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September 29, 2006

Online Window Shopping: A New Macbook!

When it comes to technology at the office, I feel like the smallest child at the table who looks around for scraps and grabs whatever the big guys didn't take already. It may not be the best stuff, but it gets the job done.

My cubicle consists of two computers - one six-year-old desktop Mac (Dual G4 450), and a Dell laptop which likely has some kind of hardware defect that has the hard drive make a random clicking noise every few minutes or so. Similarly, each Blackberry I've had, since my first one in 2002, has been taken from someone who left the company, for whatever reason. Even the cell phone number I feature here on the site is one that used to belong to someone else. When I took it away, I simply e-mailed everybody and asked them to update their address books, but even today, after using it for 18 months, I get his calls.

That being said, I think it's time to make an upgrade - to a new laptop that works well on both Mac OS X and Windows. There's no need to be tethered to a slow, clunky, desktop, and no need to have two machines. Keeping our tradition of online window shopping, I headed to Apple.com to design the machine I want - now, and yes, I admit to choosing design over speed. I simply want a black one, and only the consumer level lets me do so.

The full setup, including 2 GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard drive, sets me back just over $2,200, plus tax. It's enough to make me buy it and issue an expense report, if only I knew it would be approved... see below.



Listening to ''Twin Town (Nick Warren Mix)'', by Ian Wilie Vs Timo Maas (Play Count: 3)

September 28, 2006

Top Ten Artists Not Hyped on the Blog Yet

(It's time to introduce some new music...)

1. Ferry Corsten
2. Gabriel & Dresden
3. M83
4. Röyksopp
5. Ulrich Schnauss
6. Cosmic Gate
7. Snow Patrol
8. DJ Icey
9. Robbie Rivera
10. Purple Haze

In Blogging, Everybody Writes Straight to Copy

During my Junior year at UC Berkeley, I acted as a reporter for The Daily Californian, the school's student-operated free newspaper, and covered crime, among other things. While on most days, this meant rounding up the occasional assault, alcohol overdose or wallet theft, there were times when sirens would sound, and we would go bounding off to find a dorm fire, a massive student protest or more dramatically, a potential homicide.

One fall night in 1997, I heard the sounds of gunfire, literally blocks away from my home apartment in Southside Berkeley, and flipped on the police scanner (on loan from the paper) to learn what was happening. It turned out that an unknown assailant had gunned down an older couple out walking their dog. The scene was nearby, so I grabbed my notepad and pen and ran toward where I had heard the shots. I arrived to find myself  only feet from from the paramedics and the victims, who were laying motionless in the street. I held my ground and remained nearby, even as the police put up the bright yellow caution tape around the scene, with me inside.

Somehow avoiding being kicked out of the yellow tape zone, I interviewed neighbors who had left their homes to investigate, and managed to get quotes that no other papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune, would get, because I put myself in line to get the information.

Afterwards, having surveyed the scene and spoken with the police and witnesses, I was sure I had enough for a story. Hoping I could put the piece together quickly in time for the next morning's paper, I called our editor in chief, Ryan Tate, and finding the paper had already gone to press, offered to post the piece directly to the Daily Cal's online site, that night. But Ryan responded with a statement I probably won't ever forget, "Louis, nobody writes straight to copy." Everybody had to get edited, no matter how hot a story or how good they thought their writing skills. Though Ryan and I didn't always agree about everything, he was absolutely right.

In the blogosphere, this practice has turned on its head. Last night, when I was reading "Naked Conversations", co-authored by Robert Scoble, formerly of Microsoft, and now doing well at PodTech, this issue was brought to the fore, discussing how with blogs, you don't look for edited pieces that have gone through the PR and Marketing engines, but instead for first-person-led conversations that flow freely. Now, everybody writes straight to copy. While for some, they clearly need a good editor, others have flourished, being able to rapidly publish and get the word out.

The world of citizen-led journalism has changed the media, presumably forever. I don't get a newspaper because by the time it's there, it's old. We don't watch the nightly news because the pieces are often too short to get real information, and we don't really need to see a TV reporter live from the scene where something uneventful happened six hours prior. Our news comes from the Internet, from My Yahoo! and from RSS feeds and from blogs. The keywords I want and the sources I am looking for keep me updated all day long. That's due greatly in part to bloggers who write straight to copy - taking you straight to the story from their perspective.

September 27, 2006

Evening Notes: September 27, 2006

More in an irregularly occurring series...

Fresh off of their division-title clinching win, the A's put up a laugher of a lineup, so that their supposedly hung-over stars can rest up for the playoffs ahead. Yet somehow, early on, they are maintaining a 3-1 lead over the same Mariners, despite the B-squad acting as fill-ins.

We're also playing the role of B-squad fill-ins at Athletics Nation, running the threads tonight. In other self-centered blogosphere news, we noted on Sactown Royalty that free agent Bonzi Wells could be days away from heading out of town. All signs are pointing to Houston, Texas as his next stop.

Another day, another Apple rumor. Or is that the denial of one? New York Times columnist David Pogue says not to expect the long-rumored iPhone any time soon. As he says, "I think cellphones are as ripe for a radical rethink as the online music store was when Apple set up iTunes. But let’s not go all wiggy every time someone passes around an iPhone rumor on the Web."

In other tech news, HP's recently-departed chairwoman Patricia Dunn is now arguing that she was unaware of the pretexting and other aggressive investigative methods used at the company to root out leaks. Given all the hubbub around the company and her role, she comes off as believable as the tobacco and oil executives. I hear Enron and Worldcom are hiring...

Meanwhile, Om Malik speculates that with Rupert Murdoch's tremendous purchase of MySpace, the next logical step is to migrate the power of the blogosphere to traditional media. As papers like the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and others are trying to find a place for themselves in a Web-connected world, he argues a shakeup is needed, and Murdoch just may be the guy to kick it off.

Listening to ''Are You Ready'', by Ferry Corsten (Play Count: 6)

The Evolution of Transparency in Job Seeking

As recounted on this blog a few times, my first entrance into the real world job market was one where I didn't come in with the knowledge necessary to appropriately state exactly what I wanted to do or how much I felt I deserved to be paid. Green behind the ears, and not yet holding a college degree, all I knew was that I wanted to work in technology in the Silicon Valley, and hoped I would be paid enough to cover rent, food and transportation.

Even after changing jobs twice, and seeing my salary increase to a level I was happy with, it became apparent that I still wasn't working with a full deck of cheat sheets. No sooner was the ink dry on one contract but I inadvertently learned from the HR manager that I had signed below the range they expected to fill the position, and the range extended a full $30k higher. Before even finishing my first week at the new job, I knew I had undersold myself once again.

As years have passed, the tools available to job seekers have dramatically ballooned, with professional networking sites like LinkedIn, focused job services like MktgLadder (for those of the marketing persuasion), Salary.com, to give the range of salaries for those with similar titles in your zip code, and now, an open search engine from indeed.com that without requiring any paid subscription, returns average salaries for titles and City/State combos.

Now, instead of walking in with a 2-page resume and hope, you can walk into an interview with a 2-page resume, a host of online references and a raft of business connections, and a very precise expectation of what you'll be asking for - based as much on the salaries of your peers as your previous history. Makes the potential for being laid off in a Valley where nothing is guaranteed seem that much less scary.

Listening to ''L.E.F'', by Ferry Corsten (Play Count: 6)

Oakland A's: 2006 AL West Champs



Athletics Nation Game Recap Here: The Long Road Ends... And Another Begins

Listening to ''L.E.F'', by Ferry Corsten (Play Count: 5)

September 26, 2006

Apple Innovation Forces PC Market To Follow

In 1998, when Apple introduced the iMac, they made two major changes to the computing world - besides using colors and a new shape - the company was the first to standardize on USB, and in a big shocker, to dump the ubiquitous floppy disk drive. The world was in pure shock that Apple could have done that - and many were sure that all in Cupertino were daft. But as the years passed, USB itself grew market share by leaps and bounds, and that daring leap Apple took by axing the disk drive looked tame. As the Internet grew in popularity, people learned to e-mail files as attachments and avoid sneakernet, while floppy disks just about disappeared into the vault of antiquity.

With the introduction of the first-generation iBook, and its accompanying partner, AirPort, Apple ushered in the era of wireless networking, and though others, like Intel (Centrino) have capitalized on this trend, Apple was first to the table. Apple's foray into new technologies with Gigabit Ethernet, hybrid CD-R/DVD-R burners (SuperDrive), hard-disk MP3 players (iPod) and even faster wireless (802.11n), continues to be a good indicator as to what will come next from the broader industry.

While the common analyst response is to downplay a new technology, then offer lukewarm acceptance, nodding approval and finally adoption and praise, Apple commonly doesn't look for wide acceptance before taking the leap - and every once in a while, it gets it wrong. But not often enough that Cupertino can be ignored.

For instance, with ThinkSecret's news today that Apple's yet to be released iPhone would be native to Cingular at introduction, speculation has risen that Apple will push GSM standards forward in the US, after the technology has had significant foothold overseas. GigaOM speculates, as we have outlined above, that Apple just might be the standard setter after all. Not bad for a company everyone thought was dead just a decade ago.

Listening to ''Somebody Told Me'', by The Killers (Play Count: 8)

These Are the Times That Try Fans' Souls

The Oakland A's have been "on the verge" of clinching the AL Western Division title for the last several days now - starting with this last Saturday, when they didn't come through. Following a second loss to the Angels on Sunday, the ballclub headed north to Seattle to take on the Mariners, who had lost 15 straight to their green and gold opponents, expecting a cakewalk against a rookie pitcher making his first major league start.

But it was not meant to be.

Though the A's vaulted to a 9-3 lead early in the game, and expected to pace themselves to victory, the Mariners continued to battle back, reducing the margin to 9-6 by the pivotal 9th inning. A's closer Huston Street, usually infallible, was torched, giving up the three runs needed to tie up the ballgame, and send the contest to extra innings, with the score knotted up at 9-9.

With the Angels having won their ballgame, the A's simply faded away, as the last-place Mariners scored the winning tally in the bottom of the tenth to seal the victory, and keeping the A's on the outside looking in, instead of celebrating in champagne and rock music. For the third consecutive night, we had started the day off expecting to relax and look to the playoffs, and instead, saw our hopes dashed.

Tonight, as this is written, the A's are trying to turn the tide. In Anaheim, the Angels are down 5-0, and the A's, looking to reverse the curse, are up 5-0 in their game. If the scores hold, it's celebration time tonight. If not, more doom and gloom. It's what being a fan is all about - living, and dying, with the team.

Listening to ''Deep Love", by Mandalay (Play Count: 5)

September 25, 2006

Arnold's Army Playing Dirty Early

It seems we can't watch a single show on cable these days without seeing "Governor" Arnold Schwarzenegger's ads to Join Arnold through defeating Phil Angelides in California's gubernatorial election. Now, the GOP faithful have branched out in their negative ad campaign that hasn't yet said one good reason why Arnold should be re-elected.

This evening, our home answering machine was blinking. Could be an important message, for all I thought. Something from the vet? Family? Reminders about upcoming doctor or dentist appointments? All wrong.

Instead, a gruff man with a gravely voice left a message. "Attention all November 2006 election voters, please stay tuned for an important announcement!" Then a pause, as if they were going to update you on where  your precinct would be... followed by "Phil Angiledes supports abortion on demand for minors. You must vote..." blah blah blah.

Great. Way to play on the fears of parents who are afraid that by electing a Democrat to California's highest seat, that their daughters are going to go out and have sex, get pregnant, and then need an abortion, which they can get without parental consent. Or at least, that's the idea. That's not "an important announcement," that's fear-mongering junk emblematic of what we can expect from a party who has lost its way and can't rally behind their own accomplishments.

Listening to ''Bruce Lee - Dobropet'', by Underworld (Play Count: 15)

New Sactown Royalty Profile: Doug Christie

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

Continuing the site's run of profiling the greatest Sacramento Kings in franchise history, Doug Christie rings in at #12, primarily for his dominant defense, and consistent offense on some very good Kings clubs. During his stay with the Kings, Christie ushered in an era where the team was more aggressive on both sides of the court, and made the playoffs every year during his tenure.

Christie also gained notoriety for what is an increasing rarity among sports stars - being faithful. He and his wife have been praised, mocked, criticized and more for their very public adoration of one another. In fact, the pair will soon be chronicled on a BET reality show called "Committed: The Christies".

More at Sactown Royalty: The Sactown Greatest, #12: Doug Christie

Watch Every Episode of The Simpsons Online - Free

Now I'm sure that this isn't exactly honoring Fox's copyrights, so we'll see how long it stays up... but a site called AllSimps.com has acquired Flash episodes for every single Simpsons episode ever - from Season 1 through Season 18.

As Napster did, AllSimps.com claims they "don't host any videos of the Simpsons or upload them", but they do act as a conduit for those who do. If you haven't yet purchased all of the Simpsons' seasonal DVDs, or memorized every line in syndication, then this site could be a good distraction for you.

http://www.allsimps.com/

September 24, 2006

ANtics Episode 2.30: Throwing Lumber A's Style

The topic of throwing bats, especially who did it and when, has been the subject of much discussion lately. But have you considered just how the bats are thrown? The A's have made this a new tradition, and it's spreading in the clubhouse. Some of the trendsetters show us how to throw lumber, A's style.


Click to See Larger Comic


Also: Take the Poll: Who had the most memorable toss this season?

2005 Comics | 2006 Comics |  All Comics | Poll

September 23, 2006

Fortune: Google Finds Success Among Chaos

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

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

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

Dear Cal Football, We Apologize

To: The Entire Cal Football Organization
CC: Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, Head Coach Jeff Tedford
From: Louis Gray (and wife thereof)

As 2006 Cal football season ticket holders, we recognize we have an obligation to attend every home football game, regardless of other activities, and recognize that by purchasing full season tickets, we have indicated our strict attendance. We further recognize that you and the organization have funded and prepared for each Saturday to deliver the best possible fan experience, and that for us to not attend the event, without having canceled in advance, is both misleading on our part and lacking in respect that you and the university deserve.

With today marking the first Pac-10 conference game, against the nationally-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils, we expected Cal to be challenged, and were uncertain as to the game's eventual outcome, given the team's occasional shakiness, especially versus top-tier competition. Yet, even as we so rudely did not show our face in Memorial Stadium, it is ever so clear now that you were prepared. After all, winning the game in blowout fashion, 49-21, after a half-time score of 42-14, is more than any fan could have asked for. Upon learning that quarterback Nate Longshore threw for four touchdown passes, the defense scored twice and the special teams once, we know that we missed a tremendous contest worthy of such a prestigious school and tradition.

So, as we see what has transpired, we apologize. We had instead made a decision to attend today's A's game against the Angels, in hope they would clinch the division, and they did not come through, losing 6-2. We had expected more of them, and they let us down. The team we should have counted on was a few BART stops north, in Berkeley. We hope that as the playoffs loom in the near future for the A's, that we do not find ourselves forced to make such a woeful decision as we did today - to choose between one team and another, and engage in such risky uncertainty. We have already proven that we cannot be relied upon.

Congratulations on your fabulous win today, on your 3-1 record (1-0 in conference play) and we wish you continued success. We hope to be back at Memorial Stadium, in our rightful places, at the soonest opportunity. Thank you.

Listening to ''Mama Konda'', by Orinoko (Play Count: 4)

A's Scutaro Hits Walk-Off To Doom Angels

Last night was huge. With the A's having an opportunity to eliminate their division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by simply winning two games in the three-game series, it was crucial they get started on the right foot. With Barry Zito on the mound against rookie phenom Jered Weaver, it was assured to showcase outstanding pitching, with each team's offense challenged to get on the board. The ensuing battle, which went into the twelfth inning, saw the A's come out victorious, thanks to a clutch hit by light-hitting backup infielder Marco Scutaro, who has made this effort one of his trademarks.

The game, which lasted three and a half hours, and was followed by a fireworks spectacular, drew a sellout crowd of more than 35,000 to Oakland, us among them. Zito and Weaver traded zeroes early, until the A's got on the board thanks to Kendall hustling home from first on a double by Mark Kotsay, and later, an Nick Swisher home run to make it 2-0. After the Angels battled back to tie it, Chavez and Bradley each hit home runs to give the A's a 4-3 lead.

It wouldn't last, as due to a ball falling just in front of A's outfielder Jay Payton, the Angels struck to tie the game in the top of the ninth, hushing the crowd, who had been egged on by the antics of Krazy George and "The Banjo Guy", among others. Extra innings saw fireworks from Bradley, who unhappy with a strikeout call from the homeplate umpire, was livid, and looked as if he might want to decapitate the man in blue and ship the results to his next of kin. But the biggest outburst was to await us in the 12th.

Bobby Kielty reached base with a pinch-hit double, and went to third on a ground-out. With Mike Scioscia taking one outfielder into a seldom-used five-man infield, Swisher was intentionally walked, bringing up Scutaro, who ran the count to 0-2 before striking - first foul, and then fair, as his deep fly went untouched, and Kielty trotted home to mass jubilation. Scutaro, after touching first, tried to evade his teammates congratulations, as the "petite" Venezuelan displayed a grin from ear to ear, and the Coliseum erupted with cheers. The A's reduced their magic number to 2 and the Angels, with heads hung, walked off the field.

This afternoon, the A's could wrap it up. We will be there.

Listening to ''Mmm Skyscraper I Love You'', by Underworld (Play Count: 6)

September 22, 2006

Afternoon Notes: September 22, 2006

More in an irregularly occurring series...

As HP's pretexting scandal continues to grow with new news every single day, the company's chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, gave her immediate resignation today, amid rumors that CEO Mark Hurd was aware of or even endorsed the aggressive policies the company engaged in to root out leakers.

Even had HP been acting within the law, you simply can't win the war of public relations when you're doing unsavory activities that target the very reporters who are there to cover you. It's a recipe for disaster. As a colleague said, they now have their "pound of flesh" in Dunn, and she may not be the last to fall. Hurd has now acknowledged he was aware of the inquiries.

Following an annual internal company meeting at Microsoft, the anonymous blogger, Mini-Microsoft, says that the software being used to power Zune is still "under construction", and that CEO Steve Ballmer stubbornly refuses to back down when the company is losing a market share battle, and will not fold. More on Mini's always-interesting blog.

Closer to home, TiVo is rumored to be working with Amazon to bring the company's Unbox service to its DVR customers. As Unbox has gotten horrible reviews since its unveiling, it's unlikely that we would be interested, but its good to see two innovative companies trying to find new ways to entertain customers by combining forces.

Discussion: (GMSV: http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2006/09/well_this_ought.html and MacRumors: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=236399)

And we simply couldn't have a single day without more Apple rumors, right?

AppleInsider says that the company is timing their entry into the cell phone market, rather than forcing their hand. Meanwhile, the New York Times' David Pogue turns back the clock a decade to "When Apple Hit Bottom".

Listening to ''Dance 4 Life (12" Mix)'', by Tiësto feat. Maxi Jazz (Play Count: 4)

A's Aiming to Clinch Title On Home Field

Although I understand the need for weekday daytime baseball, so that visiting teams can get an early start on their travel plans out of town, for those of us at the office who actually work for a living, there are really only two choices - give up one's fandom for a day and look back wistfully on the game you missed, or surreptitiously sneak glances at the contest throughout, admittedly impacting your productivity. That was the struggle yesterday, as the A's took on the Cleveland Indians in the 4th game of the series, featuring the return of would-be ace pitcher Rich Harden, who has spent the vast majority of the season on the disabled list, unable to play.

With the A's "magic number" at five, Harden took the mound and exhibited an authority unlikely from any veteran who had missed as much times as he had, made even more remarkable by the fact that Harden remains a very young player, who has yet to see his 25th birthday. On a strict pitch count of 60, Harden made his way through three innings, striking out seven, and giving up only a solo home run.

While we continued our work efforts, a quick peek at Athletics Nation showed those with more flexible time were going completely bananas over Harden's return. On an otherwise hum-drum Thursday, the news of his start and its in-game success spawned more than 1,100 comments and four game threads, where other game would most likely see 500 and two respectively.  The excitement was palpable, as baseballgirl started the day off with a "WHEEEEE!" and added on shortly after, HARDEN IS BACK!!!! A million pitches through 2, but he's striking everybody out."

After Harden exited, the A's rallied to take the game from the Indians 7-4, and the series, three games out of four. With the victory, the A's further reduced their magic number to four, with their rival Los Angeles Angels coming to Oakland to start a penultimate series this evening. If the A's take two of the three games on the weekend, they are the champions. We will be there tonight, and though we also have tickets for Cal vs. Arizona State tomorrow, we are hoping to be at the Coliseum Saturday as well, to see the A's players and fans alike erupt in pure joy.

Listening to ''Blue (Da Ba Dee) [Radio Edit]'', by Eiffel 65 (Play Count: 7)

Jail Time for Chronicle Reporters Is Bad Practice

It's been a long-held tenet of the journalism field that anonymous sources were to be protected by the reporters who worked with them, and that anonymous sources needed to trust their identities would be safe, even under threat of legal action. This high-scale drama has played itself out time and again as ink stained wretches have pledged they would rather go to jail than give up a source. In most cases, it can be said the threat of going behind bars is a scare tactic that has little chance of happening.

In the last year, a few notable cases have highlighted this struggle - from the Valerie Plame scandal, where Robert Novak refused to give up a confidential source, but was not threatened with being in the pokey, but Judith Miller was, to the ever-unfolding story at HP, where reporters' phone records were surreptitiously obtained. Now,  Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle have been jailed for refusing to testify on who leaked grand jury testimony around the Barry Bonds BALCO steroid scandal, which formed the basis for a series of high-profile articles, and later a book.

Regardless of how I feel about Barry Bonds and his sullying of the game of baseball through reliance on pharmaceuticals, it is my belief that reporters serve a critical role and that they should be able to utilize anonymous sources - so long as they work with their editor and can ascertain the data being reported is factual. If reporters either believe that the company they are reporting on (like HP) or the government (see Bush, George) can gain access to their phone records, or that they could later face jail time for working with anonymous sources, and this impacts their willingness to break stories and tell the truth, then the medium is in very serious trouble.

Instead of throwing Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada in prison, they should be applauded for getting the truth out there, and bringing to light one of the biggest sports stories of a generation - one that otherwise might not have had the awareness, and certainly not the detail, that this does. I sincerely hope that cooler heads prevail and recognize that they were serving a higher purpose - one that needs to be respected.

Related Links:

ESPN: Reporters who refused to reveal BALCO leak get prison

ESPN: Outcome for Chronicle reporters means we all lose

Listening to ''Sibeling'', by Depeche Mode (Play Count: 11)

September 21, 2006

Apple's iTunes Store Database Needs Cleanup

As previously noted, the Apple iTunes store is by far my #1 source for new music over the last three-plus years. Though the store initially launched with a very limited number of artists I found interesting, Apple has continued to add new artists, albums and songs every week, and it's getting harder and harder to find songs I'd like but the iTunes store doesn't have - even for those who listen to music on the fringe, as I do. However, as the store database becomes more cluttered with millions and millions of songs, I'm noticing that inconsistent variations between artists or music genres makes obtaining new music that much more confusing.

For example - one of the world's best electronic DJ's is DJ Tiësto, from Holland. His last name being what it is (Tiësto) means that if you search for Tiesto, you find one set of music, if you search for DJ Tiesto, you find another set, and lastly, spelling DJ Tiësto exactly as so gets you a third grouping.

Even worse, when multiple artists choose to join forces, a listing is created that highlights the pair, rather than displaying the work in the listing for each, individually. That seems silly. Again, Tiësto is a great example. Earlier this month, the DJ collaborated with Maxi Jazz, the lead singer for Faithless, on a great track, "Dance 4 Life". But you won't find it under DJ Tiesto or Faithless. I was lucky to stumble upon it at all.

Apple isn't perfect, but in order to best serve its loyal customers, in my opinion the company needs to put as much attention into the back-end database for the iTunes Store as they do in the way the application looks to ensure highest satisfaction.

Listening to ''The Tube'', by DJ Tiësto (Play Count: 3)

September 20, 2006

A's Reduce Magic Number to Five

It's looking more and more like the A's will have an opportunity to clinch the American League West division title against their rival Los Angeles Angels this upcoming weekend when they come to Oakland to take on the surging green and gold crew. Tonight, like yesterday, the A's fell behind early 2-0, closed to within a run on a home run (tonight it was Milton Bradley, yesterday Eric Chavez), and opened up the game in the later innings. As with yesterday's ballgame, a starter who has given us scares earlier in the season came up big - as Esteban Loaiza went into the eighth inning and gave the A's the chance for the victory, as Kirk Saarloos did yesterday when he battled through five innings and garnered 11 strikeouts.

With the victory, the A's reduce the "magic number" to claim the division title to five, as any combination of A's wins and Angels losses totaling five will mathematically clinch their first-place position and make our playoff tickets worth something more than the paper they are printed on.

Aside from the strong pitching, team MVP Frank Thomas continues to hit at a torrid pace. With the game tied, the Big Hurt came up with two runners on and clubbed a double to deep center field, giving the A's a 4-2 lead, all they would need in the eventual 4-3 victory. In a year when we thought it would be amazing for him to reach triple digits in games, Frank has realistically thrown his name into the ring as a legitimate league MVP candidate by powering the A's with 38 home runs and well over 100 RBI. Every time he steps to the plate, time stops and waits for him to inflict serious damage. It is a joy to watch him hit.

We're getting oh so close to October. I can almost taste it. Go A's!

Listening to ''Block Rockin' Beats'', by The Chemical Brothers (Play Count: 4)

Radio Show Callers Should Get to the Point

Often, while in the car to and from work, or when driving home from A's games or Cal football, we have our radio dialed in to local sports talk stations, hoping to gain some insight on the just-concluded game, or hear how other fans are speculating the team will do in the next contest. Yet, annoyingly, it seems that very few of them understand how to act on the air once they get there. Quite invariably, the vast majority of callers, seemingly almost all men, would rather appear "cool" than get the point, preferring to make small talk with the hosts, who themselves sound quite fatigued by the practice.

For example, on your typical radio call-in show, the host will "go to the phones" to "Bill in Alameda". Bill, upon being introduced, will say, "So, how's it going?" or "Hey guys, what's up?" and the host, who has already been talking for the better part of an hour or more on exactly just "what is up" has to quickly go, "Hey Bill, how's it going?", to which he responds, "I'm good. Now, I wanted to talk about the (fill in team name or player or situation here)."

It's not as if the caller really has no idea "what's up" or "how it's going" with the sportscasters. After all, even in the odd chance they weren't listening to the show to begin with, they probably had to listen on the phone when they were on hold, and have some idea. So for all of us listening for some tidbit of info or helpful discussion, we have to wade through the forged pleasantries - and start the routine again with the next brain-dead caller. It's almost enough to put in a CD or flip to the FM dial rather than listen. Just thought I'd mention it.

Listening to ''Know You Can (Rick Pier Vs Dav'', by Whatever Girl (Play Count: 7)

Mac OS X Software Must-Have: X-Assist

It's interesting how easy it is to grow accustomed to software and its functionality, to the point you don't even think about it, except in the rare situation where you find a computer where it's not installed. For me, a small utility for Mac OS X called "X-Assist" is the very definition of this - as it's the first application I'd go out to the Internet to find to install on any clean, new, Mac OS X machine.

When Apple moved from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X in the 2001 timeframe, users lost a feature known as the "Application Switcher", where you could go to the top-right corner of the screen and select open apps, and move between them. Also - the application you would be using would be represented by its name and icon. While it could be argued the "Command-Tab" functionality replaced this to some degree, to me, it's not as flexible as X-Assist, which does all of this and more, including listing recent applications and gaining one-click access to control panels.

Unlike most pieces of software, which make incremental point upgrades on a semi-regular basis, X-Assist met my needs right away, and hasn't needed a new version for three years - last being updated in November of 2003. A lot has happened since then, even as Apple moved from Mac OS X 10.2 to 10.3, 10.4 and is now previewing 10.5, but X-Assist continues to be an integral part of my productivity, and the program has integrated seamlessly with each new generation of the OS.

While Steve Jobs and the Apple team have done a fantastic job introducing greater simplicity to the Macintosh over the years, the wholesale elimination of functionality isn't always a good thing. Lucky for us, independent software developers are often there to help to fill in the rare gaps.

Listening to ''DJ Urban - Jack Your Big Booty'', by Dave Clarke (Play Count: 5)

September 19, 2006

Kielty Grand Slam Reduces A's Magic Number to Six

It's often said that with every new baseball game, you see something you haven't seen before. Although we experienced tonight's A's game at home on TV instead of at the Coliseum, we rode the lows of an early 2-0 deficit, and the near-euphoria of seeing the red-maned Bobby Kielty turn a 2-1 game where the A's were behind to a 5-2 contest with one swing of the bat, when he cleared the bases with a grand slam on the first pitch he saw. It was his first career grand slam, but not the first time we have seen the A's snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in this incredible season that almost assuredly has them in the playoffs - and potentially going deep.

Yesterday, we received a very special FedEx package, which included a pair of post-season strips for all potential A's games, from the American League Divisional Series through the World Series. The seats, in section 114, row 28, seats 5 and 6, are the same we've held in our partial season-ticket package all year, at field level near the first-base side. With tonight's victory, the A's reduced their magic number to six, meaning that any combination of A's wins and Angels losses adding up to six locks up the American League Western Division, and puts the A's in the post-season for the first time since 2003. That year was significant not just because it was the year my wife and I were married, but also the year where the A's managed to take a 2-0 lead in the divisional series against the Boston Red Sox and throw it away, continuing their unprecedented streak of post-season futility.

With the crack of his bat tonight, following an impressive five-inning, 11-strikeout performance by pitcher Kirk Saarloos, Kielty turned the game around and put the team back on track after a one-game slump Monday night. On Friday and Saturday, with the Angels back in Oakland to do battle, we will be back in our seats, with the potential to see the A's celebrate on our field. To help us get there, the A's have to continue winning, and each day may bring a new hero. Tonight, Kielty's jog around the bases is the whole story - a night he may never forget.

Listening to ''I Feel Love'', by Kluster (Play Count: 7)

September 18, 2006

Soapbox: Redmond, Start Your Copiers

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

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

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

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

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

Site Outage - Sponsored By Register.com

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

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

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

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

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

Political Rhetoric Heating Up in Time for Fall 2006

The political landscape in the United States has been completely incapable of consensus and compromise for the greater part of the last decade, seen dramatically with the impeachment of President Clinton, and the two highly questioned, litigious, divisive, general elections which resulted in George W. Bush taking the helm. Bush's policies have widened the controversy, as despite record low opinion polls, he and his cronies have pushed forward on an aggressive, radical agenda with mediocre results which may actually have made the economy weaker and the world less safe - and certainly has sullied the American reputation abroad.

As Electoral-Vote.com is showing, this fall's senate and House elections could put Democrats in the majority, if races go the way they are expected. There is a significant anti-incumbent, anti right-wing backlash that has catapulted previous unknowns into powerful swing positions for the party.

But while we see these challenges at the local  level, there continues to be white hot discussion around whether you can even trust the results of any election - as allegations of fraud and simple ineptitude are rampant. Unlikely source Rolling Stone magazine has delivered one of the most in-depth investigative news pieces into the discrepancies of the 2004 general election I've seen. Their conclusion? Widespread fraud and manipulation gave Bush the election over Kerry - especially in critical swing states like Ohio. Meanwhile, others, including The Washington Post, are saying that major problems at the fall polls are expected, as mandates to eliminate "hanging chads" are resulting in even less-trustworthy electronic voting machines, which have been proven extremely hack-worthy.

With all that said, the anger and frustration over the current administration has delivered an almost-nostalgic fondness for the Clinton/Gore years, when the economy was roaring, when our budgets  were balanced, and war was not on everyone's minds. While Bill Clinton can't run again, and Al Gore has repeatedly said he doesn't see it happening, they remain a huge political presence. With the success of "An Inconvenient Truth" and an upcoming book, planned for release in May called "The Assault on Reason", Gore has gained significant chutzpah, unseen in his uninspiring 2000 bid. Meanwhile, the UK's The Observer says that Clinton will become even more active in protecting his legacy from those who love to trash it, to rebuild his role as global statesman, and set up the opportunity to be the first "First Husband" in the White House, should Hillary go all the way.

Unfortunately, we can't go back to the Clinton/Gore years, and Bush's impact on the globe is both far-reaching and long-lasting. But we can at least hope that we have the opportunity to regain the simple trust that our democratic process is working and that our votes are counted - something we took for granted growing up and cannot even fathom now that things have slipped so far.

Listening to ''Ecstasy (Clubb Mix)'', by ATB (Play Count: 7)

Why Is Apple Asking Mac Users to "Get A Mac"?

It's no secret that I use an Apple Macintosh at home and at work - as often as I can. I've been a Mac user since I started using computers, and the debate was between the Apple IIGS and the Mac LC, and have followed the company through several generations. Knowing that, why is it that I continue to see Apple's "Get a Mac" ads on prominent Web sites that I visit? With Web tracking technology what it is, every Web advertiser should know what platform I am on, what browser I am using, and similar Web sites I frequent. With that said, why can't Apple have its Web ads shown only to non-Mac users, to increase their success rate?

If the idea is to get Mac users to upgrade to the latest Intel Macs, that makes sense, but use a different message.

If the idea is to let Mac users know that Apple has an ad campaign out there to increase market share, that's quite another message, but it's my feeling that the computer company could be more effective with their ad targeting, and save money while reaching more potential switchers.

Just thinking out loud...

Listening to ''Gabriel & Dresden (Continuous Mix)'', by Gabriel & Dresden (Play Count: 1)