for better conditions.

Now it's just up to my own conditioning. Wish me luck, and help me figure out what the next goal should be so I don't gain all 15 pounds back again!

tracking another season of survivor

Finally got around to watching the season opener of Survivor: China last night (it'd been festering on our HR20 since Thursday), and a few passing thoughts on the situation as I see it:
  • why oh why does anyone show up to meet Jeff wearing anything but sensible clothing for the 39 days ahead? This means no skirts, no spiky heels, no rompin' stompin' footwear either.
  • If you know you've been chosen to be on Survivor, and you're going to be outdoors for 39 days, make it a point to actually go camping for a night or two before leaving the States.
  • And there's absolutely no reason anyone going on Survivor shouldn't be able to make a shelter or (gasp!) make fire. We're fifteen shows into this thing, and folks have no excuse to be surprised at the challenge that awaits the first couple days in, no matter where the show's taking place: Australia to Africa, Cook Islands to Vanuatu.
And a few thoughts on the participants this year:
  • I can't wait for Courtney (the bitchy waitress) and Leslie (the righteous talk show host) to get voted off... bonus if it's in a surprise two-fer trip to tribal council.
  • From the looks of things, Ashley (the pro wrestler) is going to keep the blur-it-out censors busy since she can't seem to keep the twins in her top for more than a few moments at a time.
  • Given both his accent and his attitude, I coulda told you Chicken (yes, the Chicken Farmer) was going to be first to go the moment he drawled in his only-in-Virginia-way that he wasn't going to share his opinions anymore cuz nobody was smart enough to listen to him. A shame, as I'd hope I'd pick up some chicken farming tips from him
  • I hope James (the quiet grave digger) goes all the way.
Looking forward to the next 14 weeks of the show to see who does what to whom and when (and why).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sharks hockey season is here again!

It's that most wonderful time of year!

Just as I did a year ago, tonight I had the distinct pleasure of cracking open the San Jose Sharks season ticket books and dividing up the tickets to be shared with my fellow season ticket holders, D and N. There's nothing quite like the smell of a fresh print job to conjure up images of a stellar season ahead.

Looking forward to another great season of Sharks hockey, and the long-awaited trip to with the Stanley Cup here at the Shark Tank in San Jose.

While the Sharks are playing their first preseason game tonight down in LA (untelevised, of course), I'll have to wait until this Saturday to see Grier and the boys take the ice in person. In the meantime, I'm amusing myself watching footage of last year's playoffs wherein my man Grier put the smackdown on Nashville's Hartnell over on

Let's go Sharks!

favorite items from Bourdain's Overrated Menu

Kottke points out this precious article in Radar Magazine: Anthony Bourdain's Overrated Menu wherein the celeb chef plates and then eviscerates trendy food items from a menu near you.

While I haven't seen this particular menu printed out just like this, I know I've seen some dishes remarkably close to these popping up on menus I've recently perused.

My three favorites overrated dishes (Bourdain's commentary for each):

  • Pea soup topped with truffle oil: Truffle oil is the lazy chef's way to add value, by which I mean charge more.
  • Mesquite-grilled Amish organic free-range chicken, served with Fijian mango chutney and accompanied by foraged mushrooms: It should never take longer to describe your dish than to eat it. Mango chutney was innovative when Bobby Flay did it in 1978. Foraged mushrooms? Amish chicken? Who gives a shit about who picked the mushrooms or if the people who raised the chicken wear bonnets?

  • Cruelty-free Berkshire pork with shallot reduction and Yukon potato gnocchi: Nobody wants to be cruel, but you did kill the thing—what's cruelty-free about that?

Hear hear!

Monday, September 17, 2007

who would ever use fuzzmail?

Normally I'd think to find the funnies in the Style section of the Mercury News. Over a bowl of Grape Nuts this morning, however, I found my humor in this Monday's Tech section in the form of a product review written by Craig Crossman titled "Fuzzmail gives importance to what you delete"

You know you're in for a good time when the product under review isn't even mentioned until the end of the eighth paragraph(!) of the review and even then the product's only mentioned three times total.

The premise is this: Fuzzmail allows a recipient to see how little much time a dupe sender spends composing and rewriting an email before it's sent. So, instead of seeing the finished product that says simply and politely "thanks for your inquiry, we're not interested," Fuzzmail would allow the recipient to see all the different ways the sender really wanted to tell the recipient to buzz off before doing the proper and polite thing. As a bonus, the recipient could actually see how much time it took the recipient to calm down and do the right thing.

To me, this begs too many two questions:
  1. Who, in their right mind, still indulges their fantasy response in the actual email window at the risk of prematurely hitting "send"? Isn't this the stuff of urban legends by now?
  2. Who else, being of right mind, would ever willingly subject themselves to the watchful recordings of Fuzzmail? Seems to me, it's the stuff of a sneaky spyware install, not something a person would consciously force themselves to use. While the recipient might benefit from a voyeuristic tour of how someone composes an email to them, there's no payoff for the sender (the one who's giving up the goods).
Crossman claims Fuzzmail provides insights into the composition process that are completely lost once the author hits the "send" button. Sure, there's plenty to online communications that's suffering for lack of context, but if Fuzzmail is the best response we've got to adding dimensions to our electronic communications, we're all in for a wild ride big trouble.