February 28, 2006

A Look at Brand Loyalty

It's one thing to have preferences, and quite another to show loyalty to a brand over all others - regardless of price, features (in most cases) or how long it takes to acquire the product. And at times, it's not clear where the said brand "earned" the customer loyalty - was it through a past positive experience, or through successful advertising and celebrity endorsement? How do we form brand loyalties, and stick to our guns when generic or alternative offerings may perform adequately?

I've often told my wife that "in our house, we don't purchase generics", or "we don't shop at CostCo". Sure, we probably would save a few bucks if I wasn't such an elitist twit, but given that's not going to change, it's interesting to see how we let brands express who we are. I have a favorite brand for almost everything - it's ridiculous. Some of the most obvious brand loyalties are very common. For jeans, I prefer Levis, and simply won't purchase any other brand. I prefer Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi... but somewhere along the way, I also decided that Cascade was my preferred dish detergent, Cheer is the laundry detergent, and when given my druthers, I'd bring home Coast bath soap. I don't get it. But if given a shopping list that said simply "laundry detergent, dish soap and bath soap", that's what I would come home with 9 out of 10 times, unless of course a competitor was offering a mean deal where I could buy one get one free... and to pick it up, I'd much rather go to Safeway than Albertson's.

In technology, Apple has been my brand for as long as I can seem to recall. It was a shock to me to enter college and realize that 9 out of 10 computers ran Windows, and not the other way around. This year, I became visibly upset when a co-worker of mine purchased some off-brand MP3 player, and not an iPod, which to me was a completely obvious choice. I even offered to help her trade it in... and she now knows better than to bring it up. When I was younger, I wouldn't purchase any running shoes unless they were from Nike, and to this day I don't like buying clothes from anywhere except Macy's - or Men's Wearhouse if I need to get dressed up. The worst thing you can do to my budget is leave me alone for 30 minutes in Macy's - because I'm sure I can find an Alfani brand something that I just don't happen to have that shade of already.

On the Web, brand is somewhat blurred. I don't visit MSNBC - period, because of that MS in the front. Microsoft may as well stand for Multiple Sclerosis for as much as I want to do with it. I don't visit MSN, and won't ever get a Hotmail account. I used to be the same way about Yahoo! - and for years avoided getting a Yahoo! account because it was 1) started by Stanford students, and 2) the generic link aggregation site that everybody and their dog had a logo for on their cheesy Web site. While I have preferred sites and plenty of bookmarks, articles are not more reputable because of their brand - they simply may be written more clearly or with an angle I like over another.

If I align myself with a brand that I take pride in, I want people to know that I've done so, as that brand represents a choice I've made. On my car, I have three logo stickers for the A's, Apple and TiVo. I will actively market those brands because I believe in what they do. I can talk to anybody who asks about those brands and what they stand for. But, somehow, I don't think you'll see logos for Cascade and Coast going up soon. That's probably another discussion for another post.

Bush Approval Ratings at All-Time Low of 34%

According to the latest CBS News poll, President-select Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 34%, while his part-time vice president, part-time friend shooter, Dick Cheney scored even worse, with an 18% approval rating. Think about that for a second... when the old commercials used to say "Four out of Five dentists prefer you brush with toothpaste every day", there was always the one rogue dentist who didn't see eye to eye with reality. That one out of five nut job just happens to be the head case who also thinks the administration is doing well. Time to take the guy's car keys away, cancel any licenses he may have, and bar them from voting in any election ever.

If after mishandling Hurricane Katrina, leading us into an unjust, unending war in Iraq with falsified evidence, and spying on innocent American citizens wasn't enough to deter them from approving of the administration's activities, then maybe the Valerie Plame affair or the latest Dubai ports conflict will push them further toward sanity. After all, according to the same poll, seven in ten Americans is opposed to the agreement, including 58 percent of Republicans, and two out of three think our work in Iraq is destabilizing the region.

Meanwile, instead of enacting policy, Bush has been giving interviews to a book author chronicling his presidency, for a piece called "Strategery". I feel safer already.

Download the full survey in PDF

February 27, 2006

Apple Speculation

In the late 1990's, when Apple was "beleaguered" and people were more concerned with how many layoffs they would have or how much money they were set to lose each quarter, there was a small contingent of "Mac faithful" who lived and died with every MacWorld Expo keynote, Apple earnings call, and in the old days, Seybold conference, where Apple leveraged its strong roots in publishing to launch the latest in Mac hardware or OS tools. But we (yes, I was one of them) were considered the lunatic fringe, the exception to the rule.

Now, with Apple having been rebirthed through a string of successes, started with the original Bondi Blue iMac in 1998, the introduction of Mac OS X in 2001, the overwhelming domination of the iPod and iTunes Music Store, and Apple's adoption of Intel chips, the number following Apple's announcements has grown dramatically. Mainstream tech sites openly speculate on what Steve Jobs and crew will uncover, and technology blogs are holding contests to mock up images in great anticipation of tomorrow's planned unveilings. Apple hasn't said anything publicly, but invited select media to attend a special event Tuesday morning for "some new fun products". Speculation has run rampant, from an iTunes Video Store, offering full-length feature films, to a new iPod HiFi Boombox, and new hardware - from a consumer MacBook (replacing the iBook) and a Mac Media Center, based on today's Mac Mini.

This speculation comes on the heels of the weekend rumor that Apple was considering a purchase of Disney, with Steve Jobs already owning 7% of the company, following their acquisition of Pixar. In fact, my post on this from Saturday was mentioned on one of Apple's more consistent rumor sites - "The Unofficial Apple Weblog" or TUAW, for short. In their short article, they said, "Blogger Louis Gray thinks it can only happen in  "a business reporter's dream." He argues that the financials don't add up and worries that taking over Disney would quash the possibility of Apple offering shows from competitors like NBC or Viacom/MTV on iTunes."

Funny, and I thought nobody was paying attention - given the lack of comments on the site.

Software Endorsement: Comic Life

Last year, on a lazy Saturday, I read a product review on Plasq's Comic Life, which was one Mac OS X application, unavailable for Windows, that took advantage of the Mac's inherent tilt toward design, and mimicked the ease of use and layout of Apple's iLife applications, enabling users to create their own comics from photos on their computer - using iPhoto. Bored, and amused by the idea, I downloaded the product, and quickly whipped up my first comic - featuring our 16-year-old beagle. Comic Life was easy to use, letting me add captions and word art, even though I don't have any kind of creative skills.

While that was fun, I felt I had to stretch to find another use for the inherently enjoyable product. I needed something that would be interesting, and where photos were readily available... which led me to the Oakland A's. Every A's game and practice yields dozens of AP or media photographs, and innumerable amateur photos. Within hours, I had downloaded enough photos to have my first attempt - a caricature of then-A's outfielder Eric Byrnes, cast as "Eric Byrnes - Superhero!". Eric was a perfect candidate, a player who gave his all into every play with sometimes hilarious outcomes - whether that meant body-crushing dives at missed balls into the outfield, taking the extra base, or tackling unruly, inebriated fans.

I took the new comic and posted it to Athletics Nation, hoping someone would find it amusing. Some did, demanding more. By the end of the day, I posted a follow-up, but there was no way to keep up the pace, with focus on a single player. Even worse, Byrnes was traded later in the week. I was foiled, but did a third and final comic as an epilogue. But by now, AN and I were hooked. I had the Comic Life bug, and launched from my experience covering Byrnes to what eventually become the ANtics - posted weekly, and set to continue through the A's 2006 season.

I don't consider myself a comic. I just happened to be the first to leverage some outstanding software and focus it on the A's. If I can do it, you can do it. Just download Comic Life yourself and get started. You'll be a pro in minutes.

Related Links: Plasq Comic Life | Flickr Gallery of Comic Life Art

Fox's War At Home Funniest Show On the Air

It's a secret pleasure - but Fox's War at Home, which debuted after the Simpsons this season, featuring lead actor Michael Rapaport and an atypical dysfunctional family with two sons and a teenage daughter, has been much better than I ever could have expected. Though we haven't had a chance to catch every single show, due to conflicts with NBC's The West Wing, in its final season, I have yet to see an episode that didn't keep me laughing all the way through. Irreverent, surprisingly insightful and absurd all at once, War At Home quickly made its way onto our TiVo's season pass list, and we've even caught ourselves watching the reruns - for the jokes are still funny.

While the show's two main characters, Rapaport and wife Vicky, played by Anita Barone, have a sordid past, and checkered present, the show tries to mean well - they want their kids to get good grades, stay out of trouble, and generally avoid being too ridiculous, whether for their own good or to avoid parental embarrassment. In early episodes, War At Home has discussed teen drinking, first relationships, the potential of having a gay son, and revisiting old flings with former partners. While it's not likely to be critically acclaimed or be confused with 60 Minutes or Law and Order, War At Home is a raw look at conversations likely going on in homes around the country, if parents are taking the time to talk to their kids at all.

It can be caught on Sundays at 8:30 p.m., immediately following the Simpsons. Set your DVRs.

February 26, 2006

Microsoft's Origami Project Unfolding

Microsoft (MSFT) has been making a lot of noise of late in trying to take on Apple's (AAPL) 4-year lead with the iPod. While Windows Media has had strong success, Microsoft's efforts to promote tablet PCs through its OEM partners or promoting Windows Media Center have been less successful.

The company's software roots have prevented it from competing head on with the iPod, with the Xbox monopolizing Microsoft's hardware efforts, as the company prefers to rely on Gateway (GTW), HP (HPQ), Dell (DELL) and others to promote its products. But following the rise and fall of the Dell DJ (now only the DJ Ditty is offered), Creative's MuVo and Zen lines, and a myriad of flash player iPod wannabes, the iPod continues to have the overwhelming majority of unit sales and revenue, and Microsoft can't be too pleased.

In the last week, leaked images and a video of an upcoming product called "Origami" are making the rounds on the usual sites - including Engadget. A video promoting the product shows users operating the device with a handheld stylus, listening to MP3s, acting as a drawing tablet, and handling digital photography. Significantly larger than the iPod, but smaller than a sub-laptop, Origami is in avocado green, and certainly can't fit into your pocket. Estimates have said the device could debut in the $500 range, but all is clearly speculative at this point.

With the tablet PC market being in the gutter, is the world ready for a Microsoft-led offering, and does it stand a chance at breaking through Apple's iPod/iTunes duopoly?

Related Links:

The Origami Project
Engadget: Microsoft's Origami Project

ANtics Episode 2.2: A's Offense, New and Improved

The second ANtics comic of 2006 was posted to Athletics Nation this morning, highlighting the advances the A's have made on the offensive side, to match up with what's expected to be one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. Spring training is under way, and while we're all watching to see how Bradley, Thomas and Loaiza integrate with their new teammates, many fans, reporters and the A's themselves are eager to see if the team's offense will show marked improvement over what was an inconsistent part of the team in 2005. In this edition of the ANtics, we talk with Blanton, Zito and others about whether they will get the run support they need to be successful.

Click to See Larger Comic

ANtics Archive: 2005/06 ANtics | ANtics Extras

Slashdot Streak Hits Four In a Row

Slashdot is the premier site for geek-related news, insight and updates. After all, they bill themselves as "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters". Slashdot, one of the first and strongest community-focused Weblogs out there, has amassed significant pull and traffic - delivering what's know as the "Slashdot Effect", where a single story's posting can push so much traffic to the original URL that the site's server will slow down or in some cases, keel over.

But as the site grows in popularity, and users spiral upward, the number of stories submitted on a daily basis for editorial review to the site similarly expands, and the likelihood that what you find interesting will get accepted is decreased. That's why I've been intrigued with having seen the last four suggestions I posted be accepted. I don't know what the standard admittance rate is, but I'm sure it's well below 100 percent. But my feeling is the reason the last four I proposed made the site is because they were focused on news that hadn't yet been covered, they were written up concisely, and in a way that would be interesting to their core audience.

This morning, my comments on the proposed acquisition of Disney by Apple were posted to the site. Adding on to two I posted at the end of last year, and one earlier this month, I've got a streak of four going. It's like a little badge of honor, but I won't let it go to my head, will I?

ANtics That Never Saw the Light of Day

Unfortunately for me, the ANtics don't just up and write themselves... which means every once in a while, one of my half-baked ideas turns out to be just that... half-baked. Usually I catch myself before getting all the way through a strip, but sometimes, they're all written up before I realize its a creative disaster.

This evening, I posted two of the comics that never made to Athletics Nation in a diary on AN - the first being "Zito's Zen Routine", which debuted here earlier this week, and the second, a comic that examined the A's activities during a losing streak. Neither of the two comics were good enough or timely enough to hit the front page of AN, so they've been gathering figurative dust on my hard drive since their creation.

The Athletics Nation diary can be found here. The full archive of ANtics can be found here.

February 25, 2006

Betting On BlackBerry

On Friday, the judge overseeing the long haggled patent infringement case between Research In Motion (RIMM) and NTP Software gave the BlackBerry handheld maker a short-term reprieve, avoiding a service shutdown and sending sighs of relief out from Silicon Valley to Washington DC and beyond, as those who rely on the BlackBerry for everything from critical life-saving emergencies to those who hunt and peck at the devices like addicts saw their fears of being cut off quelled - for now.

The story of NTP vs. RIM is complicated. The short version is that NTP software owns patents regarding sending e-mail data to wireless devices, despite having never created machinery to take advantage of their inventions. When RIM developed their handheld BlackBerry, and NTP believed it to infringe on their patents, RIM was slow to respond, not taking the holding company seriously. While in the years since, NTP has seen many of their patents invalidated, as in parallel the case progressed, legal analysts are faulting RIM for not finding a way out of this morass before now, declining settlement proposals, and there remains the possibility that the millions of BlackBerry users out there may be forced to turn to the Palm Treo or another option. While RIM has offered a work-around, should they lose the case, others aren't convinced it's a workable solution.

I remember first being introduced to BlackBerry in 1999 or 2000 by a co-worker who had acquired version 1.0 of their product. It was black and bulky, but did send and receive e-mail. I wasn't too impressed - thinking that Handspring/Palm's offerings would eventually manage to handle e-mail in a more elegant package. As usual, I was wrong. BlackBerry took off. I've got one, and they're the standard at the office. I don't know of anybody who is rooting for RIM to fail. Everybody wants them to win, and finds this case to be a great example of the patent litigation system just being a tad nutty. At least, for once, it's a small company pushing a large company, and not a large bully using patents as a legal sword to stifle competition. There's sure to be some interesting developments in the coming months, so we'll watch and see.

Barron's: Apple Could Buy Disney?

Sometimes, you have to wonder if the business trades have anything resembling sources or financial acumen to provide real insight or scoops. This week, Barron's is suggesting that with Steve Jobs on board as the number one shareholder of Disney (DIS), following Pixar's acquisition, that Disney is ripe for the plucking for an acquisition by Apple (AAPL). Yes, you read that right. The article says that Disney is horribly undervalued, and that Jobs would take the opportunity to "take it out".

Anybody who's followed the world of Apple rumors for longer than say, since the iPod was introduced, can remember this rumor du jour being floated, but in the opposite direction. If it wasn't Disney buying Apple, or Sun (SUNW) buying Apple, it was Larry Ellison (ORCL) buying Apple, or in Michael Dell's (DELL) fantasy world, that Apple would shut down and give their money to the shareholders. Now that the Pixar deal is consummated, people are chomping at the bit for the next big move.

But look at the numbers. Apple has a $60 billion market cap, and Disney's is over $50 billion. Apple's cash on hand is in the $10 billion range. And does Apple really want to own ESPN and ABC and Disneyland, Disney World and the whole bit? Wouldn't Apple prefer to continue dominating the technology space in innovation, and leave media monopolies alone? Wouldn't a Disney acquisition eliminate the possibility of working with NBC's shows on iTunes, or working with Viacom/MTV? It would seem the conflicts and competition would outweigh a purchase of Disney - Pixar or not.

Steve Jobs has surprised us before. Apple's acquisition of Next resulted in Jobs' triumphant return to lead Apple to unforeseen new heights, but an acquisition of Disney? Only in a business reporter's dream world!

E-Mail Mistakes: Premature Congratulations

You know that sinking feeling that hits you when you realize you accidentally hit "Reply All" instead of reply, or accidentally sent an e-mail that hadn't been completed or edited, or the sudden realization you accidentally CC'd somebody with a similar name to the intended recipient? We've all done it. Now imagine the absolute horror that befell the admissions director at UC Berkeley's law school, after they told ALL 7,000 applicants they had been admitted - when in actuality, only about 800 will make it!

As written in a Computerworld story released today, that very thing happened during an innocent training exercise.

The story says, "Tom was demonstrating the e-mail software used by the school and was highlighting several features, including how the user can filter mail and set it to send messages to one recipient or many at the same time.That’s when he chose what happened to be a standard congratulatory message on being admitted to the university’s prestigious law school and accidentally sent it to all 7,000 students who have applied for admission to the law school."

Now let's think about this. Do you believe any of these prospective law students have access to a say... lawyer? Haven't they suffered unjust pain and suffering? Do you remember the absolute stress you felt when you were awaiting acceptance letters from college or any post-graduate programs? To ride the incredible high and devastating lows of learning you'd been admitted only to find it was a clerical error is just mind-numbing.

You can see the school's admitting the error here.

When I was applying to colleges, I had applied to UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA, as well as BYU and Chico State (for backup). Through one of the UC's more arcane rules, they didn't accept my selected major to UCLA, and chose to refund my $40 admission fee instead of taking my alternate major. After trying to re-apply and get back in the running, I eventually found myself rejected by UCLA, and getting in everywhere else. Finding out I didn't get into UCLA, even when I could blame the bureaucracy for part of it, was crushing. I had a dream of going to UCLA with my best friend from high school (he got in), and had that taken away with a small envelope that told me how difficult it was to get in in the first place. Now, 80 percent of these applicants to Berkeley law school will get to learn they didn't get in - twice.

February 24, 2006

2005 Tax Refunds Already Here

Just ten days ago, I wrote on here to say that my wife and I had wrapped up our 2005 taxes, courtesy of using TurboTax online. This morning, I had the pleasant surprise of logging into my Wells Fargo account online and seeing I had quite a bit more cash than when I'd gone to bed the night before. That's always good. The reason for it was that both our tax refunds from the state and federal levels were deposited automatically, getting me the money that was rightly ours in the first place back a lot more quickly. Now, with it not even being March, we can close the door on our 2005 finances.

Of course... that depends on whether our good friends at the IRS opt to open up the discussion at any point in the future. After all, it's their right to do so, but I say, bring it on. We're ready.

Every year, especially as the date moves closer to April 15th, you hear the inevitable belly-aching and gnashing of teeth over the stress of taxes, getting the forms right, making sure your deductions are in order. But I've never quite understood why. It's a right of passage. It's a challenge. There's some nostalgia involved - especially as I go through every single stock trade from the previous year. (I owned that? What was I thinking?) And there's definitely some self-satisfaction to finishing the task well ahead of time and with a minimum of fuss. I almost would beg for the sticker that says "I paid my taxes", the same way you get one that says "I voted", if you're one of the 38% of us who do that every couple of years or so.

At least today, I feel like we're financially secure. But almost all of the refund already has to be spent on bills that were outstanding, and simply catches us up. But today, I have cash - let's see if I can hold onto that feeling.

Power Shortage

It's one thing to live in a modern society and have access to the finest things - reliable transportation, high-speed Internet, comfortable housing, cable TV... I'm sure your list is different than mine... but with the Internet dominating our communications tools, and near exclusive 24 by 7 reliance on the power, telephone and cable wires into our homes, any interruption is, needless to say, very annoying and undesired.

We got home late this evening to find all our digital clocks flashing "12:00", and the cable Internet out. We then checked the cable TV and found it too was on the blink. We managed to watch an archived TiVo show of Jon Stewart before everything came back to normal, just in time for my wife to be surprised by the lady's figure skating results - hours and hours after the rest of the world had learned of the outcome. Just after the competition had concluded around midnight, everything went dark and we lost power again. More than halfway through an online submission form for the office, I knew that effort had been in vain, and I shut the laptop, while my wife got out candles and the flashlight so we could stumble around and hope power came on before we were to wake up.

Obviously, it did. We were out for only 30 minutes... this time.

Our leaders hem and holler and worry about outside risks to our infrastructure or massive disasters, but all you need are some teenagers, some booze, and a well-placed telephone pole to knock us off the grid, and that's ridiculous.

February 23, 2006

Blogging Bifurcation - A Web Divided

The Web offers more content sources than ever before, from people with storied, credentialed histories, as well as anonymous bloggers and commenters who may present themselves as experts, whether they have knowledge of their space, or not. With so many comments and posts being written in a constant deluge of words, how do readers determine where they'll stay? How does one gain credibility in this new medium?

Some would argue that only through proving their posts factually accurate, or their opinions applicable, can bloggers draw credibility and respect, leading to repeat visits and consistency. The argument is that through increased awareness of opposing viewpoints, visitors can learn from the other side and adopt new insight. But I think often the opposite is true, and the Web makes it even easier to "stick to your guns". It is human nature to seek out a community of peers and equals, of those who yearn for the same things or have parallel experiences. At the same time, there are also those who have opposing viewpoints, undesired by the first group. As such, two polarized and wholly separate communities will grow and thrive. And after visitors find themselves acclimated to a community, they aren't likely to visit its polar opposite, but instead will latch onto branches of the same tree and stick close to the familiar and comfortable.

The most clear example of this on the Web is in the political realm. For left-leaning political discussion, Daily Kos has no equal. On the right, you have the Free Republic. The two sides are in such contrast that no one sane user would be registered and active on both sites. A Daily Kos user would instead migrate to friendly sites like Talking Points Memo, MyDD, Eschaton and This Modern World, bookmarking each, and slowly traversing the left-o-sphere, rather than getting a more broad view. Similarly in technology, you see a bifurcation of opinions - Macintosh vs. Windows, Open Source vs. Microsoft.... basically, Microsoft vs. anybody. For Mac fans, one would move from MacNN and MacInTouch to MacCentral to Apple message boards, to the rumors sites aplenty... MacRumors, Think Secret, AppleInsider. But there's no interest from a Mac user to join the WinSuperSite or worship at the throne of John Dvorak.

To measure credibility on the Web, visitors are looking for people who already agree with their opinions. They're not so much looking to be changed or to gain information from other viewpoints, but to instead become more hardened in their positions - just as you would in the real world, with Fox News viewers kissing up to Rush Limbaugh. There may be more sources for news out there, more viewpoints, but visitors aren't interested. They just want to hear that they are right and there are others there to cheer on their pre-conceived notions.

February 22, 2006

ANtics Extra: Zito's Zen Routine

Not all of the drafted ANtics comics have been posted to Athletics Nation - some with good reason. They just weren't funny. Here's one from the cutting floor drafted during the 2005 regular season, starring Oakland A's left handed ace, Barry Zito. Click the image for a larger picture.

For more, visit the 2005 ANtics Archive.

iTunes to Hit 1 Billion Song Mark Tonight

Apple is on quite a roll with their iPod/iTunes music combo, which has propelled the once "beleaguered" computer company to the forefront of the technology leadership curve. In fact, at one point last month, only a few years removed from Michael Dell's catty comment that he would close Apple and divide up the take among the shareholders, Apple's (AAPL) market capitalization eclipsed that of Dell (DELL) itself. Though the stock has gone down a bit since then, the company's momentum has not.

Now, three years into the iTunes Music Store launch, Apple is on the verge of selling its one billionth song. The company announced a plethora of gifts to loyal music store customers, offering a free iPod Nano and gift card for each song sold at a multiple of 100,000 and is ramping up for the big prize -- whoever purchases the 1 billionth song will receive a new 20-inch iMac, 10 60 Gigabyte iPods, and a whopping $10,000 to spend at the iTunes Music Store for any media. I can't even think how I could spend $2,000, but I'm sure I'd find a way, given the challenge.

According to my iTunes library, my "purchased" collection from the iTunes Music Store numbers just under 1,000, at 982, since my first song purchase on April 28, 2003. I purchased 25 songs that day, ranging from R.E.M. and U2 to Traci Lords and DJ Encore. The iTunes Music Store has grown up in a big way since, offering a much greater set of music to choose from. The company's consistent pricing also throws a wrench into any of the retail stores who might otherwise get my money, and I've practically eliminated my spending on Amazon.com since the iTunes Music Store's introduction.

In the next hour, Apple will most likely hit 1 billion, and I'll try to win the big prize. If I do win, you'll be sure to know.

Keep The Change: Is America that Stupid?

I first heard one of Bank of America's promotions for their new "Keep the Change" campaign while on a business trip last Spring in Arizona. The idea sounded preposterous - the bank would help you save money by taking the difference between your debits and the nearest whole dollar and depositing it into your savings account - theoretically helping you create a nest egg for the future. Somehow, they expect that we have no financial planning abilities, and that the nickels and dimes they transfer from one account to another will make us all rich some day, something we couldn't have achieved on our own, through stocks and bonds, real estate, or common sense.

Now, the commercials are getting more air time. This evening, during Winter Olympics coverage on NBC, an ad featured a young boy doing the math in his head while his mother paid for groceries. He gleefully spouted off 87 cents if she had been charged $4.13. Oh, what a bright young man, and how lucky we are for Bank of America to come to his family's aid and prepare for his inevitably illustrious college career! Ridiculous. If his parents have to rely on Bank of America to guard their piggy bank, it's not likely that little Johnny is going to make it to a community college, let alone a reputable four-year university.

The "Keep the Change" campaign effectively gives Bank of America the right to overcharge you not just on a small number of your purchases, but EVERY purchase. It guarantees that you will always pay more than the cost of goods. It gives Bank of America the right to take even more money from their clients and invest it as they choose to make even more money for the bank. And what is the likelihood that this campaign will even be around when it's Johnny's turn to brave the SATs? Marketing programs come and go, and with silly exceptions like Free Checking, most don't have much staying power. And what if Bank of America merges or gets swallowed up in some future unforeseen acquisition. Will the program continue?

Bank of America has always annoyed me. They're the IBM or GM of banking. Huge, but not offering anything positively differentiated from the competition. I've used Wells Fargo for the better part of a decade, and I can't remember the last time I stepped into their branches. My online banking does everything, and it doesn't ask me if I want to "keep the change" or get fries with that.

February 21, 2006

The Site's Secret Sauce

There's a myriad of blogging applications out there. The most famous are Web hosted, from Google's Blogger to Six Apart's TypePad and LiveJournal offerings, while other user-customizable applications include WordPress and iBlog. For me, when I was looking to move away from strict HTML, driven by Bare Bones' BBEdit, I needed a few things - the ability to keep my louisgray.com domain name, the ability to post new entries while retaining access to site history and categories, while also not requiring massive SQL server maintenance.

After downloading a number of programs, running them, installing them and hoping all would work out, I stumbled upon the answer - RapidWeaver, from Realmac Software. RapidWeaver not only accomplished everything I was looking for, but it easily integrates with Apple's iLife applications, so if I choose, I could post a photo journal, run a podcast, or manage a more global site, beyond the blog.

RapidWeaver is a stand-alone Mac OS X application, which comes standard with a variety of customizable themes, offers comments, powered by HaloScan, and has a very simple interface. It's not perfect - we're still aching for the introduction of permalinks, which they swear are coming in version 3.5 in the next few months, and it's not portable - meaning I can only update from the home laptop. As a result, you'll see a dramatic scarcity in blog entries, say between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. every Monday through Friday.

If you run Mac OS X (and you should), and want to get started, I'd say give RapidWeaver a shot. You can download a trial here.

Web 2.0: Zazzle Offers Customizable Postage Stamps

Much ado is being made these days about "Web 2.0", which loosely refers to both a user-driven, highly customizable Web experience, represented by Blog sites, photo and movie hosts, but also Web-driven applications, like Google Maps and Google Earth. Some companies have tried to rebrand themselves as Web 2.0 companies, even with only minor changes to their product offerings and business model. A great example of this is Zazzle. Like Cafe Press before it, Zazzle offers users the ability to customize everything from T-shirts to mousepads with their site logo or Web address.

Last week, I thought I'd muck around with Zazzle, and found myself taking a photo I had of our 16-year-old beagle, and framing it into a postage stamp. I ordered 3 sets of 39-cent stamps with Molly on them, posing on our couch. Two sets will go to my wife, and the third, to my mother-in-law, who loves her little grand-dog. They arrived today, and should start hitting envelopes tomorrow. Cute, but not exactly what I associate with next generation Web apps. Just cute.

NBC "Conviction" Pilot Free on iTunes Before it Airs

Dick Wolf, the producer behind the mega-hits Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent is back at it again with yet another courtroom drama, called Conviction. This drama has been said to focus more on the characters than on the cases, in a significant change from the traditional L&O series we've known for more than a decade.

NBC is getting behind the show in a big way - offering heavy promotions through the Olympics, and in what's a world first, that I know of, the show's pilot is available for download on iTunes before it airs on TV.

You can get it now: Conviction Pilot: Free

The download weighs in over 200 MB, but the price is right, and it just may be a good show after all, one to add to the TiVo season pass roster, should it rival the originals in quality. The show is set to debut on Friday, March 3rd on your boring old television.

February 20, 2006

The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR

On Thursday, I had the chance to read The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, by Al and Laura Ries. Over the last few years, I've had a lot of opportunities to read technology, business and marketing-oriented books, and while most had some great qualities, there tends to either be too much fluffery without specifics, or dry tales that don't seem to relate to today's business world. In stark contrast, The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR eloquently and directly stated its hypothesis and purpose, then went out and backed up the comments with detailed examples covering a wide variety of industries, from foods to automotive, through technology and the Internet.

Al and Laura, through a series of company-driven stories, explain how while much of companies' marketing budgets are allocated to wide-spread advertising campaigns that are difficult to support by real business growth, more significant results can be seen through deliberate, focused execution on public relations. They argue that public relations needs to be the first move, followed by advertising to sustain the brand, not to create the brand. Yet, advertising firms are lauded for their creativity, even when it can't be tied to business benefits, and woe be to the CEO or marketing executive who proposes unfocused advertising without first claiming success through PR. They give several examples where those who signed off on the big checks weren't there to collect their own in the end.

If you're in the business of promotion, or any business, really, the book is a great kickoff point for strategy and budgeting. Buy it on Amazon.

Not Moving to Mac Intel Right Away

I have a long, sometimes painful, history of being an early technology adopter. I was using the first VisorPhone adapters with Handspring years before they introduced the Treo line of hybrid smartphones, purchased an iPod less than 12 hours after Steve Jobs introduced them, upgraded to Mac OS X Public Beta before it was available to the mass market, and was using Netscape Navigator before it was a 1.0 release.

With all that said, people expect I'd be first in line to snap up an Intel-Powered iMac or MacBook Pro. After all, didn't Steve Jobs say the new laptops, powered by Intel were 3 to 4 times as fast as the old model? Doesn't that make my 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 seem like a dinosaur in comparison? Surprisingly, no. I'm perfectly happy with my laptop, power adapter issues aside. The PowerBook has 1 GB of RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, and is plenty fast for whatever I need to do. Also, we understand the issues with benchmarks. Vendors can run a suite of tests and announce those where they play the best. Reviews have come out saying that the new MacBook Pro is not in fact 3 to 4 times faster, and may be slower in some cases for particular activity. Besides, how fast does it need to be to read e-mail, write in Microsoft Word and surf the Web? At that point, the limiting factor with speed is your broadband connection, not the CPU.

So - add it up. You have a lack of demand, and not enough compelling reasons to take a gamble on what so far is an unproven architecture. I expect that version 1.5 and version 2.0 of the MacBook Pro will add additional speed and functionality unavailable in this first version. In fact, Apple announced this week that the first round will be even faster than originally announced. I don't see that as an accident. And this doesn't even take into account the migration of applications by developers of PowerPC apps to a Universal binary that runs equally fast on PowerPC and Intel architectures. I think I can wait until Adobe, Microsoft, and all the smaller developers I depend on for the apps that I use are ready.

Should Presidents' Day Be Canceled?

There are some holidays that are huge events steeped in centuries of history and tradition - Christmas and Halloween being obvious choices, with the 4th of July and Thanksgiving making a run for it here in the US. Others are more like Hallmark holidays - you're aware of them, and have some obligation to fill, such as St. Patricks Day, Valentines Day, and Memorial Day.

But Presidents' Day is such a hodgepodge. It used to be two distinct holidays commemorating Abraham Lincoln and George Washington's birthday. When I was in elementary school, we got both of the days off, so February was a relatively easy month. Now, with it consolidated and falling on the most convenient Monday available, neither Lincoln or Washington get their due - after all, we will be working on Washington's birthday, and Lincoln's birthday was on a Sunday - where's the fun in that? And now that we're actually out of elementary school, it's not as if anybody celebrates what those two leaders did for us anyway. All it means is that the stock markets are canceled, schools get a day off, and most people don't have to go to the office. But I don't think you've given Lincoln and Washington more than a cursory thought today.

Let's scrap the idea. Either celebrate both men's birthdays individually, two weeks apart, or kill the idea, and make room for other days to be celebrated. I know I could always take my birthday off, or my wife's. That would make more sense.

Sneak Peek: ANtics 2.2 Coming Soon

As previously mentioned, the A's pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Arizona earlier this week, and it's not too long from now before spring training games will begin, and we'll be well on our way to the regular season. It's time to start thinking baseball, and time to start thinking about the ANtics - just a small part of the great community that is Athletics Nation. More to come soon.

2005-2006 ANtics Archive

February 19, 2006

A's Pitching Staff: Armed and Ready

When the A's fans saw Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder traded away after the 2004 season, in the space of a week, the feeling was very dire. Two thirds of the "Big Three" had been decimated, forcing Oakland to see its best-known players leave for greener pastures elsewhere, following year after year of more of the same - with losses of Jason Giambi, Keith Foulke, Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon and others having already inflicted significant damage on the A's psyche. But in 2005, after a rocky start, the A's challenged their way to a second place finish in the AL West division, scoring 88 wins, largely on the back of what had been left behind - a pretty darn good pitching staff, consisting of the now veteran Barry Zito, Rich Harden, youngsters Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, and fifth starter Kirk Saarloos.

Even the competitive cities are giving the A's pitching staff its due. From the Seattle Times:

"The Oakland Athletics have a pitching staff the Mariners can only dream about, as deep in both starting and relieving as anyone except perhaps the Chicago White Sox, the defending World Series champions."

In the 2005 off season, the A's didn't see any significant losses. Octavio Dotel, Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg were replaced with Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley, and yet another pitcher - Esteban Loaiza. This gives the A's six credible starters, with Joe Kennedy in the bullpen in case disaster strikes, and Dan Meyer waiting in the wings in Triple-A Sacramento after a dismal 2005 campaign.

Now some are projecting Joe Blanton and Zito to each win 20 games, with any kind of run support, with Haren following closely behind. Though Rich Harden's health is somewhat in question, he and Loaiza will give the A's five starters capable of winning 15 to 20 games this year, backed by a bullpen including All Star Justin Duchscherer and Rookie of the Year Huston Street. With the A's offense set to pick up more of the load this year, the pitching staff doesn't show any signs of slowing down. They will throw some serious heat and keep the A's pushing toward the playoffs in 2006.

Great Electronic Music Available for Free

It's no secret that my musical tastes lean more toward electronic and techno music than mainstream top 40 nonsense or even what's deemed alternative these days on the radio. Unfortunately for me, that means the radio doesn't have any kind of solution if I'm looking to hear the latest songs from Underworld, DJ Tiesto, Blank and Jones, ATB or Dave Clarke.

iTunes is only now starting to archive the best of electronic music out there, making it available for download. In the last few months, I've managed to get early access to some incredible albums on iTunes, including "Far Away Trains Passing By" by Ulrich Schnauss, and "Shivers" by DJ Armin Van Buuren, to name a few. If you're not familiar, click on the links and visit iTunes to preview a few songs. I don't think you'll be disappointed. But it's honestly not enough. Whereas in years past, we used to have a few hours on the radio dial with Subsonic on Saturday nights with San Francisco-based Live 105, even that show has been canceled for more standard offerings.

"Our goal for 2006 is a more unified station," claimed the station's program director. A serious cop-out, abandoning those listeners, like myself, who had followed the show religiously for the better part of a decade.

But all is not lost. The Internet has opened new exposure to new artists. MusicMobs offers you the ability to match up artists to those you already like, while Last.FM chronicles your musical list and shows you other artists or people who share your interests. And some artists have opened up the vault to their music library so you can sample hour-long or more tracks and live sessions. The best of which who I have enjoyed is an artist named DJ Irish. I have nearly 2 and a half days worth of his remixes, from Hard Trance to Assorted Trance and live sets at clubs where he has performed. Best of all, it's free. He posts a new set, and e-mails those on his list to let you go get it.

You can find his sets here: DJ Irish and DJ Nyman Music Archive. I hope you'll enjoy it. For more insight into what I'm listening to, check the MusicMobs and Last.FM links above.

New Site Feature: Subscribe By E-mail

Another leap forward on the road to worldwide domination. I've implemented a new site feature, powered by Feedblitz, on the right side of the page, where you can subscribe to the blog by e-mail. Now, rather than visiting with regularity (which I'm not opposed to), you can enter your e-mail address on the right and hit subscribe. Then, you would receive new posts on a daily basis, when updates occur. As with any good service, you opt-in, and can unsubscribe at any time.

Cal Hoops Falls to Last-Place ASU

Being a Cal Bears fan is a lot like being a Chicago Cubs fan - it always seems like something is going to go wrong, even when things are starting to go right. During my four years at Cal, I expected our quarterback to fumble on the one-yard line in key games, I expected our star basketball player to get injured in the last minutes of a game in which he scored more than forty points, and somehow, they always came up short. And this issue extends to any games Cal plays on a national scale - or when facing USC the last two years.

Yet, somehow, I keep holding onto my faith. Today, with Cal basketball tied for first place in the Pac Ten with UCLA, and an NCAA tourney bid looking possible, they took on last-place Arizona State, at home, in what should have been an easy win. Yet we found them in trouble in first overtime.

With a chance to win by making two free throws, Cal missed the front-end and was lucky to make the second to force a second, fateful, overtime period. In that last five minutes, Cal foolishly shot an impossible three pointer when up by four, and gave ASU the chance to come roaring back. With the gap closed to two, ASU had the chance to tie or take the lead, and swished a three from behind the arc, putting the team up by one with seconds left. Cal had managed to shake defeat from the jaws of victory, missing their final attempts and seeing the Sun Devils walk away from Haas Pavilion with a well-deserved win. It was almost what I had expected to happen, but what I had hoped wouldn't. Very frustrating.

February 18, 2006

Sacramento: Guaranteed to Flood

According to flood experts, St. Louis and Sacramento are the two most-likely metropolitan areas in the U.S. to see flooding disasters, mostly due to increased development in regions flooded by ten feet or more of water in the last century, surrounded by insufficient levees. In fact, according to one UC Davis professor, there stands a better than 2 in 3 chance that in the next 50 years, there will be a "catastrophic levee failure" in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

He says, "In California we know we have two kinds of levees -- those that have failed and those that will fail. We are reinventing Katrina all over again."

In addition to over-crowding and under-planning, the Sacramento region is particularly vulnerable due to seismic activity native to California, and increased warming, which is promising heavier storms coming in from the Pacific Ocean.

The story: St. Louis, Sacramento face flood danger: experts

Apple: Worst Power Adapters Out There

Apple (AAPL) makes a lot of wonderful products with great quality: their laptops, iPods, Cinema Displays and the overwhelming majority of their products work very well, have long-lasting stability and simply do things better than the alternatives in the Windows world. However, they have not impressed me with the quality of their power adapters for the iBook and PowerBook lines. The adapters easily wear out, stop charging and can bend with any kind of force - meaning we are pushed to pay the "Apple tax" and re-up for another adapter or two per year in our house, even while the laptops keep chugging along.

In 2002, when I moved from Belmont to Palo Alto, I made a choice to ditch my home desktop and purchased the first laptop I'd ever had - a G4 Titanium PowerBook from Apple. With it came the standard software package and power cable. But when I made the switch to live the laptop lifestyle, I didn't expect the cord would become such a limiting factor. I've probably purchased four or more additional power adapters from myself or my wife since moving to laptops. We recently, doing a household cleanup, must've tossed out two more dead ones. Now, we know we have two working, one each for "his and hers", and we'll see how long that lasts. But so far, we've been unimpressed.

In parallel, I've utilized a Dell (DELL) laptop from the office over the last four years, and have never had trouble with the power cords. They're definitely an ugly piece of junk, but at least they work. Apple should learn how to ruggedize their cords - it's one place where function always wins out over form.

Pitchers and Catchers Report

Four of the most beautiful words in the English language! Spring Training is off and running today, with the A's pitching and catching staffs reporting to Phoenix, Arizona, in an attempt to regain the playoffs after two promising but ultimately frustrating seasons. This year, after the acquisitions of Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley and Esteban Loaiza during the winter months, many are picking the A's to do very well this season, challenging the LA Angels for first place.

The A's have drawn national attention and praise for their thrifty road to success, and the utilization of statistics over physical appearance to determine a player's value. The "Moneyball" phenomenon is much bandied about and often not understood, as those who read only the headlines could assume players with OBP and HRs are the only targets, when instead, the A's, using similar strategies to those in the investment community, have learned to buy low and sell high, and look for players whose worth is undervalued. As a result, when one group of teams zigs, the A's zag. In fact, while the A's were long considered a defensive joke, their fielding statistics and ability are among the leaders in the league, on top of their well-known pitching prowess and consistent hitting, especially with the off-season acquisitions.

This will surely be a fun season. The A's are expected to play very well, and I intend to be there as often as I can. We've got partial season tickets, spring training tickets, and a full-time season pass to Athletics Nation, so if you're not on the bandwagon, now is the time to jump on, for the A's are going places.

Related Links:

OaklandAthletics.com: A's Plan to be Leaders in Arms Race
Athletics Nation: Spring Hopes Eternal, As Pitchers and Catchers Report

February 17, 2006

Where Famous Analysts Go to Hide

In the late 1990s, not many financial analysts were more prominent than Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker and Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget. The pair could make or break an Internet stock with a single forecast, and made headlines that were self-fulfilling, on eBay (EBAY), Amazon (AMZN), Yahoo! (YHOO) and many others. But Blodget went down hard, going to trial for conflicts of interest.

Now in 2006, Henry is freed to write on basically anything he likes, on his own blog, Internet Outsider, where he gives his honest opinions on tech stocks, just like the old days. In recent weeks, he's covered the latest happenings at Google (GOOG), Amazon's ill-fated idea to launch a music service to compete with Apple's (AAPL) iTunes and iPod combo, and continued issues at Time Warner (TWX) and AOL. While he now lacks the big name of Merrill Lynch as a backer, his comments still ring true and are an interesting take. Whether he should have been banned from the world of financial analysis is a different issue, but it does seem after so many made and lost millions in the market so quickly, a scapegoat was needed.

Check out Internet Outsider. Bookmark it.

Top Ten Olympic Sports To Cancel

I'm getting just a little bit tired of hearing the waltz play for the ice dancing... guess what... it's the same song for every single pair! That's a little wrong. If you're the judge, how can you not want to look around for the hemlock for a quick exit? But ice dancing is a little ridiculous. Sure, it's hard to do - I can't do it. But is it a sport? Does it belong in the Olympics? I don't think so. And it's not the only sport with qualities just a little less redeeming than bowling or 7-card stud. So here's a list of ten sports that need to die an Olympic death (Winter or Summer).

1. Synchronized Swimming
2. Table Tennis
3. Ice Dancing
4. Rhythmic Gymnastics
5. Curling
6. Handball
7. Badminton
8. Kayaking
9. Taekwando
10.Equestrian (Let's give the medals to the horses)

Who's The Victim Here?

As we all know by now, Vice President Cheney became the second US VP to shoot a man while in office (the first being Aaron Burr), when on a hunting expedition last week, he peppered a friend with birdshot, claiming the man had not announced his position, and that it was a simple hunting accident. In the days afterward, we learned that the news had been delayed a full day before reaching the press, and when it was announced, it was through a small local paper, through a private citizen, and not through government channels. It was also learned that Cheney had consumed alcohol earlier in the day, despite his comments that none in the hunting party were drinking while shooting. During the week, the victim even suffered a "mild" heart attack, due to irritation from the birdshot that was lodged in his heart. Quite a week for anyone, let alone a 78-year-old.

So, today, he was released from the hospital, having largely recovered from the injuries. What did he do? Threaten to sue? Lambast Cheney for his poor aim and public drunkenness? No. Surprisingly, he apologized for all the pain and suffering that Cheney and has family had undergone in questioning about the incident. Maybe it's really not that big of a surprise, after all, he did contribute $1,000 and $2,000 respectively to Bush's presidential campaigns in both 2000 and 2004. But just imagine the hoopla that would have occurred if say... Hillary Clinton were to have accidentally shot a member of her hunting party. Or Ted Kennedy. Wait - bad example. I think Hillary would have been hung from the gallows by a rabid right-wing contingent eager to see her go down. But if Cheney isn't caught on film performing the torture at Abu Ghraib, or hadn't shot the man in the head and causing his death, he could get away with murder. In fact, he got to cry and whine about how terrible his situation was to a very charitable Fox News.

What a crock. They called Ronald Reagan the Teflon President, but this administration is plenty slippery and has managed to have little stick to it, considering their range of ridiculous antics.

February 15, 2006

Site Endorsement: TV Tattle

Several years ago, in what now seems like the dark ages, a friend/former coworker came to me looking for help on how to best create a site logo for a new venture he was pursuing - a Web log devoted to television news and gossip. Only half-heartedly trying, I gave him some feedback and wished him well, but didn't expect the site to do anything, thinking he'd consider it a fad that took too much time and had no money in it. Now more than five years later, with Web logs being hugely popular, it is obvious that Norman was ahead of his time, as the site is thriving and one I consider a must-click.

His site, TV Tattle, publishes regularly five days a week and can be counted on each day to offer dozens of links to critics' pieces on tube fare, and offers so much detail about shows I both watch and ignore. What's great about his site is that even though I'd never consider myself a potential TV Guide subscriber, I can't remember the last time I checked his site out and came away without having two or three pieces to read - whether it was learning new plot twists from my favorite shows before they were to air, salary conflicts, or quick hits on what shows were going to be renewed or canceled.

I honestly don't know how Norman finds the time to peruse all these sites and post his daily news, though from what I remember, he was quite the night owl, and it wasn't too uncommon to have my phone ring at 3:30 in the morning with him wanting to share the latest on news, gossip or his efforts. With search engines and news crawlers from Google, Yahoo! and others simplifying things in recent years, I can see how he would benefit, but I don't go anywhere else to find out the news on TV. If it's not on TV Tattle, it's probably not important anyway.

February 14, 2006

Not Really Into the Olympics

Growing up, the Summer Olympics were huge, filled with huge stars who you would practically beg to grace your Wheaties box - Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner, Matt Biondi... while the Winter Olympics was like the cute younger sister of the pair - interesting, but not quite what you're looking for. The Winter Olympics have had their moments, but it's not captivating, and with yet another Olympics being held so far outside of US prime-time, and Internet news sources being more up to date than ever, by the time NBC drags out the days highlights through 11 p.m., you've already known what's going to happen for upwards of 15 to 18 hours. Who cares?

I'm not saying that the US deserves the Olympics every time. That would be silly. But there should be enough of a storyline to keep me watching, even if I somehow found out the results already. I'm not going to stay riveted to the TV to see whether or not the 5' 2" 16 year old lady snowboarder is going to land her back 540, or to see the pairs skaters try not to land another concussion. If I wanted chills and spills, I should have a lobotomy and watch NASCAR. If I want to be bored with sappy behind the scenes documentaries on the athletes, I'll turn to Lifetime or Biography, thank you. I don't care if the Olympics are in Helsinki or Halifax. It doesn't matter if the story isn't there.

Pretty soon, it'll be over. The US will be in the top 4 medal countries, and I won't care. Want good sports to watch? Give me the A's during spring training. Now there's a team of players you can get behind.

2005 Taxes In the Bag

I'm hoping that the only reason I'd ever seek out the help of a tax professional is that through some stroke of fortune, I'd become so wealthy that it'd take an army of accountants to keep my finances straight. Ever since I made enough money to have to file taxes, I've taken the easy way - using Tele-file while in college, and filing online the last 5 years or so, using TurboTax, initially via Yahoo! and now through the TurboTax site. Using TurboTax online is a snap, as each step guides you along, supposing you have your paperwork handy on the side, and it fills in your data and math as you go. A running total in the top left of the screen lets you know if you owe Uncle Sam a check, or if he owes you one.

Best of all, it imports all your previous year data if you've used the site before. That makes it simple - as you don't have to re-enter your contact and background information, and can mentally gauge how you did in contrast to the previous year, for income, deductions and taxes.

Yesterday, we wrapped up the 2005 filing, and all we have to do is store our records in the event of a future audit, or watch the bank account to be sure their direct deposit goes through. Very simple, and there's no reason I want Uncle Sam to hold onto my money for any longer than absolutely possible, so getting done in February is great.

February 12, 2006

Site Endorsement: LinkedIn

I figured if this is my blog, then I should be able to feature those things I like - so I've set up a new category called "Endorsements", effectively sharing sites, movies, books, etc. that have strong qualities you just might like as well. First on this list is the service LinkedIn. LinkedIn functions as half job site, and half online address book. If you join LinkedIn, you can post an online resume, link to other colleagues or partners you know (assumedly they approve of you or your work), and can post or beg for endorsements, to flesh out your information.

Once on LinkedIn, you can track colleagues' or partners' comings and goings. As people take new jobs and update their profiles, their information changes in your "Connections" page. Also, if you're a sales or marketing type, and want to find somebody at another company, you can find out how many "degrees" you are away from them, and the right path through which you can gain contact. Taking things a step further, if you are looking for all the people on the LinkedIn network with the same job title or industry as someone you know, it's just a click away. Quickly, you can find all the System Administrators who work in Colorado, for instance, and then perform your own due diligence to contact them, should you choose.

There's some silliness to it, of course. Is it a race to see who can get the most connections, like it was in high school, when you got quasi-friends to sing your yearbook? Probably. But it doesn't take a brain scientist to determine it has some strong potential.

Related Links: LinkedIn | My Web Profile | Full Profile

VP Dick Cheney Shoots Friend

It's one of those headlines you can't believe is really true, and to start on the road of mocking the accident seems crass, but wholly obvious. You take a powerful political figure who is universally unloved by the American people, in a political party that has championed the availability of guns ever since they could spell NRA, and it just so happens he fills his friend full of birdshot on a hunting expedition.


Dick Cheney turned around to shoot quail during a weekend hunting trip in Texas, and nailed the lawyer (can't make this up) with birdshot, claiming he didn't know the guy was there. (See: Cheney Accidentally Shoots Hunting Companion)

In mock amusement, James Brady and his wife, who have long fought for increased gun control, were quoted as saying, "Now I understand why Dick Cheney keeps asking me to go hunting with him."

Just think... these guys have the finger on "the button". Not good.

February 11, 2006

Top Ten Signs Colleagues Aren't Focused

You probably saw the story about how New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, had a lowly desk jockey making $30k a year fired for playing solitaire on his computer during work hours... leaving the father of a three-year-old without a job. "The workplace is not an appropriate place to play game,” said the mayor, who claimed he wasn't over-reacting. But we've all seen people goofing off during work hours. Here are ten ways I've seen people goof off, or signal their full effort wasn't in the job any more.

1. Colleagues set up a multi-player online game, and the only calls are to say "it's your move!"
2. Every time you walk by their cube, you can see them minimize their browser window.
3. AOL Instant Messenger seems to be the majority of their typing.
4. They're on their cell phone more often than they're on their office phone.
5. The IT guy would rather finish his hearts game than change the printers' ink.
6. Your colleague in the next cubicle has told his old college buddies how he got engaged so many times, you could tell the story with the same emotion.
7. They're making calls for a charity she works on the side, but won't answer your e-mail.
8. You ask about an e-mail you sent, only to find it's in their In Box, in Bold. Meanwhile, eBay and Monster.com are minimized.
9. The commissioner of the company's fantasy baseball league has more adds and drops than everyone else combined.
10.Your boss gets grouchy when you interrupt his online game to ask about edits on collateral.

We've all seen stuff like this. If Bloomberg were roaming the halls of your office, how many would make it through the whole day?

March of the Penguins

Netflix can be great - if you (ab)use it well. My wife signed up for Netflix about a year and a half ago, and at times, we've enjoyed having three DVDs out at a time, and had the time to enjoy quite a lot of good movies, only to see them replaced with new ones just days after the old films are sent back to company headquarters. Of late, we haven't maximized the service to its true potential - as we've been busy, and during downtime found other ways to be entertained.

Yesterday, we opened one of the trademark red envelopes and saw March of the Penguins, a documentary which chronicles the Emperor Penguins' march across snowy, icy, Antarctica in search of a mate and family-building. The trek is amazing - to see the animals make tremendous sacrifice to extend the population and braving the most harsh conditions on the planet is something to behold. In the US version of the DVD, actor Morgan Freeman narrates and walks us through the journey. I understand the original documentary, in French, has the penguins talking, without the narration, and were I to understand French, that would have been an interesting take as well.

It might not have a 200-million budget, guns blazing, with sex and violence, but it's worth seeing despite all that. Watch it - you might learn something.

February 10, 2006

Insomnia - I Can't Get No Sleep

It's not that I can't sleep - it's that I don't want to. Sleep is such a waste of time, after all. There's plenty to do, but in theory it's too late to do it. Even worse, I still have to wake up at the same time, whether I go to bed now, or in an hour, so what's the point? Might as well stay up, catch up on things that haven't been getting done, and reduce the sleep element. There's no real good reason to lay stationary and inert for such a significant time anyway - how horribly inefficient!

Speaking of "Insomnia", the very best song ever with the word Insomnia as the title has to be from Faithless.

Download it now on iTunes

Sample lyrics:

Deep in the bosom of the gentle night
Is when I search for the light
Pick up my pen and start to write
I struggle, fight dark forces
In the clear moon light
Without fear... insomnia
I can't get no sleep

The full lyrics here.

February 09, 2006

Go Bears!

Cal wins over Stanford, 65 to 62. Leon Powe scored 32 points, while everybody else scored 33.

A win is a win, but it's always so much better against Stanfurd.

Car Envy

Living in the Silicon Valley, I am surrounded by others who had better timing than me, and managed to make a good bit of money. I pass more BMW's and Mercedes on the freeways and side roads than it seems I do Volkswagens or Chevys. In an environment like this, my green four-door 1998 Mercury Tracer, sporting more than 113,000 miles of history, doesn't really stand out - unless you mean in a bad way. The peer pressure to upgrade my car - even though this one works fine - is enormous. If I don't own a BMW, Lexus, or even a high-end Audi, I might as well not even drive, but should take mass transit and save myself the gas money.

When I bought the Mercury Tracer, I didn't really have any kind of expectation for how long I would keep it. In 1999, I was working as the Web Marketing Manager for 3Cube, and with my boss out on his honeymoon, I had to visit our Web design firm in San Francisco with him away and get us to the next stage. But the Ford Escort I'd been driving between Berkeley and Burlingame for a year-plus wasn't going to make it with me. The engine had cracked, and it had to be refilled with water to and from the office.

That Saturday, I drove it to the Ford dealership and told them they would have the easiest sale ever - I was leaving my Escort there, and would go home with something else. Really didn't matter what. After trying a Ford Contour (too big) and looking at other things, the Mercury Tracer (used, with 28,000 miles on it already) seemed like an okay option. I test-drove it, and it felt remarkably like the Escort. That's really what made me sign off on it - not any kind of research or pushiness from the sales guy. I was an easy sale. Yet the car still works. It's been paid off for who knows how many years, and still gets from one place to another without breaking. The only question is - for how long?

I Hate Stanford

I attended college at the University of California at Berkeley, and in my four years there, I learned many things - some of which that ended up helping me in the job world, and a great many things that had no impact. One thing I learned there that I will never forget, even if was never on any midterm, was the clear and unquestioned truth that Stanford sucks. The school openly panders to affluent families willing to overpay for their children's education - and over-grading is rampant. Students are capable of dropping classes even after having taken the final, if they think it would poorly impact their A- average. Their campus is like open farmland with no personality, the surrounding city has no history, their sports teams are mediocre with the worst band in the history of the universe, and - in contrast to Cal, they have no named elements on the periodic table - that's a big one.

Why do I bring this up?

Cal and Stanford (Stanfurd) play tonight in Men's basketball at Berkeley. The two teams are battling for the second position in the Pac-10 conference, and how well they play each other could have significant impact on which team makes the tournament, and which makes the NIT - and it's no guarantee both will make it, with so many other good teams out there - especially on the East Coast.

Cal won the Big Game this year, handily, but it'd be great to double down on those Cards and take them out tonight too. Go Bears!

Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton

An article in the New York Times this morning highlights the closeness between former president Bill Clinton and both current and former presidents Bush. The two-somes or three-somes can be seen at public events or enjoying one another privately. In fact, in a recent TV interview, W postulated that if Hillary were to run in 2008 and win, the presidents in order would read "Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton".

In fact, when asked about her chances, W called her "formidable".

I read Bill Clinton's "My Life" biography over the last few months (off and on - it's not that I read slow), and through the book, gained more admiration of Hillary, her background and strengths. Surely, it's a husband discussing his wife, or a sly political move, but I came away with significant respect of her roots and ambitions. Hillary is a very intelligent, focused individual with high expectations for herself. If she doesn't get smeared and slammed by a right-wing PR machine, it'd be very interesting to see if she gives 2008 a shot.

And... go buy the book. I really enjoyed it.

February 07, 2006

2006 American League Predictions

As AthleticsNation blogfather Blez points out in his story today titled "The Season Has Started", it's now becoming time to look at the Major League Baseball calendar and prognosticate just how each team will end up at the end of the season. With the Super Bowl behind us, and the Bay Area enjoying moderate temperatures - especially for February, the thoughts of Spring are in the air.

First and foremost, I'm an A's fan. There's no doubt of that. As a result, I wish they could go 162-0, and live and die alongside them for every bad call, bad play, bad pitch and bad game. As a result, any guess I take has to be given a grain of salt, as I am likely overestimating how well they will do in 2006. But with the team picking up Esteban Loaiza, Milton Bradley, and Frank Thomas and not losing any marquee players, things are looking up. In fact, in an ESPN chat today, Rob Neyer said "Right now, on paper, the A's are the third-best team on the planet (after the U.S.A. and the D.R.)"

So, throwing out any statistical analysis and not having special insight, while also ignoring the National League, because the situation over there is too dire, I suggest the following to be how the American League will look at the conclusion of the 2006 season:

American League West
Oakland 94-68
Los Angeles 86-76
Texas 77-85
Seattle 76-86

American League Central
Cleveland 87-75
Chicago 83-79
Minnesota 82-80
Detroit 77-85
Kansas City 67-95

American League East
New York 91-71
Boston 87-75
Toronto 85-77
Baltimore 73-89
Tampa Bay 71-91

Divisional Playoffs
Oakland over Boston, 3 games to 1
Cleveland over New York, 3 games to 2

League Championship Series
Oakland over Cleveland, 4 games to 1

Three And Out Takes Fantasy Football Title

Sunday's Super Bowl didn't go as I had expected, but it went well enough to avoid any calamities in our little fantasy football league. Somehow, despite finishing with the 4th seed going into a 4-team playoff, I managed to win the title, on the back of Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward, and picked up my second trophy in the last five years, becoming the third person in KODL league history to have multiple first-place finishes.

KODL Playoff Results | KODL History

I got into the league at the request of a former boss (who finished last in the 12-team league this year), but have enjoyed the competition. It's even more fun when you win, of course.

Now comes the darkness before Spring Training, where we don't have football to fall back on, and the never-ending NBA season continues to eke forward without any intrigue. It's time to send the pitchers and catchers any day now, right?

February 04, 2006

Miss a Week, Miss a Lot

The blog has had to become a background project for now - with presentations and meetings consuming the last several days, and plenty more work is left to do. But the Super Bowl looms tomorrow, and it should be a fun weekend. My father in law and I have a side bet on the Big Game - $5 a question, more than 140 questions. Last year we played, and I ended up owing him all of five bucks. But we'll see. Should be fun. More later.