Thursday, April 26, 2007

TED video: why are we happy? why aren't we happy?

Had the pleasure to see Dan Gilbert talk at South by Southwest Interactive in 2006 on the same subject: what makes us happy?
Psychologist Dan Gilbert challenges the idea that we'll be miserable if we don't get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel real, enduring happiness, he says, even when things don’t go as planned. He calls this kind of happiness "synthetic happiness," and he says it's "every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for."
Great 20 min video from the TED conference here. Well worth the watch!

If you're more into reading ink on dead trees, get his book: Stumbling on Happiness

Sunday, April 22, 2007

earth day: living greener in 2007

As a way of celebrating Earth Day today, I've taken inventory of how much "greener" we, as a family, are this year compared to last.

The biggest greening has come from our moving into a new home that's only a mile from my office. Not only has my daily commute shrunk from 59 miles to 2 miles, with all the carbon emission reductions that come from not having to lug my butt those 285 miles to work each week, but the house we live in now is greener, too.

Our old house was in a nice sunny neighborhood in Campbell (outside San Jose), but there was no topography to speak of. We were in a flatlands surrounded by other houses/condos/businesses, and the micro-climate of our area meant we consistently ran temperatures 10 degrees warmer than other towns around us (love those Bay Area microclimates!). Lots of trees in our neighborhood, including two huge camphor trees in our front yard, but that didn't mean it was any less hot in the summers. To help cope with the heat in our old place, we had air conditioning installed when we replaced the ancient furnace with a new energy-efficient one. While we lived more comfortably, we paid for it in our energy bills. The Springs and Autumns were the cheapest since we didn't have to pay to heat or cool the place, but we got used to shelling out over $200 a month in energy costs.

Flash forward to this year in our new home. We now live on the slope of a hill overlooking downtown Redwood City which means we get gentle breezes every afternoon and can leave the windows open most of the spring and summer to enjoy the natural cooling. Not only is the location of our home more conducive to natural climate control, but we have solar panels on the roof and an electric meter that spins both ways: when the panels generate more energy than we use, we feed back into the grid. At night and on cloudy days, we pull from the grid since the panels aren't generating anything. These solar panels have had an amazing impact on our electricity bill. Since we moved in last August, we've consumed less than $200 TOTAL electricity (compared with $200 a month in the old place). Wow.

The house we're in now is about 1,100 square feet bigger than our old home, to boot, but thanks to a dual zone furnace, we only heat the upstairs floor (where we spend 95% of our time living) and leave the well-insulated downstairs floor to its own devices.

There are other things we can do to get greener by next Earth Day, like cutting water consumption, growing our own veggies and my walking/biking to work several days a week (oh, and raising chickens!), but we've made huge strides in the last year. Here's hoping more and more of us can have similar impacts in lessening our footprint on the earth.

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

toshiba 42hp66 HD plasma snowy picture

Disconcertingly, I'm seeing the snowy/fuzzy picture problem pictured to the right more and more frequently when I first turn on our Toshiba 42HP66 plasma HD TV.

So far, I'm able to get around it by turning the TV unit on and off a couple times seems to solve the problem and eventually the picture comes in clear as a bell.

I'm not sure where the problem might be, but I've noticed that it has the same signal processing problem whether I'm trying to watch TV (the signal from the DirecTV HR20 DVR) or access my Mac's desktop (the signal from the Mac Mini).

Since I'm getting the problem while trying to "see" both TV and Mac, I don't think the problem is due to the Harman Kardon AVR 245 I use as a switch between the devices. Rather, I think it's something to do with the connection between the AVR 245 and the TV itself. I've tested the physical connection of the HDMI cable to both the back of the AVR 245 and the TV, and those both seem fine.

I'm really hoping it's not the actual HDMI cable that's going bad. Not only because I paid the installer the unholy sum of $85 for the cable, but because the cable has been installed inside the wall so there are not unsightly wires hanging from our wall-mounted HDTV.

san jose sharks move on

Was quite satisfying to see our hometown Sharks defeat the Predators in Nashville last night.

While I really wanted them to win the series in five games (which they did), there was just a small part of me hoping the series would go to six games (WHAT?!).

Blasphemous? not really... I'm just greedy, I guess.

See, I split my season tickets with two other parties, so we're rotating attendance at playoff games, using a pbwiki to track rotations and tabs. Since there weren't three home games in Round One, there's a remote chance I won't be able to attend a Round Two game should the Sharks sweep or win in five again.

Now I don't really mind watching the games on TV (it's cheaper, for sure), but the camera crew assigned to televise the games from Nashville couldn't follow the puck to save their lives. It looks like the rest of the markets still in the playoffs (Anaheim, Detroit or Calgary, Dallas or Vancouver) have many more years of experience under their belts than the Nashville crew ever would.

Go Sharks!

Friday, April 20, 2007

busy or bursty?

Interesting article over on Web Worker Daily describing the differences between what they call the busyness-oriented workers and the bursty-oriented workers. Some examples:

Busy: Show your face during all standard working hours.
Burst: If you produce what you need to, we don’t care when you do it or how long it takes.

Busy: Immediate response to email required.
Burst: Use better ways to communicate when available including blogs, wikis, IM, chat rooms, SMS, and RSS.
See the full busy/burst article over on WWD (and don't miss the discussion in the comments).

urban chickens... here we come

After several months of research and precarious fence-sitting, last night I navigated to the Omlet web site, and filled my digital shopping cart with a blue Eglu and two Gingernut Ranger chickens.

The checkout process was relatively straight-forward, until it came time to enter credit card info. A notice on the site said Omlet isn't yet accepting credit card payments, so they'll be giving me a call to get the info instead.

It's a good thing I'm getting the call back, too. Turns out my color choice isn't as popular as I thought it would be. Breakfast negotiations will ensue shortly.

I'll be creating an entirely new blog about our adventures in urban chicken farming. Will post a link to it when it's up.

UPDATE: Claire, at Omlet, called me back, and the next delivery date for chickens isn't until mid-June... given the delay, am I now back on the fence? oh, and the Eglu color negotiations settled on "green."

Friday, April 13, 2007

united flies better than usairways

I had to be in Canton, Ohio this morning no later than 8:30am. Seeing how I live in the Bay Area, a plane ride was called for.

To minimize the time away from family, I opted to take a red-eye from SFO to Pittsburgh on a United codeshare flight operated by USAirways and then drive a rental car to Canton (80 miles away).

It's been a long time since I've flown any airline domestically other than United. I've got almost 500,000 FF miles on United, so you know my loyalties.

It only occurred to me last night as I was arriving to SFO: I've never flown any airline BUT United out of SFO (except my international trip on KLM last month). So I've never experienced Terminal One at SFO before. I may never stray from Terminal Three again.

I was a little underwhelmed by the entire Terminal One and US Airways flight experience. Granted, SFO is a hub for United, so things are generally better all around for flying United in and out of SFO, but I didn't expect the drop off to be so steep:
  • The check-in process for USAirways consisted of eight electronic kiosks (three of them were open for folks not checking bags), period. No way to approach a ticketing agent directly. You have to interact with the kiosk first.
  • The TSA pre-screening tables are configured oddly in Terminal One so that the amount of table space available to stack your stuff in the bins is quite short, and the unload area is quite cramped. Lots of elbowing and hip checking once through the metal detector to get your shoes on and laptop stowed before taking the lo-o-o-ong walk down the terminal to the gate.
  • No gate attendants! Wow. If you've got a seating request, I guess you're SOL. Maybe this was due to the late departure of the flight (10:30p), but I was very surprised not to see any USAirways staff until mere moments before the gate opened to usher us in.
  • This was my first trip on an Airbus A319 in a long time. Small plane (but not an empty seat to be found). The flight attendants were a little on the bossy side for my tastes, but for the most part, my eyes were shut and ears were plugged to sleep as much of the 4.5 hour flight time as possible.
Oh, and am I the only one who's noticed that Pittsburgh has added terminals to its shopping mall where the airport used to be? Do folks really go to the airport to buy all that stuff? I felt like I was walking through a miniature (only 40 stores) version of the local Valley Fair mall once I got to the main hub of the airport. Reminded me a little of my last trip thru BWI (another mall-turned-airport outside Baltimore).

Oh, and in case anyone in California cares: it's definitely not spring yet along the Western PA, Northern WV, Eastern OH corridor. The buds on the trees haven't yet opened, and it was flurrying as I drove to Canton this morning.

Glad I'm flying United back to SFO tomorrow. How'd I get so comfortable in my flying rut? Oh yeah, by flying 28,000 miles on United so far this year. eesh

Thursday, April 12, 2007

shrook wi-fi access at boston logan airport

At Boston's Logan airport, there's the logan wifi network which allows minimal web-based content on the free side of the pay-to-web-surf wall.

An unintended benefit to the crippled access: using my standalone copy of Shrook (my RSS reader), most of the pictures associated with feeds download at least partially. I didn't scientifically measure anything, but it looks to be about a 12Kb limit before the wifi pay-me sphincter squeezes shut. Definitely not enough of a glimpse to see whole photos, but surprisingly enough to get logos, illustrations, etc accompanying the blog posts.

Of course, no email or web pages are allowed thru, but for some reason Shrook can rain down supplemental content for the feeds already sitting on my macbook pro. No new feeds without paying.

When I'm traveling, it's usually the feeds I'm catching up on anyway. w00t!

Oh and I see that Continental airlines is trying to offer free wifi access at Logan in their Frequent Flyer lounge. I'm sure we can look forward to seeing a lot of "your free wifi is interfering with critical airport communications" (while the pay-to-surf wifi has no such effect?!) Follow along on Google.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

my favorite time of year (hockey!)

If you listen closely at this exact moment, you can hear Oh, Canada! and the Star Spangled Banner being sung in Ottawa's arena, Scotiabank Place.

The puck will drop in mere moments to start the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. w00t!

You can find me watching hockey scores here for the next two months.

Go Sharks!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sharks hockey playoff tickets!

It's like Christmas all over again!

Our playoff tickets were delivered to the doorstep this morning. Interesting to see the breakout of prices the deeper we go in the playoffs:

  • regular season: $38/seat
  • 1st round: $48/seat
  • 2nd round: $61/seat
  • 3rd round: $86/seat
  • 4th round: $116/seat

I can't wait to pay $116 to watch the Sharks win the Cup this year!

Monday, April 02, 2007

drm-free is like unleaded gas

With word that EMI will now be selling DRM-free songs on iTunes for a premium ($1.29 per DRM-free song v $0.99 per crippled song), I should be rejoicing, yes?

I mean, who doesn't want to be able to buy a song online and do with it whatever you want? right?

But still, something's sticking in my craw. Apple's the one who takes the original file and then alters it with their DRM code. Kinda like the oil refineries add lead to the gasoline they make.

And then I, the consumer, pay extra for them to take it right back out again so I can fuel up with "unleaded" gas. Blech.