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September 30, 2007

Geeking Out With a New MacBook Pro

Today, I unpacked one of the most-anticipated items to reach our shipping facility in the last few years - my new Apple MacBook Pro. Aimed to replace a 7-year-old Power Mac G4 desktop and a frustrating Dell laptop at the same time, I'm ready to migrate all my major applications over, and start using this magnificent machine for both Mac and Windows work - as soon as I can get hold of VMWare Fusion or another OS emulator, which would let me run Microsoft Outlook, Project, Visio or any other Windows-only apps alongside my Mac environment without hassle.

For the last hour or so, I've had my two laptops sitting side by side, the first in FireWire Target Disk Mode, as I migrate files, applicatins and preferences from my PowerBook G4 (1.25 GHz/80 GB) to the new MBPro (2.2 GHz/200 GB). Yes, that's right. A whopping 200 gigabytes - enough room for all my applications, and all my files, including the more than 30 Gigs of music I've ripped from my CDs and downloaded from the iTunes Music Store.

We're just getting started, but there is no question the new machine is faster, the keyboard is more responsive, and even the speakers sound much better than my 2-year-old laptop. I can't wait to run speed comparisons between it and the year 2000 model I've got at the office...

The A's 2007 Season Finally Comes to a Close

It could be said the A's 2007 season was really over months ago, but today made it official. In front of 28,000 dedicated fans, including my wife and me, the A's beat out the playoff-bound Los Angeles Angels by a score of 3-2, sending us home happy, despite the team's 76-86 finish, good for 3rd in the 4-team AL West.

While it would be too easy to look back on the 2007 season as one of failure and frustration, that would be the easy way out, and incorrect. While many of the team's biggest names fell to injuries, and still others were traded, or never achieved their potential, in their wake, we saw the emergence of some well-liked players who should be contributing to the team in 2008 and beyond.

Top 5 2007 Surprises

Travis Buck: This wild-haired outfielder was supposed to start the season in AAA Sacramento, but debuted in Oakland, immediately making an impact on the club, with speed, average and power. Though he too fell to the injury bug in the latter half of the season, he gave us a look at a future #1 or #2 hitter of years to come.

Kurt Suzuki: Behind the plate, Suzuki emerged after the All-Star break to become the A's full-time catcher, displaying home run potential and RBIs from what, for years, had been a gaping hole in the A's lineup. It was his timely hit tonight that made the difference in the bottom of the 9th.

Jack Cust: His start was one of storybooks, joining the A's from relative obscurity, buried in the Padres' farm system, only to join Oakland and immediately hit home run after booming home run. Despite joining the team a month late, Jack led the team in home runs, RBIs, had more than 100 walks, and led the league in strikeouts. Considered a liability in the field, we gained confidence with his every game.

Chad Gaudin: Known as a wild, often promising reliever in 2006, Gaudin was a cornerstone of the A's 2007 staff. Though he still had his spats where he couldn't find the plate, he's now established himself as a bona fide #4 starter. He set a career high today with 11 K's against the Angels.

Daric Barton: We always hoped this guy would be a stud, and with a late-season callup, he proved us right, batting around .350 in 20 games, with the occasional double and home run. He should be a real force and candidate for 2008 Rookie of the Year.

Top 5 2007 Disappointments

Rich Harden: The man who could be Cy Young couldn't keep healthy, again, tantalizing us with his unattainable talent. Where he once could be a #1 ace, the buzz now is that he just might be a bullpen mainstay, if he ever gets healthy.

Eric Chavez: His struggles in 2006 were excusable, as he battled through soreness, and didn't rest. In 2007, he lacked any presence at the plate, occasionally struggled in the field, and will lose his string of six Gold Gloves. He's already had one major surgery going into the off-season, and may need another.

Bobby Crosby: This guy was a disaster for the A's this year. Coming into Spring Training after a round of rehab, Crosby never got any momentum, failing to learn from his bad habits, swinging at pitches a foot outside and becoming a double play machine at the plate. Once he finally listened to advice, an inside pitch from the hated Angels broke his hand and ended his season - none too soon for frustrated fans.

Milton Bradley: When he played for the A's, he smacked of promise, but one injury after another sealed his fate, as he was traded out of town, to the Padres, who have seen him again battle injuries and a short fuse. While I really liked Milton when he was here, he was always a question mark and burned his bridges after leaving, claiming bias, favoritism and racism.

Jason Kendall: This everyday player, once seen as a gritty hardnosed .300 hitter turned into a Punch and Judy, no power, easy out travesty, who after years of good discipline at the plate, started adding K's to his repertoire. As soon as the A's felt Kurt Suzuki could take over, Kendall and his anemic stats were hoisted onto the Chicago Cubs, who will placate Kendall somewhat with a run at the playoffs.

I could go on and on. There were some amazing games taken in at the Coliseum this year. Today's wasn't half bad either. But too often, we were left frustrated and cold as the team slapped at bad balls and wouldn't come through as the chips were down. As it's now the first hours of what we see as the beginning of the 2008 season, we look forward to new challenges ahead and the adoption of change - for the better.

September 29, 2007

Cal's Huge Win Over Ducks Validates Us

On Friday, I mentioned that my wife and I had a big decision to make - go see the A's battle the Angels on Saturday (in turn missing the Cal game), or stay home and watch Cal take on Oregon on TV. We stayed home, and it turned out to be a great decision, as Cal won out a barn-burner against the Ducks by a 31-24 margin, and the A's continue to lose, falling 3-2 near the end of their miserable season.

Cal, going into the day ranked #6 overall, flew to Oregon, ranked #11, and in front of a national television audience on ABC/ESPN, the team battled and battled, falling behind early, and never giving up. Despite being down 10-3 at the half, they forced four turnovers, eventually winning after the Ducks fumbled the ball on the 1 yard line in the closing seconds of regulation, as it went into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback, returning the ball to the hands of the Bears, who knelt down and took the win. (See: Excuse Me For My Voice for one rundown)

While we gnashed our teeth and feared the worst among other Cal fans at The Band Is Out on the Field, Cal's stars came through in the second half, with DeSean Jackson scoring two touchdowns and amassing more than 150 yards receiving, Justin Forsett ran for more than 100 yards, and the Bears are now among the nation's elite teams, sporting an unblemished 5-0 record, while the #3, #4, #5, #7, #11, and #13 teams all went down to defeat. This sets up a near-guaranteed rise for Cal in the polls, quite possibly as high as #3 overall when the new rankings appear over the weekend.

As for the A's, who we neglected today? Even though they appear to have given up on the last few games of the season, we'll head their way after church tomorrow to say goodbye for the last time this year. Hopefully, they can wrap up the home schedule with something new and different - a win.

September 28, 2007

Yuvi, the Stat-Master, Analyzes Digg

As with Yuvi's previous work, analyzing Robert Scoble and Engadget, his insight into one of the Web's leading, most popular properties, this time with Digg, is extremely impressive. His analysis shows how hard it is to reach the front page of Digg, what days see the most front page stories, and how the site has evolved over the years. Amazing detail.

My one front page Digg story to date? Google's Earth Day Logo Makes a Splash (102 diggs, 18 comments)

East Bay Sports Conflict Forces Big Decision

You have to love situations like this. Kristine and I have tickets to see the A's wrap up their home schedule this season against the LA Angels this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But a high-profile, nationally-televised college football game between Cal and Oregon, two teams in the top half of the week's AP poll, is set to start at the same time as Saturday's contest, forcing us to decide: do we watch the A's finish up in person, or do we stay home and watch the big event on TV?

Tonight, the A's play at 7:05. We'll be there for sure, urged on by a fan-friendly fireworks show.

On Sunday, the A's play at 1:05. We'd have to rush over from church to make it, but we might, as it's the last of the season.

But Saturday! Oh what to do with Saturday? The A's game starts at 1:05 p.m., while the Cal Bears take on the Oregon Ducks at 12:30 p.m. on ABC. Even while in the car on the way to the A's game, I would be missing one of the biggest Cal games of the year, behind only Tennessee and USC.

You could say it's a win-win, but to any true sports fan, it's really a lose-lose. Stay home to watch Cal, and I miss a day in the sun with the A's, and tickets I already paid for. Go to the A's game, and I don't get to see the Bears get challenged, on what's been a strong 4-0 start with potential for momentum. And don't tell me to TiVo the Cal game for later watching. There's no way the A's won't show the Cal/Oregon highlights on the JumboTron Saturday, so I'm doomed.

Should be a tough call, all the way to kick-off... er... first pitch... no wait. Kick-off. I think.

September 27, 2007

Welcome Back, Network Television

Just as the baseball season is coming to a close, a new season is upon us - that of the Fall television season. After months of mundane TiVo near-ignorance, and dabbling in the BBC America network, primetime television roared back to life in our home earlier this week with the 1-2-3 combo of Bones, House, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. After a brief Wednesday's vacation, the TiVo whirred up again tonight, taking in Ugly Betty, CSI and ER.

(I'll let you guess which two of the shows are slugged "wife only")

In the summer months away from the standard idiot box fare, we spent a significant amount of time enjoying our Nintendo Wii, reading 200+ RSS feeds in Google Reader, blogging a bit ourselves, picking winners on Ballhype, catching up on our Netflix queue, and attending a ton of A's games. Now, as we've regained yet another distraction from all the real work we need to do, some of those other items just might go down in the number of hours spent daily - or, in the cases of blogging or reading RSS feeds, they'll have to be done in parallel. There's nothing like sitting cross-legged on the bed with the laptop open while occasionally glancing up at the TV set to make sure you haven't lost track of the plot, after all.

To be honest, there weren't any real cliff-hangers from Spring that had us waiting with anticipation. In fact, we were disappointed, as we are every year, to see some of our favorite shows disappear, as Fox's hilarious War At Home was axed without fanfare and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was similarly canned, though a lot more noisily.

Now, our time with the TV becomes a balancing act. How do we make sure we train the Series One TiVo to get our BBC shows (Coupling and Hotel Babylon) without missing some season premieres? Is it possible to play the Nintendo Wii while watching CSI? (I think not...) And will our Saturdays be spent watching the two, three or four shows we missed during the week?

All I know is regardless of how many shows we take in, and whether we can possibly catch our fill of crime dramas, medical emergencies and jury trials, we'll have our TiVo remote in hand to zap through the commercials and save precious minutes with each episode. Hopefully, we won't find any more new shows to add to our own fall schedule, or I'll have to start calling in sick to the office.

September 26, 2007

PhotoCrank Adds a Little Fun to Web Photos

At last week's PlugandPlay Expo, one of the highlights, in addition to Spokeo, was meeting the CEO of PhotoCrank, and being introduced to a playful, if not yet particularly useful, tool to mock up Web photos, adding pictures and comments throughout the Internet. Much like the ANtics comics have been powered by ComicLife to add thought bubbles to the A's players heads via software, PhotoCrank lets users tweak and "crank" any photos they bump into on the Web.

The service, currently in beta, encourages users to "unleash your blah-blah-blah on photos...everywhere," and to "make the entire web your playground". With a quick download of the PhotoCrank browser extension, available for both Internet Explorer and Firefox (sorry - no Safari version yet), you can begin "cranking" photos, and adding them to a list on the site, called the "crank list".

I installed the PhotoCrank extension to my Firefox browser on Mac OS X, and after a quick restart of Firefox, I had a new PhotoCrank toolbar, and in the corner of each photo I ran into, there is now a blue PhotoCrank image. Clicking on the button opens the PhotoCrank toolbox. Click on the "Crank It" button, and you're given a whole array of preloaded sayings, ranging from "Your Mom!" to "Them's fighting words." as well as a host of preloaded images and clip art. When you select the desired note, you can expand or contract the size, and make your own pithy saying, as you wish. Below, you can see the steps I took to modify my colored iPhone image from Monday.




(You can see not only the "Woot!" thought bubble, but the addition of a radioactive label to my blue and gold iPhone.)

Assuming I keep the browser toolbar installed, and assuming I keep using Firefox, instead of Safari, I can see myself doodling with PhotoCrank on some sites, and adding my mischief to the crank list. After all, somebody already posted their own "worm in the apple" cranked version of my iPhone for the world to see.

When in picture cranking mode, the toolbox window contains a small ad. In the above screenshot, you can see an ad for the T-Mobile Sidekick. While the role of Internet advertising can always be up for debate, I doubt users will stop mid-crank to click on anything. I'd be more useful to get the advertisement at the conclusion of the photocrank, or just after, or even as an interstitial between making the edits and submitting to the site. If the goal to make money is to show as many ads as possible, then they're all set. If it's to get high click-through rates, changes would likely have to be made.

I added a link in my sidebar to PhotoCrank, as the only way the service will thrive is through viral adoption and sharing of user's creative edits of photos. Through massive use and sharing, the service could be fun to watch develop over time, whether they try to stay independent, or if they are purchased and folded into a bigger offering from some social network out there. Until then, I'll leave the badge up and keep adding my own Web graffiti to the world at large.

September 25, 2007

Ballhype T-Shirt Contest 2 Winner: Redsauce

After claiming our seventh Ballhype Golden Picks contest victory last week, achieving a controversial record score in the process, for the second time, we offered our t-shirt trophy to another member, who registered on the blog.

This time, we had eight entries, from "Reasonable Doubt for a Reasonable Price", "Zorgon", "VicTimes", "Redsauce", "Chone", "Patrick", "GREGSKY" and "Jason", the site's co-founder.

As with our last t-shirt give-away, we cooked up a quasi-elaborate scheme that featured Molly, our 18-year-old beagle, her love of food, and our camera. The conquest is laid out below.

Step 1: Create one Master "Bingo" Card

I listed out the eight entrants' names in equally-sized boxes and printed them out. The center square in the 3x3 table was "Molly's Free Kibble Spot".


The Eight Entrants: Click for Larger Image


Step 2: Introduce Molly to the Square

Molly asked to be shown the card before selecting the winner. Upon her approval, we could continue.


Molly Finds the Card to Her Liking


Step 3: The Judge Gains Incentive

Molly was escorted into the other room, and a piece of kibble was placed on each of the nine squares. The winner would be selected by being the LAST piece of kibble eaten. There were no doubts Molly would eat all nine.


The Card With Prizes for the Judge


Step 4: Molly Picks a Winner

With the card full of kibble, Molly first wrongly raced to the kitchen only to return to the card and started wolfing down the pieces, one by one. The very last to go was that of Redsauce, and due to that delay, Redsauce is our winner! You can see Molly in action below.


Molly making her selection


Congratulations to Redsauce! Erin should be in touch with you shortly to claim your prize!

If you're not yet a Ballhype member, you certainly should be. Join the site now!

September 24, 2007

Slingbox Going Corporate Before I Get One!

If you consider we've got our 42-inch plasma TV, a TiVo, a Nintendo Wii and the Apple TV humming along, sucking down our share of electricity, it's clear that only one real TV device is missing - a Slingbox. Though I've considered buying a Slingbox from Sling Media on more than one occasion, so I could catch up on the home TV while away, I've never made the jump - and if the breaking news from PaidContent.org is true, I won't be a customer before they jump from being a scrappy tech startup to part of a big corporate monolith. News from PaidContent.org says Sling Media is being picked up by EchoStar, manufacturers of the Dish Network, for all of $380 million.

This could be good or bad for current or prospective customers of Slingbox. While it's sure EchoStar has plenty of capital to expand distribution and continue manufacturing the next generation of TV streaming gear, I always have a tendency to want to root for the underdog, and have something resembling distrust for the mega-monolith, as it often seems the bigger you are, the less likely you are to pull off something amazing - instead, being beholden to the quarter by quarter financials and supporting an existing customer base on prior revisions of hardware or code.

I've optimistically had the Slingbox on my Amazon wish list for the better part of two years now, stupid commercials aside, and maybe, just maybe, I'll take it off for the short term and see how this purchase shakes out.

Color Customized iPhones Look Delicious


If you've decided you want an iPhone, but Steve Jobs' minimalist aesthetics don't jive with yours, Colorware has come up with a solution. Click on over to the Colorware design studio, and for about 200 large more than a standard iPhone, you can get one in any variety of colors, from the blue/gold Cal Golden Bears-like mockup you see here, to cotton candy pink and lipstick red fusion.

It's funny that while I've already made my mind up to not get a 1st revision iPhone for 400 smackers, that slapping on a coat of paint and making it 600 almost seems worth it. And for my wife, if she's reading, no, I haven't purchased the blue and gold one, so please don't send me a flame e-mail...

September 23, 2007

More Comments On Inwardly Linking

A dozen or so days ago, I kicked off a discussion in the blogopshere around the practice of relying heavily on internal links, even when external links to the source of news would likely serve a reader better. A few weeks into it, the debate is still raging, not just here, but elsewhere.

Two well-respected bloggers, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research, formerly of PodTech, and Muhammad Saleem, have added their own comments. As you can expect, given that there seems to be no "one right answer" to this discussion, their findings are quite different.

Jeremiah, in a post titled "Linking Strategy and why Back Linking is OK", says, "If your content (on your own website) can add more value linking elsewhere, than it’s certainly ok to do this."

Muhammad, in a post titled "Do you link in or link out?", says, "By linking to other sources you can either use them to back up your own argument or provide your readers with another viewpoint to consider and come to their own conclusions."

To resummarize my comments from before, I have zero problems with referring to old notes on a similar topic. I do it all the time (as in my first link above). But if an external hyperlink would add more value, or lead a reader to the source of the story, that makes more sense than the growing practice of dumping visitors into a random archive page or keyword search results.

Additional comments since my last update can be found from Michael Coates, The Last Podcast, The Net Takeaway, and Daily Grumble.

September 22, 2007

Could Cal Football's #6 Ranking Be All Wet?

Given the steady drip-drip sounds outside, thanks to an early Fall rainstorm moving through the Bay Area, it seems possible that Saturday won't feature the open sky sun we've become spoiled with every week. With Cal's impending 3:00 p.m. contest against Pac-10 foe Arizona looming Saturday, the prospect opens up that the game might be played in less than favorable conditions - with 50,000 or more fans dodging the elements, ourselves included.


Google's Weather Forecast for Berkeley this Weekend


With the young season three games old, Cal has achieved an impressive #6 national ranking in the AP poll, led only by USC, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma and West Virginia, schools better known for their year-in, year-out football prowess than Cal, despite a good run for my alma mater the last four years or so. And for those of us "Old Blues", who haven't historically demanded much from the school's athletic programs, we're certainly conflicted in how to feel - torn between thinking a national anti-Pac-10 bias doesn't give us the respect we deserve, and our own eyes deceiving us as we find fault with the team, be they "unimaginative on offense" or displaying a defense unable to shut down a good team.

Frankly said, we're not used to this kind of pressure. So used to seeing Cal fail when the big play is needed, or losing a big game, there's a certain part of us that is waiting for the inevitable slip-up, expecting the team to screw up, so we can then point fingers at our prior doubt and prove our unique insight.

In fact, the debate is raging on The Band is Out on the Field and Excuse Me for My Voice over whether the team's secondary or quarterback are up to the challenge of moving beyond their week one win against Tennessee and challenging the traditional leaders, or even taking on their Pac-10 colleagues. With USC looming in the distance, we're already watching the Oregon Ducks and how they've started out strong - and we all remember how Cal lost in the desert at Arizona last year, significantly damaging their Rose Bowl hopes.

That we're ranked #6 overall is great. Our games get mentioned on SportsCenter, and photos from our games show up in Sports Illustrated. But as season ticket holders, while we cheer on the success of good plays, we curse those that don't go our way, and we're biting our nails as we anticipate just what could go wrong. As the rains come down, we think about how just the slightest thing could upset this squad and force their season to slip out of their fingers. Whether we're surrounded by gloomy skies and precipitation or we find the skies cleared, we'll be rooting on our squad and crossing our fingers in hope that, finally, they reach their full potential and make us proud.

September 20, 2007

PlugandPlay Expo Highlight: Spokeo

As far as Web 2.0 companies are concerned, Spokeo isn't the newest one on the block. And the extra time they took to improve their product over the last several months certainly gave them a leg up on those who hadn't yet left the "idea" phase.

The company was profiled on TechCrunch way back in November of 2006, and hit ZDNet this January. But of the companies I talked to at the PlugandPlay Expo today, they were among the few I could see using right away - assuming a few tweaks.


Click to Enlarge Images


Spokeo aims to aggregate data from multiple social networks and blogs in one central location. Targeted at the hard-core Web 2.0 user who has accounts at more than one social network (like MySpace and Friendster), the site gives you a one-stop destination to follow what all your "friends" are saying from all your sites. You can also import your RSS feed subscriptions via OPML, as I did this evening, from Google Reader.

As the company's VP of Marketing, Mital Poddar, illustrated to me, if you have a friend who only updates their blog every 45 days, and then complains that nobody made any comments on their post, most likely because everybody gave up on them publishing, you can ask Spokeo to watch that blog, be notified when they do post, and be up and making comments in minutes. Also, instead of having to log in separately to MySpace, Friendster, Last.fm, Twitter and YouTube, you tell your Web browser to start on Spokeo, and get all the data in one place.

If I were a hard-core social net user, Spokeo would be a great place for me to keep tabs on all my Web friends in their disparate places. As I mentioned before, I recently made Google Reader my go to start page, and if Spokeo could add on top of it with valuable data, a move that way just might make sense. But there are still big gaps. For instance, Spokeo doesn't yet support two of the biggest networks I actually do use - including Facebook and LinkedIn. Mital and I talked about Facebook and LinkedIn at the conference today, so I can only hope those two services will also soon be supported.

And there's always the question of "How will they make money?" As mentioned in my last note, many of the companies, including Spokeo, are looking for advertisers. Mital talked about ad space being available below user profiles, or intermixing sponsored feed items and posts within Spokeo's presentation to users, just as Facebook does today in the News Feed. User growth, targeted ads, and linking context with advertisements would spur revenues beyond where they are today.

As Web 2.0 sites go, Spokeo is easy to use and has a clean interface, with nice Mac-like rounded corners, plenty of icons, and simplified addition of new friends to your "Buddy List", whether they be friends on a social network or a stand-alone Web site. The site enables you to customize the look and feel via multiple themes, and works well on both Safari and Firefox (a plus). However, you can't move sections of the site around, like you can with iGoogle or My Yahoo!, so there's still room to grow. I'll be keeping watch on Spokeo as they continue to enhance their service, and if I end up using it a lot, you'll be sure to hear about it.

Early Reaction to PlugandPlay Expo

The biggest problem to trying to navigate a few dozen startups in a few hours' time is that there's only one thing guaranteed - I won't get to them all, especially when I'm trying to vie for attention in competition with early-stage investors who could mean the difference between their seeing another six months, or looking for work. I did manage to talk to 10-12 of the companies at reasonable length, and found some services I'll definitely use, while others just simply weren't built for me as a consumer.

The conference, organized by the PlugandPlayTechCenter (yes, all one word) in Sunnyvale, aimed to put entrepreneurs in the same room as VCs and have them make their case in rapid fire. A representative from the three dozen companies was given all of two minutes to deliver their elevator pitch, and based on a vote, four were selected to move to the next round, where they got all of ten minutes to elaborate on their offering, and business model. (Most, of course, were ad-based. Others looked to take a portion of revenue generated from their own users' sales.)

I showed up to the conference around 4, as soon as I was able, and tried to catch up for lost time - visiting many displays and talking to CEOs, CTOs, co-founders and the occasional VP of Marketing. And while some were very pleased with the close quarters and rigid schedule, I did hear complaints. As one exhibitor put it, "If you're the 28th presenter out of 37 companies, the audience is pretty glazed over. You don't even know who the investors are!" You can be sure that he hadn't been selected as one of the final four, and was all too eager to pick apart the process.

Two highlights for me were speaking with Spokeo's Mital Poddar, the company's VP of Marketing, and Jeffrey Tannenbaum, CEO of PhotoCrank. Mital, only a month or so into her new role at Spokeo, did a great job demoing the social network data aggregator, and were we in another situation, I'd have tried to recruit her away from her current job. Needless to say, I'll have a follow-on note around Spokeo shortly. Jeffrey also was all too happy to demo his photo and image annotation tool (now live on this site), and thought of some unique applications for it - which I'll discuss in a bit.

I also enjoyed talking with Leonard Backus, CEO for Datamash, Tomás Zeman of Wirenode, Steve Gibson of CCube.com and Ernstjan Albers of Headr.com, to name a few.

Depending on who I talked to, you could see differing levels of strain or excitement on the exhibitors' faces. Some were hard core geeks who didn't like public speaking and couldn't wait for me to stop asking questions. Others, after finding out I had no money to give them for an "A" round of funding, were all too happy to cut their pitch short. But the good majority seemed to enjoy demoing their service and walking me through, screen by screen, how they planned to change the world. Maybe some will. Many won't. But it was a unique Silicon Valley experience. More soon.

September 19, 2007

PlugandPlay Expo To Feature Earliest-Stage Startups

If at all possible tomorrow, I will try to zip down a few blocks from my home and catch a good portion of the PlugandPlay Expo at the PlugandPlay Tech Center, here in Sunnyvale. The show promises to feature three dozen of Silicon Valley's unknown startups looking to make a name for themselves, the second tier, if you will, when contrasted to all the noise around this week's TechCrunch40.

I received a list of the companies looking to make a name for themselves with VCs, press and other entrepreneurs, and ... who ever said all the good names were taken in tech? Just check these out!

1) Lending Club
2) Broker Storage
3) Pixsy
4) Vator.tv
5) Ccube
6) PhotoCrank
7) ScreenerKey
8) Ceino
9) Planaroo
10) MyMagMedia
11) BlueGem Security
12) Souki.com
13) QbizTech
14) SueEasy
15) TechDirt
16) Zephyr
17) Spigit
18) Geejo
19) UrNetlife
20) Paybl
21) Spokeo
22) Pollection
23) College Wikis
24) GetQuick
25) FuGen Solutions
26) Bizy
27) Apsoftek
28) DataMash
29) StrayForm
30) Xpree
31) QClip Media
32) CopaCast
33) Zipidee
34) Gigya
35) Twiki
36) UserZoom
37) Moowee

 


Some of the companies listed above are, in fact, so brand new that their Web sites aren't even live.

Depending on when I can break away from the office, and other priorities, I hope to give you an update tomorrow and see if any of these hard to pronounce names will soon become household names. And if not, it's always a lot of fun to surround myself with people even geekier than me. For more on the conference, check out their Web site.

Ballhype T-Shirt Give-Away #2, and a New Record!


A few weeks ago, we offered a free Ballhype t-shirt to a randomly selected individual who left a comment on the blog stating why they most deserved to win. In the end, with help from our 18-year-old beagle, Dharr18 was the lucky winner.

Well guess what? We won yet another Ballhype t-shirt again this week, after a controversial record-setting week of long shot picks aimed at predicting upsets. (See some discussion here)

It's once again time for you to put your name in the ring, and possibly walk away with a brand-new shirt from one of the hottest Web communities to debut this year.

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. The game you most enjoyed watching in the last week.
3. Why you enjoyed watching.

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

You must respond by 11:59 p.m. PDT, Mon. Sept. 24th.
Ballhype management will ship in USA only.

As with the previous contest, it is highly likely that Molly, our beagle, will be selecting the winner. We will cover that process at the time the winner is awarded. But until then, take a look at the Ballhype T-shirts available, and see what you could win!

Good luck!

Windows XP Machine Infiltrates Apple Computer!

With Apple's relatively recent move to Intel processors, it seems everything in Cupertino is up for grabs. Just yesterday, I received a visitor to this blog from "APPLE COMPUTER", one of the few thousand checking in on last week's surprisingly popular post on the growing practice of internal linking. While that in itself isn't all that newsworthy, the visitor's configuration caught my eye.

The APPLE COMPUTER visitor was running not Mac OS X, but Windows. And not Vista, but Windows XP. And their browser? Not the new Safari for Windows, but Firefox. Do you think Apple knows that a "Firefox" has gotten into the henhouse?


Above: The Win XP/Firefox user caught red-handed.

Update: The prior version of this post said the visitor was running NT. That was due to a combination of sleep deprivation, carelessness, and the NT 5.1 designation next to the Firefox detail. Mark, in the comments, noted my mistake.

September 17, 2007

New TAB Post: iPod Touch Promotes iPhone Sales?

Apple just introduced the coolest iPod lineup ever, without a doubt. But as much as I think about putting down a little cash and buying a new one - whether it be the new iPod Nanos or an iPod Touch, the more I realize I should make a real upgrade and head to the iPhone, if it wasn't for AT&T mucking things up.

The iPod Touch looks like the iPhone, feels like the iPhone, and acts like the iPhone in many ways, but it definitely comes up short - a point not lost by its only having half the icons displayed as an iPhone does. The iPhone simply does more. So, was it released to tease us into getting the iPhone after all?

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled iPod Touch Designed to Push iPhones?. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

Assetbar Set to Launch With Google Reader Inspiration

As of this morning, there is a new player in the field of RSS feed and news aggregation, with a focus on the social aspects, including sharing, messaging and discovery. Assetbar, inspired by Google Reader, debuted today with high aspirations, and talk of a new platform "to make better tools for what you already do online."

Interestingly, at least to me, the Assetbar team is extremely transparent as to where they found guidance for their product's features - and one of the driving forces behind their development was a well-trafficked post I published here back in March about "10 suggestions for Google Reader".



The company writes: "Google's feed reader is popular and well regarded. Nevertheless, any product can be improved, so we started with 10 suggestions to Improve Google Reader. Then we added whole new dimensions," and lays out those dimensions, saying, "by adding better sharing, connecting, messaging, rating and archiving, (a social reader?), Assetbar lets you find the good stuff better, and you're always in touch with the people and topics that matter most to you."

Following my step by step guidance I gave Google Reader six months ago, AssetBar just may have leapfrogged the #1 RSS reader through adding exactly what I had asked for, including:

* More Like This
* Elimination of Duplicates
* Addition of Negative Keywords
* Sharing of Items Without Subscriptions
* Aggregate Reader Statistics
* Integrated Search
* Shared Items Directory
* Integration of Trends
* Expanded Individual Feed Statistics
* Customization

They even listed the items in the exact order I had laid them out in my post!





They call it "Standing on the shoulders of giants". I call it good business, one that's focused on hitting the needs of the power users of RSS feeds and news aggregation. That they call out my post from nine months ago as a driving force behind their efforts is, in my opinion, very cool. You can sign up for a beta account now on their site, or read their blog.

ANtics Episode 3.26: Target Swisher

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Hit a home run. Get hit by a pitch. Repeat... Nick Swisher has seen more than his fair share of balls thrown his way this season. Take a look at some of the evasive moves he's picked up to keep the bruising to a minimum in this week's ANtics.


Click to See Larger Comic


All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

September 15, 2007

Adding Movie Rentals to iTunes Would Save the Apple TV

Sometimes, being an early adopter really bites. After years of drooling anticipation from fans, myself included, Apple delivered on their set top box strategy, with the debut of the Apple TV, acting as the conduit between video on my iTunes and my wide-screen TV. While I recognized the first box would have issues, I had to get one. I also trusted that the box's feature set could be updated on the fly, putting my faith in Apple to deliver additional functionality as the box gained in maturity.

And in the six months or so that I've had my Apple TV, the only real news is that I gained the ability to browse YouTube in June. I still don't have Apple's blessing to play .avi files from other sources on my widescreen TV. I still don't have anything like games on the Apple TV, and worst of all, iTunes still hasn't debuted movie rentals - what I believe to be the missing link between potential product obsolescence and product success.

Today, my Apple TV largely plays my music on the TV's speakers, acting as an overpowered stereo, with some cool graphics. But the price barrier to download films - at $10 for anything from the iTunes store, is a fallacy in the face of Netflix pricing, and the ability to set up my TiVo to proactively find films for free.

With this background, we now see Forbes lustily calling the Apple TV "The iFlop", saying while the iPhone has soared in the global consciousness, the Apple TV has been dissed as a hobby and hidden in the backs of stores. Apple won't even discuss the product's sales success, or lack thereof, as an individual line.

I have faith Apple can get their act together on the Apple TV, but very little faith in the media owners of today (i.e. the movie studios) to do what's best for consumers instead of what's best for their own pockets. If they do not deliver reasonable download terms for movie rentals via iTunes, it could both spell the death of Apple TV and even worse, send us to BitTorrent and other less-desired means to get our digital entertainment fix.

Let's get this done, Apple. I've been begging since April for you to crush Netflix, have seen rumors you'll pull this off at least since July and I have no interest in seeing Forbes' dire prediction come true.

A's 11-9 Win Kicks Off Big Sports Weekend

Come Monday morning, there is little doubt I'll start off the workweek a little hoarse, my voice worse for the wear after what's sure to be a great weekend of sports - as I have two A's games and a Cal Bears football game on the docket.

Tonight, I joined up with a colleague and took in an exciting back and forth game between the A's and the visiting Texas Rangers. While neither team is a threat to make the playoffs at this point, both clubs played with pride. Though the A's started off in a quick hole, down 6-0, they battled back, and on the power of a 7-run 5th inning, actually led at one point by the score of 9-6. But not even that would last, as Sammy Sosa slammed a three-run homer to tie it up, at 9-9.

Astutely, I turned to my friend and said, "I bet you it'll take one team's reaching double figures to win this game..."

Not surprisingly, I was right. The A's Nick Swisher untied things with a moonshot to left field, making it 10-9, and the A's padded on an 11th run for the final tally, more than three hours after the game had started.

All told, the game featured twenty runs, forty base runners, and 210 minutes of action. Not only did my colleague and I enjoy the game, but we had the rare opportunity to sit in a section occupied by the visiting team's sales staff, who made for great company, and really knew their baseball.

I'm looking forward to going back the Oakland Coliseum for tomorrow's rematch at 12:55. From there, Kristine and I will zip up to Berkeley to see our Cal Golden Bears take on Louisiana Tech at 3:30. With any luck, I'll be back here tomorrow telling you just how our teams won both those games...

September 13, 2007

Backlink Backlash Could Bring Forth Change

My post-midnight ramblings on the questionable practice of overly relying on internal links certainly hit a nerve in the blogosphere, drawing attention from all corners, as we saw comments from Ryan Block at Engadget and Robert Scoble of Scobleizer, while representatives of TechCrunch and Gawker Media also weighed in on whether or not they found issues with the rapidly-growing model of preferring links to their own blog as opposed to the outside world.

Some reactions:

Surflizard: Sneaky Links
"The key to reading Engadget is to know that only the last link in a post is usually relevant to the post’s subject, and every other link is usually self-referencing spam."

Kent Newsome: Evening Reading: 9/12/07
"The problem, of course, comes down to the prospect of money. Rather than double linking, I'd call it double ad-serving. I'd love to know the average duration of those internal link page views."

The Last Podcast: Internal/Double Linking is a Bad Practice
"I am glad others are picking up on this, as it is annoying the heck out of me and keeps me from enjoying some of the best blogs out there."

Ryan Block of Engadget did a great job illustrating why Engadget favors self-referential links over external links. He notes that stories that reference other sources do contain an external link at the conclusion of the story, but he disagreed with my belief that tags should lead to referenced companies instead of prior coverage. In a post he titled On backlinking (or “internal linking”), he said:
"At Engadget, our MO is to offer a compressed, editorialized edition of technology news. Sometimes we can go as long (or longer) as any big-name newspaper on an important story, but because we do (and must!) have greater respect for our readers’ intelligence and attention, generally speaking we expect them to understand the jist of what we’re talking about when we start to geek out."

Essentially, he said Engadget readers already know the URLs for companies like Apple, Google, or Microsoft's XBox, so to link their way wouldn't add much value. Fair enough. But he did say the site will reevaluate their frequency for backlinking, adding, "I’m sure we could use additional fine tuning in what and how often we backlink, which I’ll be evaluating closer starting today."

His comments mirrored those from Mark Hendrickson of TechCrunch, who wrote in a comment on this blog, "We often link to CrunchBase pages rather than company websites because we think that our company profiles often give readers better corporate overviews than they would get by going straight to company websites," adding, "We do realize that many readers find this linking behavior undesirable, so we are actively looking into ways we can refer to both corporate websites and CrunchBase pages from the main blog."

Elsewhere, Nick Denton of Gawker Media wrote that the network has recently changed how they handle internal links versus external links, writing, "We have changed the style of internal tag links. They are no longer underlined. So the emphasis is on the external links, but regular readers know they can get background on a name or a product by clicking the text."

In 24 hours, we got an excellent cross-section of some of the tech blogosphere's most influential and most respected blogs. With the exception of Mashable, all sites I referenced, or commenters referenced, provided reason and updates as to why they operate the way they do.
(UPDATE: Mashable checked in this morning, saying "We have a verbal policy that the first link should go to the site in question, so that one is human error," and "I can guarantee that we'll try to avoid the LinkedIn type screnarios. As for linking to reference material...possibly we'll find a way to offer the user a choice.")

That's why, even when I see things that raise my eyebrows, I have faith in the direction blogs are going, and how we can continue to enable conversations. It should be interesting to watch and see how after the post ran through the Scoble/TechMeme gauntlet, if we see changes.

September 12, 2007

Internal Linking On Some Tech Blogs Is Out of Control

It seems the more major bloggers tend to ask for the same rights, privileges and respect given traditional journalists, the more frequently I'm seeing some of them violate best practices for information sharing and news gathering. One major issue I see is that some of the most popular blogs, including Engadget and Mashable, prefer to lead readers deep into their archives rather than linking out to the true sources of the story.

What do I mean by this exactly?

In real-world journalism, a reporter impartially offers up the news, as well as balanced commentary from individuals involved, whether they be the subject of a story, witness, or interested party. All efforts are taken to introduce the reader to the source of the information. On the Web, a story on Apple's iPod would link to the Apple Web site or directly to the iPod page. But if you look at Engadget, a hyperlink you would expect to take you to Apple would instead either take you to a previous story about Apple, or to search results within Engadget on the term Apple.

And now it seems Mashable, one leading Web log which follows the hot tech news of the day, is taking the same approach, much to the detriment of readers - many of whom likely find themselves clicking first, and asking questions later.

For example, from tonight's story: "Obama On LinkedIn"

The reporter writes:

"Sen. Barack Obama now has a LinkedIn account. We all knew that Obama is making the most of Internet culture, launching his own social network, gaining a larger-than-life presence on MySpace, YouTube, and even Twitter. He’s at the top of his game, according to a recent Nielsen study. The only surprise about Obama’s LinkedIn account is how seemingly late it is."

Being a typical reader, I would expect the three links in this paragraph, to LinkedIn, Twitter and Nielsen, to take me to those services' respective sites, as my links do. But they don't. Instead, the links go to related prior stories from Mashable, in an effort to keep the reader locked into the site as long as possible, either to increase ad revenue, or to possibly make the reader think the site more valuable due its deep archives and previous history.

In June of this year, Yuvi Panda analyzed Engadget and found that more than 40% of all links from Engadget were back to itself, "about 25 times the number of links of it’s closest competitor (which incidentally happens to be EngadgetMobile, an offshoot of Engadget)." Engadget, an unquestioned leader in gadget and tech news, should feel confident enough to send readers off site and expect them to come back.

When I link internally, I introduce the link as a previous post, and when I link to Engadget, you'll know the link goes to Engadget, not a previous story I wrote on Engadget. I believe the practice of hotlinking keywords instead to internal stories is sneaky and doesn't serve readers who are looking for the true sources of information. I hope we see the practice's growth stop cold.

Update: Robert Scoble calls the practice "double linking", while Joe of SurfLizard proposes a new term for this practice: "masterblinking".

Microsoft PowerPoint Chews Through My Hard Drive

Anybody who has used Microsoft Office products for a significant period has likely perfected the keyboard shortcut to auto-save repeatedly through the creation of critical documents - whether in Word, PowerPoint or Excel. It's quite possible every single one of us knows the pain of seeing the application crash, taking our critical data with it. To avoid complete data loss, over the years, Microsoft has instilled "AutoSave" and "AutoRecovery" features, so if your Office app inevitably does crash, you don't lose all that much.

While I appreciate that "feature", I was amused late tonight when I looked in the folder of a PowerPoint document I was updating earlier today, only to find Microsoft went out of its way to save my hide, archiving no fewer than 17 different temp files, with snapshots taken anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes apart. All told, these 17 backups absorbed 99.2 MB of my precious hard disk space, while the original document is a comparatively slim 5.9 MB. (See below)



Thanks Microsoft for going the extra mile to keep my data safe!

September 10, 2007

Geeky Web Comics, With Stick Figures

There are a few geek-oriented Web comics out there, from Joy of Tech to the Gaping Void, but among my very favorites is the oddly-named Xkcd, by Randall Munroe.

As the site states, "This comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."

Needless to say, this liberal arts major really enjoys it anyway. Xkcd deftly intertwines mathematics, science and technology with humor, social awkwardness and dating, often with very amusing results. I recently took the time to start at comic #1 and click next through today, gaining the benefits of reading a full comic book online. Even after several dozen, I still found myself laughing time and again. While Randall doesn't slave away a the art side of his stick figures, the word play and scenarios are hilarious.

Some examples:





I hope you enjoy his work as I have. Check them out at www.xkcd.com.

September 09, 2007

Wii Steals Show In Family Weekend Visit

My wife and I got home a few hours ago after the 150-mile drive from Folsom, California, after a quick two-day visit with my parents and youngest sister. While we enjoyed one another's company, saw their new house, swam in their pool, visited with my grandmother, played cards and went out to dinner, among other things, there was a clear winner for attention - our Nintendo Wii.

With four controllers, the entire family moved furniture aside, and we battled against one another in tennis, bowling, golf and baseball, without leaving our living room. With Kristine and me acting at first playing the part of the more experienced pair, we quickly saw our mediocre skills matched and trumped - especially by my mother, who somehow managed to average more than 200 a game in bowling when I could barely break the 125 mark. As I battled to pick up splits for spares, she would methodically knock all the pins down - at one point, scoring five straight strikes, much to our joint delight, disillusionment and annoyance.

All told, our Wii was happy to report it was (ab)used to the point of 5 1/2 hours on Saturday, and almost 3 hours Sunday, before we had to turn it off, pack it up and drive home. And while it definitely sounds silly that we racked over eight hours together in front of the video game console, it brought us all together doing a shared activity that was at least mildly physical, and certainly competitive. Also, I'd be lying if I said my right shoulder wasn't a bit sore after the weekend workout.

We enjoyed our trip and seeing the family, finally getting time on our busy schedules, and we were lucky enough to, this time, have brought the entertainment with us. I, for one, know I need to practice some more before we have a rematch.

September 07, 2007

Information Society Brings New Music to Old Band

Information Society was one of those bands I fell in love with in junior high and high school - with the unmistakable deep, European voices mixed in with electronic, synthesized beats. The band hit the big time with "Think", "Pure Energy" and "Peace & Love Inc.", but in a flash, disappeared into "Where are they Now?" oblivion.

Today, iTunes sent me an alert that they're back - and I'm all set to cram their new album into my iPod for the drive to Sacramento.

Their new album, appropriately titled "Synthesizer", was released September 4th, and if iTunes' 30-second song samples are any indication, should be a lot of fun, as I both enjoy the new tunes and reminisce of just where I was and who I was when Information Society's first songs were new.

Related Posts on this Topic:

iTunes Offers Something New, Something Old, Something Blue
New Pet Shop Boys Album is Fundamental
iTunes is My Only Source for New Music

A Weekend Away With Family

Depending on traffic, WiFi access, boredom, distractions and other factors, there is a potential for lighter than usual posting here this weekend. My wife and I are traveling to the popular tourist destination of Sacramento to see my parents, whom we managed to neglect the entire summer.

We'll be heading out late Friday evening, hopefully after Bay Area traffic has died down, and staying two nights before leaving late Sunday to start the week off again.

Of course, just because we're leaving Silicon Valley behind doesn't mean we're leaving technology behind. Slated to make the trip: The Apple PowerBook and my wife's iBook, my BlackBerry, two or three iPods, and our "still new" Nintendo Wii. We even got two more controllers so we can play games between the four of us and prove who is most superior through head to head digital conquest.

The only real question is - do I take advantage of my sister working at the Apple Store, and break down to update my iPod situation or get an iPhone with some kind of discount while on the trip...