Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog Tools Update: New Dashboard Widget

Using Apple's new Dashboard beta code, we recently revamped our louisgray.com site Dashboard widget, which is immediately available for download. The widget, powered by our RSS feed, updates regularly and features the full text of the Web site in a handy format.


A Screenshot of the Widget In Action


If you are using Mac OS X, download the widget now, and unzip the compressed file.

And for all users, don't forget to sign up to the RSS feed, or receive site updates by e-mail.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Google Planning Ahead for the Next Web Frontier

One of the reasons I believe companies like Microsoft, AT&T and Time Warner have been relegated to lesser roles on the Internet, while more nimble companies like Google, YouTube, Apple and Six Apart have led the way, is because they are fighting the battles of yesterday, guaranteeing them a lifetime of looking to steal market share away from an established leader, and never quite catching up.

If you look at Microsoft today, they are still trying to get their hands around a serious Web portal and search engine. Meanwhile Google is increasing share. Microsoft is looking to promote its Live.com blogs network, yet MySpace, Six Apart, WordPress and Google's Blogger platform reign in leadership positions. Microsoft launched Zune to go after Apple's iPod, and it doesn't look like it's gaining any market traction.

But this, really, truly, honestly, wasn't aimed to slam Microsoft too much.

Industry pundit Robert Cringely notes that Google is snapping up scads of dark fibre and is establishing massive data centers around the country, anticipating a time when the demand for rich media will outstrip the available bandwidth to the home. When the collective masses may respond with a shrieking cyber bloodbath, Google is seen as having the only real alternative. Whether his guess is 100% accurate or not, it is another proofpoint showing that when the big companies zig, Google is zagging, using the collective brainpower from its hundreds of Ph.D's to lead the way in innovation.

As I commented to Don Dodge on his excellent blog around "The Next Big Thing", we used to blanche when downloading a 4 megabyte Netscape 1.0 browser download. Now we're all too eager to take on 1.3 gigabytes of leaked 24 episodes.

While today we may be on the cutting edge, it won't be too long before the masses are given the tools to similarly demand gigabytes and gigabytes of data to the home almost instantaneously. When that massive demand for services comes, some companies will be ready, and some won't. My bet is that Google and Apple will be there.

Listening to ''01_nu_train'', by Underworld(Play Count: 5)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Yahoo! Has Fallen and It Can't Get Up

Picking on Yahoo! for its failings is as easy as it once was to pick on Microsoft for its monopoly tactics and shoddy software, or Apple for its scant market share. It's not as if the world needs yet more proof points that Google has won the online search and advertising race, and that Yahoo! has squandered more than one opportunity to get ahead. Yet an increasing amount of news shows that Google is taking more share in all categories at the expense of Yahoo! and Microsoft, despite already having the leader position.

Yesterday, Comscore released its December search rankings for search engines, showing Google with 47.3 percent. Yahoo! eked up to 28.5% and Microsoft fell to 10.5%, down from 11%. Tom Foremski wonders aloud if there is a place for niched, specialized search engines that don't try to do it all. While many are being funded, the truth is that outside of the top two engines, everybody else seems to be losing share, as consumers grow more comfortable and entrenched with Google especially.

The battle over search engine eyes and clicks, and the domination of Google, grows ever more astounding when one learns more about the history of Google and Yahoo!, particularly. Wired Magazine launched an extensive piece on how Yahoo! once had the opportunity to acquire the nascent challenger in the summer of 2002, but simply didn't offer enough dough. As the article points out, this stemmed from the timing of it all. In 2002, as the first Internet bubble had come crashing down, Yahoo! was left a shadow of its once high-flying self, and it just simply couldn't scare up billions to acquire Google. Instead, they settled for second best acquisitions of Inktomi and GoTo (now Overture), and couldn't mash the new products together well enough to take on what's become the far and away market leader.

As much fun as it is to see companies challenge the market front-runners and add more services beyond their core business model, I believe they also need the ability to recognize where they are failing and they need to make the hard decisions to focus on what they do well. I don't use Microsoft search and Yahoo! search because they simply aren't as good, and won't get me the answers I need. Advertisers know the intelligent consumers have made the choice, and that choice is Google.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Google Reader Launches RSS Feed Trends Data

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Google Reader - the search engine's online RSS aggregator and feed service. I've grown so accustomed to navigating my river of news feeds this way that I've even found myself hitting the "magic keys" of J and K to navigate up and down Web sites that aren't thusly enabled. Today, I was excited to find that Google Reader has been spying on me - in a good way. The service debuted graphical trends that show my last 30 days' worth of activity, highlighted the most frequently updated news feeds I read each day, and those which I most frequently post to my Link Blog (updated multiple times daily).

I've shared a number of the images with you.

1. In summary, I'm subscribed to 84 news feeds. Over the last 30 days, I've read 8,077 items, 323 of which made it to my link blog, a ratio of just under 4 percent.



2.  Over the last month, the number of read feeds per day ranges typically between 250 and 400. Note that even in the lightest days I got to about 50 or so feeds. This stat shows those I read, not how many items were placed in the feeds.



3. The stats show I'm reading everything, and not deleting or skipping. ESPN.com averages about 24 items per day, or one per hour, all month long. Of these top 10 items, 3 are Technology oriented, 2 are Sports, 4 are Political and 1 is Work related.



4. Expanding on the above you can see which are the most frequently updated feeds. The converse is also available, reminding me that some feeds just don't update for months, even. They can be deleted.



5. Not all feeds are created equal. TechMeme, TUAW and Robert Scoble are among those blogs I've most frequently shared on the Link Blog. Note a tendency towards narcissism as well with my own blog and Sactown Royalty. The more venues these sites are available, the better, in my opinion.



RSS makes the new world go 'round. Google Reader makes it go 'round better and faster. This is a great new enhancement to an already strong service. Go Google Go.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Finally Upgrading the Home Electronics

For as much noise as I may make about trying to stay on top of the world of gadgetry, we've definitely fallen behind when it comes to keeping our home near the state of the art in electronics and entertainment. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I finally sprung for a low-end 42-inch Plasma wide-screen TV. While that's still in shipping hell, in San Francisco, and isn't expected until next Thursday, we've started making purchases to bring the house up to speed.

Last week, in a quick visit to Best Buy, I made a long-needed move, to upgrade our DVD player. Long in the tooth, the DVD player would often stop in the middle of shows, and we would have to mark the scene at which it stuck, so we could start over again, after ejecting the disk, looking for scratches, and blowing on the player or disc (or wiping on our shirt). I'd had enough. So we got two new ones - one slim Sony DVD player for the living room, and a DVD/VCR combo for the bedroom, so Kristine can watch titles from school that still only come in VHS.

With those out of the way, our to-do shopping list still includes a few potential items:

* Upgrading our TiVo Series 1 by adding a Series 3 (and paying by month)
* Adding a serious flat-screen to the living room
* Replacing our spotty wireless. Our Airport base station is dying a slow death.
* Adding a DVD case to hold our single films and sets

On the priority list, I'd love to get rid of this massive monolith of an entertainment center we have dominating our living room, and replacing it with something lower profile. Kristine wants me to get it sold via Craigs List and having someone pick it up, but I think that's a rough sell. If that happens, we can then post the new TV on the wall, with a TiVo 3 hookup, and get things off to a big start.

Then, I can start thinking about upgrading our laptops to Intel Macs. That would be round two. Can't wait to dust off the credit cards.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Recent Site Downtime - Not My Fault, I Swear

I don't know if it is a good thing that I was posting less to the blog this week or not, but over the last two to three days, it has been just short of impossible to access louisgray.com - even for me. So, although I've seen the occasionally visitor, site traffic has fallen dramatically, and I've had nothing but errors getting to the site, from home or at the office.

As this isn't the first time this has happened, I wrote to Register.com, who hosts the site, and asked them if they knew of any issues, or ISP or geographic problems (say if it were blocked by Comcast or all of Northern California). Today, I got an e-mail back, where they admitted they had an issue, and they suggested I somehow convince Comcast to make a change. As if I could tangle with a mega-ISP for my puny little blog.

Their response?

To begin with, we apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

We understand that there was a problem with our web site. But it is resolved. So I request you to contact your ISP provider and tell them to delete the cache files from the server.


So how I read it is this: "Yeah, we messed up. We know it. But it's fixed. See if you can get your mega-ISP to refresh. Our bad."

If this keeps happening, we're moving. I know outages happen. I'm not naive. But it'd be nice to have been notified, or if they had offered to "make it right" financially, as other hosts do when they have issues. Hmph.

Listening to ''The Fields of Love', by ATB (Play Count: 11)

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Microsoft Has Lost Its Way, Not Coming Back Zune

I almost feel guilty pointing out how Microsoft is a very confused, bureaucratic dinosaur of a company now. It seems that after everybody else has come to the same conclusion, it's no longer hip, and piling on isn't going to do much good.

Yet, with the Zune launch universally seen as a dud, and the company's Internet enterprise flailing, one can't help but watch the train wreck as it happens. A company who has based its war fighting the battles of previous decades has not adapted, and the company has grown too fat and bloated to turn on a dime, as other more nimble players have.

Steve Berkowitz, responsible for Microsoft's online services unit, told the New York Times as much in a long-ranging article printed Sunday.

“I’m used to being in companies where I am in a rowboat and I stick an oar in the water to change direction,” said Mr. Berkowitz ... “Now I’m in a cruise ship and I have to call down, ‘Hello, engine room!’ ” he adds with an echo in his voice. “Sometimes the connections to the engine room aren’t there.”

The disconnect has left Microsoft trailing Yahoo! and Google in the Internet space, without much hope of taking the #1 position. But to me, it doesn't really make sense that Microsoft should be in this fight in the first place. If the company wants to be the world's leading operating system and productivity software company, it's done that. If it wants to move their Office suite to the Web, then great. But there is no real good reason or inherent birthright for the company to take on this new market. They haven't delivered any new features that customers have found interesting, and in a market when customers have a variety of options to choose from, they won't accept lower quality.

This issue can be seen easily with the early response to their iPod wannabe, Zune. Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg says there is much that could have been done to improve customer adoption of the device. Chief among them, that it "lacks elegance" and "doesn't feel complete". With the iPod's five year head start, Microsoft, as it has shown in its fruitless battle with Google, is not capable of innovating its way into  market where it doesn't belong.

Give it up, Microsoft. Do what you do best, and leave the innovations to others.

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Do Gadgets Break Up Families?

Last week, after mentioning to my mother that I had started occasionally writing for The Apple Blog, on top of contributions to Athletics Nation, Sactown Royalty, continued posting on louisgray.com and the usual work fare, she called, concerned that just maybe I was ignoring my wife, choosing instead to spend all my time online. Were we having enough time together, or were we drifting apart, more comfortable with the way we looked behind the glow of our respective laptop monitors than away from behind the keyboard?

Though I argued we were doing just fine, that our marriage was not in trouble due to excessive blogging, articles do occasionally come up that investigate the impact ubiquitous technology access has on families, whether they be spouse or child. The Wall Street Journal, in a prescient piece titled "Blackberry Orphans", wrote:
There is a new member of the family, and, like all new siblings, this one is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, resulting in jealousy, tantrums, even trips to the therapist. It's the BlackBerry.

The article blames the Blackberry for parents lying to children, distracting them while driving, and distracting attention from kids who just may deserve it more. But is the Blackberry that much worse than the advent of the cellphone, or the standard telephone or television before it? Does increased convenience and an enhanced feature set that makes people want to use a device more spell impending doom and the end of humanity as we know it?

Probably not. Though I have my Blackberry nearby at all times, and watch for the green light to glow red - signaling a new message has arrived - the device has less chance of making me avoid feeding the dog or playing cards with my wife than prime-time TV. Its interruptions typically last a minute or two instead of 30 to 60, and the more work I do on the Blackberry at home, the less time, in theory, I need to spend in the office doing the same tasks.

While some will undoubtedly take device usage to the extreme, as people do with just about everything, I am not too concerned. I also don't believe that the occasional post on a Macintosh or sports blog makes me too much closer to receiving divorce papers. But let me first ask my wife to close her laptop, and see if she agrees.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

RSS Eliminates Need for Frequently Repeated Searches

For years, at the office, I've led the pack in finding information on the Web about our company or its competitors. Part of this comes from being focused to the point of obsession on making sure I know how our company and the marketplace is being portrayed, and part is due to utilizing the latest technology available - including a raft of saved bookmarks designed for this task. This technique, which has served me well for nearly six years, has now been nearly obsoleted by the advent of RSS.

Regardless of the company you work for, there are a limited number of trade publications that frequently cover you and your competition. Many companies pay big bucks to PR firms to track coverage, anticipated or otherwise, commonly done through searching for the company, its products and executives, on those publications that serve your market. Early on, I found I could scoop the PR firm, simply by saving these search terms as a bookmark in my browser.

Over time, I made a new folder in Safari (and Firefox) called "searches" that had the keyword searches all teed up. As part of the morning's work, I would click one by one and see if the search result counts had changed. If they did, we very likely had coverage. Later, Safari debuted a tool where I could open all items in the folder at once, in tabs in the browser. Now, with one pull down and click of the mouse, I could open twenty-some-odd windows in major media, all searching for my company and its products, and simply by hitting Command-W to close the foreground window, I could navigate one by one to see if we'd struck PR paydirt. Now, the PR team knows not to send me coverage, because more than 95 times out of 100, I've already seen it.

But now, even this advanced method is antiquated. With the debut and reach of Google News, I can be alerted on any number of keywords debuting in the media, all day long. If the keyword is particularly important, I can get an instant e-mail if Google News finds it. If it's less important, or too frequently found, I can get an e-mail at the end of the day, instead. But now, every Google News search and Google Blogs search delivers an RSS feed I can subscribe to. Now, instead of manually crawling media sites, all I've done is subscribed to these RSS feeds on my company and the competition, on media and on blogs, so that Google Reader delivers me the article, in full or headline form, immediately, saving me the step.

It's a very rare thing for Google News to miss a tracked item, and much more common that it will find it before I've even begun to look. This saves me time, and saves the company money. Maybe RSS wasn't initially intended for this use, but I've found it an invaluable tool.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Note to Self: Don't Immerse BlackBerry in Water

Some things seem obvious - like not sticking the knife in the toaster to retrieve the stray piece of bread, or trusting our beagle to behave herself when meat is within jumping reach on the table. The rule to not pour water on your laptop keyboard, and to keep your cell phone out of the sink should be equally as clear, even to those who aren't threatening to be our next generation of intellectual leaders. Yet somehow, I did the unthinkable just over a week ago, when I dropped my BlackBerry, including its holster, fully into the water. Only now is the device coming back to its full senses.

To send one's BlackBerry for an unnecessary swim seems best left to others. "Oh, that will never happen to me," I thought, snickering when a good friend of mine told me he once flushed away his cell phone in a public rest room. "I'd never do that."

Yet, the Friday before last, an inadvertent elbow threw the BlackBerry and holster into a bathroom stall at the office (water fully clean, mind you), with a big splash, sending me quickly reaching into the porcelain pool to get my geeky connection to the outside world. Water poured out of every one of the device's orifices, and the BlackBerry gasped for life, propelling ridiculous strings of text onto the screen, numbers and letters alike, and repeatedly prompted me to "assign a hot key for * on the speed dial".

No buttons I pressed did anything. I couldn't even turn the device off, after wrapping it in tissue paper, and seemingly tilting the BlackBerry at every possible angle to shake what I thought would be the last drops. Then the scroll wheel stopped working, and if you've ever had a BlackBerry, being unable to use the scroll wheel is like driving a car by putting it in neutral and sticking your leg outside of the door to push it along. It can be done, but it's ridiculously hard, and not worth the effort.

A friend of mine suggested a home remedy - pack the offending Blackberry in a sealed sandwich bag full of rice. The rice presumably would suck away all the water vapor from inside the device, and could potentially restore it back to life. For 48 hours last week, I did just that, and when the BlackBerry emerged, I no longer saw the beads of water behind the screen, taunting me, but the scroll wheel remained totally useless. But I still needed the BlackBerry, and took it with me to Tampa last week, though it had been hobbled by its near-drowning experience.

Relearning how to use the BlackBerry without the scrollwheel was frustrating, but it could be done. I could navigate my e-mail by hitting the T/Y key to move up, and the B/N key to move downward. To navigate through menus, I would type the first letter of the selection, and hit it repeatedly if more than one selection started with the same letter. But it was rough. I contemplated taking it into IT, falling to my knees and pleading user error, or making some excuse on how they gave me a bum device and they were no better than the spawn of Satan. But I couldn't do it. I would just plug along, crippled, but not defeated.

For a week, we lived with this. Colleagues mocked me. I growled at this useless electronic appendage attached to my hip, one that might never forgive me for 8 seconds of idiocy. And then, tonight, as if all was forgiven, it came to life again. I twirled the scroll wheel, and the BlackBerry had taken me back, as a lover would following a heated quarrel. All was forgotten, and the device is back to making me happy again. Once again, I can do more than e-mail and dialing memorized phone numbers. I can surf the Internet again, I can jot notes in the notepad, or play embedded games. Though I had threatened the BlackBerry's life by drowning, it came back, and I've learned my lesson - for now, until I really want an upgrade. Then I'll see if its rectangular shape lends well to skipping across the lake.

Listening to ''Steve Lawler'', by Rise 'In (Nalin & Kane Vocal M (Play Count: 4)

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anytime Accessibility: We Still Need More

When I first joined 3Cube in early 1999, we had big dreams about a universal number that would follow you anywhere, delivering e-mail, phone, faxes, and would never need changing. There would be no such thing as a work phone, house phone, cell phone, or fax number, but instead something more simple and direct. "Call Louis" or "Let me send Louis this e-mail" and it would get to me, period.

While in the last few years, we keep hearing about "convergence" and this move to a single device, it's certainly not gotten perfect. I have a Blackberry from the office that gets my work e-mail and can access the Web in a limited way. But it doesn't get my personal e-mail, it doesn't answer my desk phone at the office, and if on business trips, I have no access to the home line. Seven years later, and we're still doing this?

I tend to think I'm fairly easy to get ahold of. Heck, my e-mail and cell phone number are posted right here on the blog, and the URL is fairly self explanatory. Yet, this week, I bumped into a friend at a trade show whom I hadn't seen for a full year. We hadn't gone out of our way to avoid each other at all, simply gotten busy, and drifted apart to some degree. When I hugged her quickly as a greeting, I could tell something was wrong. She seemed cold and stand-offish. Had I gone too far in expressing familiarity? Was she unhappy? I immediately asked her how she was doing and what was going on, and her answer surprised me.

She said that she thought I was avoiding her, and worried that I had put her on my "s--t" list, for reasons unknown. She said she had sent multiple e-mails and called or sent text messages, and they had gone nowhere. I was befuddled. I couldn't honestly think of more than even one message that had gone unanswered, and jokingly offered to take a lie detector test. Given my phone number and e-mail at the office haven't changed in six years, including the time she and I worked together in 2003, I was lost as to how she could have tried to reach me, and didn't get through. It just didn't make sense.

Luckily, I convinced her I still cared, and apologized profusely for having wronged her, unintentionally. Had I not bumped into her, more than 2,000 miles away from home, we could still be stuck in limbo, and she'd still think I was a complete jerk who discarded her and her husband into the ever-rising pile of former friends. If we had a real universal device that followed me to and fro, she could have broken through and gotten me, and we could have avoided this unnecessary heartache. It's time for somebody to lead. Will it be the Blackberry? Will Google or Apple do it? The world awaits.

Listening to ''Yael'', by Jellisimo (Play Count: 3)

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Subscribe to My Google Reader Link Blog

In an earlier post, I highlighted my recent adoption of Google Reader as my new RSS viewer of choice. I now rely on Google Reader to skim the Web for me, and to return articles from sites I often frequent. One of the most interesting and useful features of Google Reader is the ability to share articles, with a single click. Now, all day long, when I read new stories I find interesting, I just click "Share", and they are automatically added to a live feed, which you can access here.

Now, rather than writing entire blog entries that are simply a collection of links, highlighting what I found interesting, Google Reader does all of the hard work for me, presenting to you a cross-section of politics, sports, technology, news and anything I find interesting. Might be worth a bookmark for you, or you can add it to your RSS reader, whether you use Google Reader or anything else.

Listening to ''Dominica'', by Thomas Penton (Play Count: 2)

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Slowly Migrating to Web-based Blogger Engine

I've run the full gamut on RapidWeaver - the blog engine that powers this site. When I first got it, I thought it was a great tool. But when I continued to post with some regularity, it bogged down, and is now so slow, I get completely frustrated using it. Making the issue worse, RapidWeaver utilizes a proprietary file structure, making it impossible (as far as I know) to import and export my data - meaning that I can't easily migrate to TypePad or any other engine, should I want to. 

Given that my Web hosting provider (Register.com) doesn't provide MySQL access, my choices here are limited, but on further investigation, I've learned that Google's Blogger service enables remote FTP posting via the Web, and after some initial work, it looks like we can retain the louisgray.com domain name, and the vast majority of the site's look and feel, even after making a change. So we're already starting the move, and you can expect new posts here to be somewhat slowed as I start the manual process of moving over each of the 550+ posts over the last year to the new engine. I even have to redo nearly all the hyperlinks! (Just think how much fun that will be, given my proclivity for links) Thousands will need work!

Upon that move, I will need to ensure that some basic items, such as the RSS feeds, Feedblitz, and commenting are not broken. I expect the Haloscan comments engine will be replaced with Blogger. We'll see. Now, just as some on the Web are complaining about Blogger outages, I'm moving there. Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment.

See the work in progress here at a temporary URL: http://www.louisgray.com/test.html

Listening to ''One In A Million'', by Saint Feat. Suzanne Dee (Play Count: 6)

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Google Says I'm the #1 Source for Making Bombs at Home

Google is the world's biggest, most popular, search engine, by a large margin. Our corporate statistics show that in excess of 80% of Web search traffic comes from Google sites around the world. In fact, it's something of an honor to make sure you are the #1 response for your name, and not another person who shares your name. (Example: "Louis Gray" )

But just because it's the deepest archive doesn't mean that all of its search results are entirely accurate - leading folks to what they are looking for.

I've been amused off and on this year by the occasional Web surfer who has visited my Web site, clearly looking for something they just aren't going to find once they get there - prompted by inaccurate guidance from Google. And tonight, I found one of the very best examples - one that might gain the interest of law enforcement, if misinterpreted.

Tonight, I learned that louisgray.com is the #1 result from Google if you search for "How to make a bomb out of household appliances". Yes, that's right. Apparently Google users looking to make bombs are told my site is the #1 place to do that. (Give it a try in your searching)

Is that really what I was trying to say? Do I really have instructions on how to make bombs on my Web site? Of course not. It's an example of keywords run amok, as it took a story about leaked instructions from Iraq on how to potentially design nuclear bombs and combined it with another story I wrote about our new Roomba vacuum. Mix, stir, and ta-da! Household bomb making instructions! Now pardon me while I go and find an attorney...

Listening to ''Turn Out the Light'', by M.I.K.E. (Play Count: 1)

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Monday, November 6, 2006

Geeking Out With the Roomba Robot Vacuum

November 5th is a big day in our household - every year - as it just so happens to be my wife's birthday. While I don't always plan way in advance, and don't reach the 10th percentile in gift wrapping ability, I usually aim to have something fun for her to open up. Today, she got two gifts - something very small, and something bigger. The tiny item was Apple's brand-new iPod Shuffle which only hit store shelves this last Friday (making only two days old), and the larger item was more practical, yet almost as geeky - Roomba's robotic vacuum cleaner. For some reason, I think I just might end up having more fun with the vacuum cleaner than the iPod Shuffle...

For the last few years, we've amused ourselves with the idea of leaving for work and coming back to find the house cleaned by a cylindrical slave robot - damned to do our chores with us out. Ever since the first version of iRobot's Roomba vacuum came out, I've read about their tricks on the Web, and eyed them curiously in stores - but not until today did we take the plunge and immerse ourselves in Jetsonian household bliss - should our new pet robot turn out as we have planned.

While the iPod Shuffle is so small that it presents a choking hazard for young children, the Roomba instead came in a suitcase-like box, complete with handle on top for lugging. After unpacking, we found a few parts, but very little assembly needed. The power cord leads to the machine's docking station, which holds the device. A remote control helps us to schedule its chores, and we even have the option to set up wireless "walls" to stop the Roomba from entering specific rooms, or plunging to its death over a stairwell (if we had those in our Silicon Valley condo).

After three hours of charging, the docking station glowed green, signaling it was ready to eat dirt and take prisoners. We hit the "Clean" button on the remote control, and with a tune reminiscent of a victory charge, the Roomba set off to tackle our carpet. Charging forward without sight, the frisbee-like robot whirred to and fro, zipping all over the room, getting under chairs and in corners where our upright vacuum feared to tread. With a helpful push, we set it off into our main living area, and saw the Roomba glide hover-like over the carpet, softly slamming into walls, chairs, the tables or our sofa, but rising, no worse for the wear, to take on the next crazy angle.

While our beagle looked on amused, we had stopped everything. The TiVo was turned off, laptops put away, as we peered over the edges of the couch to see how our little electronic puppet was doing our bidding. Needless to say, my wife was elated. Somewhere in our past, we moved beyond the point where getting one another household appliances for a gift would have been the ultimate of letdowns, and we both laughed as our sightless automaton tried its darndest to climb over throw rugs and escape from leg-wielding chairs. The Roomba was the most exciting, funniest thing going on.

Now, we can't wait to schedule the little beast to do chores with us out, to see if we can come home to clean carpets, zigzag patterns, and a frazzled hound. That trip begins this week. I hope our little Roomba (not yet named) gets enough rest tonight before its big day.

Listening to ''What Else Is There?'', by Röyksopp (Play Count: 11)

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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Remote VPN Access from Mac OS X to Windows Network

Maybe it's just me, but when I have managed to figure out a new technology feat that I'd butted heads with for days, months or even years, it's an exciting victory - even if by the time I've solved the problem I no longer crucially need it. Yesterday, I had an epiphany of sorts, when I remotely accessed our corporate Windows network wirelessly on my Mac OS X-based PowerBook from home, gaining the ability to edit, copy, save and delete from the couch. A small victory? Probably - but one that eluded me in my myriad of attempts before.

At the office, connecting to the Windows network from my Mac has never been hard. With the Mac's built-in CIFS/Samba support, from the Finder, I would choose the "Go" menu, and hit "Connect to Server". When the "Connect to Server" window opened, I would enter smb://, followed by the network I was to connect to, and then the shared machine. (For example: smb://network;machine/) If I were aiming to connect to a subfolder on that machine, a list of available shares would present itself, and I would then login using my network credentials (user name and password).

From home, even after having connected to the VPN, this simply doesn't work. I would always receive an error saying "The Finder cannot complete the operation because some data in "smb://network;machine/" could not be read or written. (Error code - 36)" Not exactly helpful, and trust me... very annoying. Not even when I would substitute the known IP address for "network;machine" could I get anywhere - until last night.

Invention stems from curiosity, so I began monkeying with the way I listed the server name after the initial smb:// prompt. After a few incorrect server mounts, a solution was found! Instead of the "network;machine" method used while local at the office, I found that a full URL-like address was required to make everything hum. So instead, I entered: smb://machine.network.companyname.com and we were all set! Instead of an error (-36), I was able to select the shared folder and get working. Now I have even more ways to get work done from home when I should be relaxing! Is that good?

This eliminates yet another reason I should keep the Dell laptop around. I can upload, download and edit just as if the server were local. While some might take this for granted, we're pretty stoked that we figured it out. After all, it took long enough...

Listening to ''A Message'', by Coldplay (Play Count: 13)

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Shocker: I Prefer Windows IE 7 to Windows Firefox 2.0

There's a headline I didn't ever think I was going to write. Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser has always been behind on features - ever since the day it launched in beta in an eventually-successful attempt to crush Netscape Navigator. I hate Internet Explorer and everything it stands for - market monopoly shenanigans, inaccurately designed HTML, and the weakest security on this side of the US/Mexican border, plagued with hacking potential and popups. But now, at least on the Windows platform, the new Internet Explorer 7 is pretty darn good. With their copying of tabs from Mozilla Firefox, and the addition of other new tools, it's definitely giving Firefox a run for its money.

As much as I can, I try to stay on the Apple Mac OS X platform. It just flat out works better, and doesn't try to get in my way. The applications seamlessly work together, and in a secure way. Apple's Safari browser has also grown to the point it doesn't have an equal. But in those rare times (mostly at the office) when I am in front of a Dell Windows PC, there is no Safari, leaving me with two real options: Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft IE.

For the last several years, IE has been a ugly stepchild in the Web browser family, the one you hide in the closet and don't introduce to visitors. Firefox has been first to market with tabbed browsing, browser themes and extensions, enabling Web surfers to "roll their own" experience, and has slowly been taking market share back away from Microsoft - the long-time leader in share, if not in innovation.

But with the recent introduction on Internet Explorer 7, I hate to say it, but I actually like it. Rather than changing the default browser settings on the Windows PC to run Firefox, I've tested the new IE 7 and like some of the settings. The browser's tabbed browsing is good, and a feature called "Quick Tabs" shows all open tabs for simplified navigation. And in contrast to Firefox 2.0, IE loads quickly, renders pages just as accurately (as far as I can tell), and comes with integrated popup blockers, which for years would depend on third-party toolbars from Yahoo!, Google and others. As one installs Firefox extensions and themes, the browser actually gets sluggish, while IE remains light. (See "Is Firefox 2.0 a dud?")

If I want to fight the good fight against Microsoft and avoid all things Redmond, using Firefox is fine, but the gap between the two browsers has been closed in a significant way. If you've sworn off IE forever, give IE 7 a spin and see if Microsoft can change your mind.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Google Expands Blog Integration, Explains Blogger Outage

Google seems to rapidly waking up to the world of blogs. Although their own official corporate blog is typically bland, and was recently hacked, and their blog search engine has trailed the capabilities of others, including Technorati, the company is taking steps to catch up. Today, Google added the option to search blogs alongside news search, and enhanced their Google Alerts service so you could track keywords across blogs, Google Groups, and news.

Meanwhile, following some very public "unplanned outages" in the company's Blogger engine, some of the techies behind the service have come forward to explain how its happened, and how it won't happen again. The culprit? "Quirky hardware", they say - which isn't too impressive, given Google's cash horde and technical acumen.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

RapidWeaver Application Just Isn't Scaling

Sometimes, you want to root for the underdog. When everybody else jumped to WordPress or TypePad for their online blogging, I tried out a desktop application that would enable a great deal of customization, and the ability to host the site at my pre-existing domain name. Yet, now that I've used RapidWeaver for the better part of ten months, the time it takes for the application to recognize changes and publish new entries has become a serious limitation - sometimes ranging up to 10-20 minutes, dragging the entire computer to a halt, as it grabs every available megabyte of RAM in a violent attempt to get the upload right.

When I first got RapidWeaver, it was very simple to use - type directly into the application, select a category for the post, and hit Submit. The piece would be on the site in a minute or two. But as I continued being active, I noticed that the cursor would be typing letters that I had long since stopped - as the application slowed to catch up. By March, I was typing my entries in Apple's Mail application, much more quickly, and that's how I've done every single post since. The "write in Mail, copy and paste to RapidWeaver" scenario has almost become second nature.

But starting last month, RapidWeaver's need to check every single post for possible edits, to hog memory and cease my desktop from being functional has quite simply gotten out of control. We've posted more than 500 entries to Louisgray.com since the beginning of the year, and don't intend to stop. The benefits of having my own domain name and backed up files aren't exactly winning me over right now, and I've given serious consideration to rebuilding this site again from scratch in TypePad, from first post to last - to enable the near real-time post flexibility I've seen from that Six Apart blogging engine. I'm tired of having to post a timestamp on my stories in the future, to anticipate when the machine will unlock, and through Apple's Dashboard widgets, watch the available RAM trickle down from more than 500 MB to 200 MB and eventually 10 MB, where it stalls, forcing the laptop fan whirring to life.

This isn't meant to be an indictment of RealMacSoftware or their product. For the large part, I've been happy with the application, and not needing to be a MySQL junkie on the back-end as many engines need. But RapidWeaver just isn't scaling for what I need it to. I can't post 3 times a day and have the machine completely useless for the better part of an hour. Something needs to change, and I don't think my solution is to get a new laptop. A full gigabyte of RAM (which this has) should be well enough for any application.

Listening to ''Rabbit in the Moon'', by Sasha (Play Count: 6)

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Feedblitz 2 Launches, Enhancing Blog to E-mail

Upon logging in to my Feedblitz account this morning, I noticed something dramatically different. After relying on Feedblitz to deliver blog updates by e-mail for the better part of the year, I found the site had been completely redesigned with a new look (and a lot less orange). Additionally, the Feedblitz team rolled out version 2 of their service, which improves feed diagnostics, tagging, and expanded information on subscribers. (Learn more on their blog)

As a free Feedblitz user (so far), I haven't anted up to try the company's premium options, which would let me customize the update e-mails, offer real-time statistics and additional tagging options, but with Feedblitz 2 here, I'll definitely be looking into it - especially as the blog grows in traffic, content and subscribers. (Sign Up Now)

Since its launch, Feedblitz has become the de facto source for publishing blogs by e-mail, including a significant partnership with Six Apart's TypePad, which debuted in the last few months. It's good to see the company isn't resting on its laurels, but continuing to make significant upgrades for its user base.

Listening to ''Take My Hand'', by Andrea Britton & Jurgen Vries (Play Count: 19)

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Internet Addiction Fear Tactics Are Silly

Earlier this week, a study, carried out by researchers at Stanford University, emerged saying that fully one of every eight US residents suffers from "problematic Internet use", and it suggests that such an "addiction" can be as troubling as full-blown alcoholism. As someone who is tethered to the Internet around the clock, at work, at home, and via Blackberry, I can only shake my head at his overblown fear-mongering. Just because somebody happens to use a tool frequently, and enjoy its benefits, does not mean they are an addict, and even if symptoms common with addiction emerge, it doesn't mean that it can be as debilitating as something as serious as drug or alcohol abuse.

A few months ago, I jokingly posted my "Top Ten Things I'm Addicted To", ranging from Diet Coke to the iPod, the Blackberry and Internet in general. Given society's need to assign such allegiances as medical issues, some have gotten a lot of mileage from people like me who just happen to have found their routine and stuck with it.

To say that a person is "addicted to the Internet" is just as ridiculous as saying a truck driver is addicted to the radio, or couch potatoes are addicted to the television. While I'm sure there's a whole raft of folks who could improve their relationships with friends and family if they cut back on time spent in online chat rooms, online games, e-mail and blogs, myself potentially included, a significant number of us rely on the Internet for the very basis of our jobs, and find the Internet to present an amazing resource for communication with those same people we're assumedly neglecting.

When the Internet boom really started to take off in the mid-1990s, most of the fear and concerns thrown about were that stalkers were out there to find you, and that your credit card data could be stolen if you made online purchases. In fact I wrote a column for the Daily Cal in 1997 titled, "Net Results: Not that Scary", which addressed this very issue. Now, nearly a decade later, so many people have moved their businesses and their lives to the Internet that the concern is they're spending too much time, but those spreading fear are still out there.

Do I turn on the laptop first thing in the morning to check e-mail, catch up on RSS feeds and check Web sites? Yes. Is closing the laptop one of the last things I do before going to bed? Yes. Do I sit in front of an Intenet-connected monitor all day at the office? Usually. Do I wear an e-mail and Web connected Blackberry all day long? Yes. Is that a problem? No.

The number of hours in a day are still 24 - but the way I consume those 24 hours are differently distributed than they were before the Internet played such a role. Now, instead of staying up to see SportsCenter to learn the scores, I have already gotten the scores online as well as photos and recaps. The time taken to get that info is a lot less. Instead of calling home and talking with the family, I've read their blog, they've read mine, or we've shared comments and e-mail. Those calling us "Internet Addicts" akin to drunken louts who have given up their futures for the bottle is irresponsible and silly. We've just reapportioned our time and get more done - via the Web.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tech Notes for October 15, 2006

Yahoo! and Google both went after YouTube, and Google won. But while many are discussing how Yahoo! could potentially respond, with rumors around a Facebook acquisition being widely discussed, some outliers are suggesting that Yahoo! itself could be in play, given a relatively-low market capitalization, and a wealth of content. Proposed potential suitors range from telecom carriers, including AT&T and Comcast, to the more wacky, including Exxon and Phillip Morris. Really... you could offer gas points or cigarettes for frequent searching, the author writes.

Google's deal for YouTube made sense, according to the New York Times, but would picking up Yahoo! make sense for a carrier like AT&T or Comcast? I can't help but be reminded of the Excite @Home debacle, which at the time of announcement, seemed like the perfect synergy.

It's also interesting to learn about a Google acquisition that didn't happen. According to a new book, Google offered north of $30 million for the social networking site, Friendster, but was turned down. Since then, Friendster has just been destroyed by MySpace, no doubt in part to having a weak technology infrastructure, the book says.

Taking an eye to the more embattled mega-companies, the San Jose Mercury News has a large, in-depth look at the HP pretexting crisis, its origin, and what it means for the once-respected Silicon Valley giant. (How Not to Fix a Leak), while the New York Times speculates that the much-delayed Windows Vista launch may be the end of the road for Windows. What, no blue screens in 2010? I think I'm going to cry.

Listening to ''Enemy'', by Gabriel & Dresden (Play Count: 13)

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Blackberry 7130e Handheld Is Very Cool

When it comes to handheld cell phones or PDAs, I fell off the leading edge years ago. After being one of the first to embrace the Handspring Visor platform in the 1999 timeframe, I moved on and ditched the Palm OS altogether a few years ago, in favor of the most rudimentary of Blackberry devices, which simply sent and received corporate e-mail. Of course, this meant I needed a second device, a real cell phone, to act as the yin to its yang. But as time has passed, the Blackberry has taken over for remote e-mail, Web browsing and cell phone calls. Just last week, I managed to get my hands on the 7130e handheld model, and I would likely run out of superlatives for it if I tried to tell you how cool the darn thing is.

Unlike the traditional clamshell Blackberry, the 7130e is slimmer and taller, shaped more like a traditional cell phone, and offering a tall, brightly lit color screen, with all the familiar applications for out of office communication. The largest difference between this device and the others I've tried is its keyboard. Venturing away from the standard QWERTY keyboard, the 7130e doubles down by squishing two letters on each key, and through a sophisticated database, it inherently guesses as to the word you are typing, and learns as you go along. Though this initially made me nervous, it has proven much better than I had anticipated. I can easily type long sentences without making any errors or typos, and the longer the words, the more likely the Blackberry is to get it right. In fact, it's words like "get" which have the same keys as "hey" which are more trouble.

Contrasted to previous models I've used, the 7130e has an excellent screen, regardless of the background lighting, and the device's operating system is sophisticated enough to offer passable Web browsing, and most importantly, real game playing. Within an hour of getting the new Blackberry, I had purchased and installed Blackberry versions of Spades, Hearts, and Cribbage, to go along with the free Klondike and BrickBreaker, which came with the device. Now, instead of your fearing a distracted motorist on a cell phone call, you have to deal with me trying to make 15s and 31s at the steering wheel when I zip through the intersection. Don't think I won't be either...

If you're already using the Blackberry platform, and have been cruising along with an older generation device, it's time to trade up. If you haven't yet switched, there are very few reasons not to anymore. Blackberry is the de facto standard in the workplace, and is making inroads to consumers as well. Given its not some wacky version of Windows Mobile helps too.

Listening to ''Culture Flash'', by Ministry Of Sound (Play Count: 10)

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Memo to Yahoo! and Microsoft: You're Not Google

As the reverberations of Google's massive acquisition of YouTube take hold, much of the media's interest has turned to the other big Web giants out there to see their take. It turns out that Yahoo! itself was "this close" to acquiring YouTube, but the company simply moved too slowly, brought down by bureaucracy, while Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer, doesn't know if YouTube's hype is sustainable, and the company wasn't part of the chase.

With Google garnering the elephant's share of positive press mentions over the last few years, Yahoo! and Microsoft have turned into also-rans in the search race, and are more frequently looking like technology copycats rather than innovators. While Yahoo! has matched Google pound for pound in acquisitions (such as Flickr), Microsoft has bandied about in 3rd place, or worse, by most rankings, most known for hyped mediocrity on the level of Zune and LiveSpaces, with the company's races to rebrand from MSN to Live being the most recent shakeup - which in the long run probably won't benefit end users - instead being the Web's version of microwaved left-overs.

Yahoo! rose to prominence in the 1990s by developing a unique, familiar, personable directory. Microsoft rose to prominence through developing an operating system that ran on commodity hardware, and strategic partnering. Google rose to prominence through the world's best search engine. Google, though making noise about office productivity, isn't getting in the operating system battle, and hasn't yet opened up a directory service. Yahoo! isn't making desktop applications. So why the need to copy Google over and over and over? Is there just not enough market cap and revenue to go around for three mega-companies? I think each company has their place, and should forge forward to make their services better for customers.

Related Links:

BusinessWeek: The Web According to Ballmer
eWeek: Ballmer: Windows Live is Top Microsoft Priority
New York Times: Yahoo's Growth Being Eroded by New Rivals

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Monday, October 9, 2006

Google Buys YouTube for $1.65 Billion

Every once in a while, one of those wacky acquisition rumors just happens to be true. In a flashback to the 1999 .com heyday, search giant Google purchased online video outlet YouTube in a deal worth more than $1.6 billion in an all-stock transaction. As with those 1999-era deals, in contrast to most M&A activity, Google's stock rose sharply after-hours. Also similar to that rosy era, Google chose not to disclose how they arrived at such a lofty valuation for the company, whose revenue and profits are so far a mystery.

I wrote earlier that Google would potentially hesitate at the deal due to the tremendous amount of copyrighted material hosted by YouTube. Though the site is the leading platform for amateur video, it also hosts a ridiculous number of materials owned by major media outlets, who have made noise about enforcing their copyrights. Now that Google has acquired YouTube, they've gained more than a superstar Web 2.0 company, they've also acquired the potential for a string of lawsuits unlike anything seen outside of the  litigation-happy pharmaceutical industry.

Clearly, my concerns weren't shared by all in Mountain View. VentureBeat contributor Steve Poland said that while the prospects for litigation were high, that Google "has significant interest in this battle, as it will set a legal precedent and have significant effects on their future plans …" The company already has raised the ire of copyright holders for its far-reaching book archiving and search projects, and Google has said it wants to organize all of the world's information, regardless of its source, and that video is part of that information repository.

On Google's analyst call following the acquisition this afternoon, CEO Eric Schmidt said YouTube's ad network is remarkably similar to that of Google, and that it doesn't threaten the future of Google Video, which has gotten off to a very slow start.

The deal isn't without its detractors. Dallas Mavericks owner and part-time billionaire blogger Mark Cuban sticks to his guns saying that "Google is crazy". Of course, it could be just as easily argued that Yahoo! was crazy when they purchased his Broadcast.com, making him scads of cash. Maybe it's the fact the deal's hit so close to home that has him in a snit.

Google has made several under the radar acquisitions of small companies. Some, like Keyhole, have turned into applications, like Google Earth. Still others have been grabs for intellectual programmers with interesting ideas. As John Battelle writes, this will be Google's first big brand acquisition, and the first challenge to the Google brand, as the two companies try to remain separate but synergistic.

I'm somewhat on the sidelines for this deal. I have never posted a video to YouTube, and don't even own a video camera. However, I really like the ease of use the site offers, especially for framing videos to other blogs. The real-time comment system and related videos are similarly top-notch. I don't know that this is the type of deal that will make Google an even bigger force to be reckoned with, but at the very least it puts them light years ahead of Yahoo! and Microsoft in this battle that is surely just heating up.

Listening to ''Moonface - Futurised Fears'', by Bedrock (Play Count: 7)

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Friday, October 6, 2006

Google Says: Features, Not Products

Over the last year, it has been well-chronicled that Google has spawned a wide variety of new products, many emerging from their engineers' 20% flex time to work on projects outside of their core focus. But as the new products have gained press attention and passing interest from users, they haven't vaulted to take the #1 spot in market share, as their search platform has. Instead, they've contributed to added confusion over what initially was a very simple company that took a lot of credit for its spartan design and laser-like focus.

Now, it looks like the rumblings of discontent are being heard in the glass house that is Google. The LA Times reports that Co-founder Sergey Brin is promoting an initiative called "Features, not products", where engineers are encouraged to make products that are already released best of breed, rather than introducing an increasing amount of diversity that has already seen the development of more than 50 Google-branded offerings.

For some, this is seen as a sign of maturity, that the company is moving beyond it's dramatic startup phase, and more to being a full-fledged industry leader. But on the flip side, it's not as if Microsoft has reduced its product array and focused on features, and Apple, while initially focusing on a famous quadrant of four hardware products for professional and consumer, laptop and desktop, now has expanded into the consumer gadgets arena. This indicates that established companies do see product creep, but the baseline must first be set, and at least for Google, that time to do so is now.

In other Google news, the biggest rumor of the day is that Google is in talks to purchase online video giant YouTube for the staggering price of $1.6 billion. That unlikely consolidation would be a market shaker, but I don't know that Google wants to acquire a headache - one that would be guaranteed once slighted copyright owners determine they want a piece of Google's massive cash pile. YouTube is a great resource for copyrighted material, and has become the Napster of video. Right now, they don't have enough cash to shake down. Google would change all that.

Listening to ''True (Vocal)'', by John Digweed (Play Count: 5)

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Thursday, October 5, 2006

Looking Beyond Google

In the Web space, the big gorilla may seem insurmountable, but in stark contrast to the brick and mortar world, the supposed category leaders change relatively quickly, meaning companies need to continue their history of innovation to maintain and grow market share.

Even in the micromarket of Web search engines, you can see the progression. It could be argued that Webcrawler was the first big search engine. Entering search terms on Webcrawler in its infancy returned blue hyperlinks on a gray background, without ads, without search summaries or any other detail. In time, challengers emerged. Yahoo! opted to go the route of a mega-directory, ignoring search (at first), while enterprising scientists developed engines like Inktomi, HotBot and AltaVista, each one-upping the other in terms of search engine index span and accuracy. Meanwhile, other engines like Lycos and Excite gained a great deal of traffic, but weren't well known for their technology leadership. Yahoo!, then partners with Inktomi, before acquiring the company, became the far and away leader in the space.

But as we all know, it didn't last. Google, with its spartan interface, its targeted results, and PhD driven algorithms, soon took the title away from Yahoo!, becoming the default for most browsers, and soon aggregating more than 50 percent of the market. Now, you don't search for results, you "Google" them. Now, we see that everybody is competing with Google. Not just Yahoo!, but Microsoft, AOL, etc. And again, Google's lead seems insurmountable. They have tons of cash. They have a rapidly-growing brain trust of employees. They are a Wall Street darling. But, it's hard to be simple forever, and the company has been said to having taken their eye of the ball, on their core business, search, to pursue tangential distractions, including Google Earth, Google Gadgets, and other desktop tools.

Even Google seems to recognize that changes have to be made. In the last few weeks, the company quietly debuted a brand-new search engine as an experimental "sandbox" for new features, called SearchMash. SearchMash does away with contextual advertising, does away with offers to search Google News, or Froogle!, but simply displays Web page results and related images. The site again goes back to a Google-like spartan image, but lacks the Google branding and colors. One wonders why Google couldn't have used "yet another Beta" to play in this arena, or to tuck it away in one of their labs.

Outside of Google's labs and candy-colored Mountain View offices, a wide array of smaller companies are looking to outrun Google and catch the giant while it may be napping. BusinessWeek covers these challengers in a piece called "A Gaggle of Google Wannabes". While Google claims to have more people focused on core search than ever before, market share isn't handed out lightly, and a fickle customer base isn't that reluctant to try new options if the smaller, more nimble, competitors can change the game. 

This move is especially already clear when it comes to blogs. Google's Blog Search engine is woefully poor at filtering away spam blogs (splogs), and in this vacuum, engines like Technorati and Topix have taken the lead. Shopzilla and others have beaten Google at product searches. In the niches of this market, Google is not winning, and it will be a challenge to see how the company can reach these niches without getting ever more complex.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fortune: Google Finds Success Among Chaos

Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion pointed me to a fantastic article on Google's aggressive, often-chaotic approach to business, innovation and out of the box thinking, which has been a primary driver behind the company's continued success. While other, larger and more inflexible, companies are often tied down by quarter to quarter P/L targets and bureaucracy, Google has run at full-speed, spawning a host of products so plentiful that the company's CEO, Eric Schmidt, says even the most ardent of Google fanatics would be unable to name them all. But the main focus is still, as it always has been, on the search engine and its associated advertising platform.

For those interested in the backgrounds of successful companies, or whether you're looking to duplicate Google's so-far unique trajectory, make sure to read it. Google has managed to run as Apple's Macintosh off-shoot did two-plus decades ago, flying a pirate flag - yet they continue to win.

Listening to ''Sex 'n' Money'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 5)

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Soapbox: Redmond, Start Your Copiers

Apple has famously taunted Microsoft during the company's Worldwide Developers' Conference (WWDC) the last few years, using lines including "Redmond, Start Your Copiers", in the mindset that whatever new features and products Apple was to introduce would soon be absorbed into the Redmond, Washington-based software monolith in short time. This year, Steve Jobs went so far as to withhold some of the newer features of Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), in part due to fear of co-optation from competition. But recent developments have shown that Microsoft isn't solely focused on Apple for ideas to borrow - er... steal.

Just a week or two after Microsoft imitated Apple with its announcement of its Zune line of MP3 music players, tomorrow, Microsoft is slated to introduce a service called "SoapBox", which mimics the extremely popular YouTube, in that it will allow users to load videos and share them for the Web. While it's currently in lock-down mode, open only to a select few, the doors will be opened to the general public soon, and I don't expect they'll be all that overwhelmed.

If Microsoft were to focus, they could make some amazing software. They have some of the brightest minds in the business, and more money than God (I checked, he's overdrawn...), but their idea of innovation is imitation - whether it was the Palm PC copying the Palm Pilot, Internet Explorer knocking off Netscape Navigator, MSN aimed at AOL, or most recently, the introduction of Live Search (copying Google), Zune (copying Apple) and now SoapBox. Surely, consumers are smart enough to see right through the smoke screen.

Given how Microsoft stock (MSFT) has been relatively flat for the last twelve months, twenty-four months, or even five years, the idea that this is a growth company has been absolutely shattered. You'd have been better off taking your cash and putting it in a low interest rate savings account than aiming to support the leader in imitation. This story is spread so thin, it's got holes.

Listening to ''Dangerous Power'', by Gabriel & Dresden (Play Count: 1)

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Site Outage - Sponsored By Register.com

From approximately four p.m. this afternoon through near 7:30 this evening, all of louisgray.com was unable to be accessed from the outside world. While I noted the globe did not spin off of its axis, it was a minor issue for those on Athletics Nation who didn't understand why this week's ANtics was a 1x1 grayed-out pixel (that's not very funny...), and others looking to see my commentary on iTunes and Apple from external sites instead were confronted with time-outs.

In a situation like that, at the office, and unable to make calls to check in on it, I was sure it was my fault. Maybe the wrong credit card was the wrong one on the file... maybe some government agency didn't like my questioning of today's voting systems... or maybe somebody had hijacked the system?

Of course - it wasn't any of those things. In a chat with a support rep from Register.com, whose service powers the site, I was told, "We are running an emergency maintenance of our web hosting service," and that a "Lot of our web hosting customers are facing this problem." When asked how long it would be down, the first answer was "It will be done very soon," followed quickly by "We expect it to be done within a few hours."

Yeah... so "very soon" does not compute with "a few hours". And I haven't seen any notes of refunds or anything of that nature. Is 24/7 hosting too much to ask? Are hiccups to be excused? Good thing this site doesn't hold my main line of business or we'd be a little short of cash tonight!

Listening to ''Chasing Cars'', by Snow Patrol (Play Count: 3)

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Morning Tech Notes: September 6, 2006

Normally, Tuesdays are the days you can expect a plethora of news releases. Coming off of a longer Labor Day holiday, many companies opted to put their big announcements out on Wednesday instead.

As mentioned previously, many rumor sites had anticipated Apple would introduce new iMacs and iPods alongside an iTunes movie service as part of a special media event this upcoming Tuesday, September 12th. But the Cupertino computer maker surprised the bloggers by debuting the new iMacs a full week earlier. As anticipated, the new iMacs feature the latest in Intel processors, and the top-line version expands to a 24-inch screen, which should dominate just about any desktop. Apple's Mac Mini lineup also received a performance bump with the latest Intel processors. Seems like having a new CPU partner is doing Apple some good. (MacRumors  | Think Secret)

In more Web-focused news, it looks like the Silicon Valley may finally have found a wireless partner to blanket the region with ubiquitous high-speed Internet access. As I've always said, anywhere with air, food, water, a place to sleep and high speed Internet is where I call home. Luckily, it now appears I don't have to move to make that happen, as a consortium led by Cisco and IBM aims to offer wireless internet to the more than 2 million residents in the area. Businesses looking to utilize the network or gain increased bandwidth would have to ante up and buy additional equipment. Matt Marshall at VentureBeat says despite the news, it may be a long time before we can boot up from the park. (Mercury News | New York Times)

If it does indeed take a long time to roll out, then future historians can chronicle the planning on a new service from Google that has organized news articles from the past five-plus years, and is aggressively looking to span the last few centuries or so. The company's new archive search can come in very handy if you are looking to see how a company or product is covered over time. For more-popular items, you can delve into specific years or months to gain more granular data or read specific stories.

Examples: Segway in 2005, iPod in 2001, Bin Laden in 1998-1999

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Google Launches First Salvo Against MS Office

Six years ago, while at 3Cube, we had huge expectations for moving software to the Web. Following some success with our fax over Internet product, FaxCube, and our phone conferencing and Web meeting solution, PhoneCube, we had plans to debut something by the name of "OfficeCube", which in theory, would let customers not only hold real-time chats and full desktop sharing, across OS platforms, but would give you an online vault where you could create, edit and save documents or presentations. This vision of the Web office was but a gleam in our eye in 2000, and for a variety of reasons, we never quite made it. Six years later, we still see the business world tied to software - and most of those are tied to Microsoft Office, despite challenges from Apple, Sun and now, Google.

Google started out as a search company, aiming to gain access to all the world's information, quickly and easily. But the company has branched out into a variety of Web applications, from Gmail for E-mail to Google Talk for instant messaging, Google Desktop for local search, Google Earth for mapping and much, much more. This week, Google takes it all a step further with the debut of enterprise-targeted applications that would be branded by third-party companies, but provided by Google. That way, you could keep your company.com domain but leave all the grunt work to Google's servers and staff. Sounds good, right?

Much of the conversations in the last several years were that in order to unseat Microsoft Office, a competitor needed to build clones of those apps that made Office what it is - Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. But now, people recognize that the new office has a lot more to it - with a very real focus on real-time interactive communication, regardless of location. Google's debut includes the aforementioned Gmail and Google Talk, but also Google Calendar and Google Page Creator - which hopefully bears absolutely zero resemblance to Microsoft's horrid Front Page for WYSIWYG Web design.

As a consumer, we can't help but root for anything that enables more choice, and more variety, especially as it takes advantage of new technologies. I can't say that Google's will be the winner, or that we'll be adopting it soon. Google has no equal as a search engine, without doubt, but for me, GMail is a second-class address, on par with all the other free e-mail addresses I've accrued over the last decade, and the rest of the apps are just for fun. The only one I'm truly waiting with baited breath for is Google Desktop for Mac OS X, if they ever get there. Interestingly, despite Google's failings there, leading blogger Robert Scoble writes that Google is even further ahead in Mac support than Microsoft with some of its tools saying, "They (Microsoft) are gonna get their ass kicked in this space because of their lack of attention to the Macintosh."

As you can expect, anything Google does gains plenty of attention. You can see further discussions of the launch at SiliconBeat, Searchblog, and InformationWeek.

To check out the solutions for yourself, go to https://www.google.com/a/.

Listening to ''Escape Velocity 007", by DJ Irish (Play Count: 1)

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Unfettered Internet Access at Work: Required

I have often made the comment that there are a few essentials to life. Food, water, sleep and high-speed Internet. I don't even want to go see the family or go on trips if I'm out of range of the Blackberry. I even type out e-mails or check sports scores while I'm driving, as anytime instant access to information plays such a key role in what I do - for a living, for my hobbies, and as a consumer. So when I hear that some companies still expect people to spend eight or so hours of the day without access to the Web, or only a minimal subset of it, it's enough to make me want to form a union for these oppressed souls, being stuck by "the man".

Surprisingly, today brought news that Microsoft is advocating employers to release the bonds of Internet inequality, because they're finding young jobseekers especially are turned away from companies that don't get it. As Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist (whatever that is) says, "These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day."

Now, I'm not advocating that workers of the world should unite behind poorly-designed MySpace pages, streaming MP3s and emoticon-filled chatfests on AOL instant messenger, but as we move more and more of our communications, business and information to the Web, you may as well tell employees not to read or eat while punched in on the clock. Companies will be differentiated through their ability to offer full access to the Internet - not so much as a perk, but as a core element that defines the work experience.

"Okay... so the job pays $9.95 an hour? Does it have benefits? A T-1 line? Cool."

Kirah even went so far as to say that taking a mobile phone away from a teenage girl is tantamount to child abuse. We certainly aren't interested in seeing a new wave of harassment claims from the Net deprived now, do we?

Listening to ''Watching Windows'', by Roni Size (Play Count: 3)

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Apple Can't Win Them All, But Vista Still Buggy

Today, after the conclusion of regular stock-trading hours, Apple announced that it had settled five outstanding lawsuits from Creative Technologies surrounding the company's iPod interface, to the tune of $100 millon. Creative had been awarded a patent for an iPod-like interface last year, and immediately filed suit against Apple, in an obvious attempt to extract money from the high-flying computer and gadget maker. As the iPod has marched along, destroying everything in its path, including Dell and Sony, Creative has seen their market share stagnate, despite a valiant attempt to compete. Now, instead of revenue, the company gets cash the old-fashioned new fashioned way - through the courts.

But don't let that make you think Apple is rolling over, a loser on all counts. While they clearly didn't win this round, it clears the way for continued iPod development and announcements, and sweeps that nasty thing under the rug. Meanwhile, as Apple continues to draw accolades for its upcoming Leopard release, its Redmond foe, Microsoft is taking a beating for what some have called "the buggiest OS I've seen this late in development." And that's not some Mac fanboy or jaded MS developer making noise. That particular comment came from analyst Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research, a firm which tends to be pretty straight-forward with its analysis.

Windows Vista is hardly seeing feature creep, as many operating systems do as they near shipment. Instead it's seeing feature droop, as highly-anticipated functionality has been eliminated in an effort to ship. But was has shipped is full of  bugs, that even the most ardent of Microsoft veterans won't stand. Analysts say the system is the most bug-ridden of any release from the company in more than a decade, and given Redmond's track record, that's truly saying something indeed.

Listening to ''Mind of the Wonderful'', by Blank & Jones (Play Count: 7)

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Evening Tech Notes: August 21, 2006

In the "yet another iPod competitor" category, Sandisk debuted devices that scale all the way through eight gigabytes - double that of the iPod Nano, with a similar style to and price of the Nano, giving Apple what some have termed its most formidable competition in years, since the iPod's having grabbed more than three quarters of the MP3 player market. Oddly, after decades of being trumped by Microsoft's inferior software and hardware, Apple has the shoe on the other foot when it comes to the iPod, as even if they were to be trumped on technology (and there's no indication that's happened here), their immense market share and momentum will make it very difficult for competitors to make inroads. In fact, Wired News says that iTunes has become such a dominant entity in the music business that even the initial holdout bands will have to make their music available.

In fact, in the face of competition from online sales, such as iTunes, Tower Records announced today that it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid declining sales.

Interestingly, some media pundits, including GigaOm, are saying that Apple has such interest in the music and video space that they are suggesting the Cupertino company make a play for online video site YouTube. Although I don't see it happening, Apple is one company who could potentially strike a deal for the $1 billion-valued Web 2.0 giant. However, Apple does not have a history of purchasing content sites. The company's middle of the road .Mac services were all home grown, and acquisitions have tilted more to the software arena.

Lastly, there was considerable fallout at AOL after the company inadvertently leaked thousands of search queries from users in a massive violation of privacy - as discussed earlier in "Privacy On the Web Is Gone". The online services company reacted swiftly by forcing the resignation of AOL's chief technology officer and other minions who had a part in making the breach happen. As Good Morning Silicon Valley writes, imagine how that would look on the resume... "Reason for leaving last job: Violated the privacy of 600,000 company customers". Ouch. (More)

Listening to ''Aphrodesiac'', by Nu Mood Orchestra (Play Count: 7)

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Microsoft LiveSpaces? Empty Spaces

There's been a bit of discussion on the blogosphere over the last few days about Microsoft's claim that their Microsoft LiveSpaces service is the most popular blogging service in the world, if one tracks it by the total number of bloggers. But if that is so, how come I have yet to see any useful sites on Microsoft Live? Why are all of the most-popular sites powered by WordPress or TypePad, or for those consumer-level folks among us, by Blogger?

(For what it's worth, I'm sticking with RapidWeaver)

Robert Scoble goes head to head with one of the Microsoft Live drones, after doing some investigation and seeing that all of the blogs he found on Microsoft Live were absolutely devoid of content. No big surprise there.

Regardless of the statistics, it is hard to believe that Microsoft is first, nimble enough to make the kind of transition needed to truthfully move from an OS and software suite company to an Internet leader, and secondly, that they can obtain the trust of the end user community, as others have. MySpace and Facebook and other success stories were organically grown, not manipulated, as MSN and Live are. The fact Google bought Blogger shows they knew to ask out the prettiest girl at the dance, not to build her out of spare parts.

Listening to ''Damaged (Ford's Trancendental Radio Edit)'', by Plummet (Play Count: 7)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Apple and Google in Denial

Sometimes in technology, the biggest news is no news at all - and the absence of something anticipated makes more noise than the debut of something unanticipated. Confused yet? Take a look at two separate announcements today from a pair of the most-scrutinized companies out there - Google and Apple, both of whom had to discount rumors that they had big plans in the works.

In the last few months, and especially so following Microsoft's pre-announcement of Zune, there has been a hotbed of discussion around the possibility that Apple would be adding wireless capabilities to their incredibly popular iPod lineup. While Microsoft has recently dialed back expectations on Zune's wireless capabilities, rumormongers have discovered patents from Apple that would indicate the company is looking to add wireless, even if just for synchronizing away from the host computer. In fact, one report said that Apple had dispatched company representatives to Asia to help train people on the music players new features.

Turns out that's a bunch of hooey, if Apple's denial of that news today is true. The company took the unusual step of commenting on rumors by denouncing them outright. This could be a typical Apple ploy to downplay expectations, but if they were to consistently lie to reporters and customers, that would be a very poor PR move, and I don't expect that's the goal here.

In parallel, Google recently announced that they had enabled wireless Internet access for the search engine's home community of Mountain View, California. Given their interest, everyone expected the next move for Google was to debut a nationwide wireless network under the Google brand. But, as with many dreams, it appears that it too will not come true. Just as Apple did, Google said they have no plans for national Wi-Fi service, despite efforts in Mountain View and San Francisco. They said that the goals were to demonstrate the "value of competition" in providing Internet access, and to experiment with new business ideas. 

So, while other companies would salivate the opportunity to get press and fans talking about what they are doing, Google and Apple are going out of their way to slow down the discussions. Maybe they're hiding secrets up their sleeves, and maybe it all depends on what the definition of "is" is. We'll all wait and see.

Listening to ''Sandstorm'', by Pete Tong (Play Count: 3)

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Privacy on the Web is Gone

Last week, AOL made headlines through a huge public relations gaffe where the Internet giant released the search records from hundreds of users. Though the users were not identified by name, their very personal searches were unearthed for all to see, and it didn't take detectives to rapidly match some names with their search terms (New York Times). This once again has the Web abuzz over what data should be kept private, and what should not.

With that discussion ongoing, Google has very publicly stated that they have no intention to stop recording user searches, and will use this data to help shape future services. But the time to worry about being anonymous on the Web is long gone. Savvy marketers and blog owners know your every click. They know what search terms you used, what Web site directed you to theirs, and what pages you clicked on when you got here. They know whether you use Mac or PC, and whether you use Firefox, Safari or IE. That's standard, whether content owners are utilizing the highly-popular SiteMeter, or more advanced tools, like WebTrends and LeadLander.

In parallel, Amazon.com has raised eyebrows by its acknowledging that they are going to request even more data from their users, including sexual orientation and religion, in addition to the standard address information and accumulated preferences through ongoing site purchases.

If there is a tool that marketers can use to more nimbly target their products and help you to buy more, they are going to use it. With technology improvements taking place all the time to aid the selling process, we're naive if we think we can surf idly from site to site without somebody paying attention. And it's not a moral crisis either. It's big business. We should just accept it. As Tom Formenski writes, "this data never goes away," adding "Your every click and keystroke online is being collected by many different organisations, and that means that at some point it will be possible to track it all, and identify most of it. Welcome to the future transparency of your life."

Listening to ''The Hush - Think'', by Bedrock (Play Count: 4)

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Friday, August 4, 2006

RapidWeaver Continues to Expand Feature Set

In the world of Web publishing, there are a number of ways to go - each of which offers a variety of benefits, depending on your technical expertise, your patience, and your budget. Some packages work for commercial environments, and others are much more appropriate for individuals and blogging.

As noted previously, I selected RapidWeaver from RealMacSoftware at the beginning of this year, to act as the foundation for the Web site, because it enabled me to update the blog from my computer, on my own domain name, without requiring server-side SQL. The system isn't perfect, but the authors continue to make updates, and each rendition of the software gets closer to perfection.

Since the mid-1990s, I have utilized BareBones' BBEdit for all HTML work, both at the office and for the home page. In fact, I still use it at work, and have been able to use it as we scaled from a few dozen to a few hundred Web pages. It's a fantastic product, and the site-wide search and replace functionality is one of the main reasons I've continued to use it year after year.

I'm also familiar with many Web-hosted tools, like TypePad and Blogger. While simple, they are often too cutesy, or demand you host your blog on their site. RapidWeaver offers the best of both worlds, delivering customizability, and the flexibility of my own URL and the option to host data via FTP on my own server.

This week, RapidWeaver rolled out 3.5 beta 3 of the application (Version Notes), making it the 4th version I've used. We adopted version 3.5 the night it came out, and installed the following two betas each month they came out. With version two came permalinks and subpages, and the latest betas have improved stability and tweaked existing features.

My feature wish list for RapidWeaver is there, but diminishing. To truly eliminate any interest I have in iWeb or TypePad or WordPress, we need to see better integrated comment systems, the option to publish remotely, away from the desktop storing the application, and code editing, to name a few, but it's still pretty darn good. We'll keep watching any and all updates and hope the site continues to grow.

Listening to ''Ready Steady Go'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 16)

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Thursday, August 3, 2006

Web 2.0 Companies Play With Error Messages

It used to be that error messages were by far the least interesting thing you could run into on a Web site. It wasn't too uncommon to hit a 404-File Not Found, a 403-Forbidden, or other simple numbers that didn't exactly tell you why your Web journey had come to an end. Now, with the latest generation of Web-focused companies tailoring their offerings to younger viewers, and less so to the initial Unix-loving geeks who dominated the Web at its beginning, even the error messages have been upgraded.

YouTube, the video sharing site which has gained an overwhelming amount of publicity of late that saw the site's traffic compared to the New York Times, and is rumored to be valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, took itself off-line late tonight, and threw up a silly image to explain just why they had to ask users to accept the technical difficulties, along with a note that "We're currently putting out some new features, sweeping out the cobwebs and zapping a few gremlins. We'll be back later. In the meantime, please enjoy a layman's explanation of our website..."

Below is that image.



Just last week, when teen-home MySpace went on the blink, users were asked to satiate themselves with a Flash game of PacMan. At least the sites are having a sense of humor about them amid the stress of being down. Now, if only they'd learn they need to forge a redundant fail-safe infrastructure like the rest of the for-profit world.

Listening to ''Together We Will Conquer (Radi'', by Paul Van Dyk (Play Count: 5)

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Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Microsoft Expanding Despite Vista Collapse

Microsoft is in an odd space right now, as mentioned previously. Nobody appears to have much confidence that the company's next generation OS, Vista, is going to ship in time for PC vendors to pre-package it before the end of the year, and some prominent bloggers, including Robert McLaw and Robert Scoble, are campaigning for the software giant to hold off on its release until all the kinks are worked out.

As Scoble writes, "This sucker is just not ready. Too many things are too slow and/or don’t work." But that's not stopping Microsoft from continuing to balloon - as the company announced recently it had expanded corporate headcount by an additional 10,000 in the last fiscal year, turning nearby streets into parking lots, according to Mini-Microsoft, who laments, "10,000 More Microsofties - What Do They Do?". You know that line about throwing good money after bad? I don't see that Microsoft can continue to throw people at the problem. After a while, they reach a point where they simply don't add value and contribute to the slowdowns...

Listening to ''I'm With Stupid'', by Pet Shop Boys (Play Count: 5)

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Microsoft Announces iPod Killer: Coming Zune

Microsoft is a poor, confused, shell of the company it once was. Recent months have seen the company's founder, Bill Gates, step down as CEO, the company continues to be under fire from anti-trust regulators in Europe, fined several hundred million Euros, and earlier this week, the company went out of its way to try and convince the world that not only was it not a monopoly, but it was actually very friendly to competition - through a pair of press releases that outlined the company's new rules of order, so to speak.
(Microsoft.com: Tenets of Competition)

If that weren't enough, sitting on a mountain of cash, the company finally bowed to pressure from investors, opting to repurchase $20 billion in stock, to reduce the number of shares outstanding. If you're a company the size of Microsoft, and you can't find an array of small to medium sized companies to purchase with that cash, then you just could be very lost. And with the company's online ventures fading, momentum has moved towards truly innovative companies like Apple, Google and a host of Web 2.0 players.

With that as a backdrop, Microsoft proved Apple right by announcing it would indeed try and rattle Apple's dominance of the music world - by introducing a new hard-disk player and music store called Zune. With Apple announcing a blowout quarter this week, and the iTunes/iPod combo owning that space, even in light of competition from MP3-playing cell phones, Microsoft is for once the persnickety upstart. And though data on the new Zune is limited, some of the specs look downright familiar - the device is rectangular, at least one model will be white, with rounded corners, it will feature a video screen for photos, videos and music, and even the buttons mimic that of the third-generation iPods from Apple. But Microsoft is rumored to have upped the ante by introducing WiFI, and will aggressively go after iTunes Music Store customers by opting to pay for their song libraries to be replaced with their own service.

Microsoft started out life as a software company, doing programming languages, before migrating to desktop applications and operating systems. Now, with the XBox and soon to debut, Zune, the baby chick has strayed far from the nest. By going it alone, analysts are already saying that Microsoft stands to alienate partners moreso than gain new friends. And that just might make Apple that much stronger - not that I anticipate them looking forward to the media hype and advertising onslaught sure to befall us this fall.

Additional coverage on Zune... practically everywhere. (Engadget, BetaNews, TechCrunch)

Listening to ''Fahrenheit 3D3'', by Orbital (Play Count: 5)

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Evening Tech Notes: July 20, 2006

I'm finding that there is a great deal of blogging about ... blogging. In fact, this self-inspective navel gazing is getting almost as much play as the actual contents that many key bloggers were trying to get around when they put their fingers to laptops around the world - whether they were telling a unique story, or acting as news feeds and commentary for technology, sports, politics or special interests. The Washington Post, after a thorough survey, found that the "typical" blogger was under the age of 30, had a hard time convincing more than friends or family to visit their site, and very few expect to make money from it. That's probably fairly accurate. Like almost any venture, a very small percentage of businesses or sites will make it, while the majority will fail - or become non-profits.

Following Apple's big quarterly announcements yesterday, it's no surprise that a fair number of Apple detractors are trying to find a way to poke holes in the computer/iPod maker's story. Robert Scoble, formerly of Microsoft, and now spinning podcasts at PodTech, says that MP3-capable cellphones are eating into the iPod's market share. Funny thing is, I've never, ever, seen anybody walk around listening to songs on their cell phone, but we can't go a few feet on a crowded sidewalk without seeing white earbuds. Meanwhile, Scoble himself is going to work on podcasts at PodTech, that without the iPod, either wouldn't exist, or would be named something completely different. Amusing.

And do you remember in the late 1990s when two companies would say they had a partnership, even if it were just on paper, and both stocks would jump? And then, do you remember when that all looked a bit silly? Well, Steve Rubel says the "I love you, you love me" releases are coming back, baby!

In case you thought I had missed it, rarely does a tech update go through without discussing Google - the biggest brand out there right now. But if you think about it, and Henry Blodget does on Internet Outsider, less than a decade ago, Google didn't exist, and it wasn't until a few years ago that they figured out how to make money. Somewhere, somebody in a garage is thinking about the next big thing. Or maybe it's taking a medium-sized company just a little bit longer to get there. But Google has accomplished some amazing things in a very short time, and as he writes, that can't be disregarded.

Listening to ''Warung Beach'', by John Digweed (Play Count: 4)

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Evening Tech Notes: July 16, 2006

If you are an avid Dilbert reader, then you know employees are frequently promoted up to the point of their adequate level of incompetence. And unfortunately, that can often be seen in the corporate world. Unfortunately, when companies begin to drag or decline, it is the low-level, hard-working stiffs who traditionally feel the sting during layoffs, while overpaid, overfed, underworked managers slide by. Interestingly, this isn't the case at Intel, who opted to cut 1,000 manager positions in a wide layoff announced last week, which may not be the company's last. Mini-Microsoft notes this fresh thinking, and says just about every project has one too many layers of management in between it and success.

Prior to growing too large, of course, there are a number of steps companies need to take in order to get on the right track in the first place. Though Guy Kawasaki has done a tremendous job with his famous "Top Ten" lists and "The Art of the Start", Red Eye VC outlines how those funding a venture need to trust person #1 - the entrepreneur themselves.

It looks more and more like Microsoft is aiming to compete directly with the iPod later this year, with a me-too MP3 player offering, with some new features including video games and WiFi. Even the most ardent of Apple rumor sites don't believe Apple will have WiFi by the time Microsoft does. The question is - will this be the one that finally knocks iPod off the medal stand? (GigaOM, Seattle Times)

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Saturday, July 1, 2006

Amazon No Longer Relevant

Tech leadership is fleeting - it comes and goes very quickly, and allegiance to one brand or another on the Web is hard to keep, especially in the face of innovative competition.

Amazon.com set the commerce world on its ear in the 1990s by becoming the biggest warehouse in the world - virtually - selling books by the droves, and then adding products of every persuasion, from housewares to clothing, electronics, CDs and DVDs. At one point, I was ordering everything from Amazon - including Christmas presents for the entire family. Our office mail was dominated by these cardboard boxes with the familiar Amazon arrow/smile. It wasn't just me who found the Amazon way incredibly convenient.

I took the next step, driving people to my Amazon Wish List for holidays and birthdays, and believe it or not, when I got engaged in 2003, my wife took the traditional route, registering with Bed, Bath and Beyond, while I again drove everyone to Amazon, using a wedding-themed wish list, where on top of standard items like place settings, sheets and towels, I added DVDs, books and music. A guy's got to have fun, right?

But since then, my Amazon use has almost completely dried up. In 2004, I don't think I ordered a single item. In 2005 and 2006, my use has been paltry, and even that was spurred through others giving me gift certificates.

So, what happened? Why the change? For me, the #1 answer is iTunes. iTunes completely eliminated any need for me to ever order CDs from Amazon.com again. I certainly haven't stopped buying music, but iTunes is always my first stop, and Amazon only works for tracks that never made it to the world's best music application. The second answer would be Netflix. With Netflix, we gain access to DVDs quickly and cheaply, with no need to buy. And the third major reason - shopping search engines like Shopzilla and Froogle can find me the world's best bargains on just about everything else, without favoring Amazon.

Don't get me wrong - I'd rather buy online than offline in almost every case. But Amazon's variety and customer support is no longer such a breakthrough that it was a decade ago. And I can't remember the last time I saw a brown Amazon.com box come into the office. That's so 90s.

Listening to ''Aura'', by Serenade (Play Count: 3)

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bill Gates Steps Down as Microsoft Tumult Continues

Big news breaking this afternoon as Bill Gates and Microsoft have announced the software monolith's founder and chairman will be ceasing his day to day role at the company, where he says he will be spending more time working on his charitable activities. He and his wife, Melinda, have allocated billions to causes around the world, and it looks like Bill's softening up in his older age, looking to become less the hated monopolist, and instead, more of an Andrew Carnegie, etc. On the flip side, given that Microsoft's stock has been hammered for the last few years, and Vista's schedule has slipped repeatedly, it could be there was quite a bit of back-door boardroom shenanigans that none of us are yet aware of.

Should be interesting to see the market's reaction, as well as that of Microsoft partners and competitors as this signals the end of an era.

Listening to ''Live Forever (PPD's Club Dub)'', by Bombay (Play Count: 5)

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Netscape.com Digg Competitor In Beta

Years after lying dormant following the Web pioneer's acquisition by AOL, Netscape.com is relaunching itself as an alternative to Digg (and Slashdot) with user-generated news taking over the current portal. Jason Calicanis of Weblogs.com is leading the charge. Currently in beta at beta.netscape.com, naturally, it should roll to the Netscape home page in a couple weeks.

Red Herring and TechCrunch have coverage so far.

Listening to ''Escape Velocity 007 (12 September 2005)'', by DJ Irish (Play Count: 2)

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Google Building Secret Massive Supercomputer

Google isn't satisfied in being the #1 company for search, and has found itself directly in the sights of some of the most powerful companies on Earth - Yahoo! and Microsoft, for starters. In order to continue leading the pack in Web services and customer satisfaction, solving the latency issue is key, as customers will switch sites and services over what are perceived to be more than millisecond delays. As part of the company's billion-plus dollar plan to solve just that, Google has amassed what some are calling the world's largest supercomputer, tucked away in Oregon, dubbed "Project02", according to those in the know. Whether that system is measured the largest by number of individual servers, petaflops, or some other metric is unclear, and nobody at Google is talking.

More in Tuesday's International Herald Tribune and in Wednesday's New York Times.

Listening to ''Bar None'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 7)

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Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Google Follows Apple's iSync With Browser Tool

Google looks like they're releasing tools out of their labs just about every day now, and this evening was no exception. After business hours today, the Google Blog updated us to let us know they'd issued a Firefox plugin that would synchronize browser information across multiple computers, and tie the two machines together based on your Google ID.

While very useful for Firefox users (myself included), Apple has offered identical functionality within their .Mac suite through iSync for a long time. I share bookmarks between Safari on my home laptop and the work computer, and through iSync, I also can synchronize my AddressBook and schedule through iCal. For Google this is less necessary, as their tools are Web based apps in the first place, and won't need synching, as they lack an offline component.

I installed the Google Browser Sync tool on the home Mac, and like any other Firefox plugin, it installed after relaunching the application, where I was asked to login with my user ID and password, and to choose a specific pin. From there, I could opt to synchronize bookmarks, application history, cookies, and could even synchronize open windows or tabs between the two machines. For me... that's a bit too much, but the bookmark and password synching could be very useful.


The Google Browser Sync Interface
(Click Images for Larger Size)


It's not exactly search, but it's yet another way for Google to get further involved with your computing interface lifestyle. The company's new mantra must be that if it can be enhanced through a Web app, then get it done, and don't ask questions.

Listening to ''The Mix - Volume 3 - CD2'', by Blank & Jones (Play Count: 5)

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Monday, June 5, 2006

Google to Launch Spreadsheet Web App

The world's most popular search engine may still claim they are focused on search, but that corporate mantra is getting more diluted by the day, as Google continues to launch new tertiary apps that vary widely from the company's core focus (or original focus, anyway). Every tech site worth their salt is abuzz with the news that Google is set to take on Microsoft Excel through the launch of Google spreadsheet.

And as with the vast majority of Google's non-search products, the database app is probably going to be called "Beta" for a significant time and is debuting light on features. As the Wall Street Journal writes, Google spreadsheet "is a simple, early version that lacks some sophisticated features such as the ability to create charts or drag and drop data." Oh. But why would I need those features anyway? How silly of me! At this point, I'm almost siding with the snide remark from Microsoft's General Manager in the same article who said, "There's nothing new here really," saying Google Spreadsheet is just one of many competitors to the software monolith's office suite.

Additional coverage: ZDNet, Micro Persuasion, GigaOM, Silicon Valley Sleuth, Searchblog

Listening to ''A New Sensorium (John Johnson Mix)'', by DJ Kimball Collins (Play Count: 6)

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Thursday, June 1, 2006

RapidWeaver 3.5: It "Beta" Be Good

Living on the bleeding edge can be fun, so long as you don't mind all the blood.

It's a long-standing tradition to download new software right when it comes out - and version 1.0 can be very exciting, especially if you've anticipated it for some time. But with 1.0 software, it's fairly common to see things crash and burn, or the new features you were expecting to be so "cool" might actually not work after all.

The best example of this was when I moved from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X Public Beta. I can even tell you the date - March 24, 2001. I was at home, working to launch my new company's Web site, when a knock at the door, on a Saturday, delivered me the very, very beta copy of Mac OS X 10.0. It was all I could do to finish my Web projects before obliterating all my files, and I had to be diligent enough to back things up to an external drive or Zip files... just in case. As it was, I still installed the OS that evening, and was tinkering with its Aquaness, even though I no longer could play DVDs, I didn't have anything that really was a "Finder", and it seemed the most-robust app was the included Chess program. But I did it anyway. In fact, I think I payed $29.95 for the privilege to beta-test Apple's new OS. Five years later, it's pretty clear they had a pretty good thing going, but I've gotten a tad more conservative in my old age, and don't know if I'd do it the same way again.

Speaking of which, the software I use to power this blog, RapidWeaver from Real Mac Software, is turning the big 3.5 tomorrow, up from its current iteration of 3.2.1, which has been in use since we relaunched in January. If you peruse the software developer's forum site, you can see the massive anticipation this release has brought. Everyone wants their grubby hands on it now - so they can mess with new themes, Permalinks and automatic Technorati pings, to name a few things. But the more I read, the more I see how the company is warning people it is "beta" software, and it could go kablooey. I'll definitely be doing a backup of everything from 3.2.1 at the very least before we go crazy. But if you expect me to sit around while everyone else gets to muck around with the new version, you'd be way off. Now I just have to stop visiting the page and refreshing to see if the software's been posted yet!

Listening to ''Spinal Column'', by Stereolab (Play Count: 6)

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

RSS A Demanding Mistress

Just like any other self-respecting techie, I'm subscribed to dozens of RSS feeds - from technology and sports news sites, to popular blogs, and Google news alerts on a whole host of keywords, for both personal and work use. One of the first tasks each morning after opening up the laptop is to click on NetNewsWire and scroll through the night's news until I'm caught up.

However, even with this diligence, by the time I get to the office and log in, there are dozens more new stories that have popped up on RSS. I've synchronized my work and home computers through NewsGator, meaning I don't have to read the same stories twice, but it doesn't mean I have the luxury of sitting back while the world revolves around me. In fact, just in the time it took to write these two paragraphs, a simple refresh picked up 27 new articles for perusal, boosting the 89 new items at the time of the below screenshot to a more robust 116.


NetNewsWire In Action


The benefits of RSS are obvious - instead of looking for news and information, it comes to me. Combined with alerts from Google News, I can track for news coverage on my company and the competition - instantly, always staying a step ahead of colleagues, the PR firm, and others not utilizing the services. Even better, the latest edition of NetNewsWire now lets users click and view the stories inside the application, instead of opening up to a new Web browser. I'd say I now read a significant percentage of my browsed articles within NetNewsWire instead of Safari now, and that number is ever-increasing, as the sites I regularly visit are supplanted through their feeds.

But I think I may just have reached the level where I don't want to add much more. If I do add regularly-updated feeds, I give some thought as to removing others that offer high quantity, but not high quality. (I'm looking at you, InformationWeek and News.com!) If you're not at this stage yet, give NetNewsWire a spin. And if you're on a PC instead of a Mac, NewsGator also offers FeedDemon, which is probably good, but not nearly as fun. You should just get a Mac anyway.

Listening to ''Columbia'', by Paul Van Dyk (Play Count: 3)

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

As Google Grows Up, Bumps Taking Place

Google started out life as a simple search engine. With an uncluttered interface, users had access to what soon became the most thorough database on the Web, and from there, the company grew - adding paid ads alongside search results, and then an avalanche of applications, as the company's next moves and areas to add ad revenue seem limitless, from GMail to Google-branded classified ads, Google Desktop and more. But all through the process, the company's promised to not do evil, in direct contrast with Microsoft, who is widely respected for its own pact with Satan himself.

Now, as Google is seen as the 800 pound gorilla, those who follow the company's every step and speculate to their next move are growing increasingly wary, suggesting the company's honeymoon is over - that like Microsoft, IBM and basically any large company before it, Google is not to be trusted, and that a lack of information about their current and future business is hiding something - and that something is likely sinister. Media coverage, technology fans and business experts alike have changed their tone when discussing Google, no longer seeing it as a plucky upstart, but instead as a force to be reckoned with in every market. (See Google makes some missteps as it finds its way in corridors of power and Why Google makes everyone else nervous)

In fact, some are saying that as Google has grown and taken on new projects, they have lost their way, with nobody being held accountable for market share, growth, and the inevitable quest for profit. While the company continues to impress with the search market and advertising growth, some have said that Google's comparable market share in e-mail, news, financial information and mapping software are surprisingly low for what should be a market leader, and are calling for change - in the form of layoffs, starting with the CEO and working downward. Google and layoffs have scarcely been mentioned in the same breath before, and the company continues its massive expansion. Hardly a day goes by where one prominent geek hasn't announced on their personal blog that they've been hired by the search giant. But the tone has changed, and if Google's not careful, they'll find that consumers and media are very fickle, and what used to be open-ended good-will can play very much the opposite way.

Listening to ''Eclipse'', by Timo Maas (Play Count: 4)

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Web Site Layout In Graph Form

I ran across an interesting tool yesterday afternoon, which will take any Web site and display it in a graph form, similar to a molecular structure, based on the site's links, graphics and typography.

Below is a screenshot of the graph for louisgray.com/live


Click for full image


For other popular graphs, start here: http://www.aharef.info/static/htmlgraph/

Examples: Apple.com | Google.com | ESPN.com | Yahoo.com

Listening to ''Assorted Trance Volume 10'', by DJ Irish (Play Count: 5)

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Is Microsoft Poised for Massive Layoffs?

Microsoft, the gargantuan software monolith, has long been known for a number of things - aggressive marketing and business practices, a slew of software products, on again off again security, and an OS family that, while long in the tooth, is still the predominant OS for the vast majority of both home and business users. However, one thing the company has not been known for is a big word - layoffs. This all may soon change, if one Microsoft-focused blog is to be believed. Word is, with massive delays plaguing the company's next-generation Windows OS, Vista, heads are about to roll in the company's Windows division, and it could mean hundreds of lost jobs, not all of whom will find new jobs at the Redmond company.

One visitor to the site wrote, "I got wind today that a MASSIVE Windows RIF is in the works. It's real folks. Hundreds and hundreds of jobs. The good news is that other parts of MS will be able to absorb it. But if you want your pick of what's out there, beat the rush and don't wait for review time."

Now, it's one thing to believe anonymous posters on an anonymously-hosted blog, but Mini-Microsoft has had a direct line into the hearts and minds of those slogging away at the software giant, and if Web discussions are to be believed, this author's constant criticism of the company has had direct impact on real-world changes to Microsoft's HR policies.

We don't root for any individuals to find themselves in harm's way as a result of layoffs. I've been laid off once, and that once was enough. I've seen coworkers let go - some because they weren't pulling their weight, and others, because they were caught in the tide on its way out. But if Microsoft is to galvanize the technology industry the way they did in the 1990s, some big changes will have to happen - or companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo! and others we've never heard of will rule the future.

(Previous post on this topic: Microsoft in a Hard Place)

Listening to ''Halcyon + On + On'', by Orbital (Play Count: 3)

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

louisgray.com Dashboard Widget 1.0 Released

I wrote about Apple Dashboard widgets last night, naming some of those I use the most frequently. But how hard can it be to make a widget for this site? I've been trying now and again, and after some code mucking, we're ready to debut version 1.0 of the louisgray.com dashboard widget!

The widget acts like any other Apple Dashboard widget. You can activate it and move it to any portion of your screen. Utilizing RSS, the widget will check the louisgray.com site every 15 minutes for new posts, and will display their headline and date in the widget, so you can see if the site has been updated, and click directly to the post. In fact, the 1.0 version of the widget has all posts available from the site, going back to the beginning of the year!

A screenshot is below.


Download now!

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Google Tells Us What's Trendy

Google held their annual press day today, inviting the unwashed hordes to the company's pristine Mountain View campus, to give updates, answer questions, and of course, to introduce new goodies the search giant has been cooking up in their labs.

For me, the most interesting introduction was that of "Google Trends", which can show how frequently terms are searched for on the site, over time. Visitors to Google Trends can pick multiple keywords to search on - for instance, "Microsoft, Apple" or "Dick Cheney, Karl Rove", to compare how "hot" one keyword was across the entire Google-sphere, versus another. The Google Trends service also features news stories on the right side of your results, ostensibly to show whether hard news played any part in a search term's popularity.

Now, this isn't the first time that a service has debuted that compares Google searches to one another. A more amusing service is a product called "Google War", which, without Google approval, searches on two keywords, and shows you which one has the most results - in effect giving you a keyword's popularity by the number of times it is mentioned, rather than gauging its popularity by how many people are searching for it on a given day. GoogleFight has a similar service.

Early feedback on Google Trends has been positive. Some have gone so far as to say that public relations professionals should bookmark some searches, to see if there is indeed a trend of searching against hard news, or to gauge whether product launches are successfully entering the public mind, or if one product has more mindshare against another. You can get started on learning how to be trendy here. For a full webcast of Google's press day, visit their site.

Listening to ''Ocean Rain'', by Elevation (Play Count: 2)

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Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Web Bots Take On Humans for News Aggregation

Web spiders have been around for more than a decade. First utilized for search engines, such as Webcrawler, and eventually growing into the search robots from Yahoo!, Inktomi, Google and Excite, these inanimate programs crawled the Internet, constantly indexing in an attempt to make sure their represented search engine was the biggest, had the most pages, and hopefully, was the most relevant for the search you were executing.

Since that time, Web bots have been reprogrammed for specific tasks, from shopping search engines such as Shopzilla, Froogle, and MySimon, to mainstream news, such as Google News - which prides itself on being filtered by bots, not humans. Google News is a key example of a "20%" project so lauded by the search giant, who gives its engineers one full day a week to work on basically anything. One aspiring coder took on the news, and the result is now viewed by millions daily.

Now, Web bots are being even more finely honed, and through newer tools, they are able to be integrated in to well-designed pages that take into account popularity of links, frequency of mentions, etc. and can be tailored to more vertical topics. Techmeme is one of the best - covering all things tech. Part of the Memeorandum family, Techmeme also features sister sites including Ballbug for baseball, WeSmirch for entertainment news and gossip, and the original memeorandum, for politics. Funny how the first focuses of the bots were on those topics where I tend to waste the most time. (Baseball, Politics, Entertainment and Tech) If they come out with flavors dedicated to just Apple or say, electronic music, then I'm sure I'm being stalked.

In the meantime, check out Techmeme and see if a bot is better at finding out the news and organizing it than you and I ever could be.

Listening to ''Can U Feel the Funk'', by Darren Emerson (Play Count: 6)

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Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Microsoft In a Hard Place

For more than a decade, it's seemed that Microsoft could just mint money. In fact, they even issued a product called "Money" to challenge Quicken's stronghold on the financial management software market, after regulators said the Redmond company would be blocked from merging with Intuit, due to anti-competitive issues. But recent years have seen struggles for the software monolith, as they've seen more nimble challengers like Google and Apple make significant headway in markets where Microsoft once expected to run roughshod over competition. While the firm continues to turn significant profits, they certainly aren't seen as being the leaders in innovation (some argue if they ever were), and they're more recognized for their failing business units (MSN), maniacal corporate culture (see Steve Ballmer) and delays in their planned Operating System upgrade, Vista.

In what may seem like a true sign of the apocalypse to those of us who have seen technology columnist John Dvorak spit at all things Apple for years, he now turns the other cheek and says that Microsoft has completely lost their way. In a piece for CBS Marketwatch, Dvorak, in his grumpy tradition, gives "eight signs the software giant is dead in the water", ranging from the aforementioned MSN and Vista to the mundane Office 2007, .Net, and obsession with Google. He says Microsoft "is too easily distracted by successful companies who are not competitors", which rings partly true. In Silicon Valley the question from VCs to potential startups for decades was "how will you compete with Microsoft?", with the given belief that they would eventually go after you, and in most cases, you would die fighting (see Netscape, Borland, and others). Now, Microsoft is drunk with money, and their best employees have gone on to better things.

Speaking of Microsoft money, even Bill Gates is losing it big time. The company's stock fell nearly 4% again today, and is well off of its split-adjusted peak of more than $60 a share, it's now at only $23 and change. Of course, Bill Gates is now saying he wishes he weren't the world's richest man, saying nothing good comes out of it. Now that's not very fun. Wouldn't you like for him to share his wealth with you - so you both can have your wish come true?

Listening to ''Escape Velocity 001'', by DJ Irish (Play Count: 3)

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Monday, April 17, 2006

What's Next to be Obsolete?

If I took a snapshot of today's technology appliances, they seem fairly useful - and with each passing year (in some cases, more frequently), companies are constantly issuing improvements that make them even more integral to our lives. The cell phone, the laptop, the television - each seems to own a corner in our home that doesn't look to be disrupted. But if you turn the dial back a few years, one uncovers "cutting edge" technology that seems comparably antiquated by today's standards - the 56k dial-up modem, the handheld pager, and even the VCR, are all relics that have been replaced by later, greater, things that have capitalized on the developments of the past, and moved forward.

In my home, our CRT television is probably the first to bite it. We're ready to move to a flat panel that hangs on the wall, and aren't impressed by the machine's girth or picture quality. And yes, our VCR in the other room needs to be replaced with a second TiVo unit, so long as we can stomach the monthly fees. Even our TiVo is a series one, so we're due for an upgrade there... but then what?

I think our wireless base stations are going away in two to three years. With cities and metropolitan areas adopting wide range wireless, sponsored by Google or Earthlink, etc, it may become redundant for us to offer 802.11 at the home. And my iPod, while nice and portable, should also be replaced with a device that offers songs and video on demand from any location, instantly. I may or may not "own" the music, but I can always get to it. The DVD player too will go away, replaced by movies on demand. It's already happening in some areas, and if you combine TiVo with Netflix, you're almost there. Also, personal phone numbers should be just that - for people, and not locations. I shouldn't identify a number with a person's home, work or mobile number - it should just get them anywhere, and the user would opt to be disturbed or not, through their own selection on the communications device.

And as chronicled previously, I've had it up to here with power adapters. If computers are to be truly wireless, we need to learn a way to get power the same way we do Internet - through the air, without exposing us to radiation and sterility. Somebody is going to figure this out and get rich.

There's sure to be more ideas, but one step at a time. I just won't admit to having the equivalent of an 8-track player once we get to that point...

Listening to ''Words (Mana Mix)'', by Paul Van Dyk (Play Count: 7)

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Thursday, April 6, 2006

Google Goes Home (Shopping)

If anybody at Google says that they're not aiming to be a portal, they are lying through their artificially whitened teeth. Yesterday, Google very quietly released (in beta as always) a preview of their Real Estate search service, which utilizes Google Maps and Google Base to provide real estate listings with fly-overs of the home.

The service can be found if you go to Google and search for "homes for sale". You can customize by zip code to see available listings.

Examples: 94086, 94303, 95969, 80122.

While it's not an eloquent and visual service in the league of Zillow, Google Real Estate could become the standard if it adds the expected bells and whistles, while capitalizing on Google's reach and brand.

Listening to ''Stay'', by DJ Encore (Play Count: 4)

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Time Travel Through E-mail Archival

As far as my e-mail is concerned, the "Delete" key is a last resort - at least when it comes to messages with friends, family, colleagues or business transactions. Of course, the junk messages are incinerated, but my tendency is to hold onto e-mail forever, and I've taken great steps to ensure my e-mail archive stays intact, even as I change e-mail addresses, upgrade computers or migrate from one e-mail program to another. All told, I am fairly confident that more than 90 percent of my e-mail with known contacts since 1996 has been retained in an easily-accessible, searchable database on my laptop, and is backed up daily online through Apple's .Mac Backup service.

For me, it's not just the ease of finding data or people when needed, but there is something both funny and embarrassing about dredging up messages I sent years ago to people I haven't spoken to in years, now seeing the event in 20/20 hindsight, or simply noticing the way I have adapted my writing style from then until now. As time passes by, people do change, yet I have point-in-time snapshots of myself, friends, family and colleagues that will not be changed or edited for history. With the right keyword searches, I can cringe at my struggles with finances in college, wince at attempts to gain somebody's attention, or root myself on as I look back at challenges and changes in their infancy. I can also run a quick search to remind somebody of what they've said or use an old conversation to make a point.

What I have, using Apple Mail and the Mac's built-in Spotlight functionality, combined with a pack-rat like attention to e-mail storage, is what Google is hoping the world will move to with its integration of GMail and Google Desktop. You should never have to delete an e-mail, and you should be able to find any message with a well-defined search and parameters. While this is the future for some, for me, we're already there, and in case you were curious, the few times I need the data, its interesting, but not revolutionary. Fully 90% of all my archived e-mail will never be seen again. The good news is that it doesn't take up any physical space - only theoretical bytes from a hard drive with plenty of headroom.

Listening to ''Tribe & Trance (Voyager Remix)'', by John Digweed (Play Count: 5)

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Google Blog Accidentally Deleted

Tonight, the official Google blog was temporarily off-line, and while many speculated that the site had been hacked into, it turns out, according to the Blogger Product Manager, that the official blog had accidentally been deleted. "D'oh!" was the official quote given. Now... let's give this a second of thought. These are the guys with the biggest search archive on the planet, the company with the largest available online e-mail boxes, and they seek to store 100% of all the world's information on Google GDrives with your local desktop becoming the backup or cache instead of the main storage option? I should let that sink in... I'm supposed to give all of my data to a company who "D'oh!"... accidentally deletes their own blog? That's not reassuring.

Listening to ''H.H.C. - We're Not Alone'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 4)

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Microsoft Extends Delay Tactics

I stayed off of the bandwagon dumping on Microsoft for their recent announcements that their "next generation" operating system, Vista, would be delayed through 2007, because kicking Microsoft when they have issues is just too easy. But tonight, we see that they simply don't have their act together at all - announcing a similar delay in their planned Office 2007 software suite, also until 2007.

With revenue from the Windows operating system and Office suite being Microsoft's two primary cash cows for the better part of two decades, any delays for the software monopoly behemoth impact the technology industry as a whole - from consumers and businesses timing upgrades to the OEM partners of the Redmond giant, who cannot count on a spike in this year's holiday season where they were before.

You know where my allegiances lie - Apple has made a superior operating system and user experience for a long time now, and continues to extend the lead. With delays on Microsoft's end, Apple's feature differentiation will be even more significant, and now they run on Intel, eliminating yet another barrier for some to the Macintosh platform. While I don't want to express too much schaudenfreude in Microsoft's plight, I can't argue that I'm surprised or disappointed.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Google Finance Set to Debut

Google once claimed its stakes in the search wars as the site with the clean, uncluttered interface that challenged you to "Feel Lucky". With expansion into paid for search ads, a host of desktop software tools including Google Desktop and Google Earth, and new Web features like GMail, Blogger, the Google Toolbar, Google News, Froogle, Google Pages and more, one has the option to find nearly as much data on Google as one associates with more established portal sites - namely Yahoo!.

Yet another wall falls down today with the debut of Google Finance. Rather than forge their own way with a "Moneygle" site or some other such nonsense, this page is ripped right from the Yahoo! playbook. With Yahoo! Finance having a significant headstart, Google Finance aims to offer stock charts, financial news, chat rooms and many of the familiar items we've come to expect from Yahoo! Finance and other similar sites on the Web.

I've used many of Yahoo!'s stock sites and functions with near-exclusivity for years, especially with the quasi-demise of the Excite@Home franchise. (I started with my.excite.com rather than my.yahoo.com) It should be interesting to see if Google can offer a superior service - one strong enough to push me to move over - but it better be worth the recreation of all my custom stock portfolios and news sources...

More reports on this announcement:
CNET: Google To Roll Out Its Own Finance Site
Forbes: Google Rolls Out Financial Site
San Jose Mercury News: Google Launches Financial Web Site
SearchEngineWatch: Google Launches Google Finance
Silicon Beat: Google Unleashes Google Finance

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Microsoft Not Giving Up Despite Failures

By all measures, the launch of Microsoft's (MSFT) Ultra Mobile PC, Origami, was a dud. People are seeing it as yet another attempt for the software giant to force the world to adopt tablet computers, when that market may simply not exist. While Origami was largely expected to compete with everything from the iPod to Sony's Playstation Portable, it's recognized as being just yet another subnotebook - too large to put in your pocket, and too small to replace your laptop. Quite the niche, eh? (See: CoolTechNews: Another Failure for Microsoft)

But the company's not done. Dean Takahashi of the beleaguered Mercury News is claiming that in a separate project, Microsoft is planning a device that primarily acts as a video game player, and also plays music. It's suggested the machine is being championed by the group behind the XBox 360, and it too will compete with - you guessed it - Apple's (AAPL) iPod and Sony's Playstation Portable. The machine's debut, much like Windows next generation operating system, Vista, is not expected for more than a year. Undoubtedly, we will continue to hear rumors about this constantly until then, and when it too fails, Microsoft will go after the iPod ... again.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Google Stretching for Announcements

Google has had a rough time of it lately - seeing next generation applications debut before their time through leaked screenshots or PowerPoint notes inadvertently left behind on analyst day. Meanwhile, their stock has dropped by $150 from its peak only a few months ago. In the interim, the company is trying to continue positive press and interest through announcements on the company blog - ranging from Google Mars (similar to Google Earth - only with green skin and UFOs), tiny updates to their Desktop program, pictures of their pug, and today's announcement - real-time scores through SMS if you send your favorite team's name to their number. Color me unimpressed.

These aren't the announcements we would expect from a $100 billion valuation company. For years, we've been able to get sports scores by calling a toll-free number, or those toting Blackberry devices can just tap-click their way into ESPN. We've got no need for yet another service to get us this data! And if you're anywhere near a TV, ESPN and ESPN2 and FoxSports and CNN and CNN Headline News and Fox News... do I have to go on... have scrolling tickers with sports news and scores. The feature is so lame that Google had to manufacture 10 scenarios where you would use the service, which includes "that you have a restraining order filed against you by multiple sports professionals". I bet most of you can come up with a top ten better than theirs. They're just not trying any more!

Also - It seems Google's not focused on fixing the very real problems of click fraud. Internet Outsider has more.

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Netscape.com to be Useful Again?

If you started out on the Mosaic and Netscape browsers through the rise of the Web like we did, you can probably recall how Netscape had a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on its being the default homepage for 90+% of the browsers out there, but hemmed and hawed its way into obscurity. Instead of becoming a portal for news, e-mail, sports and more, until much too late, the site instead implored you to download the latest point upgrade or RC (release candidate).

Now, with FireFox, Safari, the dreaded IE and others having taken over the browser space, Netscape and Netscape.com are a mere shell of their former selves. As Valleywag writes today, the only people using Netscape.com as their homepage are the decreasing number of Netscape employees, their family and partners, or the technology challenged, who don't know how to make changes to their browser.

But rumors on the Web are saying that with the recent promotion of Jason Calacanis, Netscape.com may soon mirror Digg.com and become a useful content source once again. (Paid Content: Netscape.com to be Relaunched as Digg-Like Site) Calacanis won't confirm anything, but says he'll tell us if changes are coming.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sports + Blogs = Goodness

Where do communities built around strong opinions and discussion make sense? Politics? Check. Religion? Check - mostly. Technology? Check. Sports? Absolutely. While the major sports media is bumbling through the move from article-based journalism and columns to online video, some smaller companies and groups are leading the way in capturing true fan community through the blogosphere, and none are doing it better than SportsBlogs Nation - headed by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, and propelled through A's blog pioneer Tyler Bleszinski. The group - originally focused on major league baseball communities, is rapidly branching out to the other major sports such as the NFL and NBA and is seeing interest from the college realm - an area of sure growth in the future. Though starting out quietly, SportsBlogs Nation is seeing more than 100,000 individual page views a day, and is gaining the respect of fans and players alike - as site editors have scored interviews with team owners, GMs, players and coaches, once the exclusive realm of the major media.

One of the more annoying trends with all media - not just sports, is the trick of taking short articles or columns and rebranding the pieces as "blogs". Look - it's not really a true blog unless viewers are at the very least given the option to provide comment. It's not just posting content with a timestamp. And the vast majority of sites - including ESPN - don't do that. In dramatic contrast, every single one of SportsBlogs Nation's sites is designed with the users in mind - not only can visitors make comments, but they can create their own diaries, and should a site grow popular, there can be multiple user admins available to produce front-page stories. ESPN, CBS Sportsline, CNNSI and the rest of those sites aren't even close. Meanwhile, SportsBlogs Nation continues to sign up new teams and bloggers to provide real-time fan-generated content.

I've mentioned Athletics Nation here before, but I've also signed up with accounts on other SBNation sites like SacTown Royalty for the Sacramento Kings, Beyond the Boxscore for heavy-duty baseball stats, and Minor League Ball to cover those who haven't yet hit the majors. SBNation is so diverse, it's dramatically limited my need to consume the popular media. Anything relevant is already posted to my favorite sites. I've seen the future of sports. The revolution will not be televised. It will be blogged, on SBNation.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Technology Annoyances Back

Technology should just work. And given my focus on technology at home and at the office, it should work very well for me - right? So, then why do I have to deal with issues like cable modem outages and power adapters that simply don't work? I've mentioned both of those issue on the blog before, and yet, we're here again.

Apple's power adapters are still horrible. For some reason, my PowerBook G4 simply stopped liking Apple's power adapters, which, even if connected, would only have a fifty-fifty chance of actually charging the laptop. I'd have to adjust the wire or the connecting port at all sorts of odd angles to see the battery percentage go up at all. So, after dealing with this for weeks, I bit the bullet and ordered a Macally power adapter, which not only works with the PowerBook G4, but also costs half the price of Apple's. So now, at least that's working, and now, we get to throw away yet another Apple power adapter - the absolute worst hardware they make, period.

Oh yeah... and did I mention our cable modem is back on the blink? Literally. The darn thing's blinking, and we have no access. I didn't pay monthly fees in order to use it less than 31 days a month... and I expect it to work. If it wants to take time off for maintenance, then why doesn't that happen when I'm at the office, and nobody is using it at home? As far as I know, the beagle has yet to learn how to do much more than eat and sleep and rearrange our furniture. So, we're stuck. And now we get to remember what use computers were... before the Internet.

It shouldn't be this way. Anything less than 24 by 7 uptime is simply not acceptable.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Don't Believe The Hype

After all the hype around Microsoft's Origami, prototypes of the devices were displayed at Intel's Developer Forum today, and according the News.com, the response has been a resounding thud. After weeks of bloggers hyping what could have been an iPod-killer, a PSP-killer, Palm-killer all in one, the device looks a lot like a tablet, too large for a handheld and too small for a laptop - so yet another entry in this elusive market that is hard to define and even harder to serve.

Interestingly, Microsoft's PR execution followed by an understated product introduction follows a very similar experience from TiVo last week, and Apple earlier. In all three cases, the companies elusively spread tidbits of information, and in the vacuum, bloggers and media hopefuls filled in the gaps - almost to a fault, as in every case more was expected than what was delivered, satisfying none who were watching. In this era of instant analysis, product debuts can be crowned successes or defeats even before a single device has shipped and reached customers. It's a far cry from the mantra of "underpromise and overdeliver". Through time, companies that elicit such a strong following will have to learn to temper expectations - whether through improved secrecy or in its opposite, increased openness.

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Feedblitz Running Slow

For those of you who have opted into receive updates by e-mail, I apologize for some of the content's delay. It seems that Feedblitz is configured before 9 p.m. Pacific Time, so any of the previous evening's posts after 9 p.m. aren't shared until the following day's message - effectively delivering the news anywhere from 27 to 30 hours later. So, if you're looking to have the latest more quickly, the easiest way to get the data is to add the site's RSS feed to your friendly RSS reader of choice. Feedblitz is a great tool to passively receive updates, but I've not been wholly impressed with its speed.

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Monday, March 6, 2006

GDrive: Google to Search and Store World's Info

Google is on quite the ride, and with the company's wealth of engineering talent, capital and a rapidly-expanding technology infrastructure, the sky seems to be the limit for what's by far the world's most successful, most popular search engine. Beyond this, the company has been adding new Web services to its portfolio, including GMail and Blogger, and software services including Google Earth, the Google Toolbar, and most significantly, Google Desktop, which for those running Windows, lets users index their computer files and search them all with the same ease as they can the Web today. With the latest iteration of Google Desktop, the company introduced a new feature enabling customers to search their files from multiple computers, with the data being stored on site at Google. While this has raised privacy fears in some crowds, it may soon be accepted practice, as most technology advancements are after time has passed.

Now it's clear that Google isn't done there. In a presentation shown at the company's recent analyst day, some of the slides made reference to a service to "GDrive", which aims to store all the world's files - whether they be "emails, Web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc." The optimistic hope is that Google's GDrive would eventually grow to be the master drive, with local drives acting as cache or backup, not the other way around. While the idea is similar to Apple's iDisk and a variety of online services, Google may be aiming to take it to another level. Initial reaction has been mixed, whether it's labeled as the "wild fantasies of engineers with too much caffeine" or instead making yet another vault of data for unscrupulous feds to access should privacy rights be further deteriorated. Time will tell, as Google has not yet announced GDrive publicly , and it may be months before we know the truth.

Related Links:
Wall Street Journal: Google Has Plan to Act as Hard Drive for Users' Files
Geeking With Greg: In a World With Infinite Storage, Bandwidth and CPU Power

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TiVo Mobile - Partnership and Nothing More?

News is leaking out that TiVo has planned a partnership with Verizon Wireless for their subscribers to schedule TiVo recording by cellphones, in a new service called TiVo Mobile. Not to be confused with a service that would offer TV viewing on Verizon phones, or viewing of TiVo hard drives remotely by the phone, it's only "yet another way" to schedule your TiVo when you're not home - on top of using the Tivo.com Web site or through Yahoo!'s online TV listings.

Hardly seems worth the bother. How often do you find yourself wishing you could reschedule your TiVo when you're both not at home and outside of reach of the Web by computer? And if you think about it, this only impacts those customers who already have a TiVo Series 2 (online scheduling isn't available on Series 1 DVRs) and who have Verizon Wireless. Sorry Cingular, T-Mobile, AT&T and other customers...

Of course, there's always the chance that either the news is wrong or I simply am too dense to get it. I really want TiVo to succeed, and wish there were more substantive news, but the company isn't exactly blowing me away lately.

(Update: Tivo issued a press release this morning)

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ZoomClouds - blog content analysis

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Sunday, March 5, 2006

Is This Microsoft's Origami?


Click the image to see larger graphic.


Microsoft's stealth PR campaign on what should be one of the first handheld devices to run full-blown Windows XP is continuing, with more leaked imagery, to match the video and additional source code seen on the Origami project site.

Definitely looks like the goal of the project is to impact Apple's lead with their combined iTunes and iPod combo. You better believe that Microsoft is hoping their Origami will leapfrog the iPod and leverage the installed base using Windows Media Player. Earlier news reports said that Origami is not intended as a gaming machine to act as a portable Xbox.

(Image originally found here: http://dpud.primarydesigns.net/a/origamibig.jpg)

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Friday, March 3, 2006

Blackberry Avoids Shutdown

As mentioned previously, business executives, road warriors and government officials alike were fearing the possibility of Research In Motion's Blackberry service coming to a premature closure, due to patent litigation with NTP. While the suit's judge had chastised both parties for failing to come to a settlement earlier in the process, RIM and NTP came to agreement today on a settlement that saw RIM pay NTP more than $600 million to avoid a shutdown.

And there was much rejoicing. Analyst firm Gartner and others had previously suggested corporations hold off on extending service contracts with the handheld e-mail device maker until legal issues were concluded, as many feared they would be cut off from constant communication. Not surprisingly, this too was impacting RIM's sales data - as in parallel to the settlement agreement, the company announced what would be a significant earnings shortfall of between $40 and $60 million.

With that nuisance out of the way, RIM shareholders applauded the move, sending the stock up nearly 20% after market close today, even with the earnings miss. But the millions of Blackberry users around the world are even happier, while Palm executives, hoping for some "Schadenfreude" themselves, wishing to benefit from their competition's downfall, will have to grow market share through product innovation instead.

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Thursday, March 2, 2006

Is TiVo Becoming Irrelevant?

Since 2003, we've featured a TiVo digital video recorder (DVR) in the center of our entertainment hub - and if you've ever had access to a TiVo, and then been forced to fumble with standard television, you'll know there really is no going back. And similar to Apple fans, TiVo subscribers are fiercely loyal about their machines - eagerly awaiting feature enhancements, and often pow-wowing with one another on how they can "hack" their box to gain additional storage capacity or hidden surprises. But as much as they enjoy the company's product, there is a growing sense that the company is no longer on the leading technology edge - and has seen competition eclipse the lead it once had, reducing the company's actual and perceived value.

This week, TiVo stirred up interest by coyly hinting at a major product announcement that was to take place this morning. Cloaked in the type of secrecy that followed Apple's announcements earlier in the week, the Web began to buzz again about what TiVo would possibly have up their sleeves - the roll-out of their Series 3 recorders? More news into their partnership with NetFlix? Who knew?

Instead, the reports started to trickle in, from TiVo fan blogs to the Wall Street Journal, that all the company was readying was an enhancement aimed at children, called KidZone, which would help parents work with their children to avoid the potential evils of television, in cooperation with the Parents Television Council. And that was it. TiVo tried to trumpet the announcement as being groundbreaking, issuing a lofty release, titled "TV and Kids: Finally the Right Solution", but I don't think subscribers are buying it, and Wall Street didn't care - at all. In fact, TiVo stock didn't change a single penny on what should have been a rather important day for the company - and that really sums up the TiVo story - Unchanged.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Microsoft's Origami Project Unfolding

Microsoft (MSFT) has been making a lot of noise of late in trying to take on Apple's (AAPL) 4-year lead with the iPod. While Windows Media has had strong success, Microsoft's efforts to promote tablet PCs through its OEM partners or promoting Windows Media Center have been less successful.

The company's software roots have prevented it from competing head on with the iPod, with the Xbox monopolizing Microsoft's hardware efforts, as the company prefers to rely on Gateway (GTW), HP (HPQ), Dell (DELL) and others to promote its products. But following the rise and fall of the Dell DJ (now only the DJ Ditty is offered), Creative's MuVo and Zen lines, and a myriad of flash player iPod wannabes, the iPod continues to have the overwhelming majority of unit sales and revenue, and Microsoft can't be too pleased.

In the last week, leaked images and a video of an upcoming product called "Origami" are making the rounds on the usual sites - including Engadget. A video promoting the product shows users operating the device with a handheld stylus, listening to MP3s, acting as a drawing tablet, and handling digital photography. Significantly larger than the iPod, but smaller than a sub-laptop, Origami is in avocado green, and certainly can't fit into your pocket. Estimates have said the device could debut in the $500 range, but all is clearly speculative at this point.

With the tablet PC market being in the gutter, is the world ready for a Microsoft-led offering, and does it stand a chance at breaking through Apple's iPod/iTunes duopoly?

Related Links:

The Origami Project
Engadget: Microsoft's Origami Project

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

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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Thursday, February 23, 2006

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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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

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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Sunday, February 19, 2006

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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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

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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Saturday, January 21, 2006

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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