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December 30, 2006

New TAB Post: In Praise of Preview

Often, it's the quiet utilities you use every day that speed your workflow. Without the bells and whistles of expensive commercial software packages, and lacking hoopla, they simply are there to help your Mac work better. Apple's Preview application, which comes bundled with Mac OS X and every Macintosh sold, is one of those applications I've found myself using more and more for a variety of tasks - rendering other apps, including Adobe Acrobat and PhotoShop, unnecessary.

That's the idea behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled In Praise of Preview. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

Sactown Stats Corner: Kings Drawn and 3rd Quartered

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

Last night, the Kings' 14-game win streak against the LA Clippers came to an end.

While I could simply point to the fact the Clippers had a higher FG% (49.3% to 42.1%), a higher 3PFG% (40% to 20%) and a higher FTM% (86.7% to 78.8%) as factors leading to the Kings' inevitable loss, and jaunt back to my earlier comments that the team which has fewer field goal attempts (tonight it was the Clippers' 73  to the Kings' 76) is actually winning a higher percentage of Kings games (17 wins to 9 losses so far, trust me), tonight's deep data dive looks at the Kings' seeming inability to shut down their opponents in the third quarter. It's a very disturbing trend - one we've all noticed, and the stats actually back it up.

Last night, the Clippers beat the Kings by 9 points, but they actually outscored Sacramento by a full 10 points in the third quarter alone, after a fairly even first half. It was the 7th time this season where the Kings were outscored by 10 or more in the 3rd quarter, more than all other quarters combined.

When the Kings are outscored in the 3rd quarter, they lose big. On the season, the team has been outscored 750 to 692 in the 3rd quarter, for a 58 point deficit. In contrast, the Kings have in aggregate outscored opponents by 39 in the 2nd quarter and 22 in the 4th quarter, and are running a deficit of 15 points in the opening period.

For a team who on the season is fairly well matched on offense and defense, both scoring and giving up 99.9 points a contest, the third quarter meltdowns are alarming. On only one occasion, on December 10th, against the hapless Atlanta Hawks, did the Kings outscore their opponent by 10 or more points in the 3rd quarter.

In the 7 games where the Kings were outscored by more than 10 points in the 3rd quarter, the team lost 5 times, and won twice (at Utah on 12/14 and at Denver on 12/22). In all 5 of those losses, including tonight, the 3rd quarter provided the margin of victory.

Something is wrong with the team's halftime speeches or buffet. If team isn't coming out of the locker room ready to play, they're toast. A five game swing could obviously make the difference between a last-place squad and one challenging for the playoffs. Think about it. These third quarter collapses have occurred in more than one of every four games. We know the drill. Do the coaches and players know this is a problem?

As always, feel free to poke and prod the stats to your heart's content. You can find the fully updated Kings 2006 Stat Database, with new features, including the quarterly breakdown, here: (Download Now)

December 29, 2006

Finally Upgrading the Home Electronics

For as much noise as I may make about trying to stay on top of the world of gadgetry, we've definitely fallen behind when it comes to keeping our home near the state of the art in electronics and entertainment. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I finally sprung for a low-end 42-inch Plasma wide-screen TV. While that's still in shipping hell, in San Francisco, and isn't expected until next Thursday, we've started making purchases to bring the house up to speed.

Last week, in a quick visit to Best Buy, I made a long-needed move, to upgrade our DVD player. Long in the tooth, the DVD player would often stop in the middle of shows, and we would have to mark the scene at which it stuck, so we could start over again, after ejecting the disk, looking for scratches, and blowing on the player or disc (or wiping on our shirt). I'd had enough. So we got two new ones - one slim Sony DVD player for the living room, and a DVD/VCR combo for the bedroom, so Kristine can watch titles from school that still only come in VHS.

With those out of the way, our to-do shopping list still includes a few potential items:

* Upgrading our TiVo Series 1 by adding a Series 3 (and paying by month)
* Adding a serious flat-screen to the living room
* Replacing our spotty wireless. Our Airport base station is dying a slow death.
* Adding a DVD case to hold our single films and sets

On the priority list, I'd love to get rid of this massive monolith of an entertainment center we have dominating our living room, and replacing it with something lower profile. Kristine wants me to get it sold via Craigs List and having someone pick it up, but I think that's a rough sell. If that happens, we can then post the new TV on the wall, with a TiVo 3 hookup, and get things off to a big start.

Then, I can start thinking about upgrading our laptops to Intel Macs. That would be round two. Can't wait to dust off the credit cards.

December 28, 2006

Cal Bears Football Drubs Texas A&M in Holiday Bowl

Gone are the days when you thought of Cal as a basketball school, with football being seen as an afterthought. The Bears finished the 2006 campaign with a 10-3 record, including a share of the Pac-10 conference championship, and went out in dramatic fashion tonight, after thumping Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, by a score of 45-10.

The game, broadcast on ESPN, featured a pair of 100-plus yard rushers in Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, and near-flawless passing by Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, who only had a first-half interception to blemish his record.

Though the game was close through halftime, Cal poured on 31 unanswered points in the second half to run up the score, much to our delight. As three-year season ticket holders, my wife and I have grown to know this team and its players. Now, the season is over, and we look to the next year with new faces, new challenges, and ever higher expectations.

A's Pitcher Barry Zito Joins the San Francisco Giants

Oh to be 28, left-handed and with a baseball career sporting more than 100 wins and a Cy Young award. That's the resume one needs to garner a 7 year contract worth $126 million, and not even needing to move. Barry Zito, who has been a San Francisco resident during his time with the Oakland Athletics, now will drive even less each day to make his starts, donning the orange and black to toss at AT&T Park.

Blez at Athletics Nation aptly describes our response - as we go through "The Five Stages of Grief". Sure, I'm disappointed we won't have Barry on our team any more. But I'm glad that he's staying nearby so we can see him pitch, glad he's not pitching in the American League, and especially in the AL West, but also, I'm dreading the nonsensical comments I'm already starting to get from Giants fan coworkers, who apparently think this makes economic sense for their poor excuse for a baseball team.

What to do now? Kristine has an "I (Heart) Zito" t-shirt she won't be wearing much longer. I'll need to delete a ton of Zito pictures I had saved up for future ANtics (though I knew they were done by the end of the year). And as a fan, I get to move on... again. Just like we said goodbye to Frank Thomas, and Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder and Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire, we have to keep hoping the A's know what they are doing, and that we will survive. It's the only way.

New TAB Post: I'm Tired of White Apple Products

While stuck at the San Jose airport on Christmas Eve, I was struck once again by the vast number of white iPod earbuds I saw around the hall, from all varieties of people. The white earbuds were so clearly Apple. But that got me thinking - can Apple branch out now that they have such momentum? Why not embrace the route they took in the late 1990s with colors. Remember the first iMac? Colors were big.

That's the idea behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled I’m Tired of White Apple Products. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

Listening to ''Drums 4 Better Daze (Excession'', by Jerry Bonham (Play Count: 5)

December 27, 2006

Penn & Teller: How Did They Do That?

While in Vegas, you should experience Vegas. That's my feeling. Rather than coop up in a hotel room or watch television, you should make time to play the slots, play the tables, see shows, go to nightclubs, or whatever finds your fancy. This week being Christmas week, we made time for the relatives, and time to get entertained. Last night's presentation by Penn & Teller was a great show, and if you're willing to suspend skepticism, magical.

The pair are well-known, with Penn playing the part of the large, boisterous dominant type, and Teller, the mousy, silent sidekick. In fact, Teller doesn't speak at all. The pair entertained the audience yesterday with a wide variety of tricks from the age-old "hidden cup and ball" maneuver to juggling broken wine bottles, and catching bullets in their teeth.

While they took the time to explain the origin of some optical illusions, some have been so well honed, I'd rather not try and figure out how they did it. Outside of a theater's special effects, Penn & Teller managed to have you just wondering the secrets they dared not tell. And they were funny. Penn is an excellent emcee, and plays his role well - keeping the audience's attention and respect throughout.

Though unlike the show we saw the previous night, Menopause, in just about every way, Penn & Teller is similarly a must-see. My only major regret from this week's trip was our inability to see Jerry Seinfeld. Maybe next time.

Apple Stock Option Case Could Hinge on False Docs

The months-long inquiry into Apple's handling of stock option irregularities could come to a head this week, as the company will be required to issue a report to the SEC on its findings by Friday, December 29th. In an insightful piece on Law.com, it is said that federal prosecutors are especially interested in "documents that were apparently falsified by company officials to maximize the profitability of option grants to executives."

The article says that the alleged falsification of records indicates the executives knew their activities were wrong, and that such behavior shows intent to defraud the public. While no individuals have yet been named as wrong-doers, most of the speculation has surrounded the company's former general counsel, Nancy Heinen, and former CFO Fred Anderson, who resigned from Apple's board in October.

The central issue around the stock option scandal is that Apple knowingly inaccurately dated option grants to make the stock issuances more favorable. While CEO Steve Jobs has so far remained above the fray, saying he was aware of some of the grants, but did not benefit from them, or understand their accounting impact, he has also retained the services of independent counsel.

AppleInsider also writes on the topic. Apple is not alone in this crisis, as the stock option backdating scandal has hit companies across Silicon Valley, including notables such as Brocade Communications and Computer Associates. Most believe that Apple will not be required to delist from the Nasdaq, given the company's prominence, though that remains a possibility.

December 26, 2006

December 26th: Hitting the Vegas Strip

It's hard to believe that just after 5 tonight, it's already dark here in Las Vegas. That's not to say the strip itself is dark. All the neon signs are still up, so much so that you can't see stars in the night sky - made doubly difficult by the arrival of an overcast layer of clouds that settled in this morning. Yet, although dusk has fallen early, there's still much more to do tonight in a city that never sleeps.

After catching "Menopause" last night and teaching Kristine's family the card game "Diminishing Bridge", we set off this morning to hit The Strip and see Las Vegas proper. We stopped off at the sportsbook, where I learned just how simple it would be to put my hard-earned cash to work to make a mega-bet on the Oakland A's winning the 2007 World Series, or a simple one that would take the side of Cal beating Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl this Thursday. Now that I've seen how easy it is, I better stay out of that place, or I'll be betting my heart over my head, and that's never good in Vegas.

After hitting Harrah's, we walked up the strip, going to The Mirage, ostensibly to see if the Cirque de Soleil piece "Love", featuring Beatles tunes, was having a matinee. No such luck. Only comedian Danny Gains was playing, tonight at 8. So, we walked on, and I took Kristine to the Venetian, where amusingly to me, I half expected to bump into colleagues, and didn't. After a fair share of trade shows in the Venetian the last two years, it was equally as tempting to show her the convention floors and say "that's where our booth was!" as it was to even less productively plunk down in front of the quarter slots.

Leaving the Venetian, we went on to The Wynn, the newest Vegas resort hotel, which rises magnificently above the skyline. I'll have to make sure to stay there at some point. It's a great addition to the area. We had a late lunch, looked around, and then headed back. Now, we're a few hours away from catching one of Vegas's most storied franchises, Penn & Teller, which plays at 9. Should be a lot of fun.

Somehow, I managed to smack the Internet around enough this morning to get enough pages to load consecutively to buy tickets And now, I've taken Kristine's iBook into a far corner of the condo, where we've been lucky enough to maintain two bars of access for the better part of an hour. Of course, my Powerbook is sitting, dumbly, in awe of the iBook's power, and does nothing. Stupid Internet.

Spotty Internet Access the Scourge of Trips

The on-again, off-again status of wireless Internet this week, coming on the heels of Thanksgiving's near Web outage at San Simeon, has marred what would otherwise be a great holiday experience. For the second consecutive trip, my wife and I were misled by hotel owners that we would be provided consistent high-speed wireless Internet access, only to find the reality to be much different - a constant struggle to gain speeds similar to that of dialup modems from yesteryear, if anything at all.

As I've said many times here, high-speed Internet access in today's world is as essential as any other metric. If you expect lodging to have TV or phone access, Internet is just as necessary - whether you are visiting for work or for pleasure. And when I'm asked to pay anything from $6.95 to $14.95 a day for the potential of access, only to see a complete lack of success, it doubles down on my frustration.

Some might say the goal of a trip is to "get away", and by my being unconnected, this helps. But it doesn't. The Internet is more than a way to get real-time sports scores and trade e-mail. It's also the most convenient way to get weather updates, to order event tickets, and check flight status. Everything is made easier with Web access. I'm frankly tired of the bait and switch. Either get me a place that has reliable access, or I'll put myself in charge of the reservations and make that a requirement. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I won't get fooled again.

Listening to ''Walking In My Shoes (Random Carpet Mix)'', by Depeche Mode (Play Count: 9)

December 25, 2006

Menopause Show Sends Hot Flash Through Vegas

This Christmas, we didn't fall prey to the 3 millionth showing of It's a Wonderful Life, or sit through another mind-numbing edition of the Nutcracker. Instead, my wife and I, with her family in tow, caught the hilarious musical, "Menopause", at the Las Vegas Hilton, and enjoyed it a great deal. The comedic show covered all aspects of this womanly change, from night sweats to hot flashes, forgetfulness and weight gain - and the four performers, who carried the show on their own, were very good.

The play centered around four women, one, an African-American businesswoman, two ladies from the country, one being a nature-loving hippie, the other an Iowan farmer's wife, and the last, a soap opera actress on the backside of her career. The foursome found one another while bickering over ladies lingerie in a New York Bloomingdales, and through the show, commiserated with one another around their shared experiences - on how family didn't understand their mood swings, how their husbands often slept on the couch, or were disinterested in sex. Making the show even better, each scene featured one or more song parodies, stretching from the Bee Gees' Staying Alive and Night Fever to Sonny and Cher's I've Got You Babe.

In our small group of five, we featured two women who had already undergone menopause, one who may in the next decade or two, and two men - who will only have seen the change from the sidelines, thank goodness for us. Yet, despite our differences, we all found it very funny, and applauded. While some families circled around tables to carve up traditional turkey or ham, or toyed with the latest gifts, we were laughing at the hysterics.

That's not to say we didn't have a traditional Christmas. We exchanged some gifts this morning, we had an early dinner with beef wellington, and plenty of Christmas treats - from cookies to ice cream pie. It's been a treat here in Vegas, even after yesterday's airport ordeal. If you're heading to Vegas, or have already made it and are looking for entertainment, the show Menopause is a must-see. Don't miss it.

Alive And Well In Vegas for Christmas

So, our long airport ordeal came to a conclusion late yesterday evening after all. We caught our third chance at making standby on Southwest, and landed in Las Vegas well after dinnertime, 7 hours later than we had originally planned, but in one piece. Our luggage had taken the flight two trips earlier, and luckily for us, was waiting in Vegas when we arrived.

After unpacking at the Fairfield Wyndham, Kristine and I took a shuttle to Harrah's, so we could get dinner and begin to fine-tune the art of losing money at slots. We dabbled in that, and then made our way back to the Fairfield Resort, where we are now. Christmas in Vegas is officially here.

However, like many resorts not targeted at hard-core techies like myself, Internet access is abysmal. We've got intermittent success, and Airport's "radar" feature vacillates between a single dot and two, at best. This could prevent my posting with any good frequency. On the flip side, it may force me to be more social.

Merry Christmas!

Listening to ''Honey'', by Moby (Play Count: 1)

December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, Your Flight is Canceled

We thought we had the whole process nailed - show up early, get our bags checked in at curbside, and we'd whisk through security to be on our way to Las Vegas in no time. But, for reasons unbeknownst to us, US Airways canceled our flight this afternoon - sending us on a wild goose chase to find a flight on any airline that would get us to Vegas tonight. Hours into this ordeal, we're still in the San Jose airport, and just might be here for several hours more - in what might be one of the more memorable and forgettable Christmas Eves at the same time.

We made it to Long Term Parking at San Jose relatively quickly, and made our way to San Jose's Terminal C, to make it to our US Airways flight. But when we tried to check in our bags curbside, the man's eyebrows went up, informing us that our 1:50 flight to Las Vegas had been canceled - maybe due to mechanical problems, maybe due to a missing crew. Who knew? All we were sure of was that the airline didn't have an answer in store for us or the hundreds of other stranded passengers. No replacement plane. No new time. Nothing.

We hopped into a megaline that led to US Airways' front desk - one that wasn't going anywhere fast. I hopped on the Blackberry and called the airline to find a solution, and each solution offered got increasingly dire. The gentleman on the other line said there were no seats to any Las Vegas flights that day, and maybe we could wait to fly on Christmas? Then, he tried other airlines, first offering a flight on Delta through Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, and later, offering a flight on Alaskan Airlines that went to Seattle before turning around and getting to Vegas. Even after I begrudgingly said fine, it turned out all were sold out. We were S.O.L.

Thinking fast (as the line was going slow), I called Southwest Airlines to see if we could book a same-day flight to Vegas from San Jose. Surprisingly, we could - although the earliest we could be guaranteed was at 9:15 PM, to arrive in Vegas by 10:30. We said fine, and began our walk to Terminal A. Having made it to the Southwest ticket counter, we were told that not only had we checked in successfully for that flight, but that we could choose to fly standby on any of the previous flights - with one at 1:30 p.m., another at 3:45 p.m., and a third at 5:45. Light at the end of the tunnel!

We've made our way to the gate, having parted with our checked bags, a pair of suitcases we may never see again. In fact, before the 1:30 flight, we were told that we were separating from our bags, and that the airline would not deliver them to us. Were we willing to take the risk? Sure, why not? After all, if I have my laptop and iPods in my laptop case, I don't really care if some foolish thief walks off with my slacks, sweater, underwear and socks. Hopefully they're the same size I am.

So, until further notice, we're stuck. The passengers around us change, the flights to various non-Vegas cities continue to be called sporadically, and seemingly every two minutes, Cinnabon puffs out a wafting scent of cinnamon sugar pastries. I haven't yet fallen for the ploy. But, if forced to stay through 9-something here, as we watch the sun go down on Christmas Eve, I just might do it.

Bah humbug.

Heading to Las Vegas for Christmas

What better to do with the most religious of holidays than head to the City of Sin?

In a few short hours, my wife, Kristine, and I will be headed, on a jetplane, to the fun-filled city of Las Vegas, where we will be through Wednesday, December 27th. While in Vegas, we will meet up with her mother, brother and assorted aunts and uncles. Though we will certainly find time for family dinners and celebration of the day, we will be largely left to ourselves, to see if we can put a dent in Nevada's coffers as amateur gamblers, or catching a show.

Molly, our 17-year-old beagle, is safe in the care of Kristine's father, and she will no doubt be spoiled with plenty of walks and treats, and hopefully won't cause too much mischief. But after Kristine's owned the pooch for a dozen years or so, she has a high standard of living to retain, and it will be a challenge for him to meet.

For each of you, I wish you a Merry Christmas. We will be back shortly, from a new locale.

December 23, 2006

As Fans, We Rise And Fall, to the Extreme

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

Tonight's win aside, are the Kings setting the world ablaze with their superior basketball skills, shooting ability and friendly team camaraderie? Are they reminding us just why we chose to support them above all other NBA teams, and why we devote hours of our attention each week to cheer on their success and lament their failures?

Probably not. The Kings' recent struggles in all senses, from their overall weak shooting percentage to three-quarter ballgames (See Thursday), last-minute injuries and inability to shut down run and gun offenses have contributed to a frustrating losing skid, and, were the season to end today, the team's missing out on the playoffs.

As losses mount, and the climb to .500 seems increasingly improbable, the team's weaknesses seem insurmountable, the players, incapable of brilliance, the coaching, daft. Those of us expected to be the Kings' greatest fans grow restless, calling for the jettison of Ron Artest, the trade of Mike Bibby, the disappearance of Kenny Thomas.

As fans, we crave change. We just want something to happen that shows the team management is listening and cares as deeply as we do. Some say "blow 'it' up". TZ says simply, "we're sick of watching a pathetic team".

And guess what? This is all normal. As the most diehard of fans, you could say we start out on the ledge, and it doesn't take much to make us want to jump. But that's why we still play fantasy sports and aren't full time managers. The coaches, GM and owners have to choose data over emotion, to look at a bad streak as just what it is - and not jeopardize the season or the future for a quick fix.

News Flash: The Kings are not going to go 82-0 this season. In fact, I guarantee they won't even win 70 games. Slackers. But as excited as we get about a Ronnie Price slam, a Quincy Douby sighting, and a 40-point outburst by Kevin Martin, we must also recognize as fans that we will dive deep into depression when things don't go our way. The season is still young. We're in a very tough division, and we may not have all the horses, but we're in it for all 82. I would much rather be a Sacramento Kings fan than a fan of any other NBA squad.

We're on a 1-game winning streak now. 11-13 looks a lot better than 10-14, doesn't it? And somehow, we traveled to Denver, in the snow, and defeated a Nuggets team with a fully functional Allen Iverson. That's something to build from. Now back away from the ledge.

Listening to ''Renegade'', by Christopher Lawrence (Play Count: 7)

December 22, 2006

A 3.7 Earthquake? Call Me When You Hit 5.0.

One of the side benefits of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is the occasional rumble - a typically gentle bumping and shaking that reminds you the ground below isn't exactly made of reinforced steel and concrete. Though the region has escaped drama for nearly 20 years, ever since the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, we still have shakes every now and again from the 3 to 5 range that have us jumping on USGS online to see just how high we tickled the Richter scale.

Tonight, we felt one. Here in Sunnyvale, on the 4th floor of our condo, we noticed the shaking, and figured it wasn't anyone on the roof or running in the hallway. Instead, it was the Hayward fault, in the East Bay, doing what it does best - slipping. Not much, mind you, but enough to make us aware of it. The quake, if you can call it that, registered at 3.7, and didn't cause any damage.

Though we don't get warning of quakes, I'd trade that uncertainty for the yearly battles with tornadoes and hurricanes other regions face. And, honestly, we actually like them. They're fun. They're different. But we're not impressed by anything in the 3's. Let's get this place and shake it up a bit.

(Previous: Earthquake Shakes Things Up)

December 20, 2006

Happy Holidays from the Grays: 2006 Christmas Letter

The year saw Kristine absorbing the tomes of history as she continued her pursuit of a Masters, Louis expanding his Web reach in an attempt to dominate Google, and both keeping long hours at  the office. Somehow, we found room for a little fun now and then. 

As 2006 draws to a close, and we look back on all we’ve done, and all still left to do, we’re grateful for what we have, for each other, our friends, our family and colleagues. As you and yours approach the holiday season, we wish you the very best - that you can take pause, reflect... and keep pushing ahead.

To keep ourselves tech-focused, you can download our family's Christmas letter in PDF from the blog. Even if you're just visiting, we wish you the best holiday season possible.

Listening to ''The Darkest Star'', by Depeche Mode (Play Count: 13)

My Sacramento Kings Holiday Wishlist

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

They say that the NBA season truly doesn't kick off in earnest until Christmas, and given an 82-game schedule, plus month after month of TV-extended playoffs, who can question it? But, here, where we bleed purple and black, we just don't see the wisdom in holding a last-place berth, a full seven games behind the Pacific Division-leading Phoenix Suns, by the time Christmas rolls around. It's one thing to say we're just getting started, and quite another to be that far behind already.

With such Grinch-like cheer to go around, I present my Sacramento Kings Holiday Wishlist - a small smattering of items I'd like to see this holiday season. Please do add your own, for our team could use your charity.

Catch the rest here: My Sacramento Kings Holiday Wishlist

Listening to ''Spikee (1993)'', by Underworld (Play Count: 8)

Christmas Gift for Me: 42 Inch Plasma TV (Only $699)

I've been eyeing the flat-screen market for a long time, and I can't exactly get geeked up over pixel counts, I/O ports and the eternal debate of Plasma vs. LCDs or one brand vs. another. All I know is that the TVs my wife and I have in our living room and bedroom need to disappear. Their time has come and gone. They're old, they lack elegance, and they are bulky CRT monitors, incapable of making us look like we are on the cutting edge of technology.

Given how we have embraced iPods, the Blackberry and all things Apple, a change is obviously needed. Kristine and I had come to the conclusion that this holiday season was as good a time as any to take the plunge and upgrade both TVs, but budget and timing hasn't gotten us to flat-screen paradise yet.

This morning, that all changed. On one of the bigger "impulse buys" I've ever done, I found via CNET and eventually on Amazon, a 42-inch HD-capable plasma flat screen, for the low-low price of $699. While I know it's not the latest and greatest, its a huge upgrade from our current set in the bedroom, and should be a significant improvement to our viewing experience. By 7 this morning I'd clicked through and ordered both it and a wall mount for ideal enjoyment. Now, I just have to wait until the second week of January or so to see how the thing looks in our home. I'm looking forward to it already.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Amazon's even sending it with free shipping. Forget about $2,000+ sticker prices and $200 shipping. The whole package, including wall mount, is coming in for less than $800.

Listening to ''On Stream'', by Ron Hagen & Pascal M (Play Count: 3)

December 18, 2006

New TAB Post Covers iWork As a Potential iDud

In the last five years-plus, following the introduction of the iPod, Apple has done little wrong. They've launched Mac OS X 10.1, 10.2, 10.3 and 10.4, and are on the way to introducing Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5). They revamped their hardware, and even integrated Intel chips.

Their software apps have done very well also. Safari is a great browser. I use Mail.app exclusively. iLife is helping to sell tons of new Mac owners on the platform. But iWork, consisting of Pages and Keynote, hasn't done so well.

This is the topic of my latest post on The Apple Blog, my third.

Catch it here: Has iWork Been an iDud for Apple?

Listening to ''Here Comes the Rain Again (Extended Mix)'', by NRC (Play Count: 6)

Recent Site Downtime - Not My Fault, I Swear

I don't know if it is a good thing that I was posting less to the blog this week or not, but over the last two to three days, it has been just short of impossible to access louisgray.com - even for me. So, although I've seen the occasionally visitor, site traffic has fallen dramatically, and I've had nothing but errors getting to the site, from home or at the office.

As this isn't the first time this has happened, I wrote to Register.com, who hosts the site, and asked them if they knew of any issues, or ISP or geographic problems (say if it were blocked by Comcast or all of Northern California). Today, I got an e-mail back, where they admitted they had an issue, and they suggested I somehow convince Comcast to make a change. As if I could tangle with a mega-ISP for my puny little blog.

Their response?

To begin with, we apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

We understand that there was a problem with our web site. But it is resolved. So I request you to contact your ISP provider and tell them to delete the cache files from the server.


So how I read it is this: "Yeah, we messed up. We know it. But it's fixed. See if you can get your mega-ISP to refresh. Our bad."

If this keeps happening, we're moving. I know outages happen. I'm not naive. But it'd be nice to have been notified, or if they had offered to "make it right" financially, as other hosts do when they have issues. Hmph.

Listening to ''The Fields of Love', by ATB (Play Count: 11)

ANtics Episode 2.37: A's Christmas Wish List

This holiday season, it's not just us A's fans hoping for a big surprise. The A's players and coaches also hope Santa (and Lew Wolff) deliver a big surprise. The ANtics checks in on some of the A's to see what they are hoping for this year...

Click to See Larger Comic

Also: Take the Poll: What Would be the Best Holiday Surprise?

2005 Comics | 2006 Comics |  All Comics | Poll

December 16, 2006

Top Ten Signs We've Gotten Lazy At Chores

1. Simply turning on the Roomba to vacuum is too much effort.
2. We would rather my wife not cook, just so I don't have to do dishes.
3. "Picking up" around the house means lifting items just so the Roomba can clean under them, and then putting them back where they were.
4. If the bathroom seems dirty, instead of cleaning, I'd use the guest bathroom.
5. I'd donate clothes to goodwill rather than clean and iron them.
6. If I need more light in the room, I turn the TV on, instead of reaching for the lamp.
7. If the phone rings, I wait, knowing if it's important, they will eventually call my cell phone, which is sitting next to me.
8. I would hire the maid, but I don't want the hassle of picking one.
9. Ordering groceries from Safeway.com seems too inconvenient because they won't deliver in the next few hours.
10. If I select what's for dinner in order of how long it takes to cook it in the microwave. Lowest time wins.

From Dawn to Dusk, Slaving Away

Occasional visitors to the site might have noticed something like a dramatic pause in our postings this week - and though I can think of a multitude of excuses, I'll not list them here. Suffice it to say that the workweek started at 3:00 a.m. Monday, and continued at a relentless pace through through Friday. On top of the usual efforts, which accelerated to force an 8 to 7 schedule most days, we were also asked to attend business dinners both Monday and Wednesday, meaning I didn't make it home until very late.

Given the dramatically reduced hours at home and behind the laptop, the blog was one of the first things to be neglected.

In the winter months, it isn't too uncommon to leave for the office in the dark, and return home in the dark, with my body escaping the ravages of natural light. It goes to explain the rising rates of depression and listlessness many feel around the holidays, as increasing demands come as invigoration from nature slips away.

For me, it can at times be overwhelming, as even when I leave the office late, I know there's much more to get done, as the count of e-mails in the In box is higher than when I had started the day, and I may never reach a point where I feel I have caught up. Weekends are not much better, as, while they may seem inviting, they instead serve as 48-hour countdowns to when the cycle starts again. Every second not spent on catching up on work, instead of a respite, seems wasted, and as the hours tick by, the stress adds up, nearing a point where it's not a question of whether to act on projects, but selecting which one should get the highest priority, as they all fight for attention, or even worse, which ones, if neglected, will draw the least wrath.

Is there a break on the horizon? Maybe. I don't anticipate 3:00 a.m. start times and dinner meetings to be de riguer. But there will always be demands on my time, and with the sun not doing its part to rise early and set late, it's literally us against the world.

Listening to ''I.R.A. (Original Mix)'', by Dariush (Play Count: 19)

December 10, 2006

Microsoft Has Lost Its Way, Not Coming Back Zune

I almost feel guilty pointing out how Microsoft is a very confused, bureaucratic dinosaur of a company now. It seems that after everybody else has come to the same conclusion, it's no longer hip, and piling on isn't going to do much good.

Yet, with the Zune launch universally seen as a dud, and the company's Internet enterprise flailing, one can't help but watch the train wreck as it happens. A company who has based its war fighting the battles of previous decades has not adapted, and the company has grown too fat and bloated to turn on a dime, as other more nimble players have.

Steve Berkowitz, responsible for Microsoft's online services unit, told the New York Times as much in a long-ranging article printed Sunday.

“I’m used to being in companies where I am in a rowboat and I stick an oar in the water to change direction,” said Mr. Berkowitz ... “Now I’m in a cruise ship and I have to call down, ‘Hello, engine room!’ ” he adds with an echo in his voice. “Sometimes the connections to the engine room aren’t there.”

The disconnect has left Microsoft trailing Yahoo! and Google in the Internet space, without much hope of taking the #1 position. But to me, it doesn't really make sense that Microsoft should be in this fight in the first place. If the company wants to be the world's leading operating system and productivity software company, it's done that. If it wants to move their Office suite to the Web, then great. But there is no real good reason or inherent birthright for the company to take on this new market. They haven't delivered any new features that customers have found interesting, and in a market when customers have a variety of options to choose from, they won't accept lower quality.

This issue can be seen easily with the early response to their iPod wannabe, Zune. Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg says there is much that could have been done to improve customer adoption of the device. Chief among them, that it "lacks elegance" and "doesn't feel complete". With the iPod's five year head start, Microsoft, as it has shown in its fruitless battle with Google, is not capable of innovating its way into  market where it doesn't belong.

Give it up, Microsoft. Do what you do best, and leave the innovations to others.

Do Gadgets Break Up Families?

Last week, after mentioning to my mother that I had started occasionally writing for The Apple Blog, on top of contributions to Athletics Nation, Sactown Royalty, continued posting on louisgray.com and the usual work fare, she called, concerned that just maybe I was ignoring my wife, choosing instead to spend all my time online. Were we having enough time together, or were we drifting apart, more comfortable with the way we looked behind the glow of our respective laptop monitors than away from behind the keyboard?

Though I argued we were doing just fine, that our marriage was not in trouble due to excessive blogging, articles do occasionally come up that investigate the impact ubiquitous technology access has on families, whether they be spouse or child. The Wall Street Journal, in a prescient piece titled "Blackberry Orphans", wrote:
There is a new member of the family, and, like all new siblings, this one is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, resulting in jealousy, tantrums, even trips to the therapist. It's the BlackBerry.

The article blames the Blackberry for parents lying to children, distracting them while driving, and distracting attention from kids who just may deserve it more. But is the Blackberry that much worse than the advent of the cellphone, or the standard telephone or television before it? Does increased convenience and an enhanced feature set that makes people want to use a device more spell impending doom and the end of humanity as we know it?

Probably not. Though I have my Blackberry nearby at all times, and watch for the green light to glow red - signaling a new message has arrived - the device has less chance of making me avoid feeding the dog or playing cards with my wife than prime-time TV. Its interruptions typically last a minute or two instead of 30 to 60, and the more work I do on the Blackberry at home, the less time, in theory, I need to spend in the office doing the same tasks.

While some will undoubtedly take device usage to the extreme, as people do with just about everything, I am not too concerned. I also don't believe that the occasional post on a Macintosh or sports blog makes me too much closer to receiving divorce papers. But let me first ask my wife to close her laptop, and see if she agrees.

December 07, 2006

Sactown Stats Corner: Want to Win Games? Make Shots!

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

The Kings' up and down 2006-07 season is hitting new lows now, after the team's fifth consecutive loss Thursday night, in overtime against the Shaq-less Heat at Arco. The loss was exactly the type of game the Kings need to win if they are to challenge for the postseason this year, and as many of us here on the site have said, the team needs to show some serious discipline when it comes to shooting, or they're flat-out not going to win, period.

Approximately one-fifth of the way through the season, the Kings have amassed enough stats to show some basic trends, and we've crunched the numbers:

Skip The Analysis and Download The Stats

The Kings Are Not A Good Shooting Team

  • The Kings' field goal percentage is 25th in the league, ahead of only Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Indiana and Memphis.
  • In only two contests (vs. Memphis on 11/15 and at Seattle on 11/24) has the team shot above 50%. The Kings won both contests.
  • In eleven contests, including Thursday night, the Kings have shot below 45% as a team. In those eleven games, it probably comes as no surprise that they have gone 3-8 (.273). By simply raising their shooting percentage above 45%, the team has a 5-2  (.714) record.
  • It also should not come as a shocker that the team with the higher field goal percentage typically wins the game. When the Kings have a higher FG %, they have gone 6-2 (.750). When they have had a lower FG %, the team has gone 2-8 (.200).
  • This ratio gets even more crazy when it comes to 3-point field goals. When the Kings make a higher percentage of their 3-point shots, they are 7-2 (.778). When they make a lower percentage, they are a stark 1-8 (.111).


Shooting And Missing Is NOT The Answer


  • The Kings actually have a BETTER record (4-3) when they take fewer field goal attempts than when they take more field goal attempts (4-6). This speaks to picking the right shot, and making it.
  • Recognizing when to go for three is critical. When the Kings have attempted more 3-point shots, they are 5-5 (.500). When their opponents have hoisted up more 3-point attempts, the Kings are only 2-5 (.286).


Relying On Free Throws Won't Win You Games


  • The Kings have taken more free throws than their opponents in 14 of the 18 contests played so far. Yet, in those 14 games, their record is 6-8 (.429). When they have spent less time at the charity stripe, they are 2-1 (.667).
  • Yet, if you do get to the stripe, you better make your shots. When the Kings make a higher percentage of free throws, they are 6-5 (.545). When they miss a higher percentage of free throws, they are a woeful 2-5 (.286).


It Comes Down To Getting the Ball In the Bucket

There's no mystery here. By making a higher percentage of shots, that leads to a higher total number of shots going in, more points and more wins. But let's see what the numbers show...

  • When the Kings MAKE more shots than the competition, they are 7-1 (.875). That contrasts to 1-9 (.100) when they make fewer buckets.
  • From beyond the arc, if the Kings score more 3 point shots, they are 6-1 (.857). When outlaunched, they are 1-8 (.111).

Note how much more impact a three point shot has on the eventual outcome of a game when compared to free throws. It's night and day.

Yes, mixing math and sports can be dangerous. Sometimes the sample size is too small. But it's clear to me that the team needs to focus on making high-percentage shots, and taking the opportunistic three-pointer from pure shooters. It may be fundamental, but so far this season, other teams are getting it through their noggins a lot better than we are.

Want to come up with your own Sactown Stats? Download the Excel document I used for this post and let us know what you've found.

December 05, 2006

New TAB Post Covers BlackBerry/Mac Integration

Since last week's invitation to publish stories on The Apple Blog, we have written two articles.

The first, covering KavaSoft's iTunes Catalog, received more than 450 promotions to the Digg site, resulting in tremendous traffic on this blog to my personal music library, and hopefully, a similar amount of interested folks perusing the KavaSoft site to make a purchase.

The second, to be published at 11 this morning, is less likely to set off a Web firestorm, but in my opinion is even more essential - detailing how I have now finally found a product that lets me synchronize my BlackBerry with my Mac. For far too long, I thought the Mac would go unsupported by the BlackBerry - that my data would have to live in a parallel universe between the Windows/Outlook/BlackBerry platform on one side and the Mac OS X/Mail/Address Book/iCal platform on the other.

The new article can be found here: PocketMac Syncs Blackberry With Mac

December 04, 2006

Mobsters and Mormons: The Movie

In the last five years or so, a subculture of independent Mormon-themed films has sprung up, with a certain amount of success. (I hesitate to say they've become cult favorites, thanks to some ill-mannered folks still in denial about the church's openness.)

From "The Other Side of Heaven" to "The Singles Ward" and "The R.M.", members of the LDS church have turned the other cheek, mocking themselves and a myriad of stereotypes, ranging from their puritanical avoidance of drugs, alcohol and gambling, to traditional approaches to dating, and a regimented schedule which includes three hours of church services each Sunday, home teaching throughout the month, and countless service projects. Throwing a wrinkle into this formula is a film, which we saw on DVD from Netflix last night, called "Mobsters and Mormons", where a mob-affiliated stool pigeon is relocated via the FBI's Witness Protection Program to friendly Salt Lake City, and the worldly family tries to adapt to an unfamiliar straight-laced neighborhood, complete with area gossip queen, aggressively helpful neighbors, and the local bishop, who finds the father a job in his hardware supply store.

To say the film featured top-notch world-class actors and a prize-winning script would be a lie, but it was certainly entertaining. The family, in a "fish out of water" scenario, finds the Mormon differences very odd. The fact the Mormons don't drink alcohol or coffee draws comparisons to the Amish, and the visitors haven't been in Utah for more than a minute before asking a gentleman at the airport if he has multiple wives. (He doesn't, and explains the church's 100-plus year ban on the practice, in vain.)

While one would expect a film about Mormons, in Utah, produced by an LDS producer and featuring a largely Mormon cast, to always show the church in a good light, it does speak to those who might be watching where it says that while the church may be true, not all its members are. In a show where the outsiders are embraced by some, they are also shunned by others. They feel out of place, exacerbated by shut doors and closed window blinds. Yet, somehow, they get by.

If you're looking for a film likely to be toasted with multiple Academy Award nominations, this isn't your show. Some of the acting is amateurish, and stereotypical, not just of the Utah Mormons, but of the New Jersey-based Italian mobsters. The plotline is funny, but easily anticipated. If you want to laugh and can relax about those things, feel free to pick it up. You might be surprised.

December 02, 2006

Top Ten Television Shows: Winter 2006 Edition

(It's time for an update)

1. Law and Order: SVU
2. War at Home
3. Law and Order: CI
4. House
5. ER
6. CSI
7. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
8. Arli$$ (in syndication)
9. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
10. Law and Order

The Least Satisfying Cal Big Game Win I've Seen

If I think back to Cal's one-time eight game winning streak, and a lofty top-ten national ranking, I have to only shake my head at how shakily the team, once discussed as a potential candidate for the national championship, finished the end of the season. After blowing out those schools they were supposed to in the first half of the year, Cal struggled to beat Washington in overtime at home, lost in ridiculous fashion to Arizona, and couldn't finish off USC in Los Angeles. Today, though the team came away with a win, 26-17 over Stanford, in the 109th Big Game, it seemed we were more often holding our head in our hands and groaning after Cal plays, than we did cheering, as the team made inexplicable plays, saw too many dropped passes and played ragged against a woeful team they should have demolished.

And look what a college football snob I've become.

The Cal Bears, combined with USC's 13-9 loss at UCLA today, tied for the Pac-10 conference championship (though the first tiebreaker is obviously their loss to the Trojans), sported a 9-3 regular season record, and went undefeated in all 7 home contests this year, six of which we saw. Before tomorrow's polls come out, Cal is currently ranked #21 in the country, a far cry from recent years, where the struggle was to see if they could win more than a handful of games. And now the team has won 5 Big Games in a row versus the hated Stanford Cardinal, and we have been present for the last three.

But all those great things seemed to pale when we saw Cal do battle today at Memorial Stadium. With the wind whipping through the bleachers, Stanford owned the time of possession seemingly from the game's onset, marching down the field the first eight minutes of the quarter. That they stupidly chose to "go for it" and fall short on fourth down meant Cal had dodged a bullet. Yet, even with that gift, Cal went to halftime with only a 13-10 lead, on the back of a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the team's defense. For those scoring at home, at the time it was Cal Defense, 7, Cal Offense, 6. Against Stanford, who came into the contest with a 1-10 record, and left 1-11, we should have been a lot closer to dominant than dormant, and the fans let the team know it, as you could hear scattered boos (including mine) as the team trudged to the locker room at halftime.

As Stanford continued to keep the game close, Cal led 23-17 into the 4th quarter, and we could just sense what always happens in the Big Game - the underdog would somehow sneak ahead. I would have bet even money that in minutes, it would be 24-23, Cardinal. I started getting e-mails on my Blackberry from colleagues, asking if Cal would actually lose this game. From the stands, I typed back, "They suck right now, but I wouldn't trade places with Stanford."

Stanford of course failed to score. Thank goodness. Later, in the 4th quarter, Cal hit a field goal to extend the margin to 9 points, or two possessions, and ran down the clock, until finally, the scoreboard read 0:00, and we had won. Though we had bitten our nails, and cursed out the squad, they had managed to play just well enough not to lose, and they kept the freakin' axe. That's all that really matters.

Now, at least for us, the Cal season is basically over. They play Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 28th, and barring a change of heart and/or miracle, we're not going. So Bears, thanks for a great season. Though you didn't make banner headlines across the nation, you did well, never losing at home, and setting  a school attendance record. We were happy to help.

Listening to ''Eastway'', by Inner & Outer (Play Count: 2)

December 01, 2006

Tomorrow, Stanford Goes Down Against the Cal Bears

Ahhh.... Big Game week. A fine tradition in sports, where the Cal Bears are set to take on their hated, mediocre rivals, the Stanford Cardinal, from The Farm in Palo Alto, on the gridiron tomorrow. While the Bears are 8-3 on the season, and their national rankings dampened, they have clinched second place in the Pac-10 conference, behind USC, a strong achievement. Meanwhile, the hapless Cardinal has won but one game on their miserable season, making tomorrow's game somewhat of a laugher - were it not for the century-long rivalry.

Cal and Stanford are tied together in a multitude of ways, but are dramatically opposites of one another. Cal is public. Stanford is private. Cal is in an urban setting with stone features. Stanford more closely resembles an open field of neutral tan. Cal's bell tower is straight and pointy, while Stanford's bell tower is shorter and round on its top. Cal has a real mascot. Stanford has a color, but its mascot is a drunken tree. Cal has a marching band. Stanford has a scatter band. But both schools demand tough academic standards and constantly pilfer each others graduates for professorships and leadership positions. Both schools don't like each other much, and those feelings of animosity last well beyond the issuance of a diploma.

Cal still points fingers at Stanford for their lack of periodic elements, while they hold Berkelium, Californium, and others. Stanfordium is nowhere on the map. Cal students say they can study their butts off to get B's and C's, while a Stanford student starts with an A and can drop a class at any time, including after the final, with no penalty. Cal students often work part-time to support their education, while Stanford students are seen brimming with money and Beemers from Daddy Warbucks.

The assessments aren't always fair, but it's fun to have a rival. In a year where Cal has excelled and Stanford has floundered, we will be excited to keep their pain going. After seeing Cal lose to Stanford every year I was at the school (95-99), it's great to know we've turned the corner. My wife and I will be at the game, which kicks off at noon tomorrow, eager to parade the Axe around the stadium for one more year.

Go Bears!

Listening to ''A Little Hazy Morning'', by Progresia presents Sokaya (Play Count: 3)

Site Traffic Jumps: The Digg Effect

Last night, I wrote my first story for The Apple Blog, focused on Kavasoft's iTunes Catalog. The story has been promoted on Digg, and reached the front page around midnight. Since then, a significant amount of traffic has come through to peruse my iTunes Music Library, created by iTunes Catalog.

You can see this below or via SiteMeter.