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March 31, 2006

A's Picked as Preseason Favorites by ESPN

As an A's fan, I'm used to the team being underestimated before the start of the baseball season, and the team surprising all the doubters with a tremendous run. Last year, the team was compared to the lowly Kansas City Royals, and widely anticipated to finish in last place in the American League West. Instead, despite a rash of injuries to key players, the A's youngsters far outperformed expectations and the team finished with an 88-74 record, good enough for second place in the division, and at one point in August, owned the division's best mark.

Now, only a few days away from Opening Day against the Yankees, the A's off-season changes and player experience has vaulted them into the favorites category by a lot of sports experts - not the least of which is ESPN, the sports media monolith. While this week's issue of Sports Illustrated picks the A's to win their division, and defeat the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, only to lose to the White Sox, who they have pegged to repeat as World Series champions, ESPN offers no limits on their expectations for the men in green and gold. In their cover story for the magazine's April 10th issue, titled, "The Hot Pick: In 2006, the A's are Money".

In fact, ESPN's love for the A's goes beyond a single cover story. In the media site's "expert predictions", three selected the A's to win the World Series, and only a pair said the A's wouldn't reach the playoffs at all. Every other writer had them pegged as the division champs or wild card winner, and most were leaning to the former. Additionally, four of the writers said that ace pitcher Rich Harden would capture the Cy Young award, while another said Eric Chavez would garner the Most Valuable Player trophy.

All of this positive media coverage is confusing to us diehard fans, accustomed to rooting for an underdog. Now, as an avid Athletics Nation member and partial season ticket holder, I've already received a number of inquiries for potential unused tickets and games are already being booked months in advance. I expect to watch our team fulfill its destiny and win it all for the first time since 1989.

Listening to ''Back to Basics'', by 4 Strings (Play Count: 17)

"The Office" Special is... Special

I'm a huge fan of dry, satirical humor, and at times, it seems the British have a monopoly on the best comedy out there - ranging from the infamous Monty Python series to Absolutely Fabulous and of course, The Office, which we discovered on BBC America in 2003, and quickly couldn't get enough of - as the mockumentary chronicled Ricky Gervais as a ridiculous boss of a paper company in Slough, Britain, who tries to augment his dead-end career through being the most popular morale booster in the office, even if he is completely oblivious to the fact nobody finds him amusing and is generally appalled by his behavior.

The show had two solid seasons and seemed to come and go so quickly - especially as I felt we had just latched onto what we considered the best comedy on TV, whether domestic or not. And somehow, we missed the network's airing of a special 1 hour., 35 minute finale that aimed to tie up all the loose ends - what happened with Gervais after being removed from his position, and of course, not only his quest for love, but that of his colleagues. While not as side-splittingly funny as some of the show's classic episodes, the office special, which we rented from NetFlix, definitely had some amusing moments and is a must-see for any fan of the Office, who may not have seen the show to its conclusion.

Listening to ''No Fate'', by Scooter (Play Count: 4)

March 30, 2006

Survey USA Poll Shows Bush Unliked Nationwide

From Survey USA:



So, as long as you stay out of Utah, Alabama and Wyoming, you could go coast to coast in the US and not run into a state where Bush's popularity rating is above fifty percent. It's not about red state vs. blue state any more. The whole country is blue - we're practically suffocating.

More here: Daily Kos: GOP Starts to Sour on Bush

Listening to ''Thomas Trouble'', by Echoes (Play Count: 7)

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)

Giving Microsoft a Human Face

I'm unapologetic in my dislike for almost all things Microsoft (MSFT). With the exception of their Webmail version of Outlook, I am generally unimpressed with their product line - from their Operating System to their office suite, Web browser, E-mail clients, online communities and whatever else they choose to cook up. I don't know when my dislike for Microsoft started, or if I was raised to think this way by a horde of Apple (AAPL) bigots, but in my decades of impressionability, the software behemoth/monopolist hasn't done much to make me change my mind, and their leadership doesn't exactly inspire good will and warm feelings.

It's easy to think all these things as universal - and ignore the fact that the global company employs thousands of intelligent, hard-working individuals who truthfully want their products to be top-notch and care about the consumer (or most do anyway). Of late, I've enjoyed reading the unsupported, non-sponsored "Mini-Microsoft" blog, which has become a sounding board for the company's employees on recent management trends, memos and news. In the site's most recent post, titled "Passionate Microsofties", the anonymous author shows that the company's army of coders and marketers cares about the company - the way we've always expected Apple and Google (GOOG) (among others) to have their own monopoly. Instead, we get a clear view into the struggles and triumphs and wishes that are true in any corporation - small or immense. People want to be proud of what they do and be recognized for it. It's that simple.

Listening to ''Europop'', by Eiffel 65 (Play Count: 27)

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)

401k Matchup Closer Than Expected

On March 7th, we started tracking how well our own individual investments were producing, in comparison to those selected by a "professional" running our 401k, through Fidelity. What we've seen is that while my peaks have been higher than those of the fund, the valleys are of course, lower, and with the 401k slowly trending flat to slightly up, a true measure of my progress vs. the 401k is instead just how many up days I have versus down days. If I'm up, I'm up higher than the 401k, and if I'm down, I'm down more than the 401k. It's that simple. It's rare that I would go one direction and the market another. So... a few weeks into our little unqualified, unsanctioned, nobody wins anything contest, the current standings are eight to seven, with my pulling ahead today at the end of market close. We'll keep watching.

Listening to ''Blue Fear'', by Sasha (Play Count: 7)

March 27, 2006

TV Matchup: West Wing vs. 24

Three weeks ago, we matched up two television drams: "24" against "CSI Miami", and 24 came out on top - significantly. In fact, just last week, we took CSI Miami off our season pass list on TiVo - it was just THAT BAD. So, tonight, our our TiVo lineup, we watched yesterday's episode of West Wing, followed by tonight's episode of 24. Now, with 24 following, it didn't exactly dominate. In fact, at least for tonight, West Wing won out.

West Wing, now following the last weeks of the presidential election between Matthew Santos and Arnold Vinnick, continues to be great television, and we're not looking forward to having the series die at the end of the season. The characters are believable. The stress is real. The fatigue from a lack of sleep and even the marital tension shown by the candidates can be believed. And at least on this show, the president is flocked by staffers and administration, congressmen, lobbyists and ambassadors.

In stark contrast, 24 shows the bumbling president in an empty home, with only his first lady and at maximum, two or three folks willing to push him around - because he has no clue. And on 24, while the drama is very intriguing, the good guys shoot better than the bad guys, the technology mavens are intellectual giants, and somehow they still manage to get around Los Angeles in minutes. You'd smirk at the silliness if it wasn't such good TV.

Jack Bauer is a one man killing machine who is one step ahead of every ally and foe - be they the director of CTU, the president of the United States, or an accent-challenged Russian terrorist kingpin. He's very good, but too good - and today's episode saw him running, silhouetted out of a burning building in a scene better found in Terminator than in the Department of Homeland Security. Good television, but imminently forgettable.

Meanwhile, West Wing is having a sensational ending to what's been a great show. They are peaking in confronting the very real issues in today's elections and presidential politics - leaks and special prosecutors and the possibility of winning the election in the courts. Next week is election day, and we aren't that much closer in learning who will be the eventual winner. In 24, I think we already know who's going to win. West Wing wins here.

Listening to ''Forever Waiting'', by DJ Tiesto (Play Count: 5)

iTunes: Old Music Is New Again

When you're a music junkie like me, there comes a time in your life when you simply can't get to all your music as much as the tunes deserve. Right now, I have 17 days worth of music - a full 28.16 GB worth, according to iTunes, which means that even if I devoted 8 hours a day to listening, it would be more than seven weeks before I got through every song at least once. Problem.

So, utilizing one of Apple's tools, Smart Playlists, a while back, I designed a playlist called "The Neglected", which, appropriately enough, contains songs that haven't been listened to all the way through for the last 12 months, and populates based on iTunes' metadata information. When I first created the list, there were several days worth of songs that hadn't gotten attention for a full year, and after much dedication and focus, I'm pleased to say I've whittled the to-do list down to about an hour. Following a handful of Orbital tracks, we'll be down to zero - only to see all those songs I last listened to on March 28, 2005 be added to the pile tomorrow.

Listening to ''Lost'', by Orbital (Play Count: 7)

Reactionary Tech Media Doesn't Add to Conversation

On March 21st, I posted a piece discussing how technology companies need to adjust their pitches in a world of near-instant analysis, when it seems both the blogosphere and the mainstream media are in a race to announce their take on an announcement even before the ink is dry or before the product has reached its intended audience. Interestingly, Business 2.0 reporter Om Malik and I had a discussion about this on Sunday, in regards to a piece called "Trigger Happy", where he acknowledged that often the race to be first means that more research should be required.

Om's piece in turn led us to a parallel post from Robert Scoble, by far the most popular Microsoftee blogger, who argued that journalists who were not credible were incredibly irritating, and suggested that in retaliation for a publication's continually getting the facts wrong, Web users should not link to the site, or even mention it, and that in a vacuum, it would die. This piece, of course, quite controversial, came at a time when big companies including Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) were both being raked over the coals for exaggerations and untruths widely disseminated - including one that Vista would require a 60% code rewrite, and that Steve Jobs was jettisoning nearly one half of his Apple stock holdings.

In fact, more than a week after the stock transaction took place, only now are the wire services catching up to this would-be controversy. Though they are all now getting the story right, saying Jobs sold his shares for tax purposes, in the fast-moving world of tech media, the time to have made your mark has already come and gone. Those who followed the stock closely had already reviewed the news, analyzed it and moved on, and now we have to sit and watch as the Walmart (WMT) of news sources catches up. If you're going to lead the pack in tech news, be sure to get the facts right, and don't be afraid to let some stories go by. If you're a week late, move on.

March 26, 2006

ANtics Episode 2.5: Scutaro Skills

The A's roster seems to be fairly solidified, with more cuts being made today. But with Mark Ellis healthy and coming off a strong 2005 season, and the acquisition of Antonio Perez, what does this mean for fan favorite Marco Scutaro, especially in light of Freddy Bynum's status? Some are seeing Scutaro, or Ginter, or Bynum, as being the last options to reduce roster spots in what's become a crowded infield. Today, we look closer at Marco Scutaro, in "Scutaro Skills!"


Click to See Larger Comic


ANtics Archive: 2005/06 ANtics | Extras | Giveaway | PDF

March 25, 2006

Entering a Startup On the Ground Floor

I've never not worked for "a startup". Since the beginning of my senior year at UC Berkeley, I have been toiling away in the Silicon Valley working for private companies with amazing ideas and strong technology. But I know I made some of the worst career mistakes at the very beginning, when I went into the initial interview with the company's founder, not having known what I should ask for on the salary side, expecting him to make the first offer, and having less than zero clue as to what to expect in terms of stock options for this "Pre-IPO" company.

Back then, in the fall of 1998, everybody was either public, or Pre-IPO. By 1999, some companies were filing to go public on the same day they were announced, even if they didn't yet have a shipping product, or customers - so I knew that getting in as the third or fourth employee at this company was a big deal, especially as I hadn't yet completed my degree. This inexperience led to my floundering through the interview and completely low-balling my salary request. I left knowing I'd possibly earned myself the position, but likely on the basis of how little I had asked for as much as how well I had represented my talents.

As I wrote in an e-mail to my parents at 2 a.m. that night (October 14, 1998):

"I also had to say how much money I expected to pull. Gulp -- I had no idea. I tried to have him tell me what I should say, asking where the money was coming from, and if the company was profitable yet. The answers -- primary investors and no. The eventual plan is to put together a working product, find secondary investors as a result of the product, and then go public. He threw words at me like "stock holdings", "venture stock and capital", "initial public offering" and said that I was early enough to be on "the ground floor" although obviously not a co-founder, therefore as every Silicon Valley startup dreams of, we could "go Netscape", and there is already an established product."

Long story short, I was offered the position at the low-low price of $1,200 a month for what was expected to be 20 hours a week in Silicon Valley and 15 hours a week or so from home in Berkeley, where I was wrapping up my degree in Political Science, having completed the degree in Mass Communications my junior year. And there was no stock. Another colleague and I were told we would be given shares of the founder's stock in time - whenever that would be. Needless to say, the company didn't take off. I worked hard, and put in the hours, and eventually, the company saw it was time to raise my pay to match the effort I had been putting in - to $2000 a month and then to $2333 and maybe up to $2500 a month by the time it folded the next year. I wasn't getting rich, but felt a lot better about things than many of my starving student friends.

But how could I have known what to ask for, being as naive as I was? In another insightful piece, Guy Kawasaki says there are "Nine Questions To Ask a Startup". By my third job in the Valley, I felt I had a better handle on the salary side, but still was on the low-end to start, my past underpayments still having impact years later. Had I had Guy's instructions in my back pocket, not only would I possibly have been paid better, I may have selected more successful companies from 1998 to 2001 and made some cash rather than watching so many other people get rich when all I got was tired.

SportsBlogs Phenomenon Profiled in Sports Illustrated

Ten days ago, in an article titled "Sports + Blogs = Goodness", I discussed a rising star in the blogosphere: SportsBlogs Nation, particularly focused on one of our favorite and most-visited sites, Athletics Nation, run by its founder Tyler Bleszinski. The rapidly-expanding network is rivaling even the largest sports franchises for breaking news and team coverage - so much so that even the mainstream media can't ignore its momentum.

In this week's Sports Illustrated, a feature titled "Writing up a Storm" says "The Internet is changing sports coverage. Columnists who seldom leave their couches hold forth." Profiling a litany of blogs - some from fans, some from journalists and others from the athletes themselves, the article features Tyler's work, and includes a photo (staged) of him reclining in the McAfee Coliseum parking lot, laptop en tow, hat turned backwards, and barefoot. I've yet to see him without shoes myself, so the photographers took liberties in their idea.

The SportsBlogs Nation train is chugging along, and you're welcome aboard. Find your favorite team's site, register and go.

For the full story, click here. For a photo of Tyler used in the story, click here.

Nickel A Point

This Saturday, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit with her father for the first time in several weeks, and as we tend to do when we see him, we broke out the playing cards and did battle at both hearts and cribbage. He, like us, enjoys a little friendly competition, and he especially enjoys it when there's a little wager on the side - a buck a game, a nickel a point, and so on. Enough to say that there's a bet involved, but not enough to hurt anybody. In fact, I think the most we ever put on a game with him was $20 for a cribbage match. He won, of course.

Since marrying my wife in 2003, I've really enjoyed my father-in-law, and from what I can tell, I think he likes me too - for he's somebody I can call up and talk about sports to, discuss the expectations for this year's A's, who he has penned to win the AL MVP this year, or how his bracket is shaping up for the Final Four. If there's a big game on, he's watching it, and he at least expects me to know the score - even if I'm not glued to the set. Today was no different. Joining him in the mid afternoon, we saw the end of LSU vs. Texas (which went to overtime) and the start of UCLA vs. Memphis, as two of the four teams were set to head to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Meanwhile, we pulled up a card table, and played our own game in parallel.

Maybe in past years I might not have played aggressively, possibly being shy to tweak my new in-law's nerves (or that's my excuse), but today, we made sure to exact as much pain as possible at the card table. Playing to 100 in Hearts, I shot the moon twice in a row, and at the end of the game, he was left at 109 when I had only 40. At five cents a point, the planned side bet, that meant he owed me all of $3.45, while the other players owed me about $2.60 and $1.50 or so. That meant I had the massive haul of $7 - possibly enough to buy lunch this week, but of course, worth much more in bragging rights. Taking the scorecard, I asked him if he wanted to keep it and frame it for posterity. Politely, he said no. Big surprise.

With him being born in 1927, and having recently spent time in the hospital, I know we may not have my father-in-law around as long as we wish, and we will have to treasure these lazy afternoons of friendly competition before they fade to memory. I hope that we continue to make time and value his company and the friendly jousting that occurs, as we fight tooth and nail for every nickel, and recognize the experience is priceless.

March 24, 2006

Albright: Good vs. Evil Isn't Policy

For the last five-plus years, we've gotten used to Bush's platitudes of "good vs. evil" and how the "evil-doers" hate freedom. For those of us with a higher education beyond the sixth-grade level, which excludes pretty much anybody who voted for Bush in November of 2004, the oversimplification and labeling of whole groups of people as black vs. white, good vs. bad, has been insulting - both to them, and to those of us expected to swallow the tripe.

Today, in a scathing contribution to the LA Times, former secretary of state Madeline Albright takes the conversation up a few pegs by intelligently outlining that "Good vs. Evil Isn't a Strategy" at all. As she writes, "It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world's most powerful nation upon that fiction." In all seriousness, this isn't like Star Wars with a Rebel Alliance facing "The Dark Side". International politics, globalization and how it intermixes with religion, cannot be simplified by a black vs. white, us vs. them, good vs. evil mentality.

As we've learned, President Bush and his cronies are not interested in learning the truths that may conflict with their elementary conclusions. It wasn't until 2005 that Bush even realized that Sunnis and Shiites were different sects in Iraq, after all, and that the two groups might occasionally disagree. (Big understatement) In fact, even if some of Bush's goals are well-intended, his oversimplification and saber-rattling has served to turn the global forces against us, making it more and more unlikely that our wishes will be enacted. Albright spells this out, saying, "In today's warped political environment, nothing strengthens a radical government more than Washington's overt antagonism."

It's a shame that it has turned out like this. Bush's predecessors in the Republican party, including his father and Reagan, always commanded some level of respect when it came to foreign policy, and while they too may have had shady dealings, they didn't try to simplify the enemy so much so that talks were impossible. Even the Soviet Union's "Evil Empire" came to the table to reduce the nuclear arms race. With this group of dunderheads making policy, there's no chance we would see Iraq, Iran, or North Korea offer similar compromise.

Universal Movie Downloads Extremely Expensive

Apple has led the way in legal music and television show downloads, offering a standard of 99 cents per song, $1.99 for a video or show. The logical next step that everyone expects the company to take is to jump to full-length feature films, and in what appears to be a trial run, Apple has offered a TV movie for the price of $9.99. While that may have seemed steep in comparison to the per song price, it still makes sense, especially if you factor in time to download, time to watch, etc. In comparison, what makes no sense whatsoever is Universal's recently proposed "download to own" service. While one of the earlier announcements, Universal is requesting customers pay $17.50 for older films, and $35 apiece for new downloads. Wow. That is a serious cost, one I can't see paying at all! Barring the company offering new films with major actors on the Web before they hit the theaters, I just don't see the country's movie fanatics embracing this service. The charges will leave your wallet wishing you hit the theater and got a large popcorn, movie nachos and a drink for you and a date. Even that would cost less.

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.

Top Ten Books I'm Not Reading

Whatever my excuses are - whether it's being at the office too long, or letting TiVo and the Internet (this site included) take over my available hours, I'm simply not reading books and magazines as much as I should and have historically. As a result, some very good books are piling up, in my "to do" pile, and there's not been much movement.

1. Crashing the Gate by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas
2. The Truth (With Jokes) by Al Franken
3. The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
4. 2006 Oakland Athletics Media Guide (picked this up at Spring Training)
5. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
6. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
7. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
8. The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
9. Trump - The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump (duh)
10. Sharing Good Times by Jimmy Carter

Voyeuristic A's Fans

It's been said one of the key elements to any successful product is to know your market and to tailor your offerings in such a way that the market will respond. Contributing factors can be a number of things, ranging from a first-mover advantage, an enhanced feature set or simply better packaging.

Such was the case with yesterday's announcement that I had received my A's 2006 season tickets. While that yearly rite of passage may seem uneventful, especially given that I paid good money for those tickets, and should expect to get them anyway, it was something I had been looking forward to, and for some reason, I just so happened to receive my shipment a day or more before anybody else I know has. With some quick camera work, I summarized this year's seasonal ticket book, and posted the photos to the site - using yet another untapped feature of RapidWeaver - the software behind this blog.

As mentioned yesterday, I posted the images and a quick intro to the Athletics Nation site, but the response has been more than ridiculous. Prior to this week, site traffic to louisgray.com had plugged along around 20 visits a day - topped by Monday's 130 or so spike. While today's traffic so far has seen "only" 120 unique visits, the number of pages viewed by each visitor has increased significantly, with some viewing 16 to 18 pages, literally clicking through every photo to see every picture in slideshow mode. As such, we've seen 315 page views from midnight through 8:00 p.m., with the previous record being Monday with just over 130.

Meanwhile, over at Athletics Nation, my post turned into a sounding board for all those looking to receive their tickets, some with real-time updates on where their FedEx shipments were. 82 comments later, the post has far outstripped any level of attention the ANtics comics regularly receive. Now that's comical...

March 22, 2006

Bush: Iraq War May Outlast His Presidency

I'll shy away from stating the obvious, where I make the point that George W's presidency should have ended before it began, but as his bumbling and avoidance of reality has become so commonplace, I almost feel like we should present him with a medal on those rare occasions where he is asked a direct question, and answers correctly, stating the obvious.

Following month after month, year after year, of continued violence in Iraq, and continued denials from the administration that the insurgents (as they are called) are making headway, Bush told reporters today that it's highly possible the Iraq War will be ongoing even after he leaves the White House. On the flip side, he continues to say that Iraq is not in a civil war, and taunts Democrats who have said he broke the law through the domestic spying program, but haven't called for its dismissal.

What Democrats have done all year is call attention to the lies that got us into this mess, the illegalities at home and abroad, the bumbling, lying, cluelessness that seems to be the accepted status quo in the administration and through the Republican party. Yet, when some of the more outspoken congressmen, including John Murtha, have asked us to investigate reducing our presence in Iraq, he and others are called cowards, who are said to "cut and run". Those who have questioned the administration's lies have been thrown under the bus and mocked for their questioning, but now, even our misleader in chief is recognizing we are not being welcomed as liberators - that instead, his legacy of death will have long-term implications far beyond what anyone in Washington D.C. ever imagined.

A's Season Tickets Arrived (With Photos)

I hadn't yet seen anybody on Athletics Nation announce the receipt of their 2006 Oakland A's season tickets, but in our house, they have been eagerly awaited. Today, we were pleased to have a visit from FedEx, and the friendly FedEx crew offered us forty chances at happiness - eighty if you count that I purchased two partial season ticket plans.

For your voyeuristic pleasure, I posted a gallery of the season ticket book, including front and back covers, full page shots, and individual ticket close-ups. Is it perfect? No. But that's because I can't make the big bucks as a photographer. I'm an amateur in everything I do, or so I'm told.


Click to Start Your Tour


More Samples:



Now, we're the humble church-goin' types, so for us to get a Friday/Saturday/Sunday package means there are 2 Field Level tickets available in section 114, row 28 for virtually every Sunday game at the Coliseum this year!

Sound interesting to you? Let's strike up a conversation...

The TrackBack Effect

The Web was built for linking. One page is not the final destination, and should always provide multiple links for pages on the site itself, and if relevant, links to third-party sites. But with recent advancements in the blogging world, this has been taken a step further, with a feature called TrackBacks, which, simply put, add a link and summary of your comments to a third-party site, if you link to them. It's a modern quid-pro-quo.

On Monday, two things of interest happened here at louisgray.com. I wrote a piece called "Newspapers a Dying Breed", discussing the potential fate of the San Jose Mercury News, now up for sale, and later that morning, the very same Mercury News scooped the technology media world by announcing Microsoft's work on a next generation game and music handheld, which I covered in "Microsoft Not Giving Up Despite Failures". In both cases, the links I provided issued TrackBacks to the original site.

Later that day, while at the office, I received a Google News alert saying that the blog had been quoted on media watchdog Editor & Publisher, in a piece covering CNET's blog site Blogma, and titled "CNet Forum: Web Guru Gilmor Wants Yahoo to Buy 'Mercury News'", a comment I had made was included. This happened thanks to TrackBacks, as CNet had found my post and included it in their morning news roundup. Additionally, in parallel, the link I had made to the Mercury News itself started driving significant traffic to the site, as the Microsoft rumor grew legs and got incredible exposure. The traffic swarm to Mercury News led some to click through and see my reaction, leading to six times the normal site volume Monday, and significant traffic from Redmond, Washington, home of Microsoft.

TrackBacks provide news seekers an opportunity to gain access to third-party commentary instantly, even if they may never have visited the site otherwise, and as the technology gains in adoption, you may see it further impact the process you take to gain information - as you rely less on established media and more on gaining the full picture from multiple viewpoints.

March 21, 2006

Launching Products in the Age of Instant Analysis

In politics, the president-elect has historically been given their first hundred days to set policy without extreme analysis from the press, in what's also referred to as a honeymoon period, where they have the opportunity to name their staff, introduce planned legislation and define the goals of their time in office. In the market, product announcements have followed a shorter cycle, where first impressions and media reviews are eagerly awaited - to see if the product experience approaches the levels promised by the company, or if its feature set is found lacking. But now, in an age where professional media and amateur commentators alike are seeing an increasing demand for instant analysis and feedback, those introducing new products to the market may have their wares filleted before a single customer has gotten their hands on a working device - their product launches dissected for praise or scorn, for the presentation itself, even if those writing and talking haven't given the news a chance to sink in.

Take a look at some of the most recent and most widely discussed product announcements for how this instant news cycle has taken hold.

Yesterday, Google introduced its Google Finance feature in direct competition to Yahoo! Finance, and the entire blogosphere was aflutter with the news. But rather than pass the links along with objectivity, there was a great rush to judgment. Business 2.0 reporter Om Malik, on his site, GigaOM, wrote in a big headline, "Google Finance Disappoints". How long did he use it? A week? A few days, before his dramatic conclusion? No. He writes, "After playing around with it for about 15 minutes, it is obvious that it will be a long time, and I mean long time in Internet years that is, before Google Finance really catches up to Yahoo Finance, which in fact is the gold standard." That's right. 15 minutes. After 15 minutes of intense evaluation, he was ready to declare it a failure, and his rush to judgment was parlayed into an appearance on CNBC today. But his strenuous evaluation didn't stop other sites from expressing quite the opposite response. TechCrunch wrote, "This is a great looking product overall. And they’ve taken things at least a step further than Yahoo Finance in its current form."

People are entitled to their opinion for sure. I've expressed mine occasionally here on this very site. But can instant analysis be as foolproof as say, Consumer Reports?

One amusing result is that instant commentary leads to retractions. Just look how Henry Blodget first starts his review as "Google Finance: Yawn" and ends with "Wow". Quite the 180, and one that comes with actual effort to investigate.

At the end of February, you may recall Apple held a special media event to announce the new iPod HiFi, the Intel Mac Mini and some other smaller announcements. Before a single consumer had access to the items, again, the instant analysis crowd issued a decree of disappointment. CNET's Blogma site summed up the mood of some would-be critics with the headline "Bloggers underwhelmed by Apple announcements". The site's story says "While Jobs had promised some "fun" new products, bloggers, many of whom gave up-to-the-minute accounts of his keynote, were largely underwhelmed by what they heard".

Up to the minute accounts and instant disappointment before a single unit had hit the Apple store. Maybe Apple should just avoid shipping the systems altogether now that they know it was a failure, right?

And earlier this month, as mentioned previously on this site, Microsoft unveiled its Origami ultramobile PC platform at the Intel Developers' Conference, and feedback across the Web was negative. You can see the headlines... "Microsoft's Origami UMPC: What Were They Thinking?", and "Will 2006 be the Year of High-Profile Technology Busts?" It's as if the instant Web news cycle is so excited to be the first to declare the disaster that nobody has taken into consideration the fact the devices haven't even gotten the opportunity to fail in the market.

The technology market is not alone in this instant analysis. It's seen everywhere, from sports to politics to American Idol. But those tasked with creating innovation and selling it to the masses need to learn how to capture that energy available and harness it to their own benefit, before they too are swallowed up in a wave of discontent.

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

The Simpsons: Two More Years

Already with 17 full seasons under its belt, The Simpsons is the longest-running entertainment series on television, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox just signed on for two more seasons, the show's 18th and 19th, which extends the contract through the 2007-2008 season. A Simpsons junkie myself, it's incredible to realize that there are children driving on the roads today who have never known a world without the wacky antics of Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, not to mention the hundreds of other characters who have made the show unique. By the end of the two new seasons, these Simpsons era teens should be graduating from high school. (Unless they opted to instead watch the full DVD sets from the first seven seasons released so far instead of doing their homework.)

When the show first debuted, I was too young for my parents to be comfortable with my watching, especially on Sunday nights. It was too irreverent. Now, owning all seven DVD sets, and having imbibed reruns to my full content, I'm a quote-spewing, analogy reciting, Conan O'Brien worshiping fool. While it seems the show has lost its way over the last five or eight years, there are still precious few comedies that can compete with the ridiculousness the town of Springfield offers. The amusement for me lies in the fact there are countless references to sophisticated books, arts, and film - double entendres and wise cracks clearly not aimed for the pre-teen set. I stress to others how intellectual the show is and I usually get blank stares in return, but it's quite hilarious on all levels. I just hope I'm not embarrassed by whatever watered-down plot lines the newest generation of writers comes up with.

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.

Newspapers a Dying Breed

From the age of 10 or so, I read the local paper every day - whether that was the Appeal-Democrat, which served the Marysville/Yuba City metropolis in Northern California, the Chico Enterprise Record in Chico, or the San Francisco Chronicle when I started attending UC Berkeley in college. For a long time, I knew that I wanted to make a career out of news reporting for newspapers. I held an internship at the 35,000 circulation Chico Enterprise Record, and wrote as a staff reporter for the 23,000 circulation Daily Californian in Berkeley, covering the crime beat, and dabbling in city council news or the UC regents.

Even in college, one of my two majors was Mass Communications, and I entertained thoughts of an internship at places like the Sacramento Bee, when offered it by a visiting speaker to one of my upper division journalism courses.

But by the time I was a junior, the Web had struck full-force, and as the Online Editor for the Daily Cal, I was keenly aware that the Web was the future, and the newspapers, as we knew them, represented the past. With access to the Web, I could gain sports scores and stock quotes instantly that were seriously outdated by the time they reached the next day's paper. I could even read editorial positions on papers across the country or the world, well beyond the local smokeshop or newsstand. And when it was clear that there was much more opportunity to focus on my Web efforts than as a journalist, I followed that route into Silicon Valley.

Which leads us to today's topic. Newspaper circulations are falling across the country, and in those areas where Web access is most rampant, the decline was most steep. According to a report in November of 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle's circulation fell more than 16% in a six-month period. Now, with major transitions at Knight Ridder's newspapers, the Silicon Valley's last great paper, the San Jose Mercury News, is up for sale to the highest bidder, and people are concerned that its high journalistic ideals may fall by the wayside. However, the Merc, as it's known, has long been a Web pioneer, and I would assume its tech-rich reader base can put up with the idea of them skinnying down a few reporters and possibly going Web-only. With access becoming ubiquitous, and news on the Web being more timely, maybe it's a bunch of noise about nothing.

We stopped receiving the Chronicle by sophomore year of college, and have never resigned up for the Mercury News, San Mateo Times or a host of other available papers. Their time, like the telegraph before it, is over and done. It's time to grow and move on.

March 19, 2006

Sunday Night News: Big and Small

Believe it or not, there's a lot more going on this weekend than the NCAA tournament, the World Baseball Classic, and continued spring training. I hate to admit that at times, there's a lot more to life than sports.

As widely reported, today marked the third anniversary of the Iraq War (II). The Bush Administration took the occasion to celebrate the progress they've seen, and again argue that the insurgents are losing and that the US will be remembered well in the history books. On the other side of the aisle, people are questioning the reasons behind a recent air offensive there, and continue in their frustrations as we see the many trillions of dollars and thousands of lives that have been erased in this conflict.

In the blogosphere, Guy Kawasaki emphasizes how important it is to be nice to those who can best help you, the little people, while the Redeye VC warns that as with other investment cycles, the bubble may soon burst on Web 2.0 companies, just as they got started. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley Sleuth updates us by saying the Google/Sun rumormonger is now backtracking. By the way, those three sites? Bookmark them all.

ANtics Episode 2.4: Spring Training Pins and Needles

Spring Training is about a lot more than just winning or losing. It's about AAA players trying to make their way to the big club, about veterans improving their skills, improving teammate camaraderie and for some, recovering from injury or avoiding hurting others (I'm looking at you, Bobby!). But there's no doubt that the Cactus League is full of "pins and needles" for all. Some of this year's themes are explored in this week's ANtics!


BTW - On my trip to spring training, I gave away printed copies of last year's ANtics to Barry Zito, Eric Chavez, Billy Beane, and the radio team of Ken Korach and Ray Fosse. You can download your copy of the handout in PDF.


Click to See Larger Comic


ANtics Archive: 2005/06 ANtics | Extras | Giveaway | PDF

iPod: Not Just Entertainment

When you think of Apple's iPod, you probably have some images in your head - the white earbuds connecting to the device, or the neon silhouette ads prominent in their commercials and billboards. You may think of "1,000 songs in your pocket", or the newly introduced iPods that play video, including TV shows from the networks and select cable shows. But for me, my iPod is boring. I get it out when I need to get work done, and when I connect it to the home laptop, my wife knows I'm focused on work from the office.

The reason for this is that ever since acquiring my first iPod (a mere 12 hours after they were announced), I've used the iPod as the go-between portable hard drive between the home computer and that of the office. The iPod functions as backup storage for the company Web site, and the primary repository for day to day tasks, and archived activity. With 60 Gigabytes available and an ultra-fast Firewire connection, it's just as good as the local disk drive, and work stays in the same state from one machine to another. While it's true that nearly 30 Gigabytes of music is stored on the iPod, as well as my address book and a small handful of personal files, it's definitely a work device.

I've grown reliant on the iPod being available, which has only caused me grief in two instances - once when I left the device at home on a day of a presentation, and zipped back home to get it, missing an hour of office productivity, and the second, much more alarming, incident, when I left a previous iPod, with 20 Gigabytes of data on it, in the seat cover of a flight from Chicago to Baltimore. While I had done periodic backups of the data, it's sure that some data was irrecoverably lost, and whoever took the seat on the flight immediately following had a nice surprise in store - and they certainly weren't interested in letting me know they found it, for after repeated calls to the BWI airport, none was ever reported found. I ended up having to purchase the latest iPod the following weekend from the Apple store and started the arduous tasks of restoring the data from backups, e-mail attachments and whatever I could find - and have been much more diligent about backing up since.

Because I think of the device as my work iPod, it's plugged into the computer at the office first thing every morning Monday through Friday, rendering all its stored music unavailable to me. I've even considered getting a second iPod, a smaller one, just for listening to music at the office, without disturbing my coworkers. Truth is I don't know if I could do that, and still look professional enough while getting everything I need to done, so that idea hasn't manifested itself, but it may some time. It also would seem funny to lug in two iPods to go with the two computers I've already got in the cubicle (one Mac and one Dell), making things just a bit crowded.

My iPod is essential, but not for what most people think. It's a serious work device. A portable hard drive, backup device and yes, it does fit in my pocket.

March 18, 2006

Are Blog Rumors Impacting Stocks?

In the late 1990's, rumors on stock boards from Yahoo!, Silicon Investor, The Motley Fool and Raging Bull would often have impact on the financial markets, whether through bumping up penny stocks in a quick pump and dump scheme, or suggesting rumors of mergers, take overs, new product shipments or product delays. While some of these people were caught, others made a lot of money in gaming the system.

Now, with community-generated media growing by leaps and bounds through personal blogs, and aggregation sites like Slashdot and Digg wielding a great deal of power in the blogosphere, some are trying to game the system through promotion of their own company's products, or through purchasing stock cheap, hyping a rumor, and selling when the stock goes up - migrating away from discussion boards, and to more legitimate, yet still unsourced sites.

One of these recent activities is described by Silicon Valley Sleuth, who charts a series of posts by a no-name blogger to Digg.com about the possibility of Google (GOOG) acquiring Sun Microsystems (SUNW). The blogger made multiple attempts to have his rumor picked up by Digg, and Sun stock, coincidentally or not, is up fractionally since he started. Should this be illegal, or has this person simply found a loophole, and enough suckers to help him make a profit?

Given the wide opportunities offered through freedom of speech, this individual and others like him, certainly have that right - but the responsibility is on site owners for Slashdot and Digg to reign in their algorithms or editors, to offer their readers the highest accuracy. Only though accuracy and consistency will readers continue to trust the sites, for Web users are fickle and can move along.

March 17, 2006

Watch When I Listen



Last.fm has an interesting service, which tracks what you listen to, and posts your stats to their site. Now, you can display what you listen to on your blog, as I have done, above. Now, should you choose to do so, you can get an idea as to what's running through my laptop speakers any time.

Cal Eliminated In NCAA Tournament

And that was that. One and done. As I had mentioned last week, I had the ominous suspicion that Cal's involvement with the NCAA Tournament would be fleeting. The team hadn't exactly coasted through the Pac Ten season and tournament, and hadn't exactly played the most dominant of non-conference schedules, while not exactly featuring a full five-man squad and a deep bench. As the team was single player centric, it was not out of realm to expect they would lose to North Carolina State. Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports had picked Cal to lose as well, even though they had the higher seed. While I may be a true Cal fan and wish the team well, it wasn't a big surprise to see them go down so fast, and fall they did, 58-52. Though the team led at halftime, and kept it close, even to the last final minutes, it wasn't enough to advance to the round of 32.

Click and Mortar: Safeway.com

We all remember the dramatic rise and steep descent of WebVan during the first Web bubble. The online grocery chain spent too lavishly, expanded too quickly, and never built out the customer infrastructure needed to sport the capital expenditures required for serious food warehousing in a variety of metropolitan areas. With that company now only a distant memory, it wouldn't be too hard to think of the whole online grocery space in the past tense - but that would be wrong. Grocery outlets including Safeway are very quietly capitalizing on their brand and doing some good business in bringing groceries right to your door after you pre-order online.

Earlier this week, I received a promotional flyer from Safeway that offered my next delivery for free. I had last purchased from Safeway.com a few years ago, and I'm sure I was on their direct mail hit list for inactive customers. It worked. Yesterday, I went back to the site, and aisle by aisle (sort of), I added bread and lunch meats, and cereal, tortilla chips, and whatever else made sense. I could specify what I wanted by brand, by size and by quantity. The site promised me a two hour window the next day when it would be delivered, and sure enough, this evening a man came to our door with our entire grocery list. All I had to do was sign to receive it, and of course, put the groceries away. That probably would have been extra. The process was extremely simple, and in those evenings when I would just rather get home after work, it just might actually be worth the $9.95 charge to have someone else go shopping for me.

March 16, 2006

US Baseball Team Eliminated by Mexico

It was one thing for a "Dream Team" US squad to lose to Puerto Rico in the 2004 Olympics, but today, the United States fell to Mexico in the "World Baseball Classic" and found itself eliminated from competition, while Japan, Korea and others continue forward, further embarrassing the country credited with bringing both sports to life. Despite having sure first-ballot hall of famer Roger Clemens on the mound, and a line-up loaded with All-Stars, the U.S. team couldn't muster more than a single run in a 2-1 defeat.

The World Baseball Classic seemed like a foolish endeavor to begin with, with players opting out of the event, the New York Yankees protesting its existence, and hapless commissioner Bud Selig trying to tell everyone what a wonderful opportunity it was, all while ignoring the rising tumult around Barry Bonds and the steroids issue. Now, with the United States out, the players can return to their spring training squads, and all five people who cared about the final results can go back to watching re-runs of Law and Order or The View.

Download All ANtics Comics in PDF



Now you can download the same file that was printed out and handed to the A's players last week at spring training in Arizona. The PDF, which contains all ANtics episodes to date, in full color, is 1.5 Megabytes.

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.

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.

Mac vs. PC Price War: System Shootouts

Ever since Apple's introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, the company's computers have been accepted as being "more expensive" than their Windows/Intel counterparts. While at times that may have been true, Apple's move to Intel, as well as the introduction of the Mac Mini, have introduced new, lower price-points to bring the systems in line with Windows competition, and the company's success with the iPod music player has brought the Apple experience to a swath of new customers who wouldn't otherwise have considered the Macintosh.

That's all well and good, you say? Well, lucky for us, others have done the hard work of comparing like systems between the Macintosh world and the Windows world, feature by feature and part by part - putting the systems in easy to understand buckets, such as midrange laptops and desktops. By far the best and most consistent offering is Charles Gaba's "Mac vs. PC System Shootouts". It's worth taking a look at System Shootouts before you make a decision on your next computer. Make sure you know what you need, and what your budget is, and the site will find a solution that meets your requirements. Apple doesn't always win, but you'd be surprised how often it does.