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January 30, 2006

Top Ten Everyday Tech Gadgets

I used to be more of a gadget freak - getting the first and latest version. To some degree, that's toned down, but I like being current. This list is built on time used and importance.

1. Apple PowerBook G4
2. RIM Blackberry
3. Apple iPod Photo (60 GB)
4. Tivo DVR (Series 1)
5. iHome
6. Apple Airport Base Station
7. Belkin TuneCast FM Transmitter
8. Apple iSight
9. Apple Airport Express
10. Exilim Digital Camera

Exxon: Record Earnings of $10 Billion

Rising gas prices affect all of us, drivers or non-drivers alike, and in the last few years, we've seen the average price per gallon rise from below $1.50 a gallon in 2002 to nearly double that in 2005, and about $2.50 plus a gallon today. Just this morning, I filled up for $2.57 at Chevron - a fairly average price for the Bay Area.

We've been led to believe that the meteoric price increases are due to several factors - cleaner gas initiatives, Middle East regional strife, scarcity of oil wells in North America, refineries under repair, the War on Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina. But simple economics tells us that there are really two ways that price increases can be sustained in a large economy - the first being that the cost of goods is increasing at the supplier level, which forces them to raise costs in turn to sustain gross margins, or second, that a scarcity of suppliers, through monopoly, collude to uniformly raise costs.

This morning, Exxon reported a quarterly profit of $10.7 billion. On the year, the company's profit (not revenue, mind you) was more than $36 billion dollars, bigger than the economies of 125 of the 184 countries ranked by the World Bank, and a world record for any company in history - period. Does this tell you that the company is simply keeping profit margins in line with rising costs, as mentioned above, or is something rotten in Denmark?

If you believe the company's spin, they'll say that the record revenues will "fuel" investment in the future, and that this is good for all, but do you buy it, and if not, what do you think should be done? Is this just capitalism, and we should be happy that the market has worked?

Related Links:
Exxon profits shoot up 42pc to world record of $36bn
Exxon Profits Up, Valdez Anger Lingers
Exxon profits lead to PR blitz

January 29, 2006

Seven of Nine and The Click Five

Site referrals can often deliver good insight into what a visitor is looking for, and how they happened to stumble upon your place in the World Wide Web. But they can often be confusing rather than helpful, as well - especially when a visitor is looking for something that either was never mentioned on your site, or through some odd coincidence, has seen a rise through the search engines - presenting a false positive.

The latter has certainly been the case with louisgray.com. As you already know, this last year, I started authoring a weekly comic strip for Athletics Nation, called "The ANtics", highlighting the A's players, and trying to deliver a new form of amusement, while leveraging some fantastic software. After amassing about ten or so of these episodes, I created a dedicated page on the site as a comics archive, and listed them out from one through ten and beyond. But my simple writing out of these numbers has done wonders for pushing louisgray.com forward in Google's image hierarchy - for terms that have nothing to do with the site.

For example - "Seven of Nine", from Star Trek: Voyager... there is an immense following on the Web of folks looking for her picture (I don't even want to know why) from around the world. My site statistics from SiteMeter show visitors looking for seven of nine from The Netherlands, Virginia and Seattle, Washington, just for starters. I'm sure they're very disappointed to see I am not a Trekkie - or ever will be. Another example is the band "The Click Five". The combination of the word five, and a simple "Click Here" message has similarly promoted the ANtics comics through Google's image directory - and I have NO IDEA what those guys play, so again, the wrong place - but again, I have visitors from Denmark, Baltimore, Maryland, and The Netherlands (again), looking for news on the band.

You can see the offending Google image results here: (Seven Of Nine) and (The Click Five). Very amusing.

January 28, 2006

Asypta: Simple, Yet Pointless

Nearly six years ago now, while working at 3Cube, we were putting together collateral and Web page templates for a new product roll-out, and as is common, one of the tasks was to create faux persons and companies, as placeholders. Rather than go with the standard "John Smith" from "ABC Company" or "Acme Inc.", I tried to dress it up with more real sounding names, while staying generic. I believe "Linda Johnson" from GoodFiles Inc. was one of the chief participants in our FAQs...

During one of these meetings, I presented an example which included a company by the name of "Asypta". It didn't mean anything, but it sure sounded good, especially at a time when companies would rebrand themselves, or spin off subsidiaries with neat-sounding names that added no real value. For some reason, I got all sorts of questions about "Asypta". It sounded real enough that my colleagues wanted to know if I had an in on the ground floor of a top-secret pre-IPO start-up or something... but I kept using the example and sounding mysterious.

I stumbled on the idea of "Asypta" as companies often can be found with an A at the beginning, consonant, vowel, consonant, A. Think about how many you can name... for example... Avaya, Asigra, Altera, Atipa, Asera, Altria, Ariba, Aceva, Acterna, Acteva, Adexa, Azanda... and I'm sure there are many more. At one point in 2001, I had registered the domain name Asypta.com, with the dual intent of acting as if it were a fake company, or secondly, to "grade" company names by their "Asypta factor". Ariba would be a 10 on the scale. Avaya another 10. Something like Alhambra... not so much. Asypta eventually came to stand for "A simple, yet pointless, technical acronym." It's worth noting that almost none of these Asypta companies explain their corporate name on the Web site. Simple, yet pointless.

Oakland A's Fanfest 2006

Fresh off returning to the Bay Area from our East Coast travels, we turned right around from being business focused to being Oakland A's focused - a very pleasing endeavor. This morning, my wife and I caught up with a friend from high school and made our way to the Coliseum to start off the 2006 A's baseball pre-season the right way, with the opportunity to see A's players and coaches, get a tour of the player's clubhouse, and eat ballpark food, more than 60 days before the start of the regular season.

It wasn't overly crowded, like any playoff game, but very busy - focused on autograph seekers and a serious push for ticket sales. We got into see a Q&A with the A's four top rookies from last year (Huston Street, Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson and Joe Blanton), but late. The ushers would wave 1 or 2 or 3 in at a time to fill empty seats, so we got in and had an angle that saw all but Huston. Still fun and good spirits by all. The best comments were when Ray Fosse ripped on Swisher for saying Joe Blanton is the best bunter of the four - saying that to have Blanton pinch hit for Swisher in a bunting situation would be very embarrassing. Fosse also slammed the guys trying to learn how to play guitar, and swore he was going to use his noise-reduction earphones to block them out on the next trip.

We took the clubhouse tour, and I was surprised by how small it seemed, as well as the dugout. Fairly close quarters to say the least.

A hidden surprise was a Q&A with manager Ken Macha and coach Renee Lachemann. Macha is a good conversationalist in person and did well with the crowd - even when one person challenged his use of Joe Kennedy in a must-win game. The guy kept going back to it, and berated Macha so much that the crowd booed him. But Macha came back to Kennedy's defense in a big way, and we all applauded. Macha also had some good insight into dealing with Billy Beane and how to deal with a deep lineup, but he wouldn't spell out his opening day line-up.

January 27, 2006

20 Years After the Challenger Disaster



Tomorrow morning will mark the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and news site MSNBC has compiled a number of pieces commemorating the event, including an interesting piece on seven commonly held myths surrounding the morning of January 28th, 1986.

As with many famous sporting events, more people will say "they were there" or had seen it live, having ingrained the story so much with their own lives, that they too want to be involved, or to add personal notoriety to a famous happening - and that's just one of the "myths" addressed.

I remember learning of the Challenger disaster quite vividly. Still in elementary school, our teacher, crestfallen, told us that the shuttle had broken apart after launch, and all seven astronauts - including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, had perished. My mind racing, I formed a mental picture of these astronauts jettisoned into the black of space - gasping for air and finding only a hostile vacuum. Not until I had come home, and saw the news reports playing the event again and again, did I have the truth indelibly etched into my memory.

Space travel has always been dangerous as evidenced by Apollo 1, where three were lost in a fire, and Apollo 13, where a near-disaster averted a moon trip, and later became a major motion picture. But by 1986, a nation had forgotten this, and turned a lazy eye to the Shuttle program. As with car racing, it took a major accident for us to stand up and take notice again.

January 26, 2006

New York, New York

Our two-day jaunt in Boston is complete - we had nine meetings with about 25 people in total, and have three more to wrap up the trip tomorrow, just not in Boston, as we've landed in New York, and get to spend one odd night (for $279) here, with it 27 degrees outside, before doing our work in the morning and flying back cross-country to make it back to the West Coast late tomorrow.

Aside from being surrounded by East Coast snow this week, and walking duck-footed to avoid slipping on icy driveways and sidewalks, we've enjoyed the other East Coast tradition - of wearing suits and ties, and topcoats, to each of our stops. Often, we're expected to look like laid-back West Coasters with a casual dress and attitude, but have put our hosts to shame. It's not quite "Project Runway" on the WB, but the team cuts quite the pose. In preparation for the trip, I bought a new pinstripe suit at the Men's Wearhouse, the first one I've bought myself, and the first one I've purchased to match my increasing waistline, which is now officially more round than my legs are tall. I preferred being a 32 by 32 "square", but it was not meant to last. Days of being out on the road, eating out for every meal, and jamming back into cars or planes aren't helping either...

One problem with these quick stops in New York is there is zero time to "see the sights". I've been here three times in the last two years, and still haven't even glimpsed the Statue of Liberty or anything. Don't know which way to look out of the plane... someday maybe I'll come on a more-relaxed pace and stay for fun.

South Park, Beavis & Butthead Added to iTunes

Going back to entertainment that all of us like, but a smaller percentage will actually admit to... Apple's iTunes Video store now features the entire first and second seasons for both South Park and Beavis and Butthead - two very funny shows, especially when they first launched, though South Park has definitely earned a higher level of staying power over time.

Let the dumbing down of America continue... but good for Apple. Yet another guaranteed revenue stream, and even more excuses to push us into eventually upgrading to a video iPod. Just like when they first debuted the iTunes Music Store, the video store's initial pickings were slim indeed, but as they continue to add more mainstream entertainment (and these are definitely mainstream), sales will follow.

January 25, 2006

Big Time Signings

It always seems like the big news hits when I'm out of town - so someone has to fill me in hours after it happens, just to catch me up. After months of anticipation in both cases, two big signings went down today that rocked the Northern California sports world, such as it is. First, the Oakland A's signed a one year, incentive-laden contract with the "Big Hurt", Frank Thomas, fresh off of a 16-year tenure with the Chicago White Sox, which had culminated in two injury-plagued seasons. Second, the Sacramento Kings traded away fan favorite three point sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic for the world-renowned bad boy Ron Artest, from the Indiana Pacers, just 24 hours after he swore he would never play for the Kings.

To start off, the A's have a fantastic young team, led by a pitching staff that surprised many people in 2005, with stability up and down the rotation, from Rich Harden and Barry Zito at the top, down to Joe Blanton, Dan Haren, and the off season signee Estaban Loaiza. But while they came close to taking the division away from the Anaheim Angels, their on-again, off-again offense needed an upgrade, especially in the form of a right handed bat with power. Thomas represented that power for many years with the White Sox, and very well could fill that role again, provided modern medicine and physical therapy do their trick. While many are very excited about this pickup, I'm more cautious. Thomas has been a shadow of himself the last few years, and has injury-prone written all over him now. But I wouldn't mind see him providing power at the top of the lineup, helping Chavez, Crosby and crew drive runs home.

The second deal is a little mind-boggling. Just last season, we saw a maniacal Ron Artest dive into the stands in Detroit on his way to a suspension for the rest of the regular season by the league. We all know he took time off earlier to make and promote a rap album, and is generally known as a hot head. Meanwhile, Stojakovic has the purest shot of anybody in the NBA this side of Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, and has been a mainstay for the Kings for the better part of 7-plus years. That makes the deal bewildering for us who only know the surface story. Others say that Peja's statistics are on the decline, and maybe with a better environment, Artest can thrive. Who knows? After all, just a few years ago, Chris Webber called Sacramento a cow-town, and wanted nothing to do with the place. Next thing we know, he's a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate... we'll see, but the feeling is hollow now.

January 24, 2006

In-Flight Movies

Channeling Jerry Seinfeld...
"I mean, airplane movies... are they supposed to be so dull, I mean - come on!"

With all our travel the last few years, I've started to grow accustomed to the in-flight feature films, which are usually popular enough that we've all heard of them, but not blockbusters, making it unlikely I'd already seen them in the theater. On cross-country flights, the major airlines, including American and United, tend to offer 2-hour films to act as a sort of electronic babysitter for us grown-up toddlers, who are probably much better behaved and calm - even if we're watching the latest tripe from Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell or Reese Witherspoon.

Yesterday, we were satiated with the movie "Just Like Heaven", a cutesy film about a career woman who perishes in a car accident, and though separated from her body, she (now as an angel) communicates with the man subletting her apartment, and begs him to help her remember her now-lost identity. Turns out she's in a coma, and only he can see or speak with her... and they fall in love, blah blah blah...

Never would have stuck that on the NetFlix queue. But I watched it. Why? Because it was a frickin' five-hour flight, and we were a captive audience. In recent months, that same excuse can be made for why I sat through "The Longest Yard", "Bewitched", "Kicking and Screaming", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", and other B-list Hollywood fare. They probably know that. I don't expect to see "Schindler's List" or "Pulp Fiction" on these flights (too edgy), let alone "Turbulence" or "Con Air"... thank goodness. Not to mention the element of plausible deniability. Given the majority of people on the mid-day mid-week flight were businessmen, they could all act macho later and claim never to have seen it, but deep down, we all know they secretly like the soft fare.

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!

Too Early At the Airport - Again

You know, just when you think you have it all figured out... the schedule gods go and muck everything up. With a flight to the East Coast set at 1:45, we thought it made good sense to have plenty of time to check in, go through security (with baggage including two laptops), and still have some clearance for catching my breath before the flight. But I didn't expect it would go so quickly! There was no line to check in, I whipped through security (only 3 ahead of me), and made it to the flight gate by 12:05, a full hour-plus before they begin boarding! I guess being too early is much preferred over being too late, but this is clearly not an exact science.

One upside to getting in early is finding a remote chair with easy access to power. That's a good thing. Let's hope that this kind of luck continues, in the unexpected chance one could find power plugs below the seat during the flight... but that's probably too much to ask for.

Cable Internet Annoyances

One of the first things I do every morning is pop open the laptop, check e-mail and catch up on news and anything I may have missed in the six or so hours I was asleep. I'm not as rigid as to have a set order of sites or time allotted to each, but the routine is fairly... routine. That's why when I woke up this morning and opened the laptop, only to learn there was no Web access, that was a little over the threshold for annoying.

Was it the Airport base station? Was it the cable modem? Was it the Comcast service itself causing the issue? Too many choices! Of course, I reset the base station. Nothing. I unplugged the cable from the base station and connected directly to the laptop. Nothing. I reset the cable modem. Nothing. I unplugged each and let sit for a while, and then plugged back in. Nothing. Grrr...

So I set back to my original spot and connected the laptop to power. I tried to ping Yahoo!. Nothing. A bit later I tried to ping Google... and after some delay it came through... slowly. But then it was as if everything else fired to life. Mail reported I had messages. WeatherPop kindly informed me it was 36 in Boston, where I'll be headed later. No good reason for the Internet being down, and no good reason for it coming back up. I hate that.

January 23, 2006

Business Trip Eve

Tomorrow afternoon, we fly out to the East Coast to Boston for two days, and then on to New York. For some, that would mean tonight would feature mad scrambling and packing, tidying up, and checking of the Weather Channel multiple times an hour. For me, the sense of insecure panic hasn't taken over. It usually doesn't - at least unless I think I'm in danger of missing the flight (which usually means I'm only 20 minutes early). In fact, I don't even like to pack for a trip until the morning of, just so I can put that part of a trip off as long as possible.

Besides, the sooner I get the carry-on luggage out and start going through the closet for things, the dog tends to get suspicious, and from what I understand, she gets incredibly needy when I'm away. I don't know why that is particularly, especially as she lived here before I did, but that's what I've been told. The longer I can keep the fact I'm leaving a secret from her, the better off we'll all be.

Last year I tacked on more than 25,000 miles with United, flying out not only to Boston and New York, but to Orlando, Seattle, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, to name a few places. Unfortunately, this week's trips are on American, and I don't have any kind of frequent traveler plan with those guys yet, so I'm basically screwed. That probably means I'll be in the middle seat of the middle row of the middle plane - and the cardboard I'll be passed as a substitute for food will have holes in it... and ... okay, I lied a little. I've already checked the weather, and it is going to be frickin' cold. We think it's cold here, just over 50 degrees, but Boston's a balmy 35 degrees now, on the way down to 28, and we don't get in until after 10 tomorrow night. Yuck. And no good excuses to go either. No Red Sox. No Fenway Park. Just business.

Morning Notes: Jan 23, 2006

What's the difference between an occasional feature and a regular feature? Consistency. So here's the first of what I expect will be an irregularly occasional feature - Morning Notes, when things are too interesting to ignore, but time is limited.

Last night was the first night the NBA's made a good fight to stay relevant in the face of playoff football, and baseball's Hot Stove League. If I wasn't a half-hearted Sacramento Kings fan, one would hardly know the season was on, if we didn't have news of players entering the stands or demanding trades... but last night, rapist turned ballplayer Kobe Bryant put on a show, scoring 81 points, the second most in league history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain. On the same night, the Phoenix Suns and Seattle Supersonics combined for more than 300 points in a 152-149 double overtime thriller, capped by a 30-foot buzzer beater at the end of second overtime.

In non-sports news, rumors are still flying fast and thick about Disney buying Pixar, or was that Steve Jobs buying Disney? It's all so confusing! Oh yeah, and the Republicans keep proving themselves incapable of avoiding scandal. (here, here and here).

Enjoy!

January 22, 2006

Top Ten Political Sites

Keeping with our Top Ten list theme, I submit what I view as the top ten political sites I visit regularly (or irregularly).

1. Daily Kos
2. This Modern World
3. Eschaton
4. Talking Points Memo
5. AmericaBlog
6. MyDD
7. Informed Comment
8. Bob Harris
9. Oliver Willis
10. The Next Hurrah

Steelers and Seahawks Move On


Super Bowl XL in Detroit will feature one team that's never made it to the championship game, in the Seattle Seahawks, and another who hasn't claimed the title since polyester pants and disco were all the rage, in the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl in 1995, they walked away on the losing side, and have yet to get back. In today's games, there really wasn't much doubt who was going to win. Pittsburgh entertained a 24-3 lead over the hometown Broncos at halftime on the way to a 34-17 pummeling, while the Seahawks stymied the Carolina offense, allowing only a punt return TD by Steve Smith, and a garbage-time TD reception on their way to a 34-14 pasting of the upstart Panthers.

While the network TV folks might not be happy about Seattle/Pittsburgh, I've had just enough of Tom Brady and the boring Patriots year in and year out. I wouldn't have minded seeing Peyton Manning and the Colts get their shot, but they too had the limelight all through the regular season, while Seattle and Pittsburgh quietly prepared for the playoffs. It should be a good game, one that the odds-makers in Vegas will likely say tilts toward the Steelers, though I'm unconvinced.

As mentioned previously here, my Three And Out squad (we're talking Fantasy Football again) needed Pittsburgh to win to get a near-lock on the team's second trophy in five years. Now, it looks like we're there. At the conclusion of today's games, Three And Out is leading 229 to 207 over the nearest challenger, and has more players available than any other for the Big Game. (Matt Hasselback, Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Special Teams and both Defenses) Though I wasn't excited to see Steve Smith scuttled, he did pull off a masterful punt return for a TD, which in itself was worth 11 of his 13 points scored today. You've got to believe I was excited to see that - and doubly so as my Seattle Defense wasn't on the hook for giving it up. A great football day.

NBC Canceling West Wing!

I hate it when I find out my favorite shows are being canceled.

My wife quasi-introduced me to West Wing when we were dating. I was always aware of the show, but didn't take to it until 2003, and using the magic powers of TiVo, I had it set to record all the older re-runs on Bravo, so during a regular week, I could get five older episodes and the new one from the current season on NBC.

With West Wing being moved to Sundays now, their ratings have dropped, and we were all shocked to learn of the death of John Spencer, who played the gutty Leo, running for Vice President alongside Jimmy Smits. But I still rooted for the show to go on. It's suspenseful, intelligent, and funny, all at once.

From the AP article: NBC Cancels 'West Wing' After 7 Seasons

    The new president on "The West Wing" will be a real short-timer: NBC announced Sunday it was pulling the plug on the Emmy-winning political drama after seven seasons in May. NBC, struggling to regain its footing after the worst season in its history, also outlined several midseason schedule changes _ including the moves of popular dramas "Law & Order" and "Las Vegas." "The West Wing" announcement wasn't much of a surprise. Although this season's story line with a presidential campaign involving a Democrat played by Jimmy Smits and Republican portrayed by Alan Alda has been strong critically, ratings have sunk with its move to Sunday nights.

Oh well - as with NYPD Blue, I guess it was eventually time for the show to move on.

Location, Location, Location

It's no secret that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive locations to live in the country, if not the world. I am agape at the "bargains" available in the rest of the country - where it's not uncommon to see billboards advertising homes in the "Low $80s to $100s" and beyond. Given it costs you more than $350,000 to get a 1 BR/1BA condo here, the difference is enough to make one consider other options. After all, with high speed Internet being a great equalizer on telecommuting and communication, and relatively cheap airfare available, then what difference does it really make whether one lives in Alameda or Albequerque, Mountain View or Montana?

Every month or so, we get notices telling us what prices homes and condos in our area have sold for, what the owners were asking, and what they received. On a back of the napkin calculation, one could easily guesstimate we could get more than $450k for our 2 BR/2 BA condo - provided we replace the carpets and hide all notice that a dog has been one of the primary residents.

Putting that in perspective, here's what a comparable amount of money will get you in other areas of the country:

Denver, Colorado: 4 BD, 3 BA, 2,700 sq ft $350,000

Billings, Montana: 5 BD, 3.5 BA, 3,000 sq ft $320,000

Kansas City, Missouri 5 BD, 5 BA, 1.4 acres $350,000

Atlanta, Georgia 4 BD, 3 BA, 2 story $350,000

Nashville, Tennessee 5 BD, 3.5 BA, 3,200 sq ft $350,000

Provo, Utah 5 BD, 6 BA, 4,800 sq ft $350,000


So, in theory, you're telling me I can trade up to a 5 bedroom, 6 bathroom, 4,800 square foot home with central air conditioning and a lake view, and LOWER my mortgage payments, and all I have to do is move to the Beehive State? Where do I sign up?

January 21, 2006

Haven't We Seen this Before?


Courtesy: Tom Tomorrow, This Modern World. Buy the Sticker

Saturday Night at the Movies

So, the wife had a "ladies night" at our place, which means I got kicked out. It happens, and it's better off anyway. Who wants to sit around while four ladies gossip about people I could care less about, and get their toenails painted? What a yawner!

I headed down to the AMC Mercado (the local theater) and caught George Clooney and Matt Damon in Syriana. It's a good movie, easily placing in my Top Ten of 2005 releases, and has its surprises, but was definitely a darker movie. There are films where the audience walks out giddy or laughing, and others when they line out, quiet and stunned. Syriana was one of the latter - I didn't hear anybody talking, or see them sitting through the credits to see outtakes (I'm sure there weren't any). It was a good movie, showing the interweaving of business, religion and international politics.

As timing was right, I doubled down and 15 minutes later, sat down for the basketball movie Glory Road, covering the epic story of Texas Western's rise against all white NCAA traditions and taking down the powerhouses in college hoops, culminating in a victory over Adolph Rupp and his Kentucky Wildcats. That was definitely a lighter film, but as Disney commonly does, they would overdo some things - each game seemed to be a nailbiter, and Adolph Rupp was made to seem bigoted and without positives. I'm sure he wasn't as slanted as they'd like to make you think - but otherwise, I felt it was historically accurate, and portrayed the true fear and hatred that threatened to stop the team in its tracks.

In all - a good pair of films back to back. I'd recommend seeing both, depending on your mood.

Tomorrow: Football Season Comes to a Head

As chronicled earlier here, things have gone fairly well so far in our fantasy football playoffs, which is somewhat of a surprising development given I had the last pick in our draft, and experts are befuddled by how well the wild card teams have done in the last two weeks - with both Pittsburgh and Carolina one win away from the Super Bowl, while favorites Indianapolis and New England are planning their winter breaks a few weeks early.

It's highly likely that my doing well is due in part to these surprises - as those drafting higher loaded up on favorites like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Corey Dillon and Edgerrin James from the Colts and Patriots. As a result, I zigged when they zagged, picking up Steve Smith of the Panthers, Hines Ward, and Pittsburgh's Defense and Special Teams. While Matt Hasselback plays for me as well on the favored Seahawks, it was my Carolina/Pittsburgh connection that's worked so well thus far.

If Carolina and Pittsburgh were to match up in the Super Bowl, two of my opponents would be completely out of players, and done. I just need Pittsburgh to paste Denver to nearly clinch it. If the Broncos pull it off at home, we could be in big trouble. Should be interesting.

Related Links: KODL Playoffs (Three And Out is my team name), Live Scoring Summary

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.

Best iPod Gadget Yet

When I was in junior high, my grandparents got me an alarm clock with AM/FM radio, and that radio made it with me all the way through high school, college, three moves and the first two years of being married. Surely, it was a lot more dingy looking and unimpressive, but when the thing went off - I woke up. That's what it was supposed to do.

This Christmas, when shopping for others at the Apple Store, I picked up something that would immediately obsolete that old thing - the iHome iH5. Forget the name for a second... think of an alarm clock that works with your iPod in the morning, waking you up to any song you have, and then doubles as a soundsystem for the iPod the rest of the day. It's great. And the sound is very good too - Volume 10 is good enough for filling a room, and the sucker goes all the way up to 40 - not that the neighbors would be too happy about that.

If you have an iPod already and haven't given much thought to taking your alarm clock into the digital age, it's time. Check it out.

January 20, 2006

Top Ten Movies of 2005 (That I Saw)

It's awards season. Kudos to Box Office Mojo, just to remind me what came out when.

This list shows the Top Ten movies that came out in 2005 that I both saw and enjoyed. I admit I haven't seen everything, so just because it makes the list doesn't necessarily make it a world-beater.

1. Munich
2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
3. Wedding Crashers
4. Fantastic Four
5. Fever Pitch
6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
7. Must Love Dogs
8. Fun With Dick and Jane
9. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
10. 40-Year-Old Virgin

Stock Market Bloodbath

Sometimes, you think you're on a roll, and then after a few bad days, not only have you lost all of the money you made, but you're in the red - even on blue chip stocks you thought made sense. Heck, today's stock market tumble was so bad, even my 401k lost more than a thousand dollars all on its own. Google was down $36 a share in one day. Yikes!

It's enough to make me want to record this loss on last year's results to help with taxes this year. I don't know how well Uncle Sam is going to treat us come April 15th, but we could sure use the money.

Three More Years

It's January 20th - inauguration day. Well, if it wasn't 2006 anyway. We've got three more full years of Bush as our president, barring any unforeseen changes. With the elimination of civil liberties and usurping of power, the Constitution may be amended to allow third terms. Who knows? Just a thought - not a pleasant one.

January 17, 2006

To Be Right, Think Left

When I was MUCH younger, I was a died-in-the-wool Republican. I wrote Ronald Reagan when I was a few days short of my 10th birthday, telling him he was doing a wonderful job, that he should wish George Shultz well in the Mid-East peace process, and I openly rooted for Jesse Jackson to win the Democratic nomination against Dukakis, as in my immortal words, "he didn't stand a chance against Bush." Of course, given that I ended my two-page letter by begging the jelly bean bearing septuagenerian for his massive horde of canceled stamps to increase my own collection, my focuses weren't exactly grounded in sound politics.

As I grew older, I was an on the fence political player, voting for the best candidates, regardless of party. It seemed often the Republicans would have interesting options, and at other times, the Democrats stood for those things I was looking for. But by 1992, things had irrevocably changed. The Republican party was not the party of common sense at all, but grounded in right-wing fundamentalism, religious warfare and cronyism. Clinton did some fantastic things while holding office, but didn't have the benefit of a Democratic congress for long, and was stymied through real and faux scandals like no other president in our history.

As we know, his foibles helped aid George Jr's ascendancy to the top step, and for the last six years, we've had to be overwhelmingly embarrassed, frightened and offended by what's gone on in Washington. The idea that such a shady cast of characters could single-handedly more than roll back decades of good will both domestically and around the globe is astounding. The clear ignorance of consequence and knowledge of history is dumbfounding, and scary to behold as we see things go more and more off-track - with very real allegations of lies and deceit coming from every direction, whether it be a made-up costly war under false pretense and wacky ideology, or a silent war against our own citizens through wire-tapping, artificial no-fly lists, and infiltration of private groups. I fear that even if the Democrats were to take over both houses of Congress and elect a presidential candidate, it will take decades to undo the damage, and we may never recover. The unabashed excesses of violence we have inflicted in the Arab states has surely created more hatred against America than ever existed before it, and we may be forever defending ourselves against new enemies at overwhelming personal and financial cost.

We need change. We need it now, and I don't think we can wait until 2008 to take a chance in trusting the foolish American electorate again.

January 15, 2006

The Good Guys Won

Following up on last night's post (Fantasy Football: Playoffs: Week 2), I said that in order to place well in the fantasy football league playoffs, I needed Carolina to beat Chicago, and for Steve Smith to have a good game. I also said that I was half-heartedly rooting for Indianapolis, as having Pittsburgh win also got me an advantage over the competition.

As you know by now, Pittsburgh stunned the Colts, and Carolina did away with Chicago - on the back of Steve Smith's 200+ receiving yards to go with a pair of touchdowns. His big day's pushed me into a tie for first, and (knock on wood), things look pretty good the rest of the way. A back of a napkin look says that I need Pittsburgh to win next week too, and if Carolina were to somehow beat Seattle, that'd knock out two of my three opponents. As with Pittsburgh/Indianapolis today, I'm pretty split on the outcome of that game.

Kiss Of Death League 2005 Playoff Info
* Current Standings
* Week 2 Results (Called Week 19)

Go Steelers!

January 14, 2006

Fantasy Football: Playoffs: Week 2

Since 2001, I've been part of a fantasy football league called the Kiss Of Death League (KODL). I was enlisted kicking and screaming by a former boss, but it's turned out to be pretty fun. I've made the playoffs in 3 of the 5 years, finishing 1st overall in 2001 and 2nd in 2004. Now, as the 2005 season is nearing an end and we are two weeks into the playoffs, each game means something - even if I don't care about the actual teams playing. The league is set up that 4 of the 12 owners make the playoffs, and refill their rosters from scratch with players in the post-season. Drafting from the 4th position, I made do with those available, and am doing okay - not outstanding.

Today, I saw Matt Hasselback lead the Seahawks against the Redskins, winning 20 to 10. That was good. I've got Hasselback, and Seattle Defense to boot. The fact my opponents each had Redskins players means they won't get points from next week through the Super Bowl. That was followed by the evening match of the Broncos against the two-time defending champion New England Patriots. Once again, I didn't pick anybody from New England, but everybody else did. I wanted the Broncos to win, and they did. Good stuff.

Yet another great way to waste time and not be forced to leave the house. Tomorrow Indianapolis plays Pittsburgh, and Carolina faces Chicago. I want Carolina over Chicago (I've got Steve Smith), and the other game's a toss-up, at least as far as fantasy football is concerned. I have players on both teams. In theory, as I'm more weighted toward Pittsburgh than my opponents, that wouldn't be a bad thing if they were to pull it off, but I'll be half-heartedly rooting for Indy here.

Top Ten Bands or DJs

This list is sure to see changes over time, depending on new songs or albums, but you can't go wrong with the following artists, who represent a good share of what I listen to. For real time statistics on what music I take in, try Music Mobs or Last.FM, both great services.

1. DJ Tiesto
2. DJ Armin van Buuren
3. Underworld
4. ATB
5. DJ Irish
6. Depeche Mode
7. Blank & Jones
8. 4 Strings
9. Paul Van Dyk
10. Stereolab

Impatient Pooch

It's Saturday. I was looking forward to getting some good rest and seeing the alarm clock stay off as I dozed through double digits after a tiring week at the office. It didn't happen - not because the alarm went off, or because the phone rang, or anything normal. It was of course, the dog. Molly, our 16 year old beagle, has a certain lifestyle she's used to. So when it gets past 6:30, she's sure it's time for breakfast, and surely, if I'm asleep, she'll wake me up and remind me that I messed up somehow.

So this morning, her incessant whining and poking with her paw jarred me awake. I fed her, and there wasn't any way that I could go back to bed. Not that it bothered her any. She had no problem using the stepstool next to the bed, and launching herself into my spot, which was warm enough for her to begin her after-breakfast nap. She has a routine, you know.

January 13, 2006

2 Weeks to FanFest

It's only two weeks (and a day) until Oakland A's FanFest, where in the darkest months of Winter, the most dedicated fans have a chance to mix and mingle with their favorite players wearing the green and gold. I've never gone, but I've held a spot for the A's in my personal psyche for the better part of two decades now, and we're fully committed.

At the end of last season, as the A's came tantalizingly close to reaching the playoffs again, I put down cash to get playoff tickets all the way through the World Series. They didn't make it. So I took that money and placed it toward season tickets, and now my wife and I have a pair of field level tickets to every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday game. Should be a blast as the A's are going to be a lot of fun to watch in 2006.

As a perk to being a brand-new season ticket holder, today we received four tickets to FanFest, and free parking to boot. I can't wait. It's time to Play Ball!

Candorville

When I was young, I don't remember sitting around and reading a lot of comic books. Sure, I read the comics each day in the paper, and enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes or Far Side collections that belonged to my brother or my dad, but I simply didn't have stacks of the latest from Marvel and DC Comics - just wasn't interested.

Now older, I enjoy comics that spark intellectual creativity or thought. Doonesbury is good most days. FoxTrot is outstanding. But my two favorite comics are Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World and Darrin Bell's Candorville. Both are a little outside of the mainstream, but connect with me in some way. For Christmas, I got myself Tom's "Great Big World of Tomorrow", and enjoyed that a great deal. Yesterday, I received Candorville's "Thank God for Culture Clash", and read it all in one sitting. The stuff's great!

A special wrinkle in this note is that I've known Darrin since 1997, when we met in college at UC Berkeley. He contributed weekly comics and editorial cartoons to the school paper, where I worked, and every once in a while, we'd both be stuck in the same, boring Mass Communications course, where I would struggle to stay awake, and he'd be doodling caricatures of the professor in the margins - which was way more fun to watch. Darrin and I went our separate ways after school, but he's really done well for himself, and it's great to watch his progress. If you're not familiar with Candorville, and his other works, including Rudy Park, it's time for a new New Year's Resolution.

January 10, 2006

Top Ten Sites I Visit Each Day

(This list excludes things like our corporate Intranet, My Yahoo!, Google, etc.)

1. Athletics Nation
2. Slashdot
3. Engadget
4. TV Tattle
5. MacRumors.com
6. Drunken Data
7. Daily Kos
8. This Modern World
9. Drudge Report
10. News.com

I Have to Take More Vacation Time

At the end of 2005, I opened up my "Absence and Vacation Form" at the office, with plans to take the week after Christmas off. To my chagrin, the dates were nearly identical, and all I had to do was change 2004 to 2005. I somehow managed not to take any time off through the entire year, and now I'm more than maxed out. We have a cap of 40 days, and I was all the way up to 53, before taking 2 days and 2 floating holidays.

It doesn't make sense to keep putting work ahead of everything else, so we're going to change that in 2006 - starting with going to Spring Training and seeing the A's in Arizona this March. And we'll find more excuses to take time off. I even thought about asking to work 4-day weeks all year, and ditching all Fridays. I've got enough days saved up, I could actually do that. We'll see.

Out of AAPL too

E-Trade is telling me I have a lot more cash now than how I started the day. Following up on my note this morning on exiting Salesforce.com (CRM), I saw the mid-day spike in Apple (AAPL) take the shares up to record heights, above the $80 level. While I'm unlikely to be out of AAPL for long, as it's a habit that's hard to break, it made sense to take profits above $81, and we did. So we're out. We'll see over time if that was a smart move or not, but I can't argue with making money.

MacWorld Keynote

I haven't yet seen the MacWorld Webcast, but as with every year, there were some surprises, and some rumors went wholly unfulfilled. iWeb - a new software tool to manage Web pages and blogs, was introduced as part of iLife 2006, which was no surprise, and Intel made its way into Macs for the first time - again not a surprise. But while those came through, there were expectations for new iPod shuffles (didn't happen) and the introduction of an Apple line of plasma TVs. That too was nowhere to be seen.

While the new "MacBook Pro" (who names these things?) is interesting, one must note it is the first iteration, and things will only get faster from here. I've had just about enough of being User 1.0.

Now on to fulfill my geekly duty and watch the webcast.

Taking Profits

On Saturday, a relative and I got into a discussion around the stock market. I told him that I'd had some good success in 2005 (as many did) by following the fundamentals - buying low and selling high. I only invest in those companies who I believe aren't fully valued, or have unique services. In 2005, I got lucky with Apple, Google, Baidu, Rackable, Transmeta and other tech stocks. That happens to be a market I know. But I also know when to get out.

Saturday, he kept telling me that profits only mattered after you sold a stock, not in a one-day bump. Of course they do! But I already knew that. Just this morning, after holding Salesforce.com (CRM) for only a week, I sold it for a 10-15% profit. Now I have cash in the account again and can decide where to go next. That's how the market works. Just don't tell me my cash doesn't do any good if it's not invested.

January 09, 2006

Apple Adds SNL Skits to iTunes



Ahead of the MacWorld Expo keynote set for later this morning, Apple posted Saturday Night Live content on iTunes for $1.99 per download, and collections for $9.99 - similar to their pricing of music albums.

The first sketch, issued freely a few weeks ago, "Lazy Sunday", was outstanding.

Saturday Night Live on iTunes

Top Ten TV Shows

One thing I definitely intend to feature on this site are Top Ten lists. Ten's a good number, and since this site is self-focused, it's my job to let you know where I stand on the important issues. Today's list? Televison shows. What are the best today?

1. West Wing
2. The Daily Show
3. 24
4. Law And Order, Criminal Intent
5. CSI
6. Law And Order, SVU
7. War At Home (Yes I admit it - the show is very funny!)
8. Late Night With Conan O'Brien
9. The Colbert Report
10. Law And Order

2006: The ANtics Take On the Off-Season

It was only a few months ago that the A's promising 2005 season came to a close in remarkably familiar fashion - but AN is very excited about the 2006 season, and the last few months have seen a great number of changes - with the additions of Esteban Loaiza and Milton Bradley, and the hard, but understandable, losses of Hatteberg and others.

We checked in with a few of the A's to see if they believe the change has been for change's sake or for the better - and when is it enough? Read on in the ANtics - 2006 style!


Click to See Larger Comic


ANtics Archive: 2005 Season ANtics

Follow The Money

They say it's never too early to invest in your future, and that with every year you put off saving money, or deferring income into your 401k, you lose precious opportunities down the road. With that in mind, I've been putting what I can afford into the 401k offered by work, and trying to be smart through diversification, I split up the allotments to a few funds which Fidelity, our provider, claimed to be the most consistent.

But mutual funds are made up of a collection of individual stocks. The highest growth funds are dominated by technology and healthcare stocks (Google, Apple and the like) - which I'm fine with. But this weekend, I looked at the breakdown of the "Fidelity Equity-Income II Fund", which is a middle of the road performer... doesn't go up a lot, doesn't go down a lot, and increases bit by bit over the year.

Guess what were some of the stocks in the fund's Top Ten holdings?

* Exxon Mobil
* Walmart
* Halliburton
* Microsoft
* News Corp (Owner of Fox News, enough said)

The top ten stocks make up 23% of the portfolio, and these are five of the top ten, but yikes! What is this? The crooks and liars fund? I'm out! So I went into the online records and moved all the money in that fund to a different one. I'll have no part in making those companies feel financially secure.

I guess it's one small step toward feeling socially responsible. But don't expect my change to "rock the markets" per se. I don't own a controlling share of any of these companies.

Macworld Expo Eve 2006

Every year, just before MacWorld Expo, I swear I'm going to finally go again, and I haven't made it back. In 2001, a friend and I made it to San Francisco and saw Steve Jobs introduce iTunes (formerly SoundJam) and the Titanium PowerBook.

But I haven't made excuses. Work seems to get in the way every year.

This year I'll be back at the office, and assuredly, watching the streaming Web archive the next night on QuickTime, reliving the ecstasy, and trying to convince myself that I really don't need any of those products that look oh-so tempting.

The rumors aren't as thick this year as others. Intel iBooks and Mac Minis. PVR software to replace Tivo. Apple Plasma TVs. But only from a few sources, and some aren't even trying. Check back tomorrow and see what's happened.