October 30, 2006

Impending Studio 60 Cancellation Latest Clue TV Too Dumb

What ever happened to letting good television shows run their course until they faded away and the cast could come out beaming to a series of curtain calls? It seems that with the infrequent exceptions of NYPD Blue, Cheers and Seinfeld, any show worth its salt, which has something resembling intellect and sharp dialogue, can't make it past a single season before a dull, drooling, American public finds it too difficult to comprehend, and in a panic, network executives give it the axe.

It happened with The West Wing. It happened to Law and Order: Trial By Jury. It happened to Conviction just as the show was getting some momentum. And now, it sounds like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is going to be annihilated within weeks. According to Fox News online, cast members of the NBC show featuring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford have already told friends and family that the show's cancellation is imminent.

In the Gray household, it takes a lot to crack into our TiVo Season Pass list. Given our addictions to the CSI and Law And Order franchise, as well as House, and a variety of late-night comedy shows, we don't have much time to add new shows when they come out, and we absolutely deplore the mindless philandering on reality television and vacuous game shows. Studio 60 immediately made its mark this season and had us looking forward to each episode as it developed.

With many of the characters having become familiar through The West Wing, also run by Aaron Sorkin, the show's give and take and rhythm seemed familiar. The situations were interesting. The dialog was college level, something that looks like a non-starter in today's saccharine world. When Conviction and The West Wing were 2005-06 casualties, I called for a new network to bravely take on these shows to satiate our need for real world conversations and intriguing plots, but the harsh economics of television are too much.

With Studio 60 pulling only half the viewers of the dialog-poor skinfest at CSI Miami, they had no chance of emerging with the #1 position on Monday nights, and will exit a loser, without chance of resuscitation. We're not too happy about it, and we're further disillusioned with the way today's airwaves are going. If it weren't for the serialized cop and lawyer shows, and professional sports, we'd be doing a lot more reading, and even more Web surfing than we do today. But the TV just fell another notch in our eyes. We are not happy with this black box and how it is treating us.

Shocker: I Prefer Windows IE 7 to Windows Firefox 2.0

There's a headline I didn't ever think I was going to write. Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser has always been behind on features - ever since the day it launched in beta in an eventually-successful attempt to crush Netscape Navigator. I hate Internet Explorer and everything it stands for - market monopoly shenanigans, inaccurately designed HTML, and the weakest security on this side of the US/Mexican border, plagued with hacking potential and popups. But now, at least on the Windows platform, the new Internet Explorer 7 is pretty darn good. With their copying of tabs from Mozilla Firefox, and the addition of other new tools, it's definitely giving Firefox a run for its money.

As much as I can, I try to stay on the Apple Mac OS X platform. It just flat out works better, and doesn't try to get in my way. The applications seamlessly work together, and in a secure way. Apple's Safari browser has also grown to the point it doesn't have an equal. But in those rare times (mostly at the office) when I am in front of a Dell Windows PC, there is no Safari, leaving me with two real options: Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft IE.

For the last several years, IE has been a ugly stepchild in the Web browser family, the one you hide in the closet and don't introduce to visitors. Firefox has been first to market with tabbed browsing, browser themes and extensions, enabling Web surfers to "roll their own" experience, and has slowly been taking market share back away from Microsoft - the long-time leader in share, if not in innovation.

But with the recent introduction on Internet Explorer 7, I hate to say it, but I actually like it. Rather than changing the default browser settings on the Windows PC to run Firefox, I've tested the new IE 7 and like some of the settings. The browser's tabbed browsing is good, and a feature called "Quick Tabs" shows all open tabs for simplified navigation. And in contrast to Firefox 2.0, IE loads quickly, renders pages just as accurately (as far as I can tell), and comes with integrated popup blockers, which for years would depend on third-party toolbars from Yahoo!, Google and others. As one installs Firefox extensions and themes, the browser actually gets sluggish, while IE remains light. (See "Is Firefox 2.0 a dud?")

If I want to fight the good fight against Microsoft and avoid all things Redmond, using Firefox is fine, but the gap between the two browsers has been closed in a significant way. If you've sworn off IE forever, give IE 7 a spin and see if Microsoft can change your mind.

October 29, 2006

BYU TV Is Great Web Video Resource

I don't talk much about religion on the blog, but for introductory purposes, I'm LDS (Mormon), having been born into the church, raised in the church, and an active participant for the better part of my life, with a 4-year self-imposed sabbatical that overlapped my college years being the only exception. While I'm a typical Mormon in some ways, in that I don't drink, use drugs, don't swear often (that I know of), and attend services on Sunday, I'm also somewhat atypical in the way I vote, in that I don't exactly like Utah in any way, I didn't serve a full-time mission, and I don't have kids.

The church has been very impressive in the way that they have utilized new technology and especially the Internet. Unlike many churches, who preach from their meetinghouses and limit their sharing of the gospel with their attending members, the LDS church has a very-thorough Web site, targeting both members and non-members, with a fully searchable Gospel Library, including the scriptures (Bible and Book of Mormon), teaching guides and archived church magazines. While some non-LDS call the church a cult, the religion is in fact, the complete opposite, not hiding secrets within, but promoting openness and welcoming questions.

Beyond the centerpiece LDS.org Web site, the church operates sites for genealogy at www.familysearch.org, and a site for more curious visitors, at www.mormon.org. LDS.org also offers daily e-mails about church members in the news and streams the church's twice-annual general conference talks over the Web in a wide variety of languages. Additionally, the church-affiliated university system, BYU (Brigham Young University) also has adapted the Web, using some of the best streaming video technology I've ever encountered, on the university's BYU TV site, at www.byu.tv.

While for most, the world of online video is one full of stuttering stop-start performance, and inconsistent buffering, or small video windows, BYU TV offers visitors a rich, fast, streaming video experience for any operating system or browser, and lets people select not just from what's on the channel right then, but from a menu of the day's offerings, in addition to special features, including the aforementioned General Conference talks, where the church's leaders, including the prophet and apostles talk to its members. Just this morning, when we were looking at BYU TV, we were entertained to see a "classic" BYU football game against Oklahoma, or we could queue up aerobics videos, scrapbooking how-tos and gardening tips.

While the pedestrian content might not wow you, and trust me, I'm not bowled over by instructional sewing videos and arts and crafts, I was very impressed with the technology, and pleased to see the church and its affiliated university continuing to be on the cutting edge, taking advantage of what the Web has to offer. In an increasingly skeptical world, where many are either turning away from religion, or relying on religion as the basis to blame others or incite hatred, it's good to see a calm, consistent voice available to anybody at any time - and with good quality too.

Listening to ''Surrender'', by Depeche Mode (Play Count: 10)

ANtics Episode 2.34: An A's Halloween

It's a long, cold, off-season, but don't think the A's players are hanging around and feeling sorry for themselves. It's Halloween, and how better to celebrate the holiday than to look at some of the A's players' costumes, and get in the Trick Or Treat mood?

Click to See Larger Comic

Also: Take the Poll: What Costume Were You Hoping To See?

2005 Comics | 2006 Comics |  All Comics | Poll

October 28, 2006

Who Knew I Was Too Dumb to Work for Google?

Though I've never made a serious inquiry to seek employment at Google, I was surprised to learn this week that Google, in a race to hire talent, is loosening its requirements for job applicants, including their long-mandated requirement of a 3.0 average in college. The surprise wasn't so much that the world's most innovative search engine was on a quest to lower their collective IQ, but instead that this rule existed in the first place. Given the technology industry's many stories about dropouts founding companies, Google would be one of the last places I'd expect to require going back into the dustbins of history and finding my old university transcripts. Yet, it turns out my "stellar" 2.71 average at Cal would have had me rejected from their front door without discussion.

(See: Google Lowers Its GPA)

After graduating from high school with a 3.17 average (3.5 adjusted for AP and Honors courses), I didn't exactly anticipate rolling through Berkeley with a spotless 4.0 average. I'd always lacked the gene that forced me to study and was always distracted with things I found much more important than rote memorization. While others locked themselves away in libraries and avoided seeing the outdoors, I was either writing for the newspaper, editing my homepage, seeing an A's game, or just watching the Simpsons. After my first semester as a freshman at Cal, I sported a 2.88 GPA (to the best of my memory) and the highest it ever got after that was 2.96, just shy of the not-so-magical 3.0 mark.

When this laissez-faire attitude saw the addition of another full-time distraction (a girlfriend) in my Junior year, my grades fell even further, with a 2.0 average the first semester and a 2.33 the second, totaling a 2.16 overall. In fact, during that year, I had to meet with a counselor in the Political Science department (where a 2.0 GPA was mandated for graduation in the major) to explain my 1.7 GPA at the time (5.1 grade points over 3 classes) and say I'd do better in future courses.

Yet, to me, I didn't really care what the final numbers said. While working full-time and forging a double major, it seemed obvious, at least to me, that nobody outside of the university would ever need to know my GPA when I graduated, and to date, nobody in the interview process has. All they saw was what they needed to see - a two line summary showing I'd graduated from UC Berkeley in 4 years with 2 majors. Now, 7 1/2 years out of school, it's my accumulative work experience which is the headline, and my alumni status simply forms as a backdrop showing I jumped through the right hoops in the right order on my way.

That said, I'm somewhat incredulous that Google ever had this requirement, and then stuck by it for so long. How would a 3.2 from a local junior college trump a 2.7 at Cal or Stanford (where their cofounders started), and how would they ever hire anybody from UC Santa Cruz, so famously on a pass/fail system? Was the rule in place to make sure they weren't hiring folks with low aptitude levels, or instead, to make sure their prospective employees were planning to do their homework and not play hooky come classtime?

I just have to shake my head at how such an innovative company who wants to seek the highest level of talent would set such an artificial bar. While they are already getting press for "lowering standards" to acquire less-robust folks, I think it's about time, not that I'm going to revise my resume and offer them a look now.

Listening to ''Jumbo'', by Underworld (Play Count: 5)

SF Bay Area Doesn't Know The Sacramento Kings

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

On Athletics Nation, we have an acronym called "NRAF", which refers to a "Non-Resident A's Fan". I'd hope that by living in the Bay Area, I would be close enough to the Kings that I could follow their every game well and not feel removed from the action (an NRKF if you will), yet I continue to be amazed by how two hours' drive off I-80 and Highway 101 makes it seem like Sacramento is in another state altogether.

Rather than rant in a circular argument about local Kings TV and Radio coverage (slim to none), a scene from Thursday could channel my annoyances...

I'm not one for planning for holidays well in advance. I don't have a Halloween costume. So Thursday afternoon, I zipped over to a local mall and tried to find anything that could meet the minimum criteria - hats, shirts, an all-in-one package... didn't care. After finding none of the stores had anything useful, I stopped at a "Pro Shop" which sold jerseys, caps, and all manner of sports gear. Aha! I could go as a Kings player or fan and keep the jersey for when I made a trip over to Arco!

But it wasn't to be. See... they had plenty of Kings jerseys in purple and black - on the wall, in the racks... but they were all, without exception, for Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic. Hmm... now would I look like a "with it" Kings fan if I were to show up as Chris Webber or Peja? Didn't think so. The store didn't even have any Cal Bears gear, which made zero sense, so I took off.

Now you might be thinking, of course there's no Kings stuff, you Bay Area living, wheat grass sipping, quasi-hippie! You're in Golden State Warriors country! But that's silly talk. If Sacramento is a big league town and can host an NBA squad, there's no good reason I can't hear 1140 AM on most nights, or have some channel that shows me the Kings, given my proximity.

Yet when they do play, I'm more likely refreshing Yahoo! sports and trying to picture just how Artest made that shot or Shareef pulled down a board. While the Internet is a great source of facts, photos, stats and quotes, it's no replacement for solid local coverage - and no replacement for the locals knowing who is actually on the Kings these days... C-Webb and Peja need not apply.

Listening to ''Revealed (Radio Version)'', by Blank & Jones (Play Count: 6)

October 27, 2006

It Was a Dull World Series

Even though the A's were swept out of the playoffs by Detroit in the ALCS, I still expected to look forward to the World Series, the Fall Classic, the whole reason that 30 teams start off their seasons every year. Whether the A's are there or not, each fall tends to have memorable stories of excitement and flashes of heroism, with stories you can tell future generations. Yet this year, aside from Kenny Roger's memorable cheating with a foreign substance during his pitching start, this has been a truly forgettable World Series, and as I write, the St. Louis Cardinals are outs away from finishing it up and showing Detroit the door.

Not featuring the largest market teams, or any from California, the series has not seen drama, has not seen big scores, and is more known for its issues with weather and the perceived difference between pine tar and dirt. When dirt is the biggest topic out there, you know that the series itself couldn't have been more exciting than... well... dirt.

Now, you could say this is sour grapes from an unimpressed, jaded, frustrated A's fan, and at some level that's bound to be true. As sad as we are to see baseball no longer matter for the next few dark months, we had hoped for bigger, better things. We had hoped to be sucked in and drawn in to the World Series to celebrate those final outs and to see the players jump into each others arms, full of excitement and tears of joy. Instead, when the celebration is over, we'll just turn off the TV, shrug, and get ready for the NBA season to start. (Go Kings!)

Listening to ''The Nightfly (Short)'', by Blank & Jones (Play Count: 11)

Last-Minute Halloween Costume Considered "Most Original"

It's no secret I'm not a big fan of planning ahead of holidays. I tend instead to ignore them until they have crept up and there's no time to prepare anything big. That's true whether it's Halloween or Christmas, anniversaries or birthdays. As far as I'm concerned, most holidays are completely overdone as it is, and they don't need my help to push them to higher levels of grandiose. This year's Halloween is no different. I didn't purchase a costume, I didn't buy candy for potential trick or treaters, and I didn't plan on dressing up for a Halloween event at the office today. Yet somehow, despite a lack of any planning, it all worked out.

This morning, while considering what it would be like to ignore the holiday altogether, and be a "Bah Hambug" to the day's events, I started to think how I could use piecemeal items I already owned to make something resembling a costume. I ran through the items I had around, in my head - from PJs, to t-shirts, to ball caps, shorts - anything... and I came up with the idea to go as a software engineer, simply by wearing a company t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and black socks pulled up to the knees. After all, some of our engineers wear this stuff every day. 

In my mind, the "costume" fit the minimum criteria needed to say that I had "dressed up" for Halloween, but obviously the minimum. Nobody could say that I had spent too much money, worn too much makeup or any of that. In fact, I ran a very real risk of people not knowing what the heck I had planned. But surprisingly, more than two-thirds of the people who saw my outfit had me rightly pegged as a company engineer, and some specifically identified a colleague who most resembled my getup.

In the afternoon, we gathered to award prizes and offer colleagues' kids the chance to trick-or-treat from cubicle to cubicle. Gathered in the main conference room, they announced costume winners - from most scary, to most funny, and finally, most original. I looked around at every one else's costumes - from ninjas to ballplayers, vampires, princesses and butchers. But it was my name called as "most original", winning me a $25 Starbucks gift card, which I'll probably exchange to someone else at some point. But the point had been made. With almost zero planning, and no investment, I ended up a winner. Surprisingly, nobody asked for a recount. They got the trick, and I got the treat.

Listening to ''4.Five ft 5-Live Sofia 6-7-05'', by Underworld (Play Count: 11)

Apple Updates .Mac Webmail, But Is Playing Catchup

In September, Apple hinted they would be adding new features to the company's .Mac Web-based e-mail, utilizing tools including Ajax, to make the user experience more like a desktop application, and less limited. Last night, with little fanfare, the Webmail site was upgraded to do just that, and after using it to send/receive, delete, open and forward messages, it's not at all dramatic - especially when contrasted with the upgrades at Gmail by Google, Yahoo! Mail, etc. Where Apple could have leapfrogged the competition, they instead opted to play catchup.

Over the last decade, we've picked up and dropped a wide variety of e-mails, Web-based and otherwise, having at various used AOL, Earthlink, @Home, AT&T, Comcast, Netscape, Excite, GMail, Mail.com, Yahoo!, a number of work-based accounts, and Mac.com. On a daily basis, however, I only use two e-mail accounts - the one for work, and my Mac.com account. GMail I use as a repository for lists with high volume, and everything else is a waste. In fact, right now I have 452 new e-mails in GMail, and 1,093 unread messages in Yahoo! mail, 672 of which have been classified as "Bulk". It's not even worth looking at the other abandoned accounts.

Years ago, I bought the $99 a year .Mac subscription to have an e-mail address I could keep using regardless of the underlying ISP. If I ever switch away from Comcast, or need my e-mail on the road, the e-mail moves with me. Thanks to Apple's Backup and iSync services, the e-mails are backed up and won't be obliterated if I suffer a dead hard drive or user error. But aside from that, Apple hasn't given the same amount of focus to their Web-based services as they have the iPod or their desktops, by any means, and even with last night's upgrade, they haven't emerged as anything resembling a market leader.

In the new .Mac Webmail service, replying or double-clicking a message pops it open in a new window, with a simplified button structure - automatically guessing at your next move. The service also comes with a standard 1 GB of available space (compared to nearly 3 GB for GMail), and search functionality - which works fairly well. The major difference between the Web version and that of the desktop would be the archives. While on the Web, you only have your In Box, Sent Items, Deleted Items, and Junk. As I've saved mountains of e-mail from friends, family and commerce transactions over the last decade, I don't have access to those remotely, as they live on the desktop and don't hit my Webmail quota. If Apple tried to use their storage space to give me access to all my e-mail, that would be pretty cool, and that would put them ahead of competitive services at something.

For other views of Apple's Webmail upgrades, check here:
Mac Rumors: .Mac Webmail Updated
GigaOM: New Dot Mac Mail - Live Now

October 26, 2006

Google Expands Blog Integration, Explains Blogger Outage

Google seems to rapidly waking up to the world of blogs. Although their own official corporate blog is typically bland, and was recently hacked, and their blog search engine has trailed the capabilities of others, including Technorati, the company is taking steps to catch up. Today, Google added the option to search blogs alongside news search, and enhanced their Google Alerts service so you could track keywords across blogs, Google Groups, and news.

Meanwhile, following some very public "unplanned outages" in the company's Blogger engine, some of the techies behind the service have come forward to explain how its happened, and how it won't happen again. The culprit? "Quirky hardware", they say - which isn't too impressive, given Google's cash horde and technical acumen.

October 25, 2006

It's Hard to Pay BIlls With Eyeballs

In the late 1990s, during dot com mania, the Media Metrix rankings ruled the business world. Geocities fought with Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Excite and others to show they had the most unique visitors, the most click-throughs, and the most eyeballs. Talking heads on CNBC were ecstatic when a company with major eyeball momentum was readying to go public. But, as we know, the only way your eyeballs will see a lot of these dot mania companies now is if you look in the obituaries or in the history books.

So, if you're not yet ready to focus on profit/loss statements, but think your company has some serious wind behind its back, how do you value yourself? Is it done through the number of users, the number of hits on your Web page? The number of units shipped, or megabytes served, and downloads or views?

Robert Scoble says in this new world, a new audience metric is needed, which he terms "engagement", or how actively participatory the audience is. It's not just about the raw number of eyeballs, but how involved they are - does coverage in said media result in click-throughs? Does a post generate comments and further linkage?

In case you think this is a bunch of flim-flammery disguised as new economy logic, the debate over statistics can make or break company valuations. Recently, Digg has been rumored in TechCrunch to be in discussions with News Corporation for a potential acquisition, to the tune of $150 million. But VentureBeat says that conflicting statistics on the site's reach may kill the acquisition altogether. After all, if you can't agree just how many eyeballs are on the site, then how can you decide how much each eyeball is worth, and eventually, what the purchase price should be?

There isn't a quick fix easy answer, but if a business model isn't sustainable to the point of profitability, then regardless of how popular a service is, it may never be worth it to an acquiring company, for whom the newly acquired service will just be a future drag on EPS and P&L. Just look at Time Warner/AOL. AOL had an incredible user base, but there was no synergy there. Time Warner didn't see the popularity of its content skyrocket, but instead, it eroded from within as AOL became a massive boat anchor. Trying to make a business based on click throughs, page views, user count, downloads, video plays and eyeballs doesn't work any better in 2006 than it did in 2001. I thought we had learned this by now.

Listening to ''Never Knew Love'', by Stella Browne (Play Count: 8)

So... About that No Pornography Clause...

As blogs go, this one is hardly controversial. Our adulation for sports and general geekery doesn't ruffle too many feathers, and the most eyebrow-raising we'll get might be in response to a rant against our current political situations. But don't let that fool you - there are people on the Web who have found louisgray.com when looking for a lot more than the latest insight into Apple or Google or how the Oakland A's are planning their off-season.

For instance, around noon today, I was startled to find a visitor from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia had stumbled upon the site in a quest for "live sex webcam sites saudi arabia". (See here for that site visit) I don't generally associate the religiously strict country to be one that panders to live, streaming, fornication, but it appears there is a market after all.

So why louisgray.com for live sex webcam sites from Saudi Arabia? My thoughts exactly. Well, if you do a search on Alta Vista (and when was the last time anybody used that instead of Google?), louisgray.com is the 7th highest response. (See here)

It turns out that Alta Vista still relies too heavily on words in the page, rather than their logical strings. On that page, from May 2006, I managed to mention the word "sex" twice - once in a song title from iTunes, and once in a joke, the term "Saudi Arabia" once in a note on Jeb Bush, the term "Webcam" in relation to an Apple store opening where a geek proposed to his fiancee, and the words "live" and "site" appear several times.

Did the words "live sex" or "sex webcam" show up paired anywhere? No. That would have given you a better search result... and those search engines that use better rules don't inaccurately say that my site is the place to get your porn fix. In fact, searching for the same string, "live sex webcam sites saudi arabia", doesn't put louisgray.com in the top ten pages (100 results) in Google at all. There just might be something to this need for accuracy in search results.

Listening to ''Assorted Progression Volume 4'', by Nyman (Play Count: 2)

October 24, 2006

RapidWeaver Application Just Isn't Scaling

Sometimes, you want to root for the underdog. When everybody else jumped to WordPress or TypePad for their online blogging, I tried out a desktop application that would enable a great deal of customization, and the ability to host the site at my pre-existing domain name. Yet, now that I've used RapidWeaver for the better part of ten months, the time it takes for the application to recognize changes and publish new entries has become a serious limitation - sometimes ranging up to 10-20 minutes, dragging the entire computer to a halt, as it grabs every available megabyte of RAM in a violent attempt to get the upload right.

When I first got RapidWeaver, it was very simple to use - type directly into the application, select a category for the post, and hit Submit. The piece would be on the site in a minute or two. But as I continued being active, I noticed that the cursor would be typing letters that I had long since stopped - as the application slowed to catch up. By March, I was typing my entries in Apple's Mail application, much more quickly, and that's how I've done every single post since. The "write in Mail, copy and paste to RapidWeaver" scenario has almost become second nature.

But starting last month, RapidWeaver's need to check every single post for possible edits, to hog memory and cease my desktop from being functional has quite simply gotten out of control. We've posted more than 500 entries to Louisgray.com since the beginning of the year, and don't intend to stop. The benefits of having my own domain name and backed up files aren't exactly winning me over right now, and I've given serious consideration to rebuilding this site again from scratch in TypePad, from first post to last - to enable the near real-time post flexibility I've seen from that Six Apart blogging engine. I'm tired of having to post a timestamp on my stories in the future, to anticipate when the machine will unlock, and through Apple's Dashboard widgets, watch the available RAM trickle down from more than 500 MB to 200 MB and eventually 10 MB, where it stalls, forcing the laptop fan whirring to life.

This isn't meant to be an indictment of RealMacSoftware or their product. For the large part, I've been happy with the application, and not needing to be a MySQL junkie on the back-end as many engines need. But RapidWeaver just isn't scaling for what I need it to. I can't post 3 times a day and have the machine completely useless for the better part of an hour. Something needs to change, and I don't think my solution is to get a new laptop. A full gigabyte of RAM (which this has) should be well enough for any application.

Listening to ''Rabbit in the Moon'', by Sasha (Play Count: 6)

Morning Notes: October 24, 2006

More in an irregularly occurring series...

This morning, Apple quietly upgraded their new MacBook Pro laptops, claiming the machines are up to forty percent faster than the previous version. While in previous years, the mere mention of a potential product release would have had the Macosphere abuzz, this is taken in stride. My PowerBook G4 is doing great at home, and I haven't pushed for an upgrade at the office yet...

As expected, the greater amount of buzz around Apple is instead around their digital devices. Wired has a great, in depth look at the iPod's birth and how it was initially perceived, including a first-person look at how Bill Gates took in the device the day after its debut. Forbes also chimes in on "Why Apple Won". Meanwhile, MacNN is looking forward to how the much-anticipated iPhone and iTV are going to further accelerate Mac growth.

But Apple's resurgence isn't the only concern Microsoft has to face right now. As applications become more Web browser-centric, led by Web 2.0 pioneers and Google, the Redmond monolith is losing its grip on the consumer. On Malik, contributing to Business 2.0, despite going independent, says that while you've heard this story before, it's really happening.

Speaking of online apps, the one making the most buzz this morning, is of course, Google. Google released a new custom search engine through Google Coop, where webmasters can host Google search engine code on their own sites, and drive search results internally, without buying expensive custom hosted software. We're definitely going to give it a look here and at the office, to see if it can save us a few grand a year.

An Everyday Loyal Customer or Borderline Autistic?

Near our offices, you have a handful of available lunch spots in walking distance, and wider variety the further you drive. One of those reliable stops is Carl's Jr. Nothing fancy, but the fast food joint offers enough variety to make it interesting, and it's worth stopping ever couple weeks or so. Given that the Cal Bears football team has a "buy one, get one free" offer on every game ticket, we're finding our trips to Carl's Jr. are coming with a fair regularity - following Saturday football.

But while we have been to the restaurant a fair number of times in the five-plus years at the company, and I can recognize some of the staffers by face, there are clearly others who have made Carl's Jr. an every day experience. One gentleman, quite heavy by any standards, can be counted on to have his lunch there every single day we show up. His routine, without fail, is to get his lunch at Carl's Jr, and then retreat to a corner table with his back to the front entrance. While in previous years, he tended to bring reading material from home, he's been reading the newspaper every time I've seen him in 2006.

His being at the restaurant is as much of interest as any of the menu items. Our first glance upon entering the restaurant is over our shoulder to see if he's there, in his regular spot. Today, arriving a bit earlier than usual, we were surprised to not see him there. Instead, two men (not regulars that I know of) were eating their own meals, likely not knowing the spot "belonged" to someone else. Yet, halfway through our meal, my colleague pointed out that the regular was back, and I looked back to see him wedging behind the table - in the one directly adjacent next to his usual spot, even though there were many more convenient open tables in the restaurant. That he even had to make the adjustment over from one table to that next to it seemed to pain him, as he looked uncomfortable in his new surroundings.

While having a routine is not uncommon, we've all heard about those with Tourette's Syndrome or Asperger's Syndrome who have to have things a certain way, often to the point of exactness, before they are comfortable. As I've never sat with Carl's Jr.'s favorite patron, I've never learned what makes him the way he is. I've never seen anybody sit with him, and I've never studied what he orders, to see if he eats the same meal every day. It wouldn't surprise me if he did, even as his weight has ballooned, even in the time I've seen him.

Other than the obsession with Carl's Jr., and the preoccupation with sitting in the same seat, day after day, there's nothing overly odd about this man. His clothes are tidy, his demeanor quiet, and his hygiene is clean. As far as I know, this could be his only vice, or his only escape from whatever other pressures move him to and fro. But he certainly makes me wonder. All I know is that the next time we go back to Carl's Jr., I'm sure he'll be there, furthering the mystery.

Listening to ''Trilogy'', by ATB (Play Count: 36)

October 23, 2006

Happy Fifth Birthday to the iPod

The iPod music player is one of those iconic gadgets that seems like it's always been around, but still has that "new" feeling. Five years ago today, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod to a hall full of tech journalists, calling the device a breakthrough. Though curious, the initial response to the iPod was mixed - what was Apple doing introducing a device that wasn't a computer? And why was Apple getting into the MP3 player business where so many other competitors (including Rio and SonicBlue) were already?

At work, I read reports of the debut with marked skepticism. It didn't seem like something I really wanted, and I couldn't figure out a place I would play it. After all, I am seemingly always near a computer or stereo at home, have a CD player in the car, and didn't anticipate listening at work. It certainly wasn't as if I would suddenly get fit, take up exercise and go jogging with the iPod in hand, and white earbuds playing the best of techno. In fact, when one person on an Apple message board said the device was most likely geared toward 24 year-old geeks, I (being a 24-year-old geek at the time) said I wasn't interested and wouldn't be getting one.

Of course - that all changed when I got home, and watched Steve Jobs' introduction on QuickTime from the Apple site. Not 12 hours after the iPod had been introduced to the world, I had gone to the Apple store and purchased one of the first iPods ever built. In fact, thanks to my thorough e-mail archives, I still have my proof of purchase before 10 p.m. that evening, thanking me for my order.

The price for the 5 gigabyte device?

$399, plus an estimated tax amount of $31.92, for a total order of $430.92, and it wasn't even expected to ship for another 3-4 weeks. Five years later, you can't walk a block without seeing somebody wearing an iPod, and they come in sizes from a mere 512 megabytes to 80 Gigabytes, in a variety of colors, and as cheaply as $79. Yet somehow, I don't feel ripped off.

The iPod, and along with it, iTunes, and the iTunes Music Store, reenergized the world of music for many people, who saw the industry under attack from thievery engines like Napster and Kazaa. The iTunes Music Store gave those of us yearning instant gratification for music a safe, legal alternative that didn't leave us feeling dirty after download. Apple had a mega-hit on its hands, and we were there from the very first day. Congratulations Apple - you've come a long way.

Listening to ''The DJ - In the Mix'', by ATB (Play Count: 13)

Olbermann Takes On Bush's Assault to Habeus Corpus

Keith Olbermann first came to popular culture acting as the tag team partner to Dan Patrick on ESPN's SportsCenter. Now covering "real news", he's made quite a name for himself on MSNBC. As you can see from the below clip on YouTube, he's furious about some of the moves most recently made by this administration. He's sure that we've lost the long-term battle for some short-term feelings that we're "safer today". Regardless of your political leanings, make sure to watch it.

October 22, 2006

ANtics Episode 2.33: As the Macha Turns

Macha's sudden dismissal after the ALCS sweep surprised a lot of people, but here at the ANtics, we should have seen the warning signs along the way - as he played favorites with players, feuded with the front office, kissed up to umpires and generally tried to go his own way on a club when that wasn't the plan for a manager - an interchangeable cog.

Below - 10 different examples, all brought to you by the ANtics, that display the disconnect as it happened.

  1. He offered Adam Melhuse to be ejected instead of Bradley. (ANtics 2.32)
  2. He said it was "Us against the world." (ANtics 2.27)
  3. He threatened players with the "Vulcan Death Grip." (ANtics 2.23)
  4. Rather than arguing with umps, he offered them jobs. (ANtics 2.21)
  5. He openly called for "Kenny-ball" and threatened to subvert Billy Beane's plans (Antics 2.20)
  6. He feuded with Melhuse over alleged gum theft. (ANtics 2.12)
  7. He threatened to cut Saarloos if the pitcher didn't get a haircut. (ANtics 2.11)
  8. Saying things were "nebulous", he offered no strategy to break the team's inconsistency. (ANtics 2.10)
  9. In a Dusty Baker-esque move, he once challenged Zito to pitch from both sides of the mound. (ANtics 2.6)
  10. And always... the lineups. As the season dawned, he promised to bat Kendall cleanup. (ANtics 2.1)

That's just ten examples of how we knew there were "Disconnects" with Macha this season - and we didn't even break into the 2005 ANtics. As you know, Macha's been let go, and every day brings new insight into the clubhouse tumult that apparently defined the A's year. We look into the struggles, in "As the Macha Turns".

Click to See Larger Comic

Also: Take the Poll: When Did You Know Macha Was A Goner?
2005 Comics | 2006 Comics |  All Comics | Poll

A's Macha Firing Turns Ugly As Words Exchanged

With the A's reaching the second round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, some were surprised as to the speed which the team dispatched their manager of four years, Ken Macha. Initially, his dismissal came just with the saying that their was a "disconnect" between Macha and the front office, namely the team's general manager, Billy Beane. But in the week or so following, the press has been full of players claiming he snubbed them or left them in the dark as to why decisions were made. Now Macha is answering back, tired of seeing his name "dragged in mud."

As fans of the game, we don't expect to know all the nuances of how a team is put on the field, how lineups are decided, and how relations are between the dozens of individuals that comprise a 25-man roster and a team's front office. While on the surface, a team like the A's might be full of smiles and excellent camaraderie, we have seen this crack in the armor grow, revealing ugliness between players and manager, and manager and the front office, that in combination, left no option but to make a change.

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle today said that Macha's firing came from "too much interference". He felt that he couldn't make critical decisions independently, and had to relay orders coming from above while acting as those were his calls. Regulars and backups alike, from Adam Melhuse to Mark Kotsay, Jay Payton and Bobby Kielty are all cited as having confronted Macha about playing time, while it was clear the team was far from unanimity on which starting pitchers should take the mound against the Tigers in the ALCS. That the team was swept 4-0 surely didn't help anybody's cause.

In the wake of Macha's firing, GM Beane was asked if Macha would have been fired had he won the World Series. Beane's answer was quite telling: "We'll never know." This was damning in two ways - one reminding that the A's didn't win the World Series, and the second being that the issues around Macha were more than anything we saw on the field. For a team that should be basking in the memory of a hard-fought season where they took the division title, and swept the Minnesota Twins out of the ALDS, instead the A's are very publicly fighting amongst themselves over who said what when, and it's very petty. It shouldn't be like this, and regardless of who's right, it's time to be done with it. Macha is gone, and the A's have a lot of work to do to make sure 2007 is an even greater success.

More Information:

San Francisco Chronicle: 'Hurt' by players' comments, Macha tells his side of story
Inside Bay Area: Macha Voices Dismay

Listening to ''Gamemaster'', by Lost Tribe (Play Count: 6)

Political Activism + Google = New Rules

The 2004 elections saw the first time blogs were heavily utilized to promote campaigns, to recruit efforts and dollars. While some used the Web platform to communicate ideas, others hoped the sites would become virtual ATMs, keeping running tickers of the amount raised. Now, as the 2006 mid-term elections approach every candidate, national to local, has a Web site, and most have blogs or e-mail lists. So how can you mobilize beyond the fray?

Left-leaning site and political Web pioneer MyDD is calling for a new volunteer-led campaign to utilize Google's popular AdWords program, "to drive as many voters as possible toward the most damning, non-partisan article written on the Republican candidate in seventy key US Senate and House races." Now, when Google users would search on candidates' names to learn more, they might see ads that show them in an unpopular light.

Given reports that the Republican National Committee is funneling millions to back negative advertising against Democrats in hard-fought contests, this turnabout may seem like fair play, but it's yet another way that political partisans are taking the power of democracy directly to the people, and away from special interests and corporate lobbyists.

Other Political Notes of Interest:

Bush faces political nightmare if Democrats win
Democrat/Republican Ads Spoof Mac/PC Commercials

Listening to '''Pure' Frictions Groove'', by Sasha & John Digweed (Play Count: 4)

October 21, 2006

BART Conversation Yields LA Sports History Trove

In my twenty-plus years of researching all I can about baseball, I've amassed a fair amount of knowledge on the subject, and I'm occasionally trotted out to spar with other trivia junkies to see who can know the most obscure items. While that's fun, it's a rarity when I can find somebody else as passionate about the sport, who also knows their history and is happy to talk about it. This afternoon, on our way home from the Cal football game, we struck up a conversation with couple from the San Joaquin Valley, and got to hear first-hand stories about the LA Dodgers from decades long gone by.

Not devout Cal fans, the couple had rightfully anticipated today's contest to be a good one, and had driven the two-plus hours to the BART station to catch the game. They regaled us with stories about how they traveled to see the Reds take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and the Giants at the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium earlier this year. But the best parts came when the husband told me he had grown up an LA Dodgers fan in the Walter Alston era, abandoning his fandom when Tommy Lasorda took over the managerial position.

Cautiously, I asked him if he had ever seen pitching legends Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale take the mound. He had - and said he had seen one of Koufax's then-record four no-hitters. We talked about speedster Maury Wills coming up in the 1959 season, along with pitcher Roger Craig, who later gained notoriety for losing 20-plus games for the expansion New York Mets in the early 1960s, and eventually becoming the Giants manager in the 1980s. Each of his memories would spark more questions from me - as he remembered Steve Garvey clubbing 5 doubles in a game, and St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial setting the National League record for career doubles, forcing the game to be abruptly stopped to recognize the feat. I wanted to know which catcher took over following Roy Campanella's car accident, and what had sparked Juan Marichal's famous beating of Johnny Roseboro after a high and tight pitch.

Our conversation was cut short by our needing to exit the BART, find our car, and head home, but it came too soon. It's not often that I can benefit from knowing the ins and outs of sports and find someone who can not only add stories, but appreciate the conversation. He seemed excited that some under-30 kid would have taken the time to know about the baseball of his childhood, which had long since faded to memories by the time I was born. I left, wishing them well, happy, almost as pleased with our exchange as I was the Cal football game, and I hope that our conversation similarly brightened his day.

A good friend of mine recently teased that I focus too much on the world of sports, and that I've made a jump to try and act like a jock, when I so clearly am a nerd. But there's so much more than just the final scores and the physical rough and tough. In sports, especially baseball, there is history and tradition, and a commonality between random people that is special. You can love sports for the sweat and the physicality. I love sports for the challenge, the energy, the statistics and the meaning of it all - not just for today, but forever.

Listening to ''No More Tears'', by DJ Tiesto (Play Count: 6)

Cal Football Picks Off Huskies 31-24 in OT

We have seen a lot of amazing sports this year - from Milton Bradley's walk-off 3-run home run earlier this summer, to Marco Scutaro's bases-clearing double in the ALDS clincher, but today's overtime thriller between the #11-ranked Cal Bears and Pac 10 foe Washington Huskies has to rank right up there among the very best. Though we have grown accustomed to seeing the Golden Bears dominate their opponents in a hail of touchdowns and pounding defense, today's game started off slowly, with Berkeley down 10-3 at halftime, as the offense could not get off the ground.

As the crowd of 58,000-plus milled around uncomfortably, Cal came out with a new attitude in the second half, outscoring the Huskies 21-7, and taking a 24-17 lead, led by a series of athletic interceptions by the defense and consistent rushing by Marshawn Lynch and his backup, Justin Forsett. But the Huskies were given one more chance with just over a minute left to try and avert the loss. As Memorial Stadium roared, the Huskies quarterback took shot after shot of the end zone, avoiding a turnover on downs, and milking the clock as it ticked down to mere seconds.

Then, amazingly, as time expired, he took one last heave from midfield to a crowd of Cal Bears, one of whom slapped the ball down, where, if it hit turf, the game would be over and the Bears would win. Instead, the ball ended up in the hands of a Husky receiver, who took it in for the game-tying two yard score as regulation ended. Our thunderous cheers died, and those of us who have seen Cal pull defeat from the jaws of victory in our time at the school, shook our heads knowingly and smirked at what had befallen us. Overtime lay in our future, and any team could win. While a win would keep the Bears' momentum, a loss, the team's second on the year, would send them tumbling down the national rankings and out of BCS contention.

In overtime, Cal had the ball first, and Lynch quickly scored his second touchdown of the afternoon, putting Cal up 31-24, as the cannon sounded and the crowd cheered. That set up Washington with yet another chance to deliver heroics and further extend the game, but it was not to be. On the team's second play from scrimmage, the ball fell into the hands of the Cal defense for the fifth interception of the day - effectively ending the contest. Though the lineman gamely rambled 80-plus yards in a quest to pad the final score, he was tackled at the 12 yard line, as fans jumped and shouted, waving their hands in the air, and high-fiving all within reach. Where all had once seemed in jeopardy, all was whole again. The Bears had won. The Bears have moved to 7-1 on the year, the fans have gone home happy, and no doubt sunburned, and yet another great memory has been added to our record books.

Just another "boring" Saturday in the Gray household.

Listening to ''ZeroTonine'', by Junkie XL (Play Count: 6)

October 20, 2006

Feedblitz 2 Launches, Enhancing Blog to E-mail

Upon logging in to my Feedblitz account this morning, I noticed something dramatically different. After relying on Feedblitz to deliver blog updates by e-mail for the better part of the year, I found the site had been completely redesigned with a new look (and a lot less orange). Additionally, the Feedblitz team rolled out version 2 of their service, which improves feed diagnostics, tagging, and expanded information on subscribers. (Learn more on their blog)

As a free Feedblitz user (so far), I haven't anted up to try the company's premium options, which would let me customize the update e-mails, offer real-time statistics and additional tagging options, but with Feedblitz 2 here, I'll definitely be looking into it - especially as the blog grows in traffic, content and subscribers. (Sign Up Now)

Since its launch, Feedblitz has become the de facto source for publishing blogs by e-mail, including a significant partnership with Six Apart's TypePad, which debuted in the last few months. It's good to see the company isn't resting on its laurels, but continuing to make significant upgrades for its user base.

Listening to ''Take My Hand'', by Andrea Britton & Jurgen Vries (Play Count: 19)

Internet Addiction Fear Tactics Are Silly

Earlier this week, a study, carried out by researchers at Stanford University, emerged saying that fully one of every eight US residents suffers from "problematic Internet use", and it suggests that such an "addiction" can be as troubling as full-blown alcoholism. As someone who is tethered to the Internet around the clock, at work, at home, and via Blackberry, I can only shake my head at his overblown fear-mongering. Just because somebody happens to use a tool frequently, and enjoy its benefits, does not mean they are an addict, and even if symptoms common with addiction emerge, it doesn't mean that it can be as debilitating as something as serious as drug or alcohol abuse.

A few months ago, I jokingly posted my "Top Ten Things I'm Addicted To", ranging from Diet Coke to the iPod, the Blackberry and Internet in general. Given society's need to assign such allegiances as medical issues, some have gotten a lot of mileage from people like me who just happen to have found their routine and stuck with it.

To say that a person is "addicted to the Internet" is just as ridiculous as saying a truck driver is addicted to the radio, or couch potatoes are addicted to the television. While I'm sure there's a whole raft of folks who could improve their relationships with friends and family if they cut back on time spent in online chat rooms, online games, e-mail and blogs, myself potentially included, a significant number of us rely on the Internet for the very basis of our jobs, and find the Internet to present an amazing resource for communication with those same people we're assumedly neglecting.

When the Internet boom really started to take off in the mid-1990s, most of the fear and concerns thrown about were that stalkers were out there to find you, and that your credit card data could be stolen if you made online purchases. In fact I wrote a column for the Daily Cal in 1997 titled, "Net Results: Not that Scary", which addressed this very issue. Now, nearly a decade later, so many people have moved their businesses and their lives to the Internet that the concern is they're spending too much time, but those spreading fear are still out there.

Do I turn on the laptop first thing in the morning to check e-mail, catch up on RSS feeds and check Web sites? Yes. Is closing the laptop one of the last things I do before going to bed? Yes. Do I sit in front of an Intenet-connected monitor all day at the office? Usually. Do I wear an e-mail and Web connected Blackberry all day long? Yes. Is that a problem? No.

The number of hours in a day are still 24 - but the way I consume those 24 hours are differently distributed than they were before the Internet played such a role. Now, instead of staying up to see SportsCenter to learn the scores, I have already gotten the scores online as well as photos and recaps. The time taken to get that info is a lot less. Instead of calling home and talking with the family, I've read their blog, they've read mine, or we've shared comments and e-mail. Those calling us "Internet Addicts" akin to drunken louts who have given up their futures for the bottle is irresponsible and silly. We've just reapportioned our time and get more done - via the Web.

October 19, 2006

Pavlov Response In Reverse

Ivan Pavlov's research centered around conditional reflexes, most notably for his work on dogs' anticipation of feeding, and how they would drool at the sounds associated with dinner, even if the food had not been presented. As a result, something can be called "Pavlovian" if you respond immediately to a sound in anticipation of what will come next.

In our home, our 16 year-old beagle thinks she has us mastered. Her mealtimes are fairly regular, as soon as I get up in the morning, and around 5:30 in the evening. My wife and I work together to make sure somebody gets home around 5:30, and at latest, six, to get the beagle her dinner, and as far as the dog is concerned, the rest of the day should be focused on an intermittent schedule of napping and snacking. Yet, despite her inability to master the English language, she can communicate quite well, and has discovered a way to summon our attention through a Pavlov-like action.

If her water dish runs low, whether intentionally or not, her drinking the lowest levels of the water causes her dog tags to hit the side of the metal bowl with a "ding, ding, ding!" While she won't directly tell us that her water is low, and she would like a refill, the bell-like "ding, ding, ding!" stops me from what I am doing, forcing to me to walk into the kitchen and fill her water dish, as expected. In effect, that turns our roles in reverse, with her using a bell to manipulate me.

It may be time for some experimentation of our own. What if we changed the bowl to plastic? How would she tell us then?

Listening to ''The Great Escape'', by BT (Play Count: 6)

Amid Speculation, Apple Continues to Execute

Yesterday's record quarter for Apple came at a time when many analysts, media and fans are eager to see the company debut the next "big thing" to rival the iPod. With the device reaching it's five-year anniversary this month, Apple has morphed from niche computer maker to a serious brand leader for consumer devices, as well as top-notch computers and software. Now, everyone is guessing as to what is coming next from Cupertino.

It has been a long-held tradition among Macintosh supporters to try and get an early scoop on the next Apple rumor. Sometimes, they get it exactly right, as AppleInsider did with the G4 Cube years ago, or they get it wrong - as SpyMac did with the infamous iWalk. But as the iPod has transformed the company, you see more mainstream publications piling on, and analysts speculating when a new product will debut to impact revenue.

In the last two years, the most common demands are for Apple to debut a cellular phone and service, dubbed "iPhone", an Apple media center for the living room, and an iTunes movie download service, with a "true" video iPod. In the last few months the iTunes movie download service has been introduced, and iTV was previewed, though you can't buy one just yet. That leaves the iPhone and true video iPod to come.

Earlier this week, a site called TrustedReview said they had "a conversation with an extremely well informed exec" who spilled the beans on timing for the new touchscreen iPod. As if executives have opted not to honor NDAs and cross Steve Jobs. Not a good plan, especially now that we know companies like HP are all too happy to check your cell phone records in an attempt to plug leaks. Yet, the site says December is when we'll see the new iPod, explaining, partially, why Jobs to date has been so dismissive of Microsoft's Zune music player, as he was in Newsweek, recently. Meanwhile, also this week, Forbes says the new iPhone would debut in January. When Forbes starts rumors, you know something is up.

But while everybody is salivating over what's next, Apple is simply getting it done. The company is putting serious pressure on its rivals at Microsoft and Dell, and taking market share. Just imagine the hubbub when all these unannounced products actually do come to life...

October 18, 2006

Less Than One Month Left for GOP Oligarchy

Despite the White House's rosy outlook and continued denial over the country's strong opposition to their policies, voters across the United States are tired of the lies and corruption and scandal promoted by the Republican party and its leaders, and are ready to make a change. Early this November, for the first time in way too long, we are going to see a massive shift in Congressional party affiliations - one that threatens to sweep the Republicans out of the majority in both the House and the Senate.

Earlier this summer, the question was focused on whether the Democrats stood for anything, and if they could gain the necessary momentum to put a dent into the GOP's lead. Now, the question isn't if they will put a dent in it, but how big. Some are saying the margin of turnover from Republican to Democratic-held seats ranges anywhere from 20 to 50 seats in the House, and every poll I've seen has the Democrats eking out a slight majority in the Senate as well.

Aside from the omnipresent War On Iraq, now into its 4th year, Republicans have been fighting against self-made scandals involving Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff, and continued strife abroad, in Iran, in North Korea, and in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Democrats, powered by Web-initiated campaigning and fundraising, have promoted candidates in nearly every race, and are set to do battle to make a change.

Yet, just like every other important topic under the Bush presidency, the GOP is completely out to lunch. Earlier this week, the Washington Post noted that the White House was "Upbeat About GOP Prospects", despite the fact that other papers, including the New York Times, noted the Republicans had abandoned some once-close races in favor of others, focusing on the "Best Bets" to try and maintain a majority, at any cost.

Change is in the wind, and after seeing the Bush presidency, hand in hand with a stubborn, pigheaded Republican-led Congress, turn back nearly all the gains of the Clinton years, we are weeks away from some first steps to regain the country's glory. All we have to do is vote.

Listening to ''High on Life'', by DJ Encore (Play Count: 9)

I Bet Wrong On AAPL, Again

This afternoon, Apple announced blowout numbers, including profits of $546 million on 1.6 million Macs sold (1 million portables) and nearly 9 million iPods in the just-concluded quarter. As a result, the stock is up more than five percent after hours, to $79 a share, and I'm not benefitting, as I sold all of my AAPL shares at a measly $72.87 a week ago Wednesday.

I have followed Apple Computer stock closely for the better part of a decade, and started investing with a measly 25-share pickup in 1999. Though not always invested in AAPL, it's always been on my watch list. I thought I had the stock figured out. In 2005, along with my Google (GOOG) stock, I had made a good profit, but the heady times where I could expect a 2-3x improvement are long behind us. As a result, I've bought and sold the stock frequently, hoping to cash in by timing the dips and the peaks.

In the last two weeks, with CEOs losing their jobs over accounting stock options issues, I believed that Apple was still at risk for yet more bad news. I thought that even if they had a strong quarter, the uncertainty and potential restatement of previous quarters would be a drag on the stock. Beyond that, anyone who watches AAPL closely knows that even the slightest hint of weakness can cause a tidal wave of financial negativity. With a product transition to Intel processors, and the occasional analyst note regarding slowing iPod sales, I thought I was the smart one by selling my stock for a profit and getting out below $73. Maybe a decrease after earnings would get me a chance to buy in again in the mid to high 60s?

Clearly, I was wrong. Again. And now, while my money sits in cash at eTrade, those who kept the faith and tried not to game the stock are reaping the rewards. I still love my Macs, but I'd love them even more if I wasn't such an idiot investor.

Never Assume Rationality

The minor to medium changes continue to take place on this blog, as I work to make it more navigable, search engine friendly, etc, or to better represent what people can find when they do drop by. Most clearly, the site now has a title identifying it as a "Silicon Valley Blog" with a focus on technology, sports and politics. Many blogs are successful through niching themselves in a segment that is underserved, while others largely cater to friends and immediate family. This one, so far, is in between. It's not heavily marketed, but people should know what they have found.

Another addition is a slogan (for now) that says to "Never Assume Rationality". It derives from a conversation I had with a coworker nearly five years ago, where the two of us were debating internal strategy and how we could pitch a concept to those at higher management levels. When I questioned how it possibly could be turned down, and wondered aloud as to one individual's reaction, I was told that my big mistake was in "assuming rationality." If I came in with the fundamental expectation that those around us were rational, I could be blindsided. Instead, the new approach was to make the case and withstand all potential objections, be they rational or not.

We don't live in a Mr. Spock world of black and white, logical or illogical. Much of what we do requires the input and/or approval of others who may have widely different viewpoints, goals or expectations, and though we may both be trying to act rationally, our own actions can seem way off the mark to others.

Additionally, on a more fun note, it's not entirely rational to devote so much energy and value to non-essential things such as sports, or technological gadgets. One's "fandom" for the Oakland A's, for Apple Computer, or for one political party over the other can sometimes border on the irrational. And here, at least, that's okay. As a blogger, I'm not a journalist. I don't need to be impartial, and I don't need to be rational. So don't assume I will be all of the time.

Listening to ''Cherry Pie'', by Underworld (Play Count: 4)

October 16, 2006

The Oakland A's Fire Manager Ken Macha

Well, that certainly didn't take very long. Only two days following the A's elimination from the playoffs at the hands of a four-game sweep by the Detroit Tigers, manager Ken Macha was fired from his post, for the second consecutive season, and this time, it looks like the canning will stick. You might remember that he was similarly let go in 2005, only to resurface a few days later as the A's "new" manager, but this time around it seems that General Manager Billy Beane is ready to move on and give an opportunity for a new face to guide the team, who reached the ALCS for the first time in 14 years.

Ken Macha has never been a flashy, energetic manager.  In his time as the A's leader, he had a complacent, laid back attitude, and this often led fans to think he didn't care or wasn't as involved in the games as he should have been - especially in stark contrast to managers who were as commonly seen on TV as their own players, like the Angels' Mike Scioscia, the Tigers' Jim Leyland or the Yankees' Joe Torre. He also tended to make decisions a lot less quickly than fans wanted - whether it was leaving pitchers in way too long, until a game was out of hand, or sticking with ridiculous lineups that didn't take advantage of the players' skills. Even when those lineups would fail, you could bet your bottom dollar they would be trotted out the following day.

Yet, somehow his teams tended to win, at a 57% clip (4 of every 7 for years), which isn't a bad mark. Every season, his A's were above the break-even .500 mark. Following a disastrous May, Macha helped lead the team to the division title, and there has been talk of his being a candidate for Manager of the Year (behind the favorite, Leyland). I believe that a team's success is more indicative of the players' talent than the manager's slight of hand, but it didn't look as if Macha was all that strategic, and reports have said that Macha rapidly fell out of favor with a number of his players, both backups and regulars, some of whom said they did not want to return to the A's if he were still in charge. When a manager has lost the respect of his players, it is very hard to regain it. Sports history is littered with managers who ran afoul of the players and didn't last long.

Macha's failures have been a longtime running joke at Athletics Nation, where seemingly every poll included an option to "Fire Macha Now", as if that rash decision would fix everything. Now that he has been fired, a new era will start for the team, who in large part will come back to 2007 intact. As the cold winter months move on, and Spring Training looms in the horizon, a new man will be running things in Oakland, and you won't have Macha to kick around any more.

Related Links:

The ANtics, Issue 8: Ken Macha - Kung Fu Master!
The ANtics, Episode 2.27: The Mind of Ken Macha
Athletics Nation: The Internal Candidates
Athletics Nation: FIRED MACHA NOW!!!

Listening to ''The Misterons Mix'', by Underworld (Play Count: 5)