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August 29, 2007

A Free Ballhype T-Shirt Can Be Yours!

Last week, for some reason, my combination of frequent game picks, combined with a slant toward underdogs and dumb luck, led me to my second consecutive Ballhype Game Picks win (my sixth overall). Now that both my wife and I have Ballhype t-shirts, as well as three of my colleagues, I'm thinking it's time to extend the opportunity to be clad in the colors of one of the most exciting Web communities to debut in 2007 - to you.

To earn the Ballhype t-shirt, I ask only you comment to this post, and list:

1. Your login at Ballhype.com (or create one).
2. Your favorite sports team (any sport, any level).
3. Why you best deserve the t-shirt.

It's that simple. Assuming we have more than one respondent, the rules are:

You must respond by Midnight PDT, September 1st
Ballhype management will ship in USA only

I will put your names on paper and have them selected randomly by a member of the Gray household who is not me (a.k.a. the wife or the beagle). Take a look at the Ballhype T-shirts available, and see what you could win!

Good luck!

Use Your Blog To Talk To Companies

Most companies would prefer that if you have questions or comments regarding their service, you would send them a nice e-mail to their support staff, or post it to a company-sanctioned, moderated forum. But as we all know, sending e-mail to busy support people can be a guessing game as to how long you'll wait to get a response, if you hit the right person, or if they will answer your question at all. I've found the absolute fastest, sure-fire way to talk directly with people at Web-aware services is through the blog.

Blogs are the future of company to customer communications. Those companies that allow the highest transparency to customers to management or rank and file employees will win the much sought after "hearts and minds of the people." It's already worked on me a number of times in the last few months, with small companies like Technorati and LinkedIn to larger companies like Google and Yahoo! subsidiary MyBlogLog, as you might have seen over the last few days.

Google Reader Example:

In March of 2007, I listed ten improvements I hoped to see from my RSS go-to destination, Google Reader.

A little more than a day later, Google responded, with Mihai Parparita, an Engineer working on Google Reader, writing in the coments, "Funnily enough, the Reader team just had a big all-day brainstorming session about where to go next, and ideas similar to many of your suggestions were discussed."

I've since been told that the post is occasionally referenced within Google and helps add signal to the noise of user feature demands. Though I was initially nervous they would take my suggestions the wrong way, I am glad they recognized I was and remain quite positive on the service.

LinkedIn Example:

Later that month, I offered similar suggestions for LinkedIn, the leading business-focused social network. Steve Ganz, of LinkedIn, later wrote to let me know that some of the suggestions had just been implemented, and more were to come! As he kindly wrote, "These are all great ideas. Thanks so much for the great feedback, Louis! Stay tuned."

Technorati Examples:

Despite Technorati's occasional issues and recent management changes, I enjoy the service. But the downtime can make users weary. In June, I noted another outage, and not too much longer after my post, Ian Kallen wrote to say "We're bringing our systems back online now".

In April, I was eagerly awaiting the new issue of Technorati's popular state of the Web and openly speculated it was imminent. Then-CEO David Sifry took time from his busy schedule to say "LOL, keep your eyes on the blog.", and later returned, after 2:30 a.m. to say "The new State of the Live Web is now up!", which was very cool.

And that leaves one more, for now:

MyBlogLog Example:

On Monday, I discussed what the future of MyBlogLog would be after their acquisition by Yahoo!. While I wasn't overly glowing in my comments, two MyBlogLog employees offered their comments, with Ian Kennedy first saying "We're alive and well thanks and have been busy...", and later, Robyn Tippins coming back, offering thanks for the comments, and unexpectedly, a free Pro account! Of course, I recognize I'm being wooed, but I can take it. Now I'll have an even better chance to look into MyBlogLog's services and can speak more directly to what they're doing well and how they could continue to improve.

Not every company comes by when I make comments. Apple doesn't, and likely won't. Microsoft hasn't yet, and neither has TiVo. That could be due to internal policies on communication, PR, customer service and blogging, or they aren't as in tune to the Web's power to connect customers with companies. I appreciate the extra effort taken from Google Reader, LinkedIn, MyBlogLog, and Technorati to talk to me directly and openly as individuals, and outside of the corporate firewall. I look forward to more, and encourage the rest of you bloggers to be comfortable in analyzing what you use every day and thinking aloud about how you could make change and make a difference.

ZoomClouds Seems To Have Floated Away

The visual tag cloud engine ZoomClouds seems to have disappeared, taking a significant piece of my blog sidebar with it. Whether this is a short-term bug or longer term outage, the service, which used to show those topics I most frequently blog about (i.e. Apple, Google, Microsoft, TiVo, ANtics) is down for the count, and there is no news as to why or for how long.

Promoted by Michael Arrington on TechCrunch in March of 2006, I added the service the next day, and for the better part of 18 months, have enjoyed seeing certain keywords grow with increased use, and others fall out with neglect.

But now, the service's publishers seem to have gone away, without any notice as to why.

The URL Zoomclouds.com, which redirected to zoomclouds.egrupos.net, now redirects one final time to the generic site egrupos.net, home of the service's authors, and my ZoomClouds widget remains blank.

You can see cached images of blog ZoomClouds on Google, but for now, the service appears to be dead. Unfortunately, this means I will be pulling ZoomClouds from my sidebar, and I'm not sure if I'll be looking for a replacement.

Update: As luck would have it, ZoomClouds are back up and running, as of mid-day today. No sign as to why they were down, but it sure did make me look silly.

August 28, 2007

Who Me? Featured in a Podcast?

In a world where total page views don't amount for much, and spikes of unique visitors from Digg, StumbleUpon or Slashdot can be gone in an instant, there's something to be said for the more "squishy" metrics, like how many comments a post received, or whether bloggers found your work interesting enough to link to. Out of the ashes of Web 1.0's eyeball-oriented metrics came the rise of Google's PageRank, and Technorati Authority, as well as other, rarely useful sites, like Alexa.

If a comment to a post carries a certain amount of weight, it's safely assumed that a link carries more weight, as it potentially drives new visitors your way. With that said, how many links does a podcast count as? That's the amusing conundrum I've hit after hearing WinExtra's Steven Hodson's soliloquy on Web services Last.fm and MyBlogLog, in large part spurred by discussions here over the last week or so. It's odd enough finally putting a voice to a person whom I've traded comments and e-mails with over the last few months, and even odder still to hear my name mentioned as provoking thoughts on where these services are headed.

(Download the Podcast Here)

Steven wasn't the only one who sent links this way today. The MyBlogLog story was captured in Robert Scoble's Link Blog, which always leads to a short-term spurt in visitors from Twitter, and these days, Facebook. Later, the surprisingly popular blog "Grow a Brain" caught up to a post on how your blog is your brand, from earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Kent Newsome rounded up his ninth edition of the Swivel Feeds, in his one-man battle to test the limits of his RSS feed reader. This week's additions included names I had provided, from the aforementioned WinExtra, to ParisLemon, Ken Jennings, Yuvi Panda and Ben Rockwood.

We'll have our peaks and valleys in this whole blogging exercise, but it's nice to be noticed.

August 27, 2007

What Is the Future Of MyBlogLog?

MyBlogLog offers an interesting service for bloggers aiming to find out who visits their pages, who is part of their blog's community, and also offers a directory service aimed to finding you new blogs to add to your own reading list.

In January, Yahoo! purchased MyBlogLog for $10 million, after months of speculation the site was for sale. Since that time, we haven't heard much. The company's blog shows the development team moved to Yahoo! in the middle of this year, despite some defections, and is looking to expand.

(Oddly enough, the site's e-mail listed for new target hires was the same gentleman who shortly thereafter wrote he was "pulling up stakes" and leaving, which doesn't bode well. But as we know, luckily, a service usually isn't one person deep.)

The biggest innovations from MyBlogLog this summer were the introduction of "Community Messaging", where a site owner could "blast" community members with a message directly to their own MyBlogLog pages, to alert them of news, poll them or simply gain feedback; the introduction of extensive tagging, and continued to work on efforts to weed out spam across the service.

I use MyBlogLog as a widget on this blog to see faces of visitors I know well, and I use my own MyBlogLog page to track site visit statistics, and to watch any day to day additions to the louisgray.com community, a small, but loyal, group. While I enjoy the service, I believe I'm either not using MyBlogLog to its fullest potential, or hope the service has many more updates to soon debut to keep it on the cutting edge.

First, I hope the service can recognize what it is not. It is not a social network, like Facebook. While they've erred on that side before, with the addition of Twitter status updates, for example, MyBlogLog is exactly what its name implies - it is My Blog's Log, not My Personal Log. As a result, the site should focus on information relevant to the blog as an entity - including statistics of visitors, and individuals, as well as most frequently read pages, most common incoming and outgoing links, as it does today.

Second, I hope it can focus. If it's to become one of my go-to site statistics hubs, it should have more than just one day's data available at one time, but should instead show trends for daily visits, pages, and even visitors. If it can track an individual in my community came to my page, there's no reason it can't flip on the Big Brother switch and show me how many times that one individual visited my site in the last 7, 30 or 90 days. In theory, MyBlogLog is tracking more data than does SiteMeter and even Google Analytics, and is sitting on a gold mine for individual bloggers here.

Third, as MyBlogLog shows me who is a member of my community, and has the option to show me what additional communities those members are part of, in theory, MyBlogLog could say, for instance, "You and Geekwhat have three communities in common," or taking it a step further, the site could show me who else out there shares many of my own communities. If I am a member of 34 communities, and ParisLemon is a member of 27 of those (I made that up), then those communities we don't share just might be of interest to the other. Using this theoretical search tool, I could also be able to find new people who just might be interested in louisgray.com and have the option to leave them a private message invitation.

MyBlogLog is an interesting service today. It could become a great service tomorrow, with just a few tweaks. Right now, given the site's gaining a bad name for spammers and faux IDs, combined with its low profile after the Yahoo! acquisition, I get the feeling they've stalled momentum. Is the service planning to expand to the fore, as it could, or instead, will it be folded into the Yahoo! behemoth, never to escape? Many bloggers await the answer.

(This post also will be sent to the louisgray.com community as a trial run of that service)

To join the louisgray.com community, click here. To join MyBlogLog, visit their site.

ANtics Episode 3.24: Kurt's Crusade

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Kurt Suzuki's 3 hits, including a long bomb, against the Devil Rays, were one of the few highlights in an ugly weekend. But his rookie season, thrust into the role of starting catcher for the A's, is hardly a walk in the park - every day providing a new challenge.


Click to See Larger Comic


All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

August 25, 2007

iTunes is My Only Source for New Music

With radio losing much of its value, thanks to the homogeneity of music from station to station, I simply don't discover new music while I'm in the car or listening at home the way I once did. Instead, the iTunes Music Store is my only source of new songs and albums from artists I already know well and new artists I'm just now getting to know.

While the total offerings on iTunes were once quite light, especially for those of us who don't worship Top 40 and R&B, the last few years have seen an explosion of available tracks. Now, I can safely assume my favorite bands' latest releases will be there, and they, in turn will lead me to similar music from other artists.

iTunes helps this process along in a few ways, most notably with "My Alerts", which tracks my favorite artists, and lets me know when new songs are out. Secondly, there is the "Listeners Also Bought" feature, which tells me that other people with similar tastes to mine also bought other albums. Sometimes, I may already have those albums, and other times, I'm delighted to find somebody I've never heard before. Additionally, should I hit a wall there, I can always go to the genre's main page (i.e. Electronic) and find new releases that 30 seconds later, just may become new downloads.

Some of my most recent purchases I'm most pleased with include:

Paul Van Dyk / In Between

Paul Van Dyk is one of the world's best DJs, period. This album marks his return to the fore, after a few years lower on my list. I simply can't get enough of the song Talk In Grey, and have been known to listen to it a second time just after it's been completed...

Ulrich Schnauss / Goodbye

Some of the best downtempo, ambient electronic music out there. I first discovered Ulrich Schauss thanks to Sasha's sampling of his work on a few tracks. A few iTunes searches later, and Ulrich Schnauss has himself risen to the top of my most listened to artists out there. His work is beyond listenable, and is the perfect complement to more traditional fast-paced techno.

The Chemical Brothers / We Are the Night

When I'm not in the mood for the calming forces of Ulrich Schnauss and want great beats to tap my feet and bob to, The Chemical Brothers sure know how to fit that need. My favorite off the new album? A track titled Burst Generator. Just outstanding.

Based on the above three albums, can you outdo iTunes and give some strong recommendations? Do you even buy in a "record store" any more?

A Saturday Silicon Valley Experience

Earlier this week, I got a call from a pair of former colleagues with whom I had worked at a small Internet startup right out of college, who I hadn't heard from for the better part of five years.

At the beginning of the decade, we had worked on some great Web-based tools that were seemingly years ahead of their time - online meetings, unified messaging and communication, Web OS's and the like, but as the market fell, so did our chances. Now, as the market for Web tools has heated back up, and the stock markets occasional hiccups haven't stopped innovation, they're actively thinking aloud - should we get back into the game?

So, in typical Silicon Valley fashion, we met at a cafe in Palo Alto this morning, and amidst the bustle of college students and working staffs grabbing latt├ęs on a slow Saturday, we caught up, as friends, on where mutual acquaintances had landed, how they were doing in their new careers and catching them up on how my own life has changed, from when I was a green 22 year old out of Cal to my more seasoned 30 now - how my roles have changed in the office, as well as how I've handled life's constant change. We also traded ideas on where technologies were headed, where I thought there were holes, and how in a crowded market, one could differentiate through quality, ease of use, price or marketing.

Even if they don't start something new, and even if I'm just watching, I greatly enjoyed the discussion. I like the culture of pursuing new ideas in the name of bringing new products to market, and seeking solutions to every day problems, using advanced technology.

Many startups owe themselves to the bantering of ideas in restaurants and business models drawn up on the backs of napkins as waiters bustle to and fro. I just like being part of it and knowing I belong.

eBay Locks Me Out for My Own Good

I must receive dozens of fake phishing scam e-mails a week, from spammers who think I'm dumb enough to log in to their fraudulent Web sites to enter my login and password, whether for eBay or PayPal, Amazon or Wells Fargo. I even get junk e-mail asking me to update my information for banks I've never had anything to do with, including Bank of America, Washington Mutual, and others. That's why when I received a note from eBay on July 31st saying my account had been compromised and locked down, I deleted it. Obviously spam.

So last night, I tried to log in to eBay and it didn't work. And it wasn't an issue with my memory. I've used the same login/password combination on eBay since 1998, and I was sure I had it right.

I hit the "Forgot Password" button, and eBay asked me to get two of three things right, my mother's maiden name, my zipcode, and my primary phone number. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Mother's maiden name I got right away, but if you keep in mind I registered my eBay account almost 10 years ago, I've moved a few times since, from my shared apartment in Berkeley to Belmont, Palo Alto and now, here in Sunnyvale. So I had to try a few zip code combinations, not to mention phone numbers. Those changed too.

Eventually, I figured it out, and luckily, the e-mail I had on file at eBay was current, or that would be yet another mess. Now back in eBay, I had a note that said "It appears the password for your eBay account may have recently become compromised. As a result of this, we have reset your password and secret question." That's why I had been locked out. But I didn't see any odd bidding, so I have no idea what triggered the issue.

Now, I have a new password. And now, unfortunately, this just may make me look at the phishing e-mail scams as if they might actually be real, and that's not an improvement. Although I have the utmost respect for Web leaders like eBay, Paypal and Amazon, I have to imagine the fraud business dramatically impacts their ability to do e-mail marketing and customer service, and that must be incredibly frustrating.

August 23, 2007

For Apple Legal, Resistance is Futile

As I mentioned in a quick note on The Apple Blog yesterday, the latest rumor du jour is that Apple is set to soon release shorter, wider versions of the iPod Nano in a variety of new colors. While the initial "spy shots" on some sites have been blurry at best, subsequent requests by Apple Legal to a number of those sites, from 9to5mac.com to Gizmodo, and most recently, Paris Lemon, for them to remove the images, seems to be a lot like asking for the barn door to be shut after the cows have been released.

Once a rumor or leak hits the Web, it's out, period. If it's an Apple rumor, it's likely on Digg. Other Mac users, like I did, downloaded the images to their hard drives en mass, in the event the takedown notices were issued. If the photos were reposted anywhere, they're on blogs, and Google Images would be next to reindex the images in their library, and cache them forever. Archive.org may crawl the page and take a picture. Even if Apple Legal reached out to everyone, and everyone complied, those images are out for good.

It's an oft-repeated sport for the Mac rumors sites to seek out leaked info, and then for Apple Legal to go after them. But even though I respect Apple's need for secrecy and privacy and for them to break the news, in the world of the Web, with such a maniacal fan base as they have, resistance is futile, and they might as well focus more on those internally who broke the rules, instead of shooting the messengers.

New TAB Post: Apple Remote Could Slow Apple TV Gaming

With the Nintendo Wii on board, I've been thinking a lot about how intuitive and fun it is to play the console, and how, in contrast, my Apple TV has found a lot of idle time. I think Apple's hobby has a lot of potential as a game platform, but Steve Jobs is being quiet, and I think the focus on minimalism, from the box to the remote, offers up challenges to developers and potential game players.

After all... the Apple Remote simply doesn't even have enough buttons to play Tetris, let alone Mario Brothers. Would it be a major impediment to Apple expanding the platform? I think it would.

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Would Apple's Remote Deny Proper Gaming?. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

Last Week's Win Marks 5th Ballhype Trophy

As Ballhype has continued to grow its feature set and user base, the most addicting feature for me has been an old standby - the weekly "Golden Picks" contest, where site visitors can select winners of the day's games in professional sports, gaining extra credit for correctly selecting underdog winners. By consistently making my picks on a daily basis, being willing to take risks and occasionally using strategy, its been common for my name to be near the leaderboard each week, ever since the contest debuted in early April.

Grandfathered into the site, thanks to being part of its beta testing, I managed to win the first week's contest, and by week four, I had repeated the success, taking my second first-place finish. After fellow user "Joski" swept through May, I gained my bearings and took the first two weeks in June for my third and fourth wins. And last week, after 5 different people won in between, three of them (including Joski) doing so twice, I stumbled to the top, winning out in one of the closest margins yet, forcing the site to go into two decimal places to separate first place from second.

Erin and Jason Gurney, the site's co-founders, have been kind enough to offer a prize to the week's winner, of a Ballhype t-shirt. I've spread the love around, giving away three to colleagues, and of course, making sure my wife and I have our own. Pretty soon, with continued luck, I'll have to start picking new styles, selling the much-coveted shirts on eBay, or helping clothe the homeless. But the one thing I won't be doing is stopping my picks. Given that Joski's got 7 wins to his credit, and I only have 5, you better believe I'm going to keep trying until I've got the all-time record. For some reason, I'm just competitive that way, even in a very virtual contest.

August 21, 2007

BBC America Helps Beat Summer TV Doldrums

While the major television networks fill their summers with the latest ridiculous reality shows, my wife and I have been more than happy to indulge in other pursuits, including watching televised A's games, making the most of our Netflix subscription, and battling each other on the Nintendo Wii. This has left our TiVo largely neglected, dutifully taking down each Jon Stewart or Conan O'Brien airing, but not doing much else - until recently, when we asked our TiVo to step up its game by dabbling in the British arts, recording the series "Hotel Babylon" and "Coupling" on BBC America.

As usual, we are quite amused by what the proper English have put together. In the same spirit as the original "The Office" series and "Absolutely Fabulous", both Coupling and Hotel Babylon seem to be ahead of their time, sure to be poorly mimicked by wannabe TV producers here in the states in no time.

Of the two, Hotel Babylon is both newer and most promising, in my opinion. Taking what would otherwise be pure drudgery - managing a hotel, keeping guests pleased, and rooms cleaned, instead presents a foundation for all sorts of mischief, internal politics, and odd characters, with an acceptable level of sex, drugs and alcohol thrown in for good measure.

But Coupling is in itself quite funny - almost like the series Friends could have been if it were to have some semblance of intelligence, and a darker side. The most recent episode we saw showed two sides of a couple's breakup and eventual reconciliation, cutting a clear demarcation between the two genders' interpretations and reactions to the same event. For starters, the girl treated herself to a beauty parlor, while the man headed to a strip club. You get the idea.

Given that much of network television is getting progressively worse, and the summers are the most vapid of them all, I'm glad we've found an escape route, even if it means listening to strong accents from across the Atlantic. If you've got spare space on your TiVo or DVR, pick up a few episodes and give the shows a whirl.

Blogging: Set Goals Or Let Fly?

Steven Hodson of WinExtra has an excellent post on his top 10 suggestions for new bloggers, including advice to set goals, narrow your focus, choose the right tools and pick a theme. If done well, he suggests you should have a target number of RSS feed readers, individual site visitors or even advertising dollars, whether for six months or twelve.

While good advice for those with specific goals, does that mean those without goals, and without limits, are inherently unsuccessful? I recently noticed I'd passed through both the Technorati Authority rank of more than 100, as well as a Feedburner subscription base of just over 100. Did I count that as achieving my goals? No, because I hadn't made them a target, but they are good benchmarks nonetheless.

I think there's something to be said for blogging for the sake of blogging, for not always narrowing your focus if you just don't feel like it. While I might get more readers if I stuck to just Apple Macintosh coverage, or Google watching, I enjoy talking about sports, or our dog, or the latest hits on our TiVo or Nintendo Wii. For me, while I've said my blog is my brand, it's not so narrow as to show me in a niche. Instead, while my interests are diverse, so will my blog be.

I don't have specific goals for my blog, except that I keep it up in a timely manner, that my posts maintain interest and quality, and that I keep conversations alive. For me, the blog is an outlet of discourse with people I may never meet, and a clean slate that captures those things I'm thinking about or want to call attention to. The WinExtra guide is fantastic if I were looking to start a blog with a target of being on the B-List or the A-List, and gaining notoriety, or simply covering the yearly hosting bills, but for me, I'd prefer to let fly, so I can communicate at my own pace and not feel as if I'm forever falling behind my own expectations.

August 20, 2007

New TAB Post: Living One Mac Generation Behind

Being an early adopter in the tech world has its perks and its drawbacks. So can being a late follower.

For all the times I've sprung early on new Apple products, like iPod, Apple TV, iLife, etc., I've similarly lagged on the hardware side. My first computer I didn't share with the rest of the family was quickly lapped by Apple's 68k to PowerPC chip line transition. Now, I'm sitting here with a G4 laptop, without Intel Inside. While the machine works great, I'm already seeing interesting apps, like VMWare Fusion and Joost, just outside my reach. It can be quite frustrating!

That's the background behind my most recent contributions to The Apple Blog, titled Living One Mac Generation Behind. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

Wii Offers Original Mario Bros. for Five Bucks

While the Nintendo Wii is still new to me, I'm sure some of its more advanced features are sure to prove me late to the game. Yesterday, while browsing the Wii's Shopping Channel, I found that you can download classic original Nintendo games directly to the Wii's hard drive, without buying a game disc. For the equivalent of $5, I was able to download the original Super Mario Bros. video game, helping me reestablish my dominance over Goombas and gain the opportunity to save The Princess, all for less than the price of a McDonald's Happy Meal.

Like any good NES user back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I played my unfair share of Mario Bros, and know all the hidden tricks. But while it's been a long time since I've played the game on an NES console, I had the game fired up and ready to go on our 42-inch plasma TV last night, a brand new experience.

Engadget posted a story yesterday calling for Nintendo to enable DVD playback on the Wii - a laudable effort, to be sure. But for me, I continue to get geeked out by the fact this slim console has the ability to move beyond DVDs, and can grab new games from the cloud for near-immediate playing. It's a lot like video games on demand. For an extremely small cost basis, I was able to pull down one of the world's classics, a game which doesn't get any less fun with time, and one I likely would have paid ten times as much for the first time around. That's almost as fun as finding a hidden "1 Up" mushroom!

The 2007 A's Love Wednesdays!

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Being a partial season ticket holder this year, I've endured too many losses seemingly every Friday, Saturday and the occasional Sunday. It got me thinking... am I seeing my unfair share of losses, when compared to other days during the week? And do the A's play better on Saturday night 6:05 starts than 1:05 starts here in Oakland? So I broke out the Excel sheet. Could the results be coincidence, small sample size, or are the numbers telling us something?


-- ALL Stats Current as of Sunday's Win vs. Kansas City --

First Up: Weekdays.

After crunching the numbers, I was right about one thing. The A's do much better during the week than they do on the weekends. In fact, during the relative low-pressure Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the 2007 A's win at a 57.9% and 63.2% clip, respectively. Given the team's sub-.500 record, it's no surprise that's above everything else. In fact, the team only wins 35% of Saturday contests and 40% of Sunday games overall. (See below chart)



Next up: Day games vs. Night games.

It turns out the A's only win just under 49% of day games and just under 49% of night games, so that tells us a whole lot of nothing. But if you drill down on a day by day comparison, some jump out at you, and I'm not talking about the fact that Sunday night games and Monday and Friday day games don't exist. Instead, you can see that on Saturdays, the team wins less than 43% of day games, and only 23% of night games, a total not helped by their woeful 0-7 record away from Oakland on Saturday night. That's right, 0-7. In fact, to my surprise, the team both wins and loses an equal amount of games at home on Saturdays, so I've got little to whine about there.

(Also: Don't get thrown by the fact the team won their only Tuesday day game on the road. 1 for 1 does not a sample size make)



Next up: Home games vs. Road games.

We already talked about how much the A's love playing at home on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, where they've won 14 of 21 contests, good for a 66.7% winning percentage. But did you have any idea that Thursdays on the road were just as nice? Okay, so it's only 4 out of 6 games won, but you're not going to get those numbers anywhere else. (That might also explain why the A's seem to do well mid-week and get us excited, only to then fade on the weekend)



Putting it all together: Home vs. Road vs. Weekdays vs. Day vs. Night

Again, throw out the one Tuesday day game. That's an anomaly. What we see is that on Wednesday, the A's play great at home during the day and great on the road at night. On Friday/Saturday/Sunday, you may as well flip a coin to see if the A's will do well, unless it's Saturday night and they're on the road. That's a guaranteed loss.



If you want to poke holes in the data, love ones and zeroes, or just want to get your inner geek on, please do download the full Excel file and give us some new reports. But until then, I'm going to go to Vegas and put my home mortgage against the A's when they play on the road Saturday nights. And I've GOT to start attending Wednesday day games instead. Dollar Dogs, right?

August 17, 2007

Facebook Groups are the Site's Saving Grace

A month ago, I wrote that for Facebook, I could already read the epilogue. Despite so much crowing in the blogosphere about the site's growth and opening up to non school-goers, I didn't think the unfocused social networking site would be the final answer. I said people would eventually grow tired of it and move on, leaving it for the next shiny thing that came along.

At the time, I didn't have a login and said I didn't want one. But curiosity, and a desire to back up my comments with experience had me signing up shortly afterward, to look around. A few weeks later, I still don't think Facebook will ever have as much value for me as other sites, like LinkedIn, and I still don't think it will become a site I will ever obsess over, and I still believe a fickle audience won't stick for long. But there are some small, non life-changing benefits.

Unlike true blogging, Facebook profile forces you into a rigid style to present yourself, offering a headshot, a place for photos, a short status update box, your personal background (age/gender/location, etc.) and a mini-feed of what your friends are doing. If you find useful applications, you add them to the main section or sidebar, much like a My Yahoo! portal. (See My Profile if you're a Facebook user)

After jumping in to Facebook, I started with the basics - headshot photo, personal information, Web site. Then I did an import of my Apple Address book to see if my "friends" were on the site. Not many were. But those who made sense to add, I added. Then I went in search for Robert Scoble's page, as he's made so much noise on Facebook, you'd think all other sites were going to close down tomorrow. I added him as a friend, and he accepted (he's quite casual in that regard).

In the ensuing weeks, I have not been all that impressed with the options for applications on the site. Most tend to lean toward "Ask a Question of Your Friends" and "Post a Link" or "Track Who's Viewing Your Page". I did add plugins for Last.FM to show recent music played, and Google Reader Shared Items, but I can do all those things here on my blog.

Just about the only benefit I've found of Facebook is the use of "Groups". Facebook offers an impressive array of groups you can join, from those who support Lisa Simpson for President to a Beagle Lovers club, to groups around political parties, school attendance and church. Through Facebook, I've seen a few dozen old acquaintances join one of these groups, and "added as friend" quite a few I hadn't thought of in a while. But this doesn't mean I'll reach out to them any more than I had, only that I can now see their status updates, who they've added as friends, and if the group has any live conversation. Usually the answer is no, but the Groups feature does offer a central point to make announcements to similarly interested people.

After all the noise, I had secretly hope to be proven wrong. I wanted to log in to this walled-off garden of techdom and discover that I would have to eat my words, that this would be a one-stop panacea of Web geekery and communication. But it's not. Facebook, for me, has very little value, and won't ever sniff the relevancy of this blog. While I won't yet be closing out my account, and will continue to give it a go with regular status updates and Friends adds, I don't ever see myself becoming a diehard Facebook fanatic.

August 16, 2007

TechCrunch's Celebrating Failure Doesn't Help Anyone

Though the argument could be made that for all of the breathlessness that follows the debut of Web companies and services, there should be an equal amount of noise on the down side when some of them fail to meet expectations, I don't quite understand the seeming excitement around seeing others struggle or even close their doors. Today, TechMeme and the blogosphere are abuzz over two prominent Web 2.0 companies, Technorati and PodTech, who saw changes at the executive level, and much of it is seemingly celebratory. And that makes no sense at all.

The news you likely already know. At Technorati, David Sifry, after previously stating there was a search for a candidate to replace him at CEO, announced he would move to a board-only role. Meanwhile, PodTech, home of well-renowned "on sabbatical" blogger Robert Scoble, promoted from within, giving the COO the CEO position.

Change happens. It's a well-known industry norm that startup companies see change as they grow. Founders often first move from CEO positions to "strategic" positions, and then later, out of the picture. But to see some talk about it, you'd think that as this change occurs, that it's an opportunity to pile on and throw dirt on those who were often the biggest risk takers of them all.

Take, for example, TechCrunch's coverage of Sifry's very transparent note on his blog, which chronicled the change, and noted the layoff of eight employees:
"Sifry’s last blog post as CEO of the company was representative of his entire tenure - vague and cold. Layoffs also occurred today but Sifry didn’t mention them until the end."
Though I don't have any specific insight here, it's most likely the small (and eight people is small) layoff was not given top billing out of respect of those who just lost their jobs. No company likes to highlight bad news, and it's not the CEO or former CEO's role to highlight the very personal loss on his or her blog. For Sifry, his blog is to be about him and his company. Let those others who have left talk about the story from their words if their story is to be told. And for TechCrunch to dump on Sifry by saying his entire tenure was "vague and cold"? Where is the backup on that? It's complete balderdash. Sifry, through his blog, and through frequent comments in the blogosphere, including here, was hardly vague, and hardly cold. TechCrunch is wrong, period.

TechCrunch's negativity feeds the beast of those who like to pile on. Comments on the site said, "for Sifry, his arrogance and constant self-crooning have half the Valley clapping hands," and "Sifry misspelled “loser” with “leader”."

It's one thing for "stuff stirrer" Web sites like Valleywag to delight in presumed failure, and quite another for Web 2.0 king maker TechCrunch to do the same. Yet the site delights in tracking what it calls the "TechCrunch Deadpool", where Web services like 37 Signals, TailRank, Backfence and others are recent entries.

It's a lot easier to criticize those who have tried and failed than it is to try and fail yourself, let alone to try and succeed. For TechCrunch, a growing media site covering companies where 4 of 5 are likely to fail eventually, to delight in others' struggles is ridiculous, and I hope that the arrogance will someday stop.

August 13, 2007

After 5 Years of My Yahoo!, Google Reader Is New Start Page

Back in the Web 1.0 days, seemingly every Web site was morphing into a Web portal - a virtual one stop destination for news, stocks, sports, e-mail, weather, or just about anything. Excite did it. Lycos did it. Yahoo! did it. Netscape eventually did it. But while Yahoo! has done a good job at offering new services and trying to give me enough "sticky" applications to keep my attention, I find myself spending more and more time in Google Reader, catching up on the hundreds of RSS feeds I subscribe too. So today, I made the switch, and made Google Reader my start page in Safari, on all my Macs.

Now, instead of seeing a static page which may have some new AP wires, updated stock prices, and occasionally current sports scores, I get the very best the blogosphere has to offer. It's rare now that I will fire up the Web browser and not be presented with a few dozen news items from around the Web.

Now that we are in the Web 2.0 days, the concept of a portal has passed on. Rather than go to a single destination to have them provide me what they believe I want to read, I would rather go to a single destination which delivers me what I want to read, based on my subscriptions. I don't see myself gravitating back to My Yahoo! or iGoogle any time soon, though both are a simple command key combination away in Safari. But today's move is a significant marker in my continually evolving Web consumption.

ANtics Episode 3.23: Rookie Raves

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Their names were scarcely known to casual A's fans before the season, and now players like Travis Buck, Donnie Murphy and Kurt Suzuki represent the A's future, giving us some exciting developing stories through the second half of the year. Does it fill you with hope for 2008 and beyond?


Click to See Larger Comic


All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

Your Blog Statistics May Vary, Widely

Try as I might, I can't settle down with a single reliable service to track Web statistics. While I have been very happy with SiteMeter's premium offering for more than a year now, I have found the service often misses a great number of visitors, resulting in significant undercount - made more glaring by the addition of statistical tracking capabilities to other services, including Feedburner and MyBlogLog, giving me multiple sources from which to compare my own statistics.

Last week was among the most-heavily trafficked periods for louisgray.com since the blog's initiation more than eighteen months ago, led largely by a pair of referring links from popular Macintosh destination site, MacSurfer.com, who posted references to two of my Apple-focused stories, "iPhones Aplenty in Silicon Valley Geek Mecca" and "Attention Newbies: Not All Apple News Changes the World". But while it was clear site traffic was up much higher than normal, the varying statistics trackers had significant variations in how they accounted for the spike.

For the purposes of comparison, I'll highlight traffic from Tuesday to Thursday of last week (August 7-9):

ServiceUnique Site Visits Total Page Views
 Tues.Wed.Thurs.Tues.Wed.Thurs.
SiteMeter244255320314325375
Feedburner552542617684625716
MyBlogLog235261310317329386

Looking at the data side by side, it seems Feedburner, for whatever reason, counts upwards of two times the visitors as do MyBlogLog and SiteMeter. While each of the services accurately reported the most popular pages, and most popular referring sites, the total counts vary. This could be because some visitors have voluntarily blocked "*.sitemeter.com" from their ad blocker software, or it could be that one service handles duplicate visits or self-visits (a.k.a. mine) differently than others.

Additionally, running the downloadable software application "Summary" against the same log files confuses the issue even further. While SiteMeter and MyBlogLog report between 230 and 320 or so visitors from Tuesday to Thursday, Summary says those days were more in the range of 2,000 individual visitors, serving nearly 3,000 pages daily. Like with Feedburner, I believe those stats to be high. Unlike the other services, however, Summary reports "hijacked" page graphics, including the ANtics comics, as individual views, and may report visits from search spidering software, like Google or Yahoo! on par with "real" people.

All I really know is that blog traffic is consistently in the hundreds of visitors a day, that it's more likely toward the 200-300 person range than 700-2,000, and that there may be no one right answer to "How many visitors did I get today and how many pages did they read?" What statistics package do you prefer, and am I overlooking anything that could make this process more simple?

August 12, 2007

New Reality: Your Blog Is Your Brand

While many are debating whether bloggers should be considered on par with journalists, if microblogging through Twitter and others should replace standard blogs, or even if Facebook or LinkedIn are the new business cards in a technology oriented age, it seems to me the clearest, newest definition of a blog is that it is your personal brand. Whether you have tens of visitors or tens of thousands, whether you have dozens of comments or none at all, the content on your blog, in total, represents you, and if done well, can define you, to those who know you well, or those who do not.

By blogging about your interests, by sharing news, links and photos, you are helping explain to the world who you are, what you like and don't like, what you represent, and what you do. If you choose to break news or comment on the day's news, you are doing so through a personal filter which covers everything. If you choose to talk about sports and technology, your choices as to what you want to discuss help define your brand. And, more importantly, the quality of your posts, the frequency of your posts, the length of your posts, all those elements help to illustrate your writing abilities, your attention to detail, your ability to stick to a project, and comprehension or adoption of new technology.

A personal blog will always be much better as a brand than your Facebook profile or LinkedIn profile.

A Facebook profile, even with the newest enhancements to the service, shows photos, groups and networks you consider yourself part of, the friends you have, updates you provide, applications you have installed, and a short message board, or "wall". But the Facebook profile does not allow for much personalization of look, feel or content. The Facebook profile doesn't allow for post after post of prose. The Facebook profile allows you to show how you're connected to a friend, but doesn't give you a platform to talk about the relationship. The Facebook profile is not your brand, but instead the Facebook brand with a small helping of your content.

Your LinkedIn profile is an excellent business card and resume, with job history, relationships, and recommendations. But it is not your brand. Instead, it is one, strong, contributing element to your brand.

As important as it is for me to look to LinkedIn and Facebook to know about a new hire candidate, or to research acquaintances, a blog will go far beyond in explaining to me how this person wants to be portrayed. I now expect job candidates to have blogs, and make that part of the interview process, whether it's related to their position or not. Even if the big shots like Steve Rubel of MicroPersuasion and Robert Scoble are successful in moving microupdates away from their blog and to other services, their blog will be the best measure of their personal brand to me, and should not be abandoned, because no other single service can best be owned by and represent the individual.

August 09, 2007

Google Ignores Users During Major Blogger Outage

Last night, when I tried to make two posts to the blog, Google's Blogger service stalled out, saying "your publish is taking longer than expected." But try as I might, repeated attempts went nowhere. Turns out FTP Publishing through Blogger was seriously broken, and not just for me, as a well-trafficked Google Groups support board shows.

Starting around 4 p.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday, Blogger users who utilize the FTP Publishing option, as I do, were unable to post new stories. And while they tried to contact Google through the company's own Google Groups service, the company made absolutely no response. You can see the frustration mount...

  • Two hours in: "I'm seeing the same problem. Frustrating, isn't it?"
  • Four hours in: "blogger just sits and spins without successfully publishing anything"
  • Five hours in: "This is a serious problem! I can't believe it. Blogger should do something ASAP"

But Google didn't respond, and the service stayed down, driving users nuts.

  • "Google's customer service is abhorent. These treads are full of issues that are never resoolved" (sic)
  • "7 hours have passed since i first noticed FTP publishing was down..."
  • "What happens now? Do we just discuss the problem amongst ourselves until a Blogger technician takes pity on us, or what?"

For many, it seemed incredulous that a company like this would be completely dark when all of us were affected.

"It is pretty unbelievable that it has been down so long without any kind of acknowledgement or statement from Blogger. Take 30 seconds to post an update!"

"Come on Blogger? What's up? Anyone got a update for us? Anything? It's 4:24pm (CST) here, and we're well over 24 hours into this issue with no resolution, nor any Google/Blogger response"


Meanwhile, the company's Blogger Status page never updated, nor did the Help site or the Known Issues page. Google never acknowledged a problem, nor did they come to the discussion board where those seeing the issue were asking for answers.

At some point mid-day today, the issue cleared up, but instead of an apology or an explanation as to what happened, or why it won't happen again, the company's users were ignored, expected to accept the level of downtime. I know it certainly threw a crimp into my schedule, and I'm not all that happy about it. It's enough to make me once again make sure I have all my data backed up and can change platforms (again) if necessary. I hope that won't be the case, but to answer a serious outage with silence doesn't fill me with pleasure.

Top Ten Favorite A's Players: August 2007

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Back in May, I took a look at this team, and for one moment, throwing statistics to the side, I thought I'd pull a reverse Moneyball and "go with my gut", telling you who were my top ten favorite A's players on the roster, at that point in time. As I wrote then, "While as A's fans, we remain loyal to our team, our loyalty to individuals can sometimes be as fleeting as a single at-bat or one relief appearance... And before anybody asks, yes, it is okay to include players on the DL or in the minors, if you must. But if they are traded, or waived, they cannot be listed."

Since May, much has changed. We've seen players go (Bradley, Melhuse, Kennedy, Kielty, Kendall...), and we've seen players get put on the ice shelf for safe keeping (Harden, Duchscherer, Loaiza, Snelling...). Meanwhile, the A's have won some great games, and lost more than I care to recall. So, it's time to roll out my Top Ten Current Favorite A's Players for August, and poll you for just how you're feeling. And before you ask, there are no wrong answers. If you want to vote for Crosby, go ahead. Just be prepared to defend your vote.

My Top 10 Favorite Current A's Players (August '07)

1. Travis Buck

Reasons: Despite Buck's being a rookie, he's become one of the most reliable offensive hitters, is always a threat to knock out a double or triple, and makes incredible catches in the field through Byrnes-like energy, but controlled. While Buck loses style points for his reduced hair content, he makes those points back for a clutch AN day 4 RBI.

2. Jack Cust

Reasons: While he's not the "home run every other at bat" type of threat we had naively hoped, Cust simply refuses to go quietly. In those at-bats where he's not striking out, Cust is willing to take a walk, lace a base hit up the middle, or bang a double off the wall. He's come from nowhere to be a strong middle of the order player in an A's offense largely devoid of scary hitters. (See also: Sports Illustrated: The Legend of Jack Cust)

3. Dan Haren

Reasons: A legitimate Cy Young candidate, Haren can match pitch for pitch with opposing team's aces, and give the A's an incredible chance of winning each time he takes the mound. Haren is also very quiet off the mound, not complaining about run support when that's an issue, or becoming a target for the tabloids.

4. Joe Blanton

Reasons: I have a soft spot for Kentucky Joe. On alternating starts, he looks like the second coming of Cy Young, only to follow with him being the second coming of Lenny DiNardo. Blanton, despite being all business on the mound, always seems unsatisfied with himself, and holds his expectations to a higher standard. Also, his manhandling of Ichiro and subsequent Blanton vs. World near-brawl showed incredible fire.

5. Mark Ellis

Reasons: Mark didn't even make my top ten last time, as I've grown so accustomed to his day in and day out stellar defense, but hadn't seen anything remarkable at the plate. That's changed. Mark is a serious #5 hole threat and is one back of the all-time Athletics franchise record for home runs by a second baseman. There's no question that by the end of the season, he'll own it.

6. Nick Swisher

Reasons: Nick always has something to say, and looks like the guy who would constantly be fun to be around. He also happens to be a great hitter, and can play multiple positions well when needed, and has added solid flexibility to Geren's day to day lineup. His power shortage and struggles at the plate of late have him down "this low".

7. Chad Gaudin

Reasons: I give Nico way too much credit here. The 2006 Gaudin was a guy who came out of the pen and walked too many people, with the occasional good outing. The 2007 Gaudin has surprised everyone with many a strong start, and helping to anchor the pitching staff, at least from the #1 to #3 position, when injuries have made others, like Loaiza and Harden a big fat question mark. That Nico called for him to be a starter early on was a gem.

8. Kurt Suzuki

Reasons: Kurt should be crowned for doing well enough in Sacramento to finally get the black hole of offense (See: Kendall, Jason) out of our lineup, alone. But despite his occasional struggles with the bat, we are charmed by his boyish appearance, the puka shells, and his promise to be a catcher of the future. Rather than watch one career in decline, we are part of his rise to glory.

9. Mike Piazza

Reasons: Anybody who hits home runs against the Angels with regularity joins this list. While we haven't had the full services of Piazza for long, it's clear that he makes the team's lineup better with him in it than when he's on the bench. Just the idea of a Swisher/Cust/Piazza back to back to back in the order makes me giddy. That he missed time with injury also can't be attributed to his carelessness or weakness, but instead, he was felled in the line of duty.

10. Donnie Murphy

Reasons: He's not Bobby Crosby for #1. As with Suzuki, the story of a rookie who gets called up to the bigs before they were expected is exciting, even as we know they don't usually start off hitting .300 with power. In his short time with the Club, we've seen the occasional timely hit, and haven't seen anything cringe-worthy in the field, which despite Crosby's tenure, was always an adventure, especially in the first half of the year.


That's where I stand today, and I'm sure you disagree. Tell me who I forgot, and who you openly root for. There's no call to be as talky as me, but have fun with it. On an off-day what would you rather be doing... work?

iPhones Aplenty in Silicon Valley Geek Mecca

This evening, we drove South on 101 from Palo Alto to Shoreline in Mountain View to catch "Bourne Ultimatum". Mountain View, home of Google, and headquarters for much of the Web 1.0 boom as well (see: Netscape), often provides a great place to mix and mingle with some of the Silicon Valley's best and brightest, even in a very casual setting. As a result, it was no surprise that when we entered the theater early, before previews had begun, we were surrounded by geeks playing with their cell phones to pass the time. In fact, to our right, an entire row of young men were fiddling with their iPhones, unmistakably tapping on the screens with their index fingers, or rotating the views to landscape, only to be followed by more soundless tapping, as they presumably surfed the Web or scrolled through e-mail.

What just a month or so ago would be worth posting to Flickr or Digg to announce an iPhone sighting in public is growing increasingly commonplace - though the appearance of four geeks (maybe all Google employees?) using theirs side by side was certainly less ordinary.

Just last Saturday, while some of us stumbled around with our digital cameras to capture Billy Beane and Ken Korach at AN Day 4, or others held up rudimentary cell phones, I spotted a few with their iPhones, taking in the action. The week before, one of my friends seeing The Simpsons Movie had also brought along his iPhone, passing it to me just so I could once again prove my fingers are too fat for the built-in keyboard. And often, while at lunch during the work week in tech geek rich Milpitas or San Jose, I can see iPhones placed on the table, or on the hip - often next to the Blackberry.

It looks like early fears over the iPhone lacking features, needing bug fixes after version 1.0, or even more directly, that fast adopters wouldn't want to be saddled to AT&T, are somewhat overblown. While I'm still holding out, waiting for version 2 or 3, I'm glad to start seeing the iPhone become as iconic as the iPod's white earbuds once were before everyone on the planet had them. That I get to enjoy the sheer geekery of the Valley at the same time is a major plus as well.

Bourne Ultimatum Delivers, Has Me Wishing for More

The problem with putting the words "End", "Apocalypse", "Final", "Last" and "Ultimatum" in titles is that the audience assumes all the loose ends in a story will be wrapped up nicely, that all questions will be answered, and hopefully, the hero will win, the villains will fall, and all will go on happily ever after. Yet, sometimes, like in the case with the Matt Damon-led Jason Bourne movies, we simply enjoy the experience, and are willing to forego believability, if only to extend the franchise in hopes of future entertainment.

Tonight, Kristine and I saw "The Bourne Ultimatum", the third in the Bourne series, centering around Bourne's continued efforts to peel back the mysteries in his past, and wreak vengeance on those who have wronged him. Intertwined between car chases, foot chases, motorcycle chases, fisticuffs and shooting, we also see political infighting and coverups at the CIA, foes turn to friends, and somehow end up cheering on a man who could easily be seen as a cold-hearted mercenary.

While there's always a danger than an actor will become cast in a mold if they repeatedly play a single character for too long and become identified with that role, I've always been impressed with the way Damon handled the role of Bourne - without a hint of humor, but instead, pure seriousness, craftiness and intellect to outwit those seeking to hunt him down. If I were to learn that in some odd twist, that the Bourne trilogy were to be extended to say, five, or seven, films, I'd welcome it. Bourne has the potential to be a franchise, but, having just left the theater, it's clear they want to put the sure money maker to bed.

Bourne Ultimatum starts off in action and does not relent throughout. Not pausing much for character development, the film starts where the second installment left off, assumes the viewer is familiar with the back story, and charges forward, as we follow Bourne's search for answers, and the world's search for Bourne. For summer enjoyment, it was a good film, with enough noise and action to be worth seeing in a theater, rather than waiting for the DVD or finagling from BitTorrent. I only wish they had left the door open a bit more.

August 08, 2007

Attention Newbies: Not All Apple News Changes the World

Following Apple's media frenzy around the iPhone, and the company's continued market successes, the bloggers swarmed onto Cupertino with unprecedented vigor today, as Steve Jobs offered up a bevy of new product introductions, including a new line of iMacs and revamped iLife and iWork suites. And while on the Steve Jobs meter, the announcements were fairly ho-hum, the blogosphere was set ablaze with dozens of sites, ranging from Engadget to MacRumors to Robert Scoble and Om Malik, trying to liveblog the proceedings.

The event presented a unique intersection of an incredibly successful, yet secretive, enigma of a company more broadly opening its doors to A-list bloggers than ever before. While just a few years ago, those of us in the Mac community remember much complaining around some sites being tagged as "rumor" sites or denied press credentials, today's event had bloggers like Scoble sitting in the first few rows, capturing Jobs' every word. And there's no question that sites like Engadget and others who were there would be all too happy to pass along rumors they found reputable.

With such significant focus and the highest level of transparency, you'd think the grounds were prepped for Jobs to surprise us all with something radically unexpected, like a second generation iPhone, the release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, or Mac OS X for generic Windows boxes. Instead, what we got was 30 minutes of demoing iPhoto, tweaks to GarageBand, iWeb and iMovie, and a long-overdue capacity increase for the company's .Mac Web offerings. Enough "special events" like that, and the bloggers will just phone in their story.

Don't get me wrong. When I got home, I watched Jobs' presentation in full, and was impressed with some of the software demos. But this wasn't even a B on the high-rated Jobsian curve. Those of us who have followed every presentation by Jobs at all the MacWorlds and all the WWDC's and all the special events past know that on some occasions, the rumors will far outstrip the news, and Jobs' "one more thing" won't rock the world. So... we got a flat keyboard. So what?

For those bloggers who got all ecstatic because they were finally let in behind the velvet rope to see a Stevenote, I expect their feeling of novelty could turn to one of entitlement, and once they've gained a good level of cynicism, they won't be doting over "Skimming" in iPhoto or the fact the new iMacs look like the iPhone. Instead, they'll realize even Jobs can't hit a home run every time at bat.

The Natural vs. The Synthetic: Bonds Taints History

In 2001, when Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single season home run record, I was glued to the TV set, and likely cheered as he crushed a ball into the seats for #71. Just three years prior, I had even cut class to see Mark McGwire break the much longer lasting record held by Roger Maris, and saw him trot around the bases with a grin on his face, as he became the first major leaguer to reach the rare air of #62.

But tonight, when Barry Bonds reached #756, I wasn't watching. I won't be able to tell future generations that I saw it live, and I really don't care. After all we've learned, and all we've seen, what should have been an incredible moment has been dulled into a gnawing disappointment I wish would just go away.

Naively, I'd like to believe sports to be pure. I want to think that those players I devote significant time to, who I cheer from the stands or at home, are on a level playing field. I'd like to think they achieve their levels of success without the aid of artificial enhancements, or that they aren't swayed by outside influence, such as professional gambling. But it's just not true - and likely, it never has been, even though Bonds' alleged steroid use is so blatant and so publicized in this era of the never ending news cycle.

Growing up as an impressionable kid in the late 1980s, my baseball heroes included Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, who could now be seen as the Madame and Pierre Curie of the steroids circuit - real pioneers who achieved greatness only to wilt away from the powers' eventual radiation. Though I'd like to think McGwire achieved his success without steroids, he has to be held to the same scrutiny as Bonds does, even though McGwire doesn't have an equivalent book like the must-read "Game of Shadows", which so devastatingly chronicles Bonds' flaunting of the rules and his overwhelming boorishness. Now, I simply accept the fact that McGwire cheated. Canseco cheated. Bonds cheated. Many cheated in a never ending spiral of malfeasance, targeted at chasing the almighty dollar and personal ego.

Upon learning that Bonds had taken away Hammerin' Hank Aaron's rightful spot atop the record books tonight, I did the only right thing I could think to do. I turned off coverage of "The Synthetic" and turned on "The Natural", starring Robert Redford, which saw Roy Hobbs rely on physical strength, talent and determination to become a major baseball star, and capture the fan's hearts through on-field heroics. Even when tempted by gamblers and mistresses, he eventually does the right thing, spurning evil and gaining success as a result.

Somehow, despite decades of focused baseball consumption, I had missed seeing The Natural until tonight. I knew the story's basic plotline, which is legend. I knew the main characters. I knew what to expect. But I had never seen it in full until tonight - the most appropriate of nights to remember that even when I find myself questioning the very core of those sports I champion and believe in, that the underlying foundation is true and without error. That it takes Hollywood and a 20+ year old film to bring me back to this stage is sad. It's completely unfortunate that a guy like Barry Bonds, who I want to like and want to root for, who has incredible baseball talent, chose to sweep away his charm and cleanliness for a run at synthetic, tainted history. Robert Redford would have said no to drugs.

August 06, 2007

Ballhype Interviews Sports Blogs Nation

Ballhype scored a coup this morning, when the site's co-founder, Erin Gurney, lassoed a group of Sports Blogs Nation bloggers, including the aforementioned Tyler Bleszinski, for a roundtable interview. (See: Big Tent Sports Blogging)

In the interview, Erin asks some tough questions, about how bloggers are integrated into the Sports Blogs Nation family, how much traffic the network is receiving, and even some questions on why the network hasn't yet been acquired by a household name, given all its success. Additionally, some of the site's bloggers are asked if there are any downsides to forgoing their original blogs in favor of joining the SB Nation family. As one responded, "I honestly can't think of too many disadvantages to being a part of SB Nation; it's truly been a long series of advantages."

It's the second major story Erin's gotten in the last week, following her Sports Bloggers Survey.

As an active participant in Ballhype, and an assistant editor of two of the Sports Blogs Nation franchises, I'm clearly very open about rooting for both sites' success. It looks like they're on their way.

New TAB Posts on Classic and Microsoft Office Mac

5 or 6 years can be a long time when it comes to software and operating systems. Back in 2001, Apple debuted Mac OS X, and by the next year, told us all that Mac OS 9 (Classic) was dead. But some have hung on to the old OS. In parallel, as Apple has made that shift, Microsoft continues to update the company's Office suite, but at a seeming snail's pace. That's likely due to the suite's near-monopoly position, and no real driver for users to upgrade, in my opinion.

So, with those things in mind, out of curiosity, I asked The Apple Blog readers: 1) Is Classic really dead? and 2) If you were the product manager for the next generation of Mac Office, what would you do?

That's the background behind my most recent contributions to The Apple Blog, titled Is Classic Really, Seriously, Dead? and Design Your Next Microsoft Office. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided links. Enjoy.

ANtics Episode 3.22: South Dakotan Sensation

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

The old adage of "good field, no hit" is antiquated in this age when second basemen and shortstops are expected to provide power and slugging alongside the muscle-bound first basemen and outfielders. The A's, not well known for their middle infield's hitting prowess, have received significant production from an unexpected source. Can you guess who?


Click to See Larger Comic


All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

August 05, 2007

Athletics Nation Day 4: A's Win, Beane and Korach Visit

On Saturday, my wife and I teamed up with dozens of diehard Oakland A's fans from AthleticsNation.com to see the A's take on the Angels, in what's become an annual tradition. Like last year, both the A's general manager, Billy Beane, and the A's lead radio announcer, Ken Korach, joined for an extensive pre-game Question and Answer, and like last year, the A's won by one run with a late-inning comeback. Unlike last year, this time, I got a tad sunburned, and have an incredible "watch tan".

Athletics Nation, best known as "AN", is led by the site's founder, Tyler Bleszinski, an indefatigable sports blogs pioneer behind the Sports Blogs Nation network. Under his watch, the network has amassed several dozen focused sites, and is seeing total visitors and page views that could rival those of ESPN.com in a short time. In addition to Tyler's marriage of the Web with sports fanaticism, he's gained near unprecedented access to the A's GM, players and organization, who recognize the benefits they gain from full transparency to some of the most ardent fans. (Full disclosure: I've helped play a small role with AN as a contributing editor, and also assist with Sactown Royalty, focused on the Sacramento Kings, but have zero financial involvement with SB Nation.)

Yesterday, AN descended on McAfee Coliseum, first to get food from the A's barbecue plaza, and later, we sat down with Beane and Korach to pepper them with questions. Prior to the Q&A, I spoke with Korach on what his legacy would be in a few decades, and how he sees radio as a medium changing relative to sports television broadcasting. In the larger forum, Kristine asked Beane and Korach to name their most liked and most disliked aspects of their respective jobs. Beane said he enjoyed going to the ballpark every day and being paid to be so close to the game, and helping make a successful team. Korach, similarly, said he enjoyed the game, but said he wasn't as big a fan of the travel, which can wear on a person, despite charter flights and 5-star hotel rooms.

I also got Korach to talk about how in a changing media landscape, at times, you can simply take in too much information. He said you can be lost for hours if you start doing research before a game on a computer, so you have to know when to say when, and just rely on reporting the game as it unfolds.

There were also many questions around the health and injuries of players, strategic questions on farmhands in the minor league system, or potential trades, but like a good politician, Beane dodged the big ones, choosing to stay above the fray in relation to recent scuttlebutt in the press around allegations from former A Milton Bradley, and declining to discuss trade rumors involving Joe Blanton.

When the game started, it was a clear pitchers' duel. The A's offense didn't do much, and actually only managed two hits on the day, but made both count, as they prevailed 2-1. Athletics Nation was recognized on the scoreboard, and the many of us who came, sporting nametags, cheered on the home team, as they closed out a win, something not seen enough this season, as they remain below the .500 mark, and a dozen games out. We also had a great time talking with our fellow fans, and meeting some for the first time. It was a great time out, and it was much appreciated that Beane and Korach took time from their very busy schedules to share their day with us. I hope that next year, you can join us for Athletics Nation day 5.

(See last year's summary: Bradley Makes AN Day 3 One to Never Forget)

Fake Steve Finally Outed as Forbes Editor

One of Silicon Valley's biggest mysteries was solved today, when the New York Times published a note stating the sarcastic faux CEO's blog was authored by an editor of Forbes, Daniel Lyons. Fake Steve's eventual unveiling may or may not have been why we saw the temporary "shark jumping" of a fake Larry Ellison writing for the site over the last few days, and it certainly makes the site less interesting. Now that the mystery is solved, the blog will be just another wannabe hack spouting nonsensical tech-related drivel (a lot like this one).

The reason Lyons started the Fake Steve Jobs blog was after openly wondering how one written by a major CEO would sound, were the allowed to speak freely. The Times piece says, “I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if a C.E.O. kept a blog that really told you what he thought? That was the gist of it.”

Lyons' outing now permanently throws cold water on the rumors that Andy Inahtko was in fact the Fake Steve, which he himself discounted last month.

Now that Fake Steve has been outed, it's likely I'll be removing the site from my RSS feeds. It's too bad, because it was actually pretty funny on some days.

More: Daring Fireball and Engadget

August 04, 2007

Fake Steve Jumps the Shark

One of the biggest blog stories in the last year has been the emergence of a Fake Steve Jobs, who takes on the personality of the true Apple CEO, and amusingly, sarcastically and vindictively touts all things Apple and rips all others, from Microsoft to Sun to Google. While many an attempt has been made to expose the author's true identity, no confirmations have been made.

As the Fake Steve rounds up incredible attention, linkage and talk, other fake blogs have sprung up, for Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, and even PodTech's Robert Scoble. But none have gained much traction. If Fake Steve were to possess an incredible ego, it could be said he seems to have cornered the market on pseudo-CEO blogging. That's the only logical reason I can think of why Fake Steve would be "jumping the shark" and faking the addition of a co-blogger, his friend, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. In Fake Steve's absence, Fake Larry has been posting for the last few days.

To me, this is a sure sign that Fake Steve is down from his peak. Just like real, consistent, well-written blogging can be tiresome and occasionally unrewarding, I would assume that consistent, well-written fake blogging can be similarly tiring. To add Fake Larry as a co-author tells me that Fake Steve has hit something resembling writer's block, or that a gap in Apple news (is there ever a gap?) has him grasping for straws.

Fake Steve is not such a great writer that we are yearning for a network of fake tech pundits under the author's umbrella. Fake Steve is great because the mercurial Steve Jobs is such a unique target. There's something to be said for focus.

August 02, 2007

Chuck and Larry Get Hitched, to a Myriad of Stereotypes

Having seen Adam Sandler's work on Saturday Night Live for so many years, I didn't anticipate he could break through and become a legitimate, bankable movie star the way he has, trumping the SNL curse that claimed other would-be actors like Rob Schneider, Chris Kattan, David Spade, Chris Farley, and others in this era. But with mega-hits like Waterboy, 50 First Dates, Happy Gilmore, and more, Sandler's movies have become must-sees pretty much every summer. This year's offering, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry", where he is forced into a fake domestic partnership with Kevin James of King of Queens' fame, to collect on domestic partner benefits from the pair's fire department, is, like the other films on his resume, quite silly at times, and forgettable at others.

The film, following the firefighter's "code", stresses that the department will stick together as one, and that one firefighter, having saved the life of another, will forever be in the other's debt. That the overweight Larry finds himself in a bureaucratic loophole, concerned about the long-term support for his two children, should he leave this world prematurely, forces him into the unlikely pairing with Chuck, a swinging gigolo most famous for being "Mr. February" on a pinup calendar.

From there, the movie pushes through just about every predictable worn-out sterotype of the gay lifestyle. The love of Boy George, Wham and the Village People, the focus on an unrelenting libido and constant sex, and even a "dramatic" scene when one of the pair's colleagues drops the soap in a communal shower. That, combined with the occasional words that only a despicable soul like Ann Coulter can drop with ease, made the movie a bit annoying, getting me to roll me eyes between amusing scenes.

The film, despite having been reportedly previewed by gay advocacy groups before its release, doesn't do the community many favors, in my opinion, making it seem that those who are gay are more like the eccentrics marching in a Castro Street parade, and less like the millions who blend into typical society every day. That Sandler and James eventually find themselves as serious gay rights advocates and see themselves undergo typical discrimination from their co-workers is good, as is Sandler's repeated mantra of what's a good word to use (gay) and what's not (rhymes with Bob Saget), but it's almost lacquered on top of the continued teasing and overdone innuendo.

Sandler and James play their parts well, but aren't a convincing couple, looking like a transparent fraud, and they don't exactly get away with their slight of the rules, but they do expose both the issues with the bureaucracy and the pension process, while championing for gay rights, getting two birds hit with one stone. And it is funny. Not as funny as The Simpsons Movie was, but pretty good.