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November 28, 2006

San Simeon Thanksgiving Trip Photos

Last week, my wife and I did the unthinkable - taking a quick mini-vacation away from home during the Thanksgiving break, away from home, away from the beagle, and away from our assorted relatives. On Thanksgiving morning, we turned the car south and drove to San Simeon, near San Luis Obispo, nearby the famous Hearst Castle. During the next few days, until we returned Saturday morning, we strolled along the beach, examined the tidepools, seeing sea anemones, hermit crab, starfish and an seemingly endless number of barnacles. On Friday, we toured the famous Hearst Castle and gawked at the opulence of William Randolph Hearst's village-like structures, complete with massive guest homes, a gold-leafed pool, indoors and out, and architecture that harkened back to ancient Europe.

It was great to get away for a little while, even if the biggest crisis for me seemed to be the complete lack of high speed Internet. Though the inn where we stayed promised high speed wireless, we were more SOL than DSL. Give a man high speed internet, food, and a bed, and he's usually good to go. One of these days, we'll get that right.

Until then, I'll borrow from my wife's homepage and show some of the photo highlights.


The sun setting over the jagged rocks overlooking the beach


Nature showing off - clouds and ocean, together


A guest house at Hearst Castle


The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

401k Cap Rule Confuses Paycheck Reality

Quickly glancing at the direct deposit data in my bank would show you that over the last three pay periods, my take-home amount had steadily increased - without my knowledge of any raise, paid expense reports or even a holiday or end of quarter bonus. Having grown accustomed to the same number chiming in every two weeks, this variation, first two weeks ago, and even more odd this most recent Friday, caught my eye. Upon further investigation, it turns out I'm still the same old schmuck, and an obscure footnote on our 401k plan had kicked in.

I recognize the need to save for the future, and to start early is the best policy. Therefore, at the beginning of the year, I engineered my givings to the company 401k plan to be a good percentage, but not so high as to leave us short each month. Every two weeks, my paycheck is split in a dozen pieces, with the biggest chunks going to me, federal and state governments, and to the 401k. But our corporate plan, through Fidelity, is capped at a contribution amount of $15k annually. So, even if you jack up your contribution level to 20, 30 or even 50 percent of your salary, once you reach $15k in donations to the plan, it stops cold, leaving your future paychecks at the mercy of Uncle Sam, instead of being held for your future retrieval, tax-free.

At the rate I had elected to shuttle cash to the 401k, I hit my cap in early November, when only a portion of the usual amount was excised from my take home pay. This Friday's check, seemingly too high, had not taken out a single dime, and we won't see any further donations until the beginning of 2007. It may be an arcane rule, and somewhat confusing, but I plan to simply recognize it as something resembling a holiday bonus, and will forget about the future for a full month or so.

Listening to ''Rendezvous'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 6)

November 26, 2006

Microsoft's Zune a Complete, Humiliating Failure

We're biased in favor of Apple and the iPod. That much is clear. But ever since Microsoft announced the Zune media player and began shipping, critic after critic has come out and said Redmond's efforts are a dud. Instead of a hip, well thought-out device, the company issued a cheap copycat rife with limitations. In fact, the Chicago Sun Times says "Avoid the Loony Zune", calling it the experience "about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face."

Ouch.

Well, what's wrong with it? It turns out from the installation to purchasing and playing songs, every little step is flawed. It doesn't integrate with other devices or other applications well. It doesn't even accept real money, but instead "points" that are credited to song purchases. Worst of all, Microsoft sold out to the record companies, who get a few bucks for every Zune sold, something they've no doubt hoped Apple would do for some time. This is because, in the words of one record executive, "These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it."

Bull. I've purchased every song I have in my iTunes, except for those that were free for download, at the artists' volition. I've purchased thousands from the Apple Music store, and have hundreds of CDs. Just check my closet, my credit cards, or ask my wife. We're tired of being treated like criminals, just because the music executives can't seem to figure out new media and new technology.

The good news is that the Zune won't break any sales records. On Amazon's list of top MP3 players, it's currently at #18 overall, behind a host of iPods and other brands. Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun Times says "The Zune will be dead and gone within six months." We can only hope.

Additional gnashings of teeth around Microsoft's DOA product are here:

MSFTextrememakover: Is this really the best you can do?
BusinessWeek: The Soul of a New Microsoft

Listening to ''High Storage'', by D-Factor (Play Count: 1)

Downloaded TV Shows Are Disposable, Music Is Not

Last week, due to some sort of conflict between our Motorola cable box and our TiVo, we ended up not managing to record the latest episode of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit", instead getting a full sixty minutes of the local news. For some reason, the TiVo thought it was on NBC, but the cable box decided to watch a different channel. It'd be something resembling a minor disaster, were it not for the option to download the episode from the iTunes Store - which we did on Friday. But instead of saving this purchased episode to our iTunes library, as we have thousands of songs, when we were all done with it, the show was deleted.

When I look at the thousands of songs I have in my iTunes library, I can sometimes feel guilty that I've only listened to some of them 5 times, when others have been heard a few dozen times, or if I haven't played a particular track in the last six to twelve months. Deleting songs is almost unheard of, particularly if they were purchased off the iTunes Store instead of imported from a CD. But when it comes to television shows or feature-length films, I don't see myself watching them time and time again, which hits a bullseye on why the iPod was initially designed for music, and why there hasn't been a similarly successful device that plays video as its primary function.

I can easily think of some edge cases where it'd be nice to have portable video with me. I can fantasize about bringing my own movies onto plane rides and plugging in to the iPod Video as I catch up on House or Law and Order or a week's worth of Jon Stewart. I can even understand how parents of younger children would download the latest Disney movie and set it on loop for weeks on end. But outside of those edge cases, I'm simply not going to watch TV shows over and over again (the Simpsons potentially excluded) or see 3-hour movies a few dozen times. Compounding the issue, these rich media files could take hundreds of megabytes apiece on my hard drive, far more than the 5 to 10 megabytes needed for the common song.

Ignoring issues like digital rights management, bandwidth and price, I don't anticipate storing my own TV show and film library, either on my computer, or on the TiVo. Music inherently is designed to be played over and over again, until the beats and the words of each track are second nature. TV shows are meant to be seen once, with reruns being a dirty word. If I've seen it once, I've seen it enough times.

Listening to ''Trilogy'', by ATB (Play Count: 37)

Sacramento Bee Runs Sactown Royalty Piece

Last week, TZ, the editor of Sactown Royalty, took time off with his family to head to Disneyland, and effectively handed the reins of the site to me. While this caught me somewhat by surprise, especially since I was in Tampa, Florida, more than 2,000 miles away from home base, I tried to make the best of it, posting frequently to the site, delivering news and updates, game previews and recaps - all the standard fare you can expect from Sactown Royalty, Athletics Nation and the many other sites that make up Sports Blogs Nation.

One of the pieces I posted, focusing on the NBA's need to support franchises that don't reside in the largest media markets, reached a lot more than the audience where it was originally intended. Unbeknownst to me, the opinion page editor of the Sacramento Bee, the Kings' hometown newspaper, scours local blogs for color additions to his paper, and the piece I had posted was to be considered. Put up against seven other proposals, the piece was deemed worthy of publishing, and was printed today as part of their Sunday paper, with a feature called "Blogwatch".

TZ, very effusive in his thanks, was quite congratulatory today, in a post he titled, "Louismg Lands Us in The Bee!".I'm glad he's happy, and I'm glad the mainstream media is finding the new media so interesting. We're just enjoying the Sports Blogs Nation family, and the ability to deliver real-time commentary on the world of sports with fans from around the globe.

ANtics Episode 2.36: Hot Stove 2006

Since the end of the season came all too soon, the A's have switched managers, seen a number of coaches leave, announced a future move to Fremont, and the building of Cisco Field. But as far as players go, we've seen Frank Thomas leave, and Barry Zito sure to follow, but no new pickups. Should the A's turn up the heat on the Hot Stove? We look in...


Click to See Larger Comic


Also: Take the Poll: Should the A's get more aggressive to get players?

2005 Comics | 2006 Comics |  All Comics | Poll

November 25, 2006

RSS Eliminates Need for Frequently Repeated Searches

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

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

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

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

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

And After A Few Days Away, We're Back!

No, the Earth didn't spin off its axis with us away from the blog for a few days, but nonetheless, we return with a vengeance! For the Thanksgiving day and ensuing quasi-weekend, the wife and I traveled south to San Simeon, to take in the beach, marine life in the tidepools, and visit the famed Hearst Castle.

After our trip, we drove north along the California coastline, via the scenic Highway 1, and took in some spectacular views, with rolling hills on our right, and expansive ocean and white-crested waves on our left. More snippets of that trip in the next few days, including photos, to be sure.

November 21, 2006

Artest's World: Back Troubles From the Benz

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

Remember how Artest missed the opening tip-off against the Grizzlies last week, complaining of a sore back, and did his best Terrell Owens impression by riding a stationary bike through the first quarter?

Well, it appears he's fairly lucky that Sacramento isn't exactly the aggressive media market you see in places like New York, for he just might have been mocked up and down the Daily News and the Post for the cause of this malady. See... his back hurt because he was forced to drive his wife's Mercedes, and the car isn't exactly built for such a mythical creature as a full-framed 6'7" human.

Sam Amick of The Bee Reports:

The Kings small forward has been driving his wife's Mercedes SL 500 back and forth from their house in Loomis to Arco Arena. The Mercedes had been a gift from Artest to his wife, Kimsha, who decided the car wasn't her style. Thus, her 6-foot-7, 260-pound husband has been cramming his frame into the driver's seat, so much so that his back started giving him fits. The Mercedes is headed for the used-car market.

In fact, it sounds like Artest's back was still hurting during the Kings' contest against the Spurs, which could possibly have contributed to his off shooting night, though he lamented not having more looks in the second half. But the story is this... millionaire NBA player who reveres his ties to the ghetto hurt himself driving a Mercedes - one that his wife thought didn't fit "her style". Oh... to have such issues myself.

November 20, 2006

Gone In Sixty Seconds: Taking On Telemarketers

At the office, our desk phones show how long you have been on a call from the time you pick up the receiver, to the time you put it back in the cradle. From "Hello", the seconds begin to tick forward, and often, this clock can be used as a challenge, to see how quickly I can get the person off the other line, especially when their goal is to sell me.

Though I respect professional telemarketing and the need to promote products, I'm way too busy with real work, and way too accessible via other methods to be troubled by the typical cold-caller. Therefore, I make it a goal, as soon as I realize I've fallen into a trap of talking to someone random, to get them off the line in less than a minute. If I haven't succeeded in that task, it's because they have something I might actually be interested in, or I've flat-out failed.

For the last six years, my phone number at the office has gone unchanged. Lucky for outside salesmen, this means that my contact information in any list from the beginning of the decade still works. Over the last four years, my name and number have been on our Web site, or on our press releases, and easily indexed by Google or other Web spiders, and I've found my data in pay-for-download directories.

I know I'm easy to find, so since I've made that part easy, I don't feel any special need to reward the cold caller with my time just because they achieved the very minimum of research, and too often, there's no way we would be buying what they're selling in the first place. So, we use a variety of methods to throw people off the scent, ranging from abruptness, occasional rudeness, to flat-out lies, if I'm too much in a hurry to deal with the morality of truth.

The easiest way to ditch potential vendors is to thank them for calling but say we are happy with our current vendors and aren't interested in taking on any more at this time. In other cases, I'll say our budgets are frozen this year, and to call back in three to six months. However, this delay tactic often means I'll get piled on later, when their sophisticated CRM tools remind them I said to call back. Those calls are obvious. "Hello, Louis, we spoke in May, and you said to call you in November to talk about..." Great. Do I owe you money because you took a note, and got an Outlook reminder? Thank goodness I'm not bound by that rule.

Alternatively, I'll bounce them to somebody else in the organization, but as I'm just as cognizant of their time as I am of mine, we'll just throw people off course completely. "Oh. Our IT guy? Well, we had a contractor, and he just left. I don't know who handles that now," or... "We don't have a full-time events person on staff. Try calling the main line." After a while, they usually get frustrated, and go away. You can tell which ones are good salespeople, and which ones would rather be running their own printing companies, design houses or ad sales. The ones that start off timid and scared are easy bait. They know you own them, and you can make them feel like dirt. "Oh, you're in luck! You know why? Because we've already got a vendor who does that, and you won't have to waste your time talking to me!" Lucky them, huh?

I know. There's probably a special circle of hell for people like me. But down there, next to the lawyers, we'll have the telemarketers, and we'll finally be meeting face to face.

Listening to ''Flesh'', by Jan Johnston (Play Count: 5)

Note to Self: Don't Immerse BlackBerry in Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2006

Anytime Accessibility: We Still Need More

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NBA's Struggle With Mid-Market Franchises

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

With David Stern's recent announcement that the Maloofs had reached out for help to keep the Kings in Sacramento, it signalled a realization by the league that the city is a real boon for the NBA, that the Kings' fan base is one best preserved. This moment of clarity comes years after seeing the Hornets leave Charlotte, comes amid the SuperSonics' talk of leaving Seattle, and with examples throughout professional sports of mid-market teams struggling to stay alive.

In one of the more prescient pieces on Stern's intervention I read, by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, it was clear that Sacramento was a beacon of hope for cities not named New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The Kings have proven that a team can both survive and thrive in a city that doesn't yet sport a 7-figure population. And while Arco Arena isn't centrally located, and doesn't have all the amenities of some of the most modern arenas, Kings fans put butts and cowbells in seats game after game, and have turned the facility into one of the most hostile in all of professional sports.

He writes:

Make no mistake: The biggest issue in the NBA isn't about toy store basketballs and bad behavior technical fouls, but the stability of its most successful franchises. Sacramento has a league-best streak of 317 sellouts at Arco Arena, which has been the loudest arena in the league and the most anchored to its franchise. Pound for pound, cowbell for cowbell, there's a good case to be made for Sacramento as the best market in the NBA.

David Stern and the NBA want to squash any talk of the Kings leaving Sacramento right now. Aside from Las Vegas, and potentially San Jose (not really), there are no great markets for the NBA to move to now. The league has expanded to 30 teams, and as baseball has been so roundly criticized for in years past, you've seen a dilution of talent across the board, somewhat masked over by the influx of foreign players.

Those who have been anchored to the NBA as their major league of choice should take a look over the sports page and see what has happened in Major League Baseball to gain an idea of how complete mismanagement of mid-market franchises can drive a wedge between rich and poor. The Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates start every season off knowing they won't be printing playoff tickets. The Florida Marlins have snaked two championships, only to have the owner gut the team the next year following major losses. The Oakland A's, moneyball aside, are now leaving Oakland and getting as close to the San Jose border as they can without having the Giants file a lawsuit over territorial rights.

As Sacramento Kings fans, we are very lucky to have the league, and the Maloofs, understand what a disaster it would be for the team to leave the city, and despite having recently completed one of the worst-managed campaigns ever, having them signal they want to stay. The NBA needs Sacramento. Don't you think Sacramento needs the NBA?

Listening to ''Sincere (Pulser Mix)'', by Firewall (Play Count: 3)

November 18, 2006

Cal vs. USC Tonight: The Big Game of the Year

Last week, Cal's defeat at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats left us extremely frustrated. Having won eight straight contests prior to last week's game, the Cal Bears were rising in the national rankings, and discussions of them being one of the strongest "one-loss teams" to challenge for the national title were growing strong. But with a single 24-20 loss in Tucson, the Bears returned home completely out of the BCS standings.

With that said, the team still remains tied with USC at 6-1 in the Pac-10 conference standings, and with a win tonight, they would be almost guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl, barring an unthinkable collapse against conference doormat Stanford in the official "Big Game". Yet, not many are giving Cal a chance to pull it off. The team, ranked #17 in the nation, is going down to Southern California to face the Trojans, ranked #3 overall in the country, where they have won 22 consecutive contests at home, and 18 straight contests in November. Not even my father-in-law, though usually supportive of our Bears, could pick them in his weekly football pool. "They don't have a chance," he told me yesterday. "I'm sorry."

With that said, we're still going to be watching. My wife and I will head to her father's house tonight and see the big game unfold on TV, hoping that Cal will have shaken off last week's horrible outcome, and can ride the strength of Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson and Ryan Longshore to an unexpected victory. We will be yelling at the TV tonight in support of our Bears, and surely, at least at some points, in frustration. We don't despise USC the way we do Stanford, but there's nothing good to say about that school, the University of Spoiled Children, or as my wife says, the University of Second Choice.

While the rest of the nation takes in the Michigan/Ohio State game (OSU is winning 41-31...), we're still focused on the West Coast, on our Bears, and on what could be the opening for Cal to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1959.

If you're near a computer during the game, follow along at "The Band Is Out On The Field".

The Ultimate Invention: The Time-Stopper

Seeing the movie "Click" yesterday reminded me of the childhood fantasy of the "time stopper", a theoretical device that could, as its name implies, stop time, for any reason, yet retain the flexibility needed to act on situations as the holder of said time stopper preferred. In my mind, the time stopper could be used for putting the world on snooze while catching extra sleep, while finishing uncompleted homework, or for snaking the cookies on the counter, and nobody finding out it was you who had done it. In fact, the time stopper I had mentally developed as a youth would have been much better utilized than Adam Sandler's foray into fourth dimension manipulation in the film.

In "Click", Sandler, frustrated by a litany of remotes dedicated to a single task, goes "Beyond" in a nearby Bed Bath and Beyond, looking for a universal remote, and finds a doozy, thanks to the inventiveness of Christopher Walken. The remote enables him to fast-forward through boring dinners, spousal fights, and to pause time, as in the often-shown preview where he manipulated the annoying neighbor's son into getting hit in the face by a thrown baseball, from his own son. But while many of the movie's central frustrations were around completing work-related tasks at the expense of family obligations, Sandler acted like a complete novice with this amazing tool.

In two instances in the film, Sandler shows he is able to manipulate others or surroundings while the remote has paused the rest of the world. The first, with his son tossing a ball at the neighbor kid, and the second, when he pauses time to slap his ungrateful boss silly. When unpaused, the boss has a massive headache, resulting from Sandler's assault. Yet, he doesn't use those tools when it comes time to work on his architecture plans, instead, sleepwalking through his family life, and hoping his "autopilot" self did a good job. While his drone does, why not simply pause time, take the attention and effort needed on the documents, and then unpause, with work done, to enjoy the family? When tired, why not pause time and take a nap? When he gains weight, why not pause time, go exercise and drop the extra poundage? He certainly didn't use his universal remote to the best of its ability.

As children, we were much more inventive, and likely better prepared for the advent of the time stopper than was Sandler. While we didn't ask for the fast forward and rewind buttons common on most remotes, all we really needed was the ability to stop time - though I admit a great deal of the activities we had imagined during paused time were either immoral or illegal.

With a time stopper, you could shoplift at will and never be caught on camera, you could sleep as long as you needed, or procrastinate as long as possible before writing papers and doing assignments in "no time". You could manipulate (or assault) others without concern of retribution. The concept that you would be rushed would go away. Demands of work vs. home would be greatly diminished, and if you were aching for a promotion at the office, you could accomplish more than anybody else, in less time. You would be the dream employee.

So where Adam Sandler struggled as a father and eventually lost his wife thanks to his universal remote, he deserved to - not so much because he was a bad guy, but because he didn't properly use this amazing gift available.

November 17, 2006

Top Ten Reasons Delta Is Better than United

1. Pay Per View Movies at Your Seat
2. 25+ Live Cable Channels at Your Seat
3. CD Jukebox available at Your Seat

(note a trend here?)

4. Shortbread cookies, not roasted peanuts...
5. Lower ticket prices
6. Taller chair backrests
7. More leg room
8. Electronic check-in by credit card at every airport
9. Flight tracker at the seat
10. You can challenge other passengers at trivia

Simply put, the little built-in entertainment console in every seat on the cross-country flights make a real difference. I wasn't forced to read my book and live off the iPod Shuffle's songs to be entertained. On our flight from Atlanta to San Jose today, we saw "Click" with Adam Sandler, watched CNBC, ESPN and CNN, and sampled new tracks by Madonna, Zero 7 and Thievery Corporation.

Not too shabby. Considering it cost 70% less than United, this is something we will want to do again.

Post-Tampa, My Schedule Is All Out of Whack

Flying coast to coast always guarantees some level of discontinuity, as the three time zone change never seems to sink in until just as I'm forced to return, meaning my body's slow adjustments don't do me well. When you combine that with a schedule that had me up until 2 a.m. Eastern Time, and a 7 a.m. flight that had me out of bed at 4:30 Eastern, you can see how I'm just a little frazzled right now. Home, but not exactly settled.

Earlier, I wrote that I signed up for two 7 a.m. flights from Delta, in an attempt to save the company money. That was expected, and while I wasn't excited about forcing myself awake at 4:30 to make the cab ride to make the flight, it seemed like something I could pull off. Yet, on Tuesday, I received an e-mail from the editor of Sactown Royalty, the SportsBlog Nation Kings blog, that he was headed out on vacation, and I would need to run the site in his absence. Though eager to help, it set me up for a pair of late nights. Last night's game, nationally televised, started at 10:30 eastern, and wrapped up after 1 a.m. 

See:
Sactown Royalty: Run 'N' Gun At the Oracle Ends Kings Streak
Sactown Royalty: Game #8: at Golden State

So, on 2+ hours of sleep, we stumbled to our flights, first from Tampa to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to San Jose, where we rolled our watch back three hours, went to Long Term Parking, and drove home. I'd love to say two hours of sleep is good enough for anybody, but it's not. Next time, we won't be scheduling flights that early. I'm frazzled, somewhat out of it. Good thing I still remember how to type.

November 16, 2006

Mormon. Liberal. Not Conflicted.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

In the left wing blogosphere, it seems there is one religious group that does not receive the same welcomes, the same understanding, the same care that others do - apparently being Mormon (common slang for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is a key delimiter that defines people based on their single characteristic. I don't see that any other religion, be you Muslim, Jewish, Presbyterian or Catholic, raises the ire of the left's community with such clarity - and any politician who happens to be Mormon cannot act independent of their faith without being constantly reminded of it, whether it be Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch or Mitt Romney.

As a viewer of many left-leaning political blogs, from DailyKos to MyDD and AmericaBlog for the last few years, I have been very impressed with the great variety of people who post their views, actions, frustrations and plans to push the Democratic party forward, or in many cases, finding the many wrongs in today's political sphere. As Democrats, we have always been the advocates for diversity, understanding of other viewpoints, and champions for the disenfranchised or those outside the majority.

When John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, it was remarkable that a Catholic would have ascended to the highest post in the country - and countless people were afraid that he would "answer to the Pope". Now, a politician being Catholic hardly raises an eyebrow. Yet, we are all very familiar with the religious affiliations of Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (Mormon), Utah senator Orrin Hatch (Mormon) and Nevada Senator Harry Reid (Mormon). When each of these political leaders is written of or spoken of, it is done so through the lens of their religion.

I have been Mormon my whole life.

This to you probably means I lived in Utah, have eight brothers and sisters, got married at eighteen, attended BYU, hate homosexuals, am anti-abortion, and would vote for a moldy lettuce leaf if it had the word "Republican" stamped on it. (A phrase I picked up when a fellow Mormon complained about her father's voting preferences...)

Wrong.

I went to the "non-conservative" UC Berkeley, got married after completing college, and have always voted Democrat. I am pro-choice. I am pro-environment. My three best male friends are gay - two of whom I've known since junior high school, and both of whom have been invited and come with me to church services on more than one occasion. In fact, for a church so widely considered a "cult", the LDS church is one of the most open out there - period. Everybody is invited to every meeting. Heck, we even run commercials and offer free Bibles and Book of Mormons!

One of the major tenets of the church is a belief in free agency - that everybody has the opportunity to select between right and wrong, or when it comes to earthly affairs, the church pretty much stays out of it. Every year around election time, the church makes it a point to proclaim their neutrality, without bias toward any specific party, proposition or individual. And while Utah and Idaho (where many Mormons reside) can be counted on to vote Republican, there is no political litmus test to be an active member of the church. Reid is a fantastic example of a Democrat who happens to be Mormon, without conflict. That is his agency, as much as it is the agency of those who choose to consistently vote Republican.

The issue reared its ugly head again today on AmericaBlog, which I often find to have some of the best political news out there, but runs a serious mean streak when it comes to the Mormon church, one I've seen time and again, with frustration. In an article this morning around Romney's hire of an extremist ad consultant (according to the site), comments that raged against his religion were rampant.

Some excerpts:

"Jesus why are these pretty haired cons so obsessed with us? Mitty go back to Salt Lake and worship that idiotic cult of yours."

"Romney=Mormon Cultist"

"All you have to ask a christian republican is if they want their country run by someone who thinks he can have all the women he wants on his own planet. Watch their heads spin off into space when they get a real look at what the mormons believe."


Not-so-brilliant insight from people who are supposed to be among the most tolerant out there. Comments against blacks, Jews or Muslims would be uproarious, but Mormons continue to be fair game. And this is nothing new.

For example:DKos: Tag: Mormon

From:
Hinckley a Walking Corpse?

The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, walking corpse Gordon B. Hinckley, wants to solve our "problem."

Utah and Idaho are worse than the South...

"Their guilt and inferiority complexes are infused with not just racism, but polygamy, incest, and in-breeding!"

It's hard to believe that a party or its followers wouldn't want me or my family to be a part of it because of the religion in which I was born. A religion which supports stem cell research, a religion which was one of the first to organize help and aid for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I hope that this bewildering response represents the lunatic fringe, and not the silent majority who understands that there are many of us who love the church and love the party. I'm not the only one (See: DKos and Bigotry)

They say to turn the other cheek and to take it. They say to pray for your those that persecuteth you. I hope that we can move beyond the times of ignorant, roving mobs that plagued the Mormons in the 1800s, and recognize that as our society has grown more enlightened to people of all colors and backgrounds, that there are no exceptions to the rule.

Subscribe to My Google Reader Link Blog

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

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

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

November 15, 2006

Media Says The Big Hurt to Leave A's for Toronto

Cross-posted at Athletics Nation

Fresh off Blez's note this morning that Thomas was rumored to have been wooed by the Texas Rangers, media reports, including ESPN, the Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, are reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of completing a deal that would see the Big Hurt leave Oakland.

A's GM Billy Beane, in response to inquiries from the Mercury News, said that Frank was likely going to get an offer from Toronto, before calling the A's and asking them to match it. I'm sure a great many of us here on AN, including myself, are hoping this is part of a play for leverage, and not a real desire on Frank's part to either leave town or put on a white and blue jersey to hit bombs in the Rogers Centre...

Book Review: Differentiate Or Die

Some of the very best books on marketing and public relations I've read in the last few years have come from the desks of either Al Ries or Jack Trout, including "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind", "Marketing Warfare", "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" and "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR". Anybody in the business familiar with customer options, market trends and the battle to make noise in a crowded field will find themselves nodding along through the books' pages - seeing example after example prove their points. As a result, I was eager to read "Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competititon", which Trout issued in 2001 - recent enough to be relevant, but older enough to be amusing, where he managed to get things wrong.

While I again found myself nodding when Trout retold the stories of how GM confused its market, and lost ground against more agile competition, again saw the example of Volvo meaning safety and BMW meaning driving in consumers' minds, I was hoping that this book would "differentiate" itself from all those that preceded it. But it didn't. After getting the message right away that there are more products and line extensions than ever, and that marketing teams need to find those characteristics of their company and products that separate it from the competition, it was the same tired examples that were trotted out in this  book that Trout had used in each of his other books, including his advice that Burger King present itself as the grown-up burger as the alternative to McDonalds, or that Coke had blundered when it changed its tagline from "The Real Thing".

Truth be told, some of the best parts of the book were his comments on Web companies in the era of Web 1.0, where he said DrKoop.com would rise above other health sites thanks to his branding, and that eToys would win in online toy shopping. What a difference a few years makes...

Maybe I shouldn't expect that business and marketing advice books such as these can all be read - in the same way I would consume every John Grisham book and Steven King novel. Maybe Jack Trout only has a few dozen stories, and by repackaging them with a new title on the cover is his way of differentiation, but I was hoping that by paying full price for a new book, I would be getting a full book's worth of new stories, examples and advice.

If you haven't read any of Trout's books, "Differentiate or Die" is a good one to start with. If you've already read "Positioning" and "Marketing Warfare", then you've pretty much already read this.

The Trip East: Delta over United

Thanks to a string of corporate events year after year, I've racked up hundreds of thousands of miles on United Airlines, boosted by consistent spending on my United Visa. United just happens to be default for me when I consider flying, and it will take a magnificent price difference to get me to switch. As we know, old habits die hard.

So when I found a round-trip flight from San Jose to Tampa, Florida would cost me over $1,000 on United, and just over $300 to take Delta, we switched, despite the fact I would need to catch 7 a.m. flights on both ends of the trip. So yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed by 4:00 a.m. and, eyes bleary, drove through the darkness to make my way to an unfamiliar terminal. Already grumpy, thanks to the damage to my sleep, our near-draconian security measures at the checkpoint forced me to give up the basics, including my shampoo, shaving cream and toothpaste. Brilliant. As if I were going to foam up my hands or threaten to make a fellow passenger minty fresh...

But I made it on the plane. Originally planning to sleep or read, I found that the jet was equipped with in-seat TV monitors, where I could watch our progress across the nation, or choose from a small selection of films for entertainment. For $5, I watched "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby," slipping the flight attendant a Lincoln to gain access to 2 hours of Will Ferrell. While the show wasn't the best I'd ever seen, it was fun, and entertaining, from the California/Nevada border all the way through Arkansas. Best of all, I didn't need to strain my neck around other passengers to see it on a far-away monitor, and simply used my iPod earbuds to get the sound, rather than reaching into my seat pocket to get industrial headphones and wondering who had borrowed them before me.

The seats on the Delta flight were comfortable, and luckily, we didn't have anybody sitting in the middle seat. Just me, an empty chair, and another passenger, by the window. After so many cattle calls on United, this was much preferred, though I could give credit for that to the early flight time as much as the airline.

Was it enough to get me to switch over from United, and become a Delta fan? Not entirely. But if I see that Delta saves me any cash over United for future flights, I'll be sure to check out the flight amenities and not dismiss it right away.

November 13, 2006

Business Trip: Off to Tampa, Florida Through Friday

It has been a little while since I had to hit the road to take on a trade show or work event, but in less than 12 hours, I'm scheduled to fly from San Jose to Tampa, Florida for a conference I've attended four times in the last five years, searching for potential customers and prospects - some we've met before, and some we may be meeting for the first time.

At 7:00 a.m. sharp, our Delta jet will fly eastward to Atlanta, before angling south to Tampa, the final destination, where I'll be through Friday morning, when again, at 7:00 a.m. sharp, we turn around and try it in the opposite direction. That's right: 4:00 a.m. Pacific time.

My body is already dreading it, and I'm letting the caffeine seep out of me, in an attempt to get enough sleep tonight that it all will work out. We hope to continue posting throughout the trip, and to stay wired. Otherwise, I'd probably have to be hospitalized for withdrawal.

Listening to ''Cold Fusion'', by Perry O'Neil (Play Count: 1)

SportsBlogs Nation Debuts Cal Bears Fan Site

Today, following in the successful footsteps of sites like Athletics Nation and Sactown Royalty, the sports blogs network debuted a site dedicated to the Cal Golden Bears, at www.thebandisoutonthefield.com, a tribute of course to Joe Starkey's famous call of the dramatic end to the 1982 Big Game against Stanford.

If I didn't already have a full-time job, I'd be jealous. Seeing the Cal Bears as an obvious gap in the hugely popular and rapid growing sports blogs family, I had considered contacting the network's owners and throwing my hat into the ring, but I knew I couldn't really devote any more time to fandom than I already do, casually at both AN and Sactown Royalty. But the debut of thebandisoutonthefield.com is a great thing - a one-stop destination to celebrate and mourn every Cal game, be it football, basketball, or anything.

Now, instead of voicing my excitement and frustrations here on this site, I can do so there, with an audience who similarly has bled blue and gold, and knows the difference between a Bruin and a real bear - an audience who understands the benefits of a real band, and an audience who walks the fine line of world class athletics, mixed with elite academics.

With Cal football potentially making it to the Rose Bowl this year, should they defeat USC and Stanford the rest of the way, it's already been a fun year for Cal fans. Now, things are even better.

Listening to ''Largo (Mark Otten Remix)'', by Markus Schulz presents Elevation (Play Count: 1)

Friday's Faux Wedding: This Time It Doesn't Count

When my wife and I got married at the Oakland Temple in April of 2003, we somehow picked the absolute worst, most stormy, rainy and hailing day of the Spring. The weather was great the day before, the day after, and the following Saturday.

People keep telling us rain on our wedding day was good luck. But, needless to say, we didn't get any great photos outdoors. And when presented with the opportunity to get new photos taken, to help a friend who plans weddings for a living, we jumped at it this last week. Kristine, who now looks even better than ever, has slimmed down to the point she can't even wear her own wedding dress. As you ladies know, usually the wedding dress gets too small, not the other way around. But we found her one that fit her new, trimmer, figure, and I squeezed into the one suit that fits me (I'm not exactly losing weight...), and we were off.

With some friends we knew, and some we didn't, Kristine walked down the aisle in Half Moon Bay, in perfect weather. I waited next to the faux officiant, who held a lunch menu, disguised as our vows. While professional photographers snapped rolls of film, we pretended as if Friday was our big day, and complete strangers cheered. Then, we switched roles and cheered other faux brides and grooms. Pretty silly.

But while we're waiting for the real photos (some of which might be used in advertising the venue), we thought we'd share photos we wish we had had more than 3 1/2 years ago. As always, you can click any of the photos to open them in a new window and see them in more detail.
Bride Kristine in Dress With Bouquet


Bride Kristine With Bouquet On the Grass


The "Now-Married" Couple, Smooching


The "Now-Married" Couple, With Background


Wait! How did that one get in there? Molly!!!



OK, I admit I put that last one in. Everybody wants to know how our 16-year-old beagle is doing, and I liked this picture. She's doing very well, even though she had to stay home when we were on our trip. She clearly enjoys company, and the general requirements of being a house beagle.

November 12, 2006

Slowly Migrating to Web-based Blogger Engine

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

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

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

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

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

ANtics Episode 2.35: Ron "Washed Away"

When the 2007 season starts, the A's will have a new manager. They will also have a new 3rd base coach, now that longtime coach Ron Washington has won the top job for the division rival Texas Rangers. While we and the A's will surely miss Wash and his contribution to the team, we can't help but be happy for his finding a job he so rightly deserved. The ANtics looks in..

Click to See Larger Comic

Also: Take the Poll: Does their hiring Wash change your opinion of the Rangers?
2005 Comics | 2006 Comics |  All Comics | Poll

November 11, 2006

Cal Football Falls Apart In Arizona, Killing BCS Hopes

Just when people were starting to talk about the Cal Bears and their potential to challenge for the national championship, the team, coming off eight consecutive wins, sporting an 8-1 record, went to Tucson, Arizona, and simply did not execute. The team couldn't make passes, saw a quiet day from previous Heisman hopeful Marshawn Lynch, and was outplayed in nearly every regard against the now 5-5 Arizona Wildcats. For every Cal fan, who had harbored dreams of a trophy, or at least a Rose Bowl berth, we sit, stunned, frustrated at yet another momentous collapse from an organization that has seemingly always managed to make the least of a great situation.

Every good sports fan knows part of the reason for today's failures - first, the exposure of national television, and second, looking ahead to next week's big game. Cal has never done well on national TV, as seen by the school's week 1 loss to Tennessee, and the debacle against Southern Mississippi in the 2004 campaign. They choke under the bright lights. And while everybody had been talking up next week's game at USC, presumably for the Pac-10 championship and BCS hopes, Arizona was ready to put those talks to rest, outscoring Cal 24-20, effectively ending the game on the third interception of Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, who played one of his worst games of the season.

It's not to say Cal didn't have their chances. In the last offensive drive, DeSean Jackson seemingly put the club ahead 26-24 with a 63-yard touchdown, but he was later ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the Arizona 41. Earlier in the quarter, Lavell Hawkins had stumbled at the 1 yard line, and Cal's offense could get across the goal line, settling for a field goal, where a touchdown was needed. Two interceptions by Cal's vaunted defense were waved off via the penalty. But it didn't matter. One play didn't win or lose today's game. One 60-minute poorly played game kept Cal out of the winner's column, and will put the team on the back pages this year, giving national sports commentators another reason to mock the weakness of the West Coast's elite football schools, and how they could never deign to challenge a Michigan, Ohio State or Notre Dame.

While we can still hold out hope for Cal to go down to USC next week and win, gaining them the front-runner's position on the Pac-10 championship, the team we saw today would be turned into mincemeat by the Trojans. Cal looked weak, sloppy and slow. That's not the team I want to see out there, and as we felt when the A's lost to the Tigers, ending their season, we are full of frustration and emptiness. Our hopes, dashed. There is always next year, but we wanted this year to be "the one".

Listening to ''On Stream'', by Ron Hagen & Pascal M (Play Count: 1)