Technology
Betting On BlackBerry
On Friday, the judge overseeing the long haggled patent infringement case between Research In Motion (RIMM) and NTP Software gave the BlackBerry handheld maker a short-term reprieve, avoiding a service shutdown and sending sighs of relief out from Silicon Valley to Washington DC and beyond, as those who rely on the BlackBerry for everything from critical life-saving emergencies to those who hunt and peck at the devices like addicts saw their fears of being cut off quelled - for now.

The story of
NTP vs. RIM is complicated. The short version is that NTP software owns patents regarding sending e-mail data to wireless devices, despite having never created machinery to take advantage of their inventions. When RIM developed their handheld BlackBerry, and NTP believed it to infringe on their patents, RIM was slow to respond, not taking the holding company seriously. While in the years since, NTP has seen many of their patents invalidated, as in parallel the case progressed, legal analysts are faulting RIM for not finding a way out of this morass before now, declining settlement proposals, and there remains the possibility that the millions of BlackBerry users out there may be forced to turn to the Palm Treo or another option. While RIM has offered a work-around, should they lose the case, others aren't convinced it's a workable solution.

I remember first being introduced to BlackBerry in 1999 or 2000 by a co-worker who had acquired version 1.0 of their product. It was black and bulky, but did send and receive e-mail. I wasn't too impressed - thinking that Handspring/Palm's offerings would eventually manage to handle e-mail in a more elegant package. As usual, I was wrong. BlackBerry took off. I've got one, and they're the standard at the office. I don't know of anybody who is rooting for RIM to fail. Everybody wants them to win, and finds this case to be a great example of the patent litigation system just being a tad nutty. At least, for once, it's a small company pushing a large company, and not a large bully using patents as a legal sword to stifle competition. There's sure to be some interesting developments in the coming months, so we'll watch and see.
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E-Mail Mistakes: Premature Congratulations
You know that sinking feeling that hits you when you realize you accidentally hit "Reply All" instead of reply, or accidentally sent an e-mail that hadn't been completed or edited, or the sudden realization you accidentally CC'd somebody with a similar name to the intended recipient? We've all done it. Now imagine the absolute horror that befell the admissions director at UC Berkeley's law school, after they told ALL 7,000 applicants they had been admitted - when in actuality, only about 800 will make it!

As written in
a Computerworld story released today, that very thing happened during an innocent training exercise.

The story says,
"Tom was demonstrating the e-mail software used by the school and was highlighting several features, including how the user can filter mail and set it to send messages to one recipient or many at the same time.That’s when he chose what happened to be a standard congratulatory message on being admitted to the university’s prestigious law school and accidentally sent it to all 7,000 students who have applied for admission to the law school."

Now let's think about this. Do you believe any of these prospective law students have access to a say... lawyer? Haven't they suffered unjust pain and suffering? Do you remember the absolute stress you felt when you were awaiting acceptance letters from college or any post-graduate programs? To ride the incredible high and devastating lows of learning you'd been admitted only to find it was a clerical error is just mind-numbing.

You can see the school's
admitting the error here.

When I was applying to colleges, I had applied to
UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA, as well as BYU and Chico State (for backup). Through one of the UC's more arcane rules, they didn't accept my selected major to UCLA, and chose to refund my $40 admission fee instead of taking my alternate major. After trying to re-apply and get back in the running, I eventually found myself rejected by UCLA, and getting in everywhere else. Finding out I didn't get into UCLA, even when I could blame the bureaucracy for part of it, was crushing. I had a dream of going to UCLA with my best friend from high school (he got in), and had that taken away with a small envelope that told me how difficult it was to get in in the first place. Now, 80 percent of these applicants to Berkeley law school will get to learn they didn't get in - twice.
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Blogging Bifurcation - A Web Divided
The Web offers more content sources than ever before, from people with storied, credentialed histories, as well as anonymous bloggers and commenters who may present themselves as experts, whether they have knowledge of their space, or not. With so many comments and posts being written in a constant deluge of words, how do readers determine where they'll stay? How does one gain credibility in this new medium?

Some would argue that only through proving their posts factually accurate, or their opinions applicable, can bloggers draw credibility and respect, leading to repeat visits and consistency. The argument is that through increased awareness of opposing viewpoints, visitors can learn from the other side and adopt new insight. But I think often the opposite is true, and the Web makes it even easier to "stick to your guns". It is human nature to seek out a community of peers and equals, of those who yearn for the same things or have parallel experiences. At the same time, there are also those who have opposing viewpoints, undesired by the first group. As such, two polarized and wholly separate communities will grow and thrive. And after visitors find themselves acclimated to a community, they aren't likely to visit its polar opposite, but instead will latch onto branches of the same tree and stick close to the familiar and comfortable.

The most clear example of this on the Web is in the political realm. For left-leaning political discussion,
Daily Kos has no equal. On the right, you have the Free Republic. The two sides are in such contrast that no one sane user would be registered and active on both sites. A Daily Kos user would instead migrate to friendly sites like Talking Points Memo, MyDD, Eschaton and This Modern World, bookmarking each, and slowly traversing the left-o-sphere, rather than getting a more broad view. Similarly in technology, you see a bifurcation of opinions - Macintosh vs. Windows, Open Source vs. Microsoft.... basically, Microsoft vs. anybody. For Mac fans, one would move from MacNN and MacInTouch to MacCentral to Apple message boards, to the rumors sites aplenty... MacRumors, Think Secret, AppleInsider. But there's no interest from a Mac user to join the WinSuperSite or worship at the throne of John Dvorak.

To measure credibility on the Web, visitors are looking for people who already agree with their opinions. They're not so much looking to be changed or to gain information from other viewpoints, but to instead become more hardened in their positions - just as you would in the real world, with Fox News viewers kissing up to Rush Limbaugh. There may be more sources for news out there, more viewpoints, but visitors aren't interested. They just want to hear that they are right and there are others there to cheer on their pre-conceived notions.
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The Site's Secret Sauce
There's a myriad of blogging applications out there. The most famous are Web hosted, from Google's Blogger to Six Apart's TypePad and LiveJournal offerings, while other user-customizable applications include WordPress and iBlog. For me, when I was looking to move away from strict HTML, driven by Bare Bones' BBEdit, I needed a few things - the ability to keep my louisgray.com domain name, the ability to post new entries while retaining access to site history and categories, while also not requiring massive SQL server maintenance.

After downloading a number of programs, running them, installing them and hoping all would work out, I stumbled upon the answer -
RapidWeaver, from Realmac Software. RapidWeaver not only accomplished everything I was looking for, but it easily integrates with Apple's iLife applications, so if I choose, I could post a photo journal, run a podcast, or manage a more global site, beyond the blog.

RapidWeaver is a stand-alone Mac OS X application, which comes standard with a variety of customizable themes, offers comments, powered by
HaloScan, and has a very simple interface. It's not perfect - we're still aching for the introduction of permalinks, which they swear are coming in version 3.5 in the next few months, and it's not portable - meaning I can only update from the home laptop. As a result, you'll see a dramatic scarcity in blog entries, say between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. every Monday through Friday.

If you run Mac OS X (and you should), and want to get started, I'd say give RapidWeaver a shot. You can
download a trial here.
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Web 2.0: Zazzle Offers Customizable Postage Stamps
Much ado is being made these days about "Web 2.0", which loosely refers to both a user-driven, highly customizable Web experience, represented by Blog sites, photo and movie hosts, but also Web-driven applications, like Google Maps and Google Earth. Some companies have tried to rebrand themselves as Web 2.0 companies, even with only minor changes to their product offerings and business model. A great example of this is Zazzle. Like Cafe Press before it, Zazzle offers users the ability to customize everything from T-shirts to mousepads with their site logo or Web address.

Last week, I thought I'd muck around with
Zazzle, and found myself taking a photo I had of our 16-year-old beagle, and framing it into a postage stamp. I ordered 3 sets of 39-cent stamps with Molly on them, posing on our couch. Two sets will go to my wife, and the third, to my mother-in-law, who loves her little grand-dog. They arrived today, and should start hitting envelopes tomorrow. Cute, but not exactly what I associate with next generation Web apps. Just cute.
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New Site Feature: Subscribe By E-mail
Another leap forward on the road to worldwide domination. I've implemented a new site feature, powered by Feedblitz, on the right side of the page, where you can subscribe to the blog by e-mail. Now, rather than visiting with regularity (which I'm not opposed to), you can enter your e-mail address on the right and hit subscribe. Then, you would receive new posts on a daily basis, when updates occur. As with any good service, you opt-in, and can unsubscribe at any time.
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New Site Features - Feedburner RSS
In the late 1990's, services like PointCast were all the rage, where it was imagined that consumers would eagerly snap up "push" media, where news, sports, and finance data would be downloaded to their computer at any time, when the content provider was ready. PointCast specifically was banking on a lot of idle time - as its service would be used as a "screen saver", offering your brain the ability to engage when your computer was resting. It didn't work out. After being talked up to the point where they were entertaining offers north of $100 million, PointCast stumbled and died an ugly death.

Years later, consumers are back in charge, enjoying the ability to customize their favorite portals, best exemplified by My Yahoo! and Google. In parallel, Internet users are finding new ways to get their data, from new devices and applications, outside of the browser. One of the most common is RSS (Real Simple Syndication). RSS can be used to send updated site information or news to customers who request it, not be pushed, in the way PointCast and others had dreamed. Now, nearly any HTML site can be syndicated using RSS, and this site is no exception. Through a site called Feedburner, which is one of the most popular on the Web, you can now subscribe to the RSS feed in your reader of choice, or add the page to My Yahoo! or Google, taking louisgray.com directly to you - making sure you don't miss a single story, and giving you the opportunity to catch up at any time.

You can find a link to Feedburner on the right sidebar of the site, as well as one-click buttons to add to your preferred home site, quickly and easily. Enjoy!
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Google - Hype or Reality?


When Google was initiating plans to go public, they went against traditional IPO methods, opting for a more public-facing open auction, which in theory democratized the process. Eager to get in on what was possibly one of the biggest offerings of the decade, I put an order in for 100 shares, at $90 a pop. $9k down on an idea. But there were definitely concerns. The world of the financial markets is filled with examples of companies that peak on their first day of trading, only to plummet afterwards. Google immediately ran into scandals over improperly accounted for options, and an ill-advised Playboy interview by the company's two co-founders.

As a result, I panicked, and got out. BIG mistake. As we all know, Google stock kept going up and up and up. Sure, I got in at 180 and rode it to 270, making some money, but that 90 to 270 ride would have been much better. And now, with some analysts saying the stock is sure to go to 500, it of course does a U-turn, down 36 dollars on Friday alone, and falling below 400. Did the company's fundamentals change? No. Did the site go down? No. So what makes it worth 9 percent less one day as opposed to the previous? Trends? General market worries? Maybe. Yes. (Muffled response)

So what makes Google Google? And what's to prevent these guys from becoming Microsoft - purveyor of bloated software that comes out on Windows first and having their impact on many industries? Some might say that's already happening. Google is #1 in search by a long margin. There's no good reason to use anybody else. Google Desktop (for the PC anyway) is a great tool to search old e-mail and documents. Google Earth is a fun tool. GMail is interesting. But what else? Google Talk isn't any better than AIM or iChat. The Google Toolbar is just another way to get back to Google.com. Froogle isn't any better than Shopzilla.

In order for Google to remain #1 and continue demanding that they deserve top dollar, they'll have to become more than the world's best Web advertising firm and search utility, but to offer alternatives to Microsoft, Apple, Sun and others that have come commonplace. If they don't, then we can start to see the complaints now. Over-extending their reach into user privacy, shoddy software that is optimized for one platform over another. Not offering a true alternative.

I want Google to win at search. We're tired of Microsoft's attempts to do things half-ass and winning. I want Google to win at E-mail over Yahoo and Hotmail, and I want Google Desktop for Mac. Spotlight is okay but not outstanding. But I want them to offer the best quality software and Web tools out there without acting like a monopolist. We'll see.
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