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June 30, 2006

A Good Walk Spoiled

You've heard the saying - that golf isn't a sport at all, but instead, a good walk spoiled. Yet, for some reason, it can grow to be an obsession. Family fortunes are spent on the green, chasing a little, dimpled ball in the grass, in a repetitive venture that tries to avoid anything that looks like the beach - sand, water, and the rough.

In the early part of the 20th century, though the game was much the same, the people who dominated the sport were quite different - as chronicled in the latest gift from Netflix, The Greatest Game Ever Played, which covers the very unlikely story of an amateur who victoriously challenged the professionals and much more serious caste system that separated rich from poor and aligned one due to their family line, and not their work ethic.

Though I was looking especially hard for the film's visual effects, I didn't miss the plot. It was pretty good, considering it came from Disney, who hasn't wowed anyone with their formulaic storytelling of late. The young conquering hero, and his hilarious 5th grade caddy, win the game, win the girl, and win the hearts of his challenging parents - all in the space of 2 hours and 1 minute!

I can't play golf well. In fact, I've never beaten my wife at miniature golf. But every morning, evening and weekend we hear golfers on the nearby course daring to break par, or better yet, to play hooky from work, regardless of their score. But maybe some day we'll join them - maybe after the baseball season is done.

Listening to ''Noise'', by M83 (Play Count: 4)

June 29, 2006

Public Funding for Sports Stadiums Is Ridiculous

There are countless examples of professional sports teams who, in an effort to develop new playing facilities for their franchises, have turned to the public for funding, through additional taxes. The suggestion is that improved facilities deliver increased revenues and additional business to the surrounding areas, therefore offering the potential to invigorate an entire community's economy.

Yet if one examines the underlying issues, it simply doesn't hold water. The fans who would vote in favor of public funding are the very folks who would be asked to pay the resulting increase in ticket prices that is inevitable, and the owners themselves would be raking in the profits from expanded turnstiles. Yet, not even that level of support can guarantee loyalty. Though funded publicly, the owners are under no obligation to put a good team on the field or on the court, to spend a minimum amount on salaries, and they are not required to keep a team in a city, but have the opportunity to uproot the franchise if they think they've found a better deal.

Locally, the San Francisco Giants repeatedly set up ballot initiatives to gain public financial support, and continually failed. Instead, the team's owners turned to private funding, and with a little help from sponsors and naming rights, AT&T (nee PacBell and SBC) Park was developed.

Now, we see the Sacramento Kings trying the same thing - begging for a quarter-cent sales tax to be inflicted on the public to gain them a replacement for Arco Arena, even though only 27% of those asked in a survey thought the team needed a new court as it is. This evening, according to the Sacramento Bee, KCRA and others, talks with city and county governments have stalled, and it will be at least another two years before they can put the proposed measure in front of voters again. I for one think it's time the billionaire owners took a serious risk and found the good business sense to invest in the community themselves.

Listening to ''Microclimate'', by Stereolab (Play Count: 4)

Paul Oakenfold Back on Track With "A Lively Mind"

Long considered one of the world's best DJs, Paul Oakenfold hasn't gotten the most rave of reviews for his solo album efforts, best exemplified by 2002's "Bunkka", which brought us the hits "Ready Steady Go" and "Starry Eyed Surprise". And while enjoyable, the one time I saw him in concert in San Francisco, I wasn't exactly blown away. Tag-teamed with Crystal Method, I actually enjoyed their opening act more than Oakenfold's repetitive spinning and visuals.

With that said, last month iTunes alerted me to a new album by Oakenfold titled "A Lively Mind." Being a loyal trance junkie, it rapidly found its place in my Purchased Music list, and has been a staple in my music rotation of late. The tracks "Feed Your Mind" and "No Compromise" are some of the better tracks, adding good background energy to any task I'm pursuing on the laptop (by far my #1 music source).

If you're not familiar enough with Oakenfold's work, try out "A Lively Mind" from iTunes, and then travel over to Amazon to get his back tracks. There's plenty there.

Listening to ''No Compromise (Featuring Spitfire)'', by Paul Oakenfold featuring Spitfire (Play Count: 5)

June 28, 2006

Discovering Arli$$

Being a TV cheapskate, we've never, ever, had HBO. Not when I was living at home, not when I was in college, not when I was single, and not now that I'm married. As a result, we've "missed out" on a number of HBO shows that garnered tremendous critical acclaim - from Oz to the Sopranos, and Sex In the City.

With most all shows in summer reruns, we tested out our TiVo by visiting the nether-regions of the cable lineup, all the way down to ESPN Classic, where we were hoping to find historic baseball contests or athlete profiles. Instead, we stumbled upon Arli$$, which started its life as an HBO feature, and now is getting a second wind in syndication on the ESPN offshoot. So, on a lark, having always heard good things about the show, we politely asked our TiVo to look into it on a more consistent basis.

The show, as you may know, focuses on a big-name sports agent, and his efforts to get the largest amount of bucks for his clients. After seeing five or so episodes, we're hooked - and we're going to bleed the show dry this summer, or until we're tired of it, whatever comes first. Even my wife has found it funny. So on top of our regular fare, currently dominated by Oakland A's baseball, and House reruns, Arli$$ is making a good run.

Listening to ''Night'', by M83 (Play Count: 4)

Getting Rich Quick Still Doesn't Work

Back after dusting off our wounds from the Vonage IPO disaster, we're still on the hunt for potential bargains in the stock market, looking for anything with a chance to jump. For some reason, I'm not all that patient with stocks that I just don't know all that well (or think I do). So, today featured a number of IPOs, including J Crew, and Utah software company Omniture. I made my bet and got into Omniture this morning at $6.39, below the initial price of $6.50.

Sure enough, after I did that, the stock started to trend down - to $6.15, to $6.10, and down... as I should have known, right? It was an instant replay of the Vonage mess.

Yet, by end of day, somehow, the stock turned itself around, finishing at $6.53, up a mere 2% for me, and less than one half of one percent for the company. Yet, for some reason, silly news wire reporters remained confused. Reuters said "Omniture shares rally in market debut", while TheStreet.com said most of the IPOs were "duds". And for anybody scoring at home, J Crew was up 28%. Guess I picked the wrong horse.

Listening to ''Moonboy'', by Christopher Lawrence (Play Count: 4)

June 24, 2006

ANtics Episode 2.18: A Whole New Ballgame

When interleague play first burst onto the scene, it, like the designated hitter rule and expansion, saw much criticism from baseball traditionalists, who viewed the change as an affront to all things right with the game. As the A's continue their streak of playing National League opponents, the ANtics asks some of the team's players just what they would change to today's game to make it more exciting.



Click to See Larger Comic


ANtics Archive: 2005/06 ANtics | PDF

Mac OS X 10.5 Remains a Mystery

After Thursday's discovery of what appeared to be two screenshots of Apple's next operating system release, the blogger has since recanted, saying that they were a fraud, and spread well beyond his initial expectations. This means that all of our intrigue around new features coming in Mac OS X 10.5, including virtual desktops, integrated Windows compatibility, and a hybrid version of AddressBook and iCal, may not actually be there at all.

As the blogger writes, "Those screenshots are 100% fake. They are entirely Photoshopped, done merely for fun out of lots of free time and about 6 cans of Diet Coke."

Yet fun was had by all. The Macintosh rumors community is notorious for biting hard on anything that nears hope, whether it was SpyMac's infamous iWalk video, the "Apple Media Player (AMP)", the on-again, off-again Apple iPhone, and even pink PowerMac G4s. Given Apple's record for innovation, we tend to believe they can deliver just about anything we dream up. It's an odd relationship, as in the absence of word from Apple, anticipation and expectations rise to a fever pitch, guaranteeing disappointment when the eventual truth is revealed.

And life goes on.

Or does it? AppleInsider now claims that Apple's planned a desktop-level Google Maps alternative... and why not?

Listening to ''Suicide Blonde'', by INXS (Play Count: 7)

A's Fans Don't Hate the Giants

Cross-posted at McCovey Chronicles

Disclosure: I'm an A's fan, and have been since I was young enough to distinguish between teams. I also am fairly active on Athletics Nation, McCovey's sister site. Residing on the peninsula, I of course have friends, neighbors and coworkers who are Giants fans, and my Dad has always been a Giants fan, growing up in the Mays/McCovey era, not that he could tell me anybody besides Bonds on the current Giants roster...

In reading yesterday's game thread on this site, there was a lot of discussion on why the A's hate the Giants, or why the A's fans should hate the Giants or their fans, or any of that nonsense.

Here are my thoughts - it's not really there. Of course it is fun to root for your favorite team against another in close proximity, and of course it is fun to grandstand and argue superiority of A's vs. Giants, but the truth is that we don't really think much about the Giants when we're not playing them. We would much rather HATE the Angels or HATE the Yankees than HATE the Giants.

What have the Giants done to hurt the A's ever? Nothing, really. In the only series that counted, 17 years ago, you guys rolled over. In interleague play, the games have been very even, with the exception of a random 16-0 blowout at our place, or an Eric Byrnes cycle at your place every once in a while. When Barry Bonds came to our place and hit 714, we cheered. We stood and applauded. And then we booed his ass when he got back in the box the next time up. That's part of being a fan.

Is it part of being a fan to talk trash? Absolutely. One of the lines I most commonly use is, "AT&T Park is a great stadium. It's too bad they couldn't find a major league team to play there." Not very nice, I guess... but in good fun. And when I went to AT&T Park for a recent Colorado Rockies series, I wore my A's cap down in the recessed bullpen seating area. That got me a lot of attention, some amusing, and some not so good, but I deserved it for being so blatant. One Giants fan in her fury, said, "What are you doing? That's like wearing a Yankees cap to Fenway Park!?"

But I didn't think it was the same. The Giants fans tend to try to look down on the A's fans, and the A's fans have somewhat annoyed ambivalence about the Giants and their fans. It's not hatred the way I hate Derek Jeter or Mike Scioscia. They can rot in hell. (And they will!)

I would say that part of the quasi-smug ambivalence comes from knowing the Giants occupy a certain role here in the Bay Area. They are to compete and play hard, but not ever go all the way. The Giants, seemingly every year in the last few decades, has challenged for the division and in many cases, made the playoffs, but even in 2002, we didn't really think you were going to win it all. Now, if you had, things might be different around here. The Giants fans could hold that over our head, and say 1989 is a distant memory, one played by confessed juiced superstars and rendered irrelevant due to the Loma Prieta issue.

So what's left? Mostly issues off the field. Everybody knows KNBR occupies a special place in the radio dial. They are a force to be reckoned with. It would be great to dream that KNBR could have a Giants/49ers station on 680, and the A's/Raiders station on 1050, but until I hear otherwise, that's pure fantasy on our part. The A's have played the lesser step-children on the radio dial, and major media like the San Francisco Chronicle for some time, and we should have to just eat that. As for the stadium, I happen to really like McAfee Coliseum. But that's probably due to memories and nostalgia, as it's clearly not due to modern amenities. It was a beautiful park before Mount Davis, and now it's just a great place to see a great team play a great game.

The A's don't hate the Giants. It would be giving your team too much respect to say that we do. Even coming at the issue from a neutral standpoint, it's hard to see how the Giants team is even worth getting gussied up about. Bonds is a force of nature (and chemistry), and is to be respected. But the rest of the team (Finley, Alou, etc.) doesn't overwhelm anybody on paper or on the field. Why get frustrated or noisy about this current squad? It's not even worth it. Jason Schmidt? A great pitcher. Matt Cain? A good pitcher with streaks of great. Even Ishikawa is fun to see hit. But that's just about where it begins and ends. I don't see the Giants contending in the future the way the A's are prepared to do unless Giants owners pony up the cash once Barry leaves. Otherwise, we might see one good team and one bad team here in the Bay Area for awhile. And we won't really hate that either.
Listening to ''Matter Of Fact'', by Roni Size/Reprazent (Play Count: 6)

June 23, 2006

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Screenshots Leaked?

It's a past-time for Apple Mac OS fans to gain early access to screenshots of new builds or photography of as-of-yet unreleased products. While Apple was notorious for leaking future data only a decade ago, ever since Steve Jobs' return to the helm, getting leakage is amazingly difficult, and the details on Leopard (Version 10.5) have been remarkably slim.

Today, two measly screenshots found on the Web have created a stir, showing: Dual Boot Windows, Desktop Switching, Native running of Internet Explorer (Windows App), Tabs in Finder - like Safari, and a New AddressBook with a date (Merged with iCal?)

The source is a random blog, but the screenshots look good.

Picture 1 Picture 2

Listening to ''What Else Is There?'', by Röyksopp (Play Count: 4)

Confessions of a Longtime Kings Fan

(Via Sactown Royalty...)

Growing up in what some called "Extreme Northern California", being a Sacramento Kings and Oakland A's fan came naturally. My first Walkman piped in Tim Roye on KFBK 1530 on most nights through the winter and spring months, as I heard the highlights and lowlights of a team, who frankly, wasn't very good. The Kings were perennial basement dwellers, featuring players like Wayman Tisdale, Vinny Del Negro, Lionel Simmons, Danny Ainge and Duane Causwell, and scarcely threatening to win more than 29 games in a full season.

Yet, for some reason, I started every tipoff to every game expecting them to win. Although my father and I both knew the best thing to do was to turn off the Kings game after the end of the third quarter, just to avoid listening to the guaranteed heartbreak that was to come, through legendary fourth quarter collapses, he was the only one strong enough to leave, while I would stay glued to the radio speakers for every last shot until the final horn would sound.

Though the players would change, the Kings' momentum didn't, for any number of reasons. I remember waiting excitedly when the Kings had the #1 overall pick, only to see them pick up "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison, over other more heralded prospects. I remember when the team set the NBA record for consecutive road losses, with 37, and I remember when I learned that Bobby Hurley, once seen as the future of the franchise, had forever damaged his promising career in a near-fatal car accident. For the Kings, to lose was their role, and when they unexpectedly won, it only made it that much more exciting.

After years of listening in, I finally attended a game, on my birthday as a teenager, where we sat in the nosebleed section of Arco, and saw the home team take down the much-favored Phoenix Suns and Charles Barkley in a close game. The crowd was loud, and we all went nuts, first when Charles got a technical, as we had hoped, and then when it was clear we were going to take home the W. The playoff atmosphere was there, even if the playoffs weren't. On a separate occasion, the Kings made NBA history through two highly improbable blowouts in back to back games. I remember running excitedly to the front of the house, Walkman in hand, to tell my parents that for the second time in three nights, the Kings (yes, our last place Kings) were up by forty. It was incredible. But for some reason, it seemed I was the only one who cared. On other nights, while allegedly doing homework, I would scrawl down the point differentials in the margins of my paper or count them up and down through the game's peaks and valleys (-3, -1, +1, -1, +1, +3, +1, etc.). I would know before the announcers said it if the Kings had reached the highest lead of the game and bark at the unresponsive radio if they weren't keeping their listeners posted.

It wasn't until I got to college that the Kings made their way to the playoffs, on the back of team leader Mitch Richmond, and through this, the team launched a new era in Sacramento Kings history, one that, as you know, now sees them challenging for the playoffs year in and year out, even as the roster shifts - from Richmond and Williamson to Webber and Divac, to Stojakovic and Bibby, and today. I rooted just as hard for our Kings in the playoffs as I did as a kid when the postseason was for other teams, and watched as those wearing the purple and gold would come out of the woodwork, claiming allegiance. We all know what has happened every year, as the Kings haven't made it to the promised land, falling short, since 1951. But as I always expected them to win during their down times, I start every year expecting this will be the one.

Though the dust hasn't yet settled on Miami's title over the Mavericks, we should start preparing today, as Kings fans, for how we can help push this squad forward to a title, one that no other team deserves more. The Kings are your team, and Sactown Royalty is your home. Welcome home. Thanks for inviting me.

Listening to ''City Too City (S.H.O.K.K. Mix)'', by Sound Of Overdose (Play Count: 9)

June 22, 2006

Not a Sirius Long Term Investment

The stock market continues to bug me this year. Without any startlingly obvious opportunities in which to invest in clearly undervalued companies, I've been sitting on the sidelines of late, watching my Apple and Salesforce.com stocks churn well below my entry points, and keeping the rest in cash. But that's dull, and it's time to start taking more risks and seeing if I can flip some momentum plays for short-term cash.

This week's candidate was Sirius Radio. I don't own a satellite radio and don't think I ever will, barring any chance I moved far away from the A's flagship stations and wanted to always have access. But Sirius is one of the top two leaders in the space, and its stock is well off 52-week highs. So on Tuesday, I took my cash and jumped into the stock at $4.00 even. Flat on Tuesday, it jumped about 3 to 4 percent on Wednesday, and after a few pennies rise this morning, it was trading at the 4.23 level or so, up 5 plus percent in two days.

Not caring about whether I held it for any length of time, and not convinced it would continue to appreciate, I took my smallish gains and dumped it this afternoon for a quick few hundred bucks profit. It's money I didn't earn, but I have it now, and I'll stay on the prowl for the next thing, whatever that may be. And for the record, after selling at 4.22, the stock closed at 4.19 today. We'll see if my quick trade made any sense.

Listening to ''Tom's Diner (7" A)'', by DNA & Suzanne Vega (Play Count: 4)

Sactown Royalty: The Kings of NBA Blogging

SportsBlogs Nation is growing rapidly, having expanded the sites' reach beyond all 30 major league baseball teams to the NBA, and is making inroads in the NFL and college realms. As mentioned here before, I've followed the Sacramento Kings for a very long time, back before they were perennial playoff contenders, and when every won game was a luxury. Though not as passionate about the Kings as I am the A's, I always look to see when the team is on television and follow in-game scores via Yahoo! or ESPN. Now, with Sactown Royalty, I'll have the chance to get as absorbed into the team as I have our friends in green and gold.

In April, Sactown Royalty featured a playoff predictions thread, where we could pick the winner of each round, and in how many games. Shockingly, I got every single winner of every playoff round correct - except for the first round Kings vs. Spurs matchup, which I attribute solely to blatant homerism on my part. This of course outpaced all other predictions on the site, and makes me wish I'd gone to Vegas with my hunches, which had Miami over Dallas in six games, just as the final round ended up.

My fandom on Sactown Royalty has been noticed, as I've just been contacted by the site editor to become a part-time writer on the site, as I've done with Athletics Nation for the last year or so. I'm not guaranteeing that all of a sudden you'll see black and purple ANtics-like comics, but I definitely will be dusting off the hardwood encyclopedia and getting my hoops brain back in gear if I'm going to make any kind of positive input. Definitely watch this space.

Listening to ''Nukleuz Trance Sessions, Vol. 1 (Live DJ Mix)'', by Various Artists (Play Count: 4)

The Climate Crisis

Does it seem hot where you are? It's in the 90s here in the Bay Area, and that's downright stifling, especially anywhere we don't have air conditioning. But unless things change, we might have to get used to ever-hotter temperatures, and can expect that the unprecedented string of natural disasters we saw in 2005, which culminated in the shock and horror of Hurricane Katrina, will be more and more common if the facts leading to global warming are not stopped.

That's the premise of what I can unequivocally say is the best movie I've seen all year - An Incovenient Truth, which we saw this evening. If you see just one movie this summer, this is the one. The bare bones, documentarian "An Inconvenient Truth" offers enough drama to outpace Hollywood, and stars the greatest cast out there - you.

I'm not going to debate the issue here. It's not a political issue. It's a moral issue, one that is unanimously agreed upon by the scientific community. It's an issue that if left unchecked can have devastating consequences which will affect us all without question. The film makes that very clear. It's not a bleeding-heart liberal, tree-hugging, spotted owl protecting, ode to Greenpeace. It's the facts - laid out directly and stunningly through charts, statistics, photography and film.

Al Gore may never be part of public office again, and though he is the film's major star, it's not about him and not about his story. It's about this cause that consumes his every minute, and how he is taking this cause from the thousands of seminars he has given around the world to a city theater near you. Go find where it is playing near you and see it. See if you can watch this story, learn from it, and not feel like you've been hit with a wave of emotion and hope that you can affect change. And if you don't see it, you have only yourself to blame.

An Inconvenient Truth: Site | Reviews | Theaters

Listening to ''Switch On (Featuring Ryan Tedder)'', by Oakenfold (Play Count: 4)

June 18, 2006

ANtics Episode 2.17: The June Resurgence

After a so-so April and moribund May, the A's have turned on another gear in June, vaulting the club into first place. Just what is it about this team that makes them such a force in June, seemingly able to turn it on with the change in months? The ANtics investigates...



Click to See Larger Comic


ANtics Archive: 2005/06 ANtics | PDF

June 17, 2006

A's Defeat Dodgers To Win Eighth Straight

For some reason, the Oakland A's always seem to find a higher gear when the weather starts to get hot. After a break-even April and difficult May, the A's have found themselves in a big way this June, and have rattled off eight consecutive victories, gaining themselves sole possession of first place in the AL West, currently one-half game ahead of the Texas Rangers.

Last night, my wife and I returned to our seats with our season tickets and saw pitcher Barry Zito look unhittable, as he shut down the Dodgers with a career-high eleven strikeouts. On the offensive side, the A's led the way with seven doubles and a two-run home run by Eric Chavez which hit the right field foul pole, as the team won 7-3.

About the only frustration we had with the evening were the sophomoric, drunken, ridiculously loud bleatings from the fans directly behind us, who crowned their belligerence through spilling beer on the 65-plus year old patron to my right. Somehow, he managed not to teach the little whippersnappers a lesson, but took it in stride, though it was clear he was seething.

As season ticket holders who paid good money for good seats, one would hope we would be isolated from such "exceptional" fans, who traditionally stay in the cheap seats. But on multiple occasions this year, it has not been the case, and definitely has an impact on the fan experience. Good thing the A's are winning again.

Listening to ''Love Is Gonna Save Us'', by Benny Benassi & The Biz (Play Count: 3)

June 15, 2006

Bill Gates Steps Down as Microsoft Tumult Continues

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

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

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

S&P Analyst to Stock Market Rescue?

I'm trying to be patient by holding on to stocks from Apple Computer and Salesforce.com, both of whom are great companies with strong products I use every day. But 2006 and the last few months especially have not been very good for either, and it's hitting us in the piggy bank, as I whined about after Monday's stock market close.

But it looks like help may be on the way. According to BusinessWeek, a financial analyst from Standards and Poors sees significant upside in both stocks, upgrading Apple from a Hold to a Strong Buy, and Salesforce.com from Hold to a Buy. Of course, one of the main reasons he gives for the renewed enthusiasm is that both stocks have been unfairly hammered. But I think I knew that already.

In early (very early) trading, Salesforce.com is up more than seven percent, while Apple is down fractionally. (Yahoo! AAPL, CRM)

Listening to ''Loveparade 2000 Live'', by Carl Cox (Play Count: 4)

Earthquake Shakes Things Up

So much for getting any sleep tonight. There was an earthquake at 5:27 this morning, which was strong enough to shake the place up here on the 4th floor, and after the quake hit, there was a rolling aftershock. Definitely the strongest one I've felt since moving to Sunnyvale in 2003.

Preliminary results have the quake coming in at a 4.7... not too high, but more than 10 times stronger than the 3.5 we felt here a year or so ago - the previous "best".

USGS Update on the Quake | USGS Quake Map

I've yet to be in an earthquake that made me nervous, and have to admit we've enjoyed our minor to moderate quakes. Hopefully I can continue saying that in the future as well...

June 14, 2006

Netscape.com Digg Competitor In Beta

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

Red Herring and TechCrunch have coverage so far.

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

Evening Notes: June 14, 2006

More in an irregularly occurring series...

So George Bush goes to Iraq... of course it's a "surprise visit", because if he or any of his henchmen told the Iraqi people they were going to come in advance, it could get kind of ugly. I'll be more impressed if he goes over there for an announced, scheduled visit, and nothing happens. Of course, the Republican spin machine is saying how this is an amazing move for Bush, prompting one of the wire services to issue a story on how "Democrats are in Disarray as Bush Basks In Glow of Iraq Trip." Somehow I doubt they're really in any kind of turmoil. The only question is, how come Bush's "tour" wasn't extended 3 or 4 times the way our enlisted men are forced to do? That would be something.

Hot off all of the press resulting from his announcing that he was to be leaving Microsoft, Robert Scoble analyzes why he thinks Wall Street knows Steve Ballmer is full of it. He argues that in contrast to Google and Apple, Microsoft didn't win over the hearts and minds of the people who matter in the grassroots. He says that Microsoft also doesn't get blogging and is leaning too heavily on traditional PR. May be something to that after all.

As mentioned earlier, Digg is looking to cover more than technology. Valleywag happens to be the first to unveil screenshots of the new site. Check it out.

Internet Outsider scoffs at eBay's new interaction with Skype, sarcastically saying that eBay should now buy FedEx and Verizon as well, to better increase communication between buyers and sellers. For $4 Billion, one should hope eBay gets more than just what we've seen so far.

And you've no doubt seen the Macintosh vs. PC commercials that are getting serious airtime. Not only has Apple issued three new commercials, which you can see here, but it looks like Microsoft is aiming to address the company's historically poor stability issues through finally evaluating third-party drivers, in part due to feedback from Crash Reports. Ars Technica has more.

Listening to ''When You're One (Friday Night'', by Soraya (Play Count: 6)

A's Closer Comes Up Clutch to Stymie Seattle

Part of being an Oakland A's fan is perpetually hoping for the best, while expecting the worst, and when things don't turn out to quite be the calamity you had anticipated, you are in a serious state of shock. Surprisingly, after a swath of injuries threatened to tear the team's early season asunder, the club has rattled off a series of big wins, and none more impressive than today's 2-0 thriller in Oakland against division rival Seattle, as the team walked on the precipice of danger before roping in the victory.

After seeing starter Joe Blanton hold the Mariner hitters at bay for a strong eight innings pitched, the A's held a 2-0 lead going into the top of the 9th, but things threatened to fall apart when Blanton allowed the first two batters to reach base, the second of whom had nailed a double, pushing the lead runner to third, all with nobody out. What had once been a promising lead was on the verge of disaster, and Blanton's night was done, as closer Huston Street was summoned to work miracles and wrap up the game.

Yet Huston didn't make it to easy when he plunked the first batter with a pitch, loading the bases, still all with nobody out, and set himself up to face the heart of the Mariners' order. After striking out the next batter, the one following did the same, and Huston convinced the final batter, Carl Everett to pop up to left field, extinguishing the threat, and putting a cap on the A's win, which had only seconds before seemed like all was lost and would be yet another point we could look back on at the end of the season and wonder what might have been. Instead, the team moves on with its fourth straight victory, Blanton gets the win, Street looks like he communes with deity, and the A's find themselves only a half game out of first place, behind Texas, who lost earlier.

As a fan, I loved the outcome, and wonder why the team continues  to keep my stress level at a constant high point. Of course, it could be worse. I could have been a Seattle fan. And thanks to SportsBlogs Nation, we can see just how both sides took it.

Lookout Landing: 6/13 Open Thread, Part 2 | Athletics Nation: Short and Street

Listening to ''Just One Fix'', by Ministry (Play Count: 9)

Google Building Secret Massive Supercomputer

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

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

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

June 13, 2006

The Stock Market Is Bleeding Us Dry

2005 was a good year for us in the stock market. Luckily for us, our investments in Google and Apple were some of the biggest hits of the year, and we got lucky with our timing on Baidu.com's IPO, among other short-term wins in Rackable, TiVo, etc. But 2006 has been a complete disaster, getting worse with every passing day, it seems. Even as the tech-rich NASDAQ continues to fall by full percentage points in every session, our own overweighted portfolio is getting killed.

Our two major holdings, Apple and Salesforce.com, are down 20 and 33% respectively from our average buy-in price, and Monday's activity saw our entire portfolio, including our 401k, take a dive, down another 2.5 percent. It's one thing to put money away for a rainy day, and quite another to see that money wash away in a flash flood of red ink. It's tempting enough to cut our losses and hide it in cash for the time being, but as any individual investor knows, that's exactly when the market would take a bounce upward - reverse indicators and all that...

Apple and Salesforce.com aren't the only stocks seeing their valuations recapitalized at a much lower level of course, but they are certainly the most painful for me. Tech giants like Microsoft similarly have continued a slide that looks to be unabated. And all we can do is wait and watch for things to turn around, whether it be a breakthrough on the oil and energy front, an easing of interest rates, or simply a spike in confidence, but our bets are made, and we're going to hold on.

Listening to ''Amsterdam'', by Oakenfold (Play Count: 1)

June 12, 2006

Pixar's Cars Takes the Checkered Flag

It should be interesting to see how well Pixar innovates the world of computer-generated animation now that they have been absorbed by Walt Disney, but in the company's last big salvo as an independent studio, Cars continues the successful track record initiated by Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, A Bugs Life, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Though the film doesn't include any human or animal characters, and guides you along a faux-society led only be automobiles of all shapes, models and colors, the film itself is imminently enjoyable, if imminently forgettable - not an instant classic in the way some of Pixar's pioneering works are now seen. My wife and I took in the G-rated flick this evening in a weekday quasi-matinee, which saw us have the theater to ourselves (along with maybe a dozen folks), likely a great deal different from the film's opening days, which saw it take in more than $60 million at the box office, reaching number one overall.

The film tries to teach lessons and hearkens back to a simpler time, before the cruel, inanimate, unthinking Interstate bypassed what was once a thriving stop along Route 66. It also tries to teach the story that being a self-centered race car is not the substitute for happiness, and that friendships are needed to reach true joy. Preachy, but effective.

Though we enjoyed the film, I don't see it as having the staying power of Nemo or The Incredibles. Kids aren't going to be dressing up like the Cars for Halloween, or reciting lines from the film (unless I missed some good ones). And those of us adults were actually hoping to see some good natured monkey business between the lead race car and the sultry Porsche he had his eyes on. That would have been interesting... but again, the movie was rated G, unfortunately for us.

Listening to ''I Will (Y.O.M.C. Remix)'', by Black Spider (Play Count: 2)

Apple Benefiting from iPod Sweatshops?

In a story which brings up the images of Nike's sweatshop factories, MacWorld is echoing a Sunday piece in the UK's "Mail on Sunday" that says Apple has employed the help of roughly 200,000 low-paid female workers in China to build iPods, where they work 15 hour days and earn as much as $50 a month. In Shanghai, workers can earn up to $75 a month making iPod Shuffles, and spend half their wages on subsistence food and accommodations, provided by their employer. As the story says, "Low wages, long hours and China's industrial secrecy make the country attractive to business, particularly as increased competition and consumer expectations force companies to deliver products at attractive prices."

More: "MacWorld: Inside Apple's iPod Factories"

Listening to ''Eden (Vinyl Version)'', by Purple Haze (Play Count: 1)

How to Cope With Bad iTunes ROI

I'm impulsive when it comes to purchasing new music from iTunes, which no doubt makes Apple very happy. Inherent features of the iTunes Music Store, including other best selling songs by artists, and what others who purchased the song you're viewing also bought are very tempting tools to expand what may have been a $.99 or $9.99 purchase into something larger than that. And if you've had a chance to take a peek at my iTunes Library of late, you'll see I've already got thousands of songs to listen to - which if I sat down to consume in one gulp would take more than two and a half weeks of uninterrupted absorption. That means that some very good songs no doubt don't receive their fare share of attention, and it also suggests I don't need to purchase more songs, but instead listen to those I already have.

With that in mind, I looked into finding which songs I had purchased from the iTunes Music Store that hadn't been listened to more than say, 3 times, which would indicate a price of 33 cents per play or higher. I created a Smart Playlist consisting of songs in my "Purchased" playlist, and added another parameter that their "Play Count" was 3 or less. According to my real-time results, that consists of 53 items, and 6.4 hours total of entertainment to go - including one mix for 1 hour, 21 minutes.

So now, we're looking to fix my abhorrent spending habits, and we're becoming acclimated to those songs that so far have had a "Bad ROI".

Listening to ''Rush (Vinyl Version)'', by Purple Haze (Play Count: 1)