July 30, 2007

The A's Continue to Not Come Through

Though yesterday's 14-10 loss at the hands of the Mariners was more evenly contested than some of the team's woeful shutout losses that have been all too common this season, the Oakland A's are turning what was once a promising year into an incredibly frustrating season.

Yesterday, I filled in for Athletics Nation's Sunday regular, baseballgirl, and started off the discussion by saying that though it defies logic, I tend to remain optimistic. As a fan, I reserve the right to ignore trends and statistics, and believe my team will come through. But those words stood, mockingly, against me, as the team first rallied back from a 6-0 deficit, only to take a 10-7 lead, and shockingly give it up as fast as possible.

As I noted in yesteday's recap, "2 Innings of Pleasure, 7 of Pain", it just wasn't all that fun for all that long. The short-lived lead was a tease for those fans of us left who really cared. And while I'll no doubt be following along when the A's take the field again, it's really become time to look at this season for what it really is, one to showcase individual players, because as far as playoff chances are concerned, at this point, it would take a miracle for the A's to even be part of the conversation.

New TAB Post: Original Mac Rumors Site Goes Dark

Years ago, the art of forecasting Apple and Macintosh rumors was left to a small number of oddly obsessed people, myself included. Now, with mainstream media, including New York Times, BusinessWeek and Wall Street Journal in on the act, it's hard to remember that dedicated rumor sites like Mac OS Rumors were leading the way almost a full decade ago in near blog-like fashion, reporting the latest whispers from Cupertino.

But now, it looks like Mac OS Rumors has gone dark, after the site's quality eroded, and as of two weeks ago, the site doesn't even come up, replaced with a reminder from Network Solutions for the site to pay its bill. If it were up to me, I'd move on and let it be.

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Original Mac Rumors Site Goes Dark. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

July 29, 2007

Simpsons Movie: Woohoo! D'oh! Woohoo!

Saturday was a day I'd yearned for in excess of a decade and a half. After years and years of speculation and hope, I finally had the chance to enter a movie theater and see The Simpsons Movie. Nearly 90 minutes of The Simpsons in all their yellow, dysfunctional glory, without commercial breaks and much, much larger than ever before. I also was lucky enough to see the show with some of my closest friends and my wife.

As any good diehard will tell you, The Simpsons Movie wasn't perfect. There's no way that a single film can meet all the built-up hopes and expectations we had. There's no way that 87 minutes can provide the show's fans enough time to see all the minor characters we wanted. And for every laugh we had during the film, and there were many, we could find issues we would have improved were we running the show.

The show itself was divided into three parts. Simplified for spoiler avoidance, you had: Crisis, Escape and Resolution. The escape had the Simpsons headed to Alaska, away from Springfield, where all the fun is. The escapade to the great white north took the Simpson family out of their element, away from the hilarity of people who were greatly neglected in the film, like Apu, Patty and Selma, Groundskeeper Willy, and even usually non-funny folks like Principal Skinner, Gil the salesman, and the acne-ridden teenager whose voice is constantly breaking.

What I loved about the movie was that it started immediately and kept going at a quick pace. Without the usual buildup you see, even in the 30-minute weeklies, with delayed on-screen credits, the movie jumped into its element immediately, and one scene led to another. I loved the fact Bart and Homer continued their efforts to be the worst father-son combo of all time, and that the writers could take liberties with the content that aren't available on network television.

What I didn't like about the movie was the introduction of new characters, as in a series so rich as The Simpsons, there's really no need to add more to the mix and introduce their background. This also squeezed out some of the much-desired peripheral people. I also didn't like the utter non-believability of some parts. As dumb as that may sound, The Simpsons are largely funny because their antics could theoretically happen, as they reflect a certain element of our society. When they cross from potential reality to obvious supernatural, I'm annoyed. And the worst part? It was done all too soon. If Pirates of the Carribean and Dances with Wolves can touch the 3 hour mark, The Simpsons on the big screen deserved much more than just under 90 minutes. By the time the credits rolled, I wasn't ready to leave. Maggie's call for a sequel didn't fulfill my needs.

I didn't mind the story elements. Lisa is obviously a preachy environmentalist. Homer is clearly a misguided would-be do-gooder with negative results. The Flanders are still goody two-shoes. There were tips and nods to previous episodes for us die-hards. And trust me, I laughed - not as much as I did during the South Park movie a few years ago, but enough that I was happy I went.

Also - on the way home, Kristine and I stopped by the Kwik-E-Mart in Mountain View, in reality a converted 7-Eleven franchisee. While that was wonderfully amusing, it only struck home how we actually never saw the inside of the Kwik-E-Mart in the film. Seemed like a lost opportunity.

All in all, a great day. Great friends. Good fun. The completion of a much-anticipated dream, but one that left me wanting more. I may never be satisfied.

Google Video Still Peddling Soft-Core Porn Smut

I'm no prude, but I tend to believe that the higher the prominence a service has, combined with its ease of access, the more responsibility that service has to ensure its content is within commonly accepted guidelines. Barring those restrictions, the option should be offered to avoid questionable material. While Google does a good job with the majority of its offerings, the company's Google Video site is out of control - dominated by by soft core pornographic clips and innuendo.

Despite my noting several months ago that the Google Video service's most popular videos are almost universally offerings of a sexual nature, the world's number one information portal has done nothing to stop its direction. If no action is taken, it's likely that the adult portion of Google's video collection will so overwhelm other content that those seeking less titillating topics will head elsewhere.

Nearly a year after Google acquired YouTube, the main page of Google Video promotes videos they believe you would like (Recommended), Popular Videos, and a wide array of featured material. Also included on the front page are "Blog Buzz" items, similar to Technorati's Popularity rankings, Movers & Shakers, and a Top 10 list.

Today's Top Ten List as of midnight Sunday Pacific Time...
    2. Barbie Girl :D
    3. Woman In SHOWER!!!
    4. Girl caught by boyfriend
    5. Webcam Girls Go Wild ( full )
    6. Guy pwned by girl! www.videowhip.co.uk
    7. Ainda te amo
    8. sex hardcore xxx
    9. Beyonce falls
    10. loko da xuxa

It doesn't take a forensic scientist to see what is driving these rankings. In fact, if you click on the Top 100 link, the "brilliance" continues... offering... "Two girls teach one another how to French kiss"... "SEXY FART IN WEBCAM"... "close up half-undressed couple rolling around on bed"... "Hot Bikini Porn or Proud Vet?" ... "Kim Kardashian HUGE A*S AND TITS" and much more.

In Google's search results and image results, one has the option to add SafeSearch filtering to "not to have adult sites included in search results". Yet, even if I set my preferences to the most strict option, these videos don't change. Google's algorithm shows me the top 100 most popular videos, regardless if I'm looking for the PG-rated list or R-rated list.

Google is pervasive. As I mentioned last week, the site delivers me 95% of my blog traffic from search engines. With YouTube and Google Video, Google can dominate the video space as well. People of all ages are turning to this site to learn what's hot and what's not, and if Google Video is to be believed, sex continues to be hot. Very hot. I think the very least the site could do is extend the "SafeSearch" filtering to video, remove adult material from the Top 10 and Top 100 listings, or collapse the Top 10 list so the questionable material is off the front page. We wouldn't accept this ease of access to soft porn from AOL or CNN or Yahoo!, and we shouldn't accept it from Google.

July 27, 2007

Flash Banner Ads Are Evading My Web Filters

Nobody wants to see ads any more. We skip commercials on our TiVo, mute commercials during live ball games or events, change radio stations during breaks, and can generally ignore ads in magazines or billboards. On the Web, there's also plenty of software out there that can help us ignore crass commercialism, such as plugins for FireFox and Safari Web browsers, and junk mail filters built into most modern e-mail clients, including Apple's Mail. But as advertisers get more hip to the simple "right click and add to filter" practice, it looks like their move is to use Flash in their ads, and so far, those ads are slipping through.

For the last few years, I've used the PithHelmet ad filter program on Safari to weed out DoubleClick, Federated Media and more. But as Apple introduced Safari 3.0 beta on Mac and Windows, PithHelmet hasn't kept up. With the ads back, I downloaded SafariBlock and have been starting over, right clicking on all ads I see, and adding a * asterisk for wildcards so I won't see anything like them again. But if I right click on Flash ads, that option isn't there. I also don't have any way to hide Google's text-based AdSense advertising, which pollutes many blogs and media sites.

I expect there to be a continued war of development between the advertising community and those of us consumers who want to decide for ourselves, without pervasive marketing. Today, Flash and AdSense are the filters' achilles heel, and are driving me a tad nutty. I wonder how long I have to wait until the filters catch up...

No Beer and No TV Make Homer Something Something

I am a Simpsons nut. There, I said it.

I've probably purchased every DVD compilation of the show. I've likely watched every single episode in syndication, and most, several times. I can't help but laugh in advance of the best parts of a show, because I know they're coming. I have a bad habit of telling people, "This is a good episode", or shushing them in advance of a much-anticipated one-liner.

In college, I made sure my classes wouldn't go too late, so that my roommate and I would be in front of our TV to see back to back episodes on local cable in the early evening. At times, in fact, my roommate and I could hold entire conversations, just by utilizing Simpsons quotes. This was also the year he and I discovered the newsgroup alt.tv.simpsons, where fans around the world, starting East and moving West, would voice their jubilation and/or displeasure about the show they had just seen, with many gleefluly announcing, "Worst Episode Ever!"

In fact, that year, it seemed like The Simpsons and Fox were on to us, when Comic Book Guy declared:

"Last night's 'Itchy & Scratchy' was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured that I was on the Internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world."
-- Reference SNPP.com

But my Simpsons fandom was gradual. When the show debuted on Fox, my family lived so far into the boonies, we didn't even get Fox. I had friends at school that would rave about the show, and we didn't have access. Instead, we only got media warnings about how The Simpsons were emblematic of a declining society. But once, when in Sacramento at my maternal grandmother's home, we stayed late and caught our first Simpsons, Life on the Fast Lane, in 1990. I was 13, and hooked.

But the Simpsons didn't make it easy for me to keep watching. The show announced it would go head to head with The Cosby Show, a ratings behemoth, on Thursday nights. My family, with one TV, continued in its conservative ways, supporting the Huxtables. Later, once the Cosby Show had been trumped, The Simpsons moved to Sunday, and again, my family's conservative background decided such fare wasn't appropriate for the Sabbath.

That left ample time for me to catch up. Many seasons worth of shows on syndication were new to me. On a great week, we would catch anywhere from 5 to 8 new episodes, sometimes at the rate of two a day. That meant a serious injection of Itchy and Scratchy, Homer, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Marge, and dozens of minor characters that would occasionally steal the show, including Cletus the slack-jawed yokel, Willy the school janitor, Comic Book Guy, Ned Flanders, and Ralph Wiggum.

And now... today is a big day. It's huge, in fact. After more than a decade of anticipation, The Simpsons family is hitting the big screen in a full feature-length film. If you thought the level of anticipation around Harry Potter was high, you haven't seen anything like Simpsons fans, who are no doubt going to regale you with tales of their fandom and drop quotes like they are going out of style, now with new lines from the movie.

Will I be in line for the show's premiere? Sadly, no. We're going to be less extreme, but we already have tickets to see the show tomorrow, with friends from high school and college and my wife. The six of us will be converging from our different geographies, each with differing Simpsons knowledge, and take in a little bit of Springfield. And if it's good, maybe I'll be dropping in to the theater a few more times.

If you're not quite the Simpsons afficionado, start here for the definitive resource of all things yellow: SNPP.com

July 26, 2007

Two Hours Of Apple Stock Plenty Profitable

For all the noise I made a few weeks ago about my eight worst stock trades ever, you might have the impression I'm the worst stock investor of all time. And while I've certainly had my share of bad calls, the occasional wins here and there keep me trying. Today, I bet big on Apple, hoping the company's earnings report would do us well, and it paid off in a big way.

I very publicly dumped my 200 shares of Apple stock in the low 90s per share earlier this year, and with the stock approaching $140 a share today, it's clear that was a mistake. But as the hours ticked down toward Apple's earning announcement this afternoon, I knew I had to give it one more shot to make money off the Cupertino juggernaut. So I did something crazy...

At 12:48 p.m., I put in enough cash to pick up 250 shares of Apple at $137.43 apiece, less than 15 minutes before market closure. As you likely already know, Apple walloped analyst guesstimates and the stock shot up in after-hours trading. My big bet started to look better and better as the stock rose past $140, then $142, $145 and beyond. By the time it peaked above $148, I knew I'd seen enough. At 2:38 p.m., I had sold it all, at $148.48, clearing more than $2,700 for less than two hours "work".

While that doesn't make up for missed potential earnings from my previous trade, I was fairly pleased. In fact, looking at my eTrade account, Apple has been the one stock I've consistently had success with over the years. While I at times feel too much like an Apple fanboy to tie up a good portion of my portfolio in the company, the truth is that it simply makes sense. The company continues to execute on all cylinders, and surpass expectations, and that's the best type of company to put your money on. It's just too bad I have such a short attention span that I can't stick it out.

If, like my colleagues, you see my trades as a contrarian indicator, now would be the best time to get into Apple, because I'm out. For all I know, the stock could be headed to $150, $160, $180 or beyond. Then you'll be hearing whining from me for certain. But for today at least, I'm content.

More coverage on the Apple earnings boom: Webomatica, Parislemon, Engadget

False Alarm: Wii Got Our Wii

It appears the Web can solve all problems, great or small. Shortly after I had noted three local Best Buys and Wal-Mart were fresh out of their Nintendo Wii stock, I took to the Net to bail me out. By 7 p.m. this evening, my wife and I were proud owners of a brand-new Wii, and we've already logged three hours of family fun.

Before leaving the office, I thought I'd give the search one last go, searching for "Nintendo Wii Availability" on Google. That led me to a Wiichat forum, which offered an array of Web links to inventory data for all the major retailers, including Target, Gamestop, Circuit City, and CompUSA.

A few clicks later, I found that Gamestop on Stevens Creek in San Jose had 1-3 units available. I called, expecting the data to be wrong, but after the store clerk first denied having any Wii in stock, he relented, saying I could get it if I showed up right away. Less than 20 minutes later, I found myself purchasing one of the few Wiis around, complete with two new controllers, the included sports pack, and two additional games: Paper Mario, and "The Bigs", a major league baseball game.

It was a little bit of an investment, but after a quick day trading of Apple earlier, I'd already more than made up the cost. (More on that later)

Long story short, the Wii looks right at home next to our plasma TV, aside our TiVo and Apple TV. It's a venerable array of technology entertainment nerddom. In minutes, Kristine and I had our two controllers out and were dueling one another in bowling, tennis, baseball and golf. The fun was enough to make us consider moving our furniture around to dedicate more real estate to gaming. After all, playing on a Wii is quite active, not just mindless staring at a screen.

There's no question this new toy has the potential to consume a great deal of our free time now, eating into "home work", blogging and all things social. But it's given us another dimension of fun competition, as we stretch for every backhand and groan at the sight of a digital 7-10 split.

And we wouldn't have gotten our Wii if not for the combination of Google, and resourceful fandom, which led us the right way.

July 25, 2007

South Bay Search for Nintendo Wii Comes Up Empty

After openly contemplating the acquisition of Nintendo's incredibly popular Wii game console on this blog a month or so ago, I was surprised last week when my wife said she too had come to the conclusion our home needed one. Typically, I quickly recognize the need to upgrade, whether that be to a new wireless network, a new plasma TV or a new laptop, and she is more conservative, but she's catching up. Unfortunately, thanks to the much-discussed Wii shortages, even if I were ready to spring and buy one today, I'd be completely out of luck, as yesterday's journeys showed.

Yesterday, during lunch, I drove to the nearby Best Buy in Milpitas, and was told they had sold out their shipment of 25 consoles between the previous afternoon and the previous evening. They had no guess as to when the next shipment would arrive, but said they were being distributed on a first come, first serve basis. Microsoft's XBox 360 and Sony's Playstation 3 sat idly by, but I wasn't interested.

Not to be stopped, I drove a block or so further, to Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart. They too had a similar story. No Wiis were in stock. They get shipments every two weeks or so, but didn't have a clue when the next one would be.

After work, I continued my search, going to the Best Buy in Sunnyvale, near home. Again, no Wii for sale, and no knowledge of the next shipment. While I could buy replacement controllers, video game consoles, and even carrying cases for my non-existent WIi, I couldn't buy the machine itself.

So, I headed down to the Valley Fair mall in San Jose, which just so happened to be next to a Best Buy - my third on the day. I ducked in to the store at 8:57 p.m. (Store hours closed at 9 p.m.), knowing I had three minutes to ask the same questions and get the same results. Sure enough, plenty of advertising, but no Nintendo Wii. This time, I was told they expected shipment this upcoming Sunday, which led to some bickering with the sales staff, who disagreed on whether they get new consoles each week, or each month.

At this point, I'd worked myself into a consumer demand froth, ready to buy one if it were available. It wasn't a situation of trying it out, or watching someone else play. If it were there, my next move would be to grab the Visa card. But none of the stores got my money, and I didn't get my Wii. The question is - will I keep looking and showing up to random Best Buys to chat with annoyed teenagers, or should I let it go? I'm not sure yet. I also don't think I'm desperate enough to go the eBay route. It's a fun idea, but not critical. Yet.

July 24, 2007

New TAB Post: Solving Software Purchases the iTunes Way

Using iTunes to download movies, music or TV shows is incredibly easy. While logged in, all I have to do is click "Buy Song" and the tunes will be downloaded rapidly from Apple. So this got me thinking, why is it so difficult to find access to good software, and wouldn't it make sense if Apple used that kind of platform to showcase shareware? I have to imagine that small software developers would be ecstatic at the opportunity to use a platform like iTunes to introduce their wares to new customers.

The question is - does Apple, or anybody, want to seek after this type of business? It's one thing to offer links, like many do, and quite another to host and deliver the software and simplify the transaction...

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Solving Software Purchases the iTunes Way. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

July 23, 2007

Low Cost TiVo HD Box Sneaks Online Early

It looks like the Web minions at Tivo.com are ahead of the company's official rollout schedule. While it's not too uncommon for Web site administrators to upload pages and images the night before a press release launch, it's unusual to catch a public company, or a company as closely watched as TiVo, slipping up. Tonight, thanks to the new product's being added to the online store, you can purchase a lower cost high definition DVR before much of the world knows about it.

While Engadget got the story early this afternoon that the Tivo HD was ready, it wasn't clear when the box would debut, as the site said, "Supposedly it's launching this week, possibly as early as tomorrow." But if you're keen to pick up a TiVo that's HD-capable, and won't cost you more than half a grand, even before subscription fees, you can do that tonight.

As for our living room, while we were initially tempted to upgrade our aging Series 1 machine to a Series 2 and retain our lifetime membership, we're sticking with our first model, for now. We don't yet have HD, and aren't going there immediately. But when we do, it's good to know TiVo won't ask us to mortgage our home.

Google Is 95% Of My Search Traffic

My SiteMeter stats have made one thing clear over the last several months - my traffic from Google and Google Images is growing rapidly, and no other search engine, including Yahoo!, MSN, Live.com or AOL, are even making a dent.

There's really no second place. Instead, there's Google, and then there's everybody else.

Google traffic to louisgray.com dwarfs all competitors.

In the last few months, referrals from Google Images have largely taken over the #1 position from Google's standard searches. Over time, the ANtics comics have drawn a tremendous amount of traffic from curious baseball fans, and the occasional odd post on The Simpsons and adult material have delivered the lion's share of the rest.

Using the Summary Web logs analysis application, I reviewed the site logs from January 1 forward, and saw the massive gap between Google and everyone else to be more than I had ever anticipated. It turns out that thanks to Google's unique combination of Google search, Google Blog Search, Google Image Search and Google Reader, the company is delivering almost 96% of all referrals from search engines to my blog. AOL, MSN, Live.com and Yahoo! don't even crack one percent apiece.

A lot of people are concerned that Google's position is a bad thing for consumers and for competition, and it's clear the competition isn't making a good show in this race. But if the other players even had serviceable offerings, this would be a different story. The sad truth is that they don't. If they want to stick around, they should either dramatically enhance their offerings, or forget competing with Google, and stick to other tools they do well - whether it be start pages, instant message tools, news or social media. As it stands today, the verdict is in, Google has won, and they've won big.

Thank You For Smoking: Addicting

Now that we've broken through the "Great Netflix Backlog of 2007", Kristine and I are trying to enjoy her summer off from teaching by catching up on some long-awaited DVDs, some which were shows well recommended by others, and some we instead opted to skip when they were in the theater.

Last week, we enjoyed the topical comedy "Thank You For Smoking", which followed a big tobacco lobbyist and his crusade to creatively promote cigarette consumption, while at the same time, maintaining his sanity and being a good role model as a father. At a time when so many communities are becoming smoke free, and headlines of death and disease are common, the lead actor, a spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, had quite a tightrope walk to do, to espouse both the purported positives and minimize the evils of cigarettes.

The movie is amusingly done, such that you find yourself rooting in favor of the tobacco lobbyist, and against the political and cultural machines that swing in action to destroy his work. Unfortunately for him, he becomes too tightly entwined with an investigative reporter, who mixes business with pleasure, and costs him his job. But unmatched in his ability to spin out of the situation, he survives.

Surprisingly, the film isn't preachy. It doesn't try to convince the audience that smoking is evil, or in reverse, that the lead actor's spin is on target. Simply by placing us in the mind of one of America's most likely hated people, we find his daily challenge intriguing. He didn't convince me to start smoking, but I'm definitely glad I saw the film.

E-mail Faux Pas Showcases Old Message

When it comes to e-mail etiquette, I'm quite particular. I tend to roll my eyes and think less of people who don't know the difference between "Reply" and "Reply All", I'm not all that forgiving with typos, and think that the way e-mails are written should be in line with your own capability for writing or communicating. So when I goof up, I'm particularly annoyed. Today, I most certainly goofed.

Late last September, I had tried to send a message at the office via the Microsoft Entourage desktop client, as Webmail was having issues. For some reason, that didn't go through either. After a few hours of struggles, I ended up sending the note from my personal e-mail account, using Apple Mail, and hadn't opened up Entourage since. Until today.

Prompted to revisit Microsoft's sorry excuse cousin to Outlook for the Mac, I fired up Entourage and set it up to synchronize, so each folder would be updated. As the app sluggishly whirred to life, filling my inbox with the latest, a familiar "Sending Mail" sound echoed. Oops. Seconds later, my message from September hit an internal distribution list and I was made to look like a fool, as the note gave a snapshot in time from 10 months prior. In the age of instant receipt and Blackberries, there was no good reason to recall. Instead, I just sighed and apologized to all for the error.

I hate that. The next step is to just make sure I never open Entourage again.

Update: Ars Technica in parallel has posted a note on curing "sender's remorse"...

ANtics Episode 3.21: Heroes to Zeros

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Were you at that game where the A's got shut out? What? You want to know which one?

Trust me, we know how you feel. And it looks like the players are feeling the strain of being a very average team with some quite below-average players. Jettisoning Kendall was a start, but the ANtics show there's much more to go...

Click to See Larger Comic

All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

July 21, 2007

Must-See Documentary: Who Killed the Electric Car?

While we may be patting ourselves on the back for the small percentage of consumers who have gone out of their way to adopt hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius or the Honda Civic Hybrid, the stark truth is that we could be much further along in the process to reduce air pollution and reliance on fossil fuels, were it not for reluctance on the part of the automakers, government and big oil to promote alternatives, like the electric vehicle.

This week, Kristine and I saw a documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?", which highlighted the creation, introduction and eventual erasure of GM's EV-1 from the marketplace. Almost single-handedly, the viewing of this film made me realize how much of a step backwards we have taken, just in the last decade. While I had once been vaguely aware of California's mandate to require a certain percentage of cars be electric, I didn't know how that mandate was voided, and how while more and more Americans were being guided toward massive SUVs through tax credits (See: The Hummer), a well-oiled political and PR machine was under way to stop the electric car in its tracks.

Now, having seen the massive potential for electric cars, I am almost unwilling to "settle" for a partial solution like a hybrid, which would only lessen my draw at the pump, not eliminate it. Watching the film, I was furious at how the potential was squandered, and how some early adopters of the EV-1, ecstatic about their cars in the same way Apple fans or Linux loyalists are, were told to go pound sand, and saw their beloved vehicles impounded and crushed in a forgotten desert well away from California's roads.

It's been a long time since a good documentary came around without Michael Moore's name on it that reshaped the way I think about everyday activities like driving. If you are looking to buy a new car, or looking to see what you can do to better the environment, if you are curious about the cold realities of business, or just want to know why we're not surrounded by electric or solar vehicles, be sure to put the video on your Netflix queue. I'm glad we did.

Amber Alert: The 2007 A's Offense Is Missing

Tonight should have been a fun night at the ballpark. The A's were in the 4th game of a six-game homestand, coming off a 6-0 shutout win, followed by a day off, and the weather couldn't have been much better. But instead of the glee felt following a victory, we were once again let down by the team's completely inept offense, which had some in the stands murmuring over the possibility of a no-hitter. While history was not made, another nail in the coffin for the 2007 season was solidly hammered in place.

Seemingly by the time Kristine and I had made it to our seats, the A's were already down 1-0 in the first inning, courtesy of the aggressive Orioles hitters. While Baltimore went on to score in four of the first five innings, the A's hitters continued their cold spell, with the first 16 outs being recorded without an A's player reaching base by way of a hit. And when Mark Ellis clubbed a home run over the left field wall to close the gap somewhat, we were almost dismayed, knowing the A's didn't really stand much chance of competing, any more than they had in the just-concluded nine game losing streak.

As has been well documented, this is not an A's offense capable of taking advantage of opportunities. That the first place Angels had already lost their game had no impact on the moribund squad, missing many regulars due to injuries, and seeing Nick Swisher injure his shoulder midway through the contest, thanks to a fielding mishap.

When the painful three hours were over, the A's were again on the losing end, this time by a 6-1 margin. Though the score may change from day to day, the themes are all too familiar. Strikeouts. Popups. Double plays. And an apparent lack of urgency from the team's regulars, who look like they've already said goodbye to the 2007 pennant race.

I've already started booing some of the A's regulars when they come to the plate. I fear that with time, my "to boo" list will increase, unless massive changes start very soon. I won't be holding my breath.

July 18, 2007

Did Trackbacks Die, and Who Killed Them?

In early 2006, I was fairly keen on this shiny new toy called the trackback. Rather than simply add a comment to a story I found interesting, I could send a trackback via my blog to the original source, and in most cases, the trackback, with my story's data, would be placed on top of the comment thread. On other occasions, the trackback would be treated on equal with comments, and made part of the thread itself. Regardless, it was a sneaky way to push my links onto more popular sites. But now, I can't remember the last time I sent out a trackback, and I haven't seen them used all that much. Maybe it's time to roll out the gravestone and write up their epitaph.

On March 25, 2006, Guy Kawasaki wrote a great, insightful story on "nine questions to ask a startup" if you were a prospective employee. That day, I posted a trackback to the story, referenced in a post I had, called "Entering a Startup on the Ground Floor", which recalled my first experience entering the Silicon Valley as a potential employee in late 1998, and how unprepared I was.

Surprisingly, my trackback not only got me traffic, but sustained traffic. My Feedburner stats tell me that since I left that link behind, I've had almost 1,200 visits to my Web site as a result.

Visits from Guy Kawaski's Site via the Trackback

While not large, considering it's been 16 months, that number trumps any other RSS feed link I've had to date. In fact, March of 2006 was basically when my trackback usage hit its peak. I'd commonly posted trackbacks to sites like Silicon Valley Sleuth and Internet Outsider, to name a few.

And then... I stopped. Maybe it's because I felt like using trackbacks was a cheap form of link spam, and that I wasn't adding value to the original source's story. But while that was part of it, it seems that integrated tools on most blogging platforms, like Blogger, TypePad or WordPress, automatically track who is saying what about you. Instead of relying on trackbacks to show somebody referenced your material, Meanwhile, sites like Technorati show the number of blog reactions, or "Links to this Item", per se.

Essentially, the shininess of the trackback wore off for me, and I expect it has for many others. Rather than take the effort to determine a post's trackback URL, and send a ping to that URL, I just let Technorati and Google Blog search do the work for me. As with many technologies on the Web, something usually comes along better than the last toy, and we move forward. I just hope the 1,000+ visitors Guy Kawasaki sent my way found what they were looking for.

Not All Links Are Created Equal

There's all sorts of hubbub on the blogosphere in the last few days, over how one ranks authority of bloggers' influence. It is in the aggregate number of links, or the aggregate number of individual sites linking? Should all that be discarded due to the advent of microblogging? Given the current thinking is to throw out total page views in favor of total minutes on a site, as well, it seems the whole concept of how we measure authority is in flux. But while most argue tit for tat on whether a blurb on Twitter counts as much as a link from another blog, there should be no secret that not all links are created equal.

In fact, while one blog could dedicate its story to you, it may not result in 1% of the traffic you can expect from another highly trafficked source, whether it be Digg, or StumbleUpon, TechCrunch, TechMeme, Scoble, etc. Compounding this issue, there is a significant population of Web sites that don't even enter into the radar of statistics aggregators like Technorati, due to the fact they aren't classified as blogs or "the live Web".

A few self-focused examples:

1) Today, my site traffic spiked in the middle of the day to about 8-10x normal traffic. Instead of 100+ visitors per day, my norm, I saw 100+ just between 1 and 2 this afternoon, only to see the one-time spike go away, and traffic return to normal. Was there new content? No. Was there any reason the content got less relevant in the space of an hour? No. So what happened?

A StumbleUpon user found my story from last week on Facebook where I suggested the site would go the way of Friendster and GeoCities before it. Submitted to the popular service, I was seeing 25-40 concurrent visitors on the site, with new ones every minute. Then, as quickly as the spurt arrived, they vanished. Yet, the one link had given me a boost of 100 visitors, not exactly chump change.

2) On July 5th, we saw a similar spike in traffic, to about twice normal, thanks to 100+ visitors coming to the site to see my simple comments that I had gone a full week without filling my need for an iPhone. Again, without any promotion on my part, the visitors came. So what happened?

MacSurfer happened. MacSurfer posted a link to the story, sending all sorts of Apple afficionados my way. Like Digg and StumbleUpon users, those one-time visitors are a cheap date. They show up, don't comment, and move on. But there's no better place to drop a Mac link than MacSurfer, the granddaddy of all Mac link aggregation sites. Of course, MacSurfer doesn't even hit Technorati's radar, so they had no idea the link had occurred.

3) Just two days prior, on July 3rd, we had another spike, thanks to Robert Scoble's mentioning my post on addicting games that can reduce productivity in a story he had written on the Web-based game phenomenon. Interestingly enough, though the Scoble crowd dropped in to the site in strong numbers, not even his A-list credibility could send me as many unique visitors as MacSurfer and StumbleUpon in this round. His crowd was more in the 80-100 range.

It's hard to determine what posts will get traffic, and which ones won't, or which ones will draw comments, and which will be ignored. There's also always going to be interest from people to determine what the most successful, influential, or highly trafficked sites are. It's clear that a link from me to Scoble would drive maybe 1-3% the traffic his way as he could drive mine, so anybody in the business of counting links and assuming they are all equal is absolutely off their rocker. Not all links are equal, and someday, somebody will come up with a great algorithm to show just how much "more equal" one can be versus another.

July 17, 2007

Eight Things Previously Unknown. No Tagbacks.

On July 6th, Ilona of True Grit posted eight items she assumed we didn't know about her. Common to the meme, she listed five new bloggers to continue the faux chain, and apparently, I was one of those selected. Until last night, I had no idea. Amazing what an overlooked link will do.

So, in order to be a good blogging citizen, here we go.

Eight things you probably didn't know about me, likely in near chronological order, just because.

1) I was born two months early and weighed just over four pounds. The ambulance, on its way to Stanford from Salinas, had to stop mid-trip and I was delivered in San Jose. My poor father, meanwhile, made the trip to Stanford, and missed the birth. He has since made up for it. And lucky for me, modern medicine was just good enough to eventually kick me out of the hospital.

2) In order to display how disappointed my 3rd grade teacher was with my studies, he broke with school tradition and gave me letter grades, instead of the standard Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory marks given my peers. The first quarter, I got two C's. They may have been my first, but unfortunately, they were not even close to my last.

3) I graduated from junior high school twice. After attending a 7-8th grade school, we switched school districts, and attended a 7-9th grade junior high. I got to walk on the stage both years.

4) I was pulled over by the county sheriff during Drivers' Training, when I was 16, allegedly for having my rear right tire pass over an empty parking space as I turned right into an intersection. This greatly amused the other students in the car, and befuddled the instructor.

5) I was stood up on my first date after turning 16. My date's best friend had unbeknownst to her, brought a friend, which preempted me. Instead of enjoying the homecoming dance, I waited out the three-hour drama until my ride came. It later turned out to be a recurring motif through high school.

6) My senior year of high school, I was the station manager, and DJ, for the campus cable radio station, and logged hundreds of on-air hours playing Depeche Mode and Inforrmation Society to earn my A.

7) My original college of choice was UCLA, where I had hoped to be roommates with my best friend. Due to a bureaucratic snafu on the UC's part, and my typical lack of following instructions to a T, I didn't get in to UCLA, but did get into UC Berkeley, which made the seeming crisis a lot easier to handle.

8) I once took a 4-plus year self-imposed sabbatical from church, which overlapped with college, before deciding on my own it was time to go back and follow what I knew to be right. Had I remained stubborn, I never would have found my wife, among other things.

With all that said, the typical next step is to tag five more unexpecting victims.

Those targets:

* Ben Homer
* Jason Kaneshiro
* Earl Moore
* Jeff Narduzzi
* Farrah Walker

July 16, 2007

YouTube Debut of Ash Steffy: New Tenant

One of my best friends from high school, Ash Steffy, attended UCLA, pursued post-graduate study at the Art Center in Pasadena, and continues to follow his dreams as an aspiring film director in Hollywood. After much prodding by me, his much-anticipated short film debut has hit YouTube, in the form of "New Tenant", which covers a working stiff's efforts to pursue a 9 to 5 living, only to see one morning go hilariously awry. I hope you like it. Be sure to share with those you know would also enjoy it.

Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZg0ErXRMTE

ANtics Gain Praise from Bugs & Cranks

It appears Technorati doesn't have an exclusivity on finding links to the blog. Though I rely on "Blog Reactions" from Technorati for the vast majority of conversations around the blog, I was surprised to find a story that had fallen through the cracks, which I instead came across due to Icerocket, the poor stepsister of Technorati and Google Blog Search.

Looking at the number of blogs which point this way, I found a great writeup covering Athletics Nation, the #1 sports blog covering the Oakland Athletics. Hidden inside the article, posted on Bugs & Cranks, was a fairly positive note on the ANtics comics, our little once a week hobby.

"A few features about AN stand out. First, the ANtics comic strips are a unique contribution that few other sites can boast. While other sites have their photoshop wisecrackers, AN has produced volumes of original strips that look fantastic."

-- Bugs & Cranks >> Moneyblog: Athletics Nation

Not bad, in my heavily-biased opinion. The article goes on to give Athletics Nation (AN) credit for access to A's GM Billy Beane, team players, and offering a forum for A's fans to watch the games together. While the team may not be impressing anybody right now, in the midst of a 7-game losing skid, the site, and the comics, will continue. After all, even if our team can't get it together on the field, we are still dedicated to the craft of fandom.

The iPhone Says My Thumbs Are Too Fat

Saturday morning, we finally swung by the Apple Store at Valley Fair in San Jose for the first time "Post iPhone" to take a look at Apple's new device that has the tech world aflutter. While very thin and chock full of features, the iPhone's virtual on-screen keyboard rejected about half my keystrokes in a quick trial run, making me more comfortable in my decision to stick with the Blackberry, at least for now.

I've used a Blackberry for the better part of five years, through three product generations, and while the keyboard has changed quite a bit over time, it still follows an easy to use format, with the standard QWERTY layout, and tactile response. When i started fiddling with the iPhone, to try and test its e-mail capability, half the letters would end up one away from their intended mark, making the words so badly jumbled that not even the included auto-correct dictionary had a clue as to where to start.

If I would try to type, "Hi there from the iPhone", it was more likely to read "Ho yheer gtom rhe iohome." Making it worse, every time I would delete a mistype, my next keystroke would put the same error right back. It got me thinking one of two things was occurring. Either I was slipping into lazy eye double vision which had my hands not coordinating well with my eyes, or my thumbs were too fat. It had me longing for the simplicity of the stylus on my old Handspring Visor, or the keyboard from the Blackberry line of mobile handhelds. If I did walk away with an iPhone (and I didn't), there's no question there would be some significant practice necessary before I could become as proficient as on the Blackberry.

That's not to say the experience with the iPhone was all bad. The camera was drop-dead simple to use. Squeezing and stretching photos on the screen or scrolling through the faux address book was a breeze, especially after having seen Apple's numerous demo videos. Playing videos from YouTube was quick and crystal-clear. I didn't mess around with Safari, but have no doubts that too was solid. And the iPhone is extremely thin, moreso than I had expected when it was first announced.

If I was looking for a Hallelujah moment that pushed me over the edge from interested observer to proud owner on Saturday, it didn't come. If cost and phone service quality were not an issue, I'd love to have one, but both are, and for now, we're still going to be cheering on the iPhone from the sidelines, and looking into ways for our fat fingers to cut back on the carbs.

ANtics Episode 3.20: Opposite Day

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

I never truly saw this coming - the resurgence in offense from Bobby Crosby and Jason Kendall, the quick return to health of Mike Piazza and Rich Harden, and Mike Piazza's race to the Hall of Fame. What an incredible run this team has been on! Have you purchased your postseason tickets yet?

Click to See Larger Comic

All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

July 12, 2007

For Facebook, I Can Already See the Epilogue

Five years from now, Facebook will not be a household brand. Like GeoCities and TheGlobe.com before it, today's hot Web communities are tomorrow's graveyards, as a fickle Web audience will continue to move from one destination to the next, leaving behind ignored friend requests and a a river of bad HTML in their wake.

Even if you throw out the 1990s community sites mentioned above, it's easy to see how once exciting social networking destination sites give way to the next. From Friendster, to MySpace, to Facebook, hordes of teens, wannabe teens or those preying on teens have made the move, until, as Yogi Berra once said, "Nobody goes there any more because it's too crowded."

In 2006, it seemed nothing could beat MySpace. Now, as Facebook has opened up their doors to developers with custom APIs and let in the unwashed masses, instead of just for college or high school students, it seems that it's all anyone can talk about these days. But while that's fun and interesting, the truth is that it's still a closed, gated network, which runs contrary to the full purpose of the open Internet - one of transparency, exchange of ideas, communication and ease of access.

I don't have a Facebook login, don't have access, and don't want it. Why, when there is so much content and real-time collaboration and conversation going on outside of the walls of Facebook, would I take the extra effort to share in conversations and faux digital friendships to a more limited audience? It just doesn't make sense.

Today's Facebook is tomorrow's Friendster, or in five years, GeoCities. Teens are the most fickle of them all, and I'm not exactly sure they're going to be ecstatic that their moms and dads can now jump in and participate. That's just not cool. And once the 'rents start hanging out in your place, it's time to move on. I promise that's what will happen next. Slowly, but inevitably.

So, while John Battelle writes "Why Facebook, Why Now?" and Robert Scoble picks apart Facebook application issues, recognize that it's a lot of talk for today about something that has a very limited future.

Time for a BlogRoll Revamp

A couple weeks ago, when Kent Newsome and I had a public disagreement over his gaming Technorati, Kent had some observations on my blog, which he saw as typical pandering to A-Listers. Just like I hadn't polled his intentions for engaging in viral link tagging, he didn't poll me on the origins of the BlogRoll I've run with for the better part of a year. He thinks I was off with my comments, and I know he was off on his, but it's got me thinking it's time for some changes.

Somewhere in late 2005 / early 2006 timeframe, I somehow stumbled on the wonders of Technorati and the A-list. It seemed like everywhere I turned, there were more and more blogs focused on Web 2.0 and capturing the live conversations that have redefined media, news dissemination and how we communicate. Robert Scoble's blog led to TechCrunch, which led to Om Malik, Steve Rubel and so on... Within a few days, I'd stumbled on everything from ValleyWag to TechMeme, and rediscovered both Dave Winer and Guy Kawasaki. I felt as if I'd opened up a vault of information previously hidden and it was all I could do to leave the laptop to function offline, rather than take in this new world like a sponge, 24/7.

As the blog is a personal blog, first and foremost, I linked to those I found most interesting, but in retrospect, it's a lot like how in Web 1.0, so many homepages would have links to Yahoo!, ESPN and CNN, as if the casual Web surfer wouldn't know how to get there. Now, as all these A-Listers are as commonly visited as the old media kingpins, my links there are just as useless and redundant. The same goes for the Politics links as well, especially as I've moved away from Politics here for the most part. Though Kent saw the A-List links as pandering, that wasn't the original intent, but now, it's easy to see how that could be implied.

As a result, thanks to Kent's promptings and my own consideration, I'm getting rid of the A-List blogs that don't belong, and in their place, I aim to add those blogs which most closely mirror my interests and those I consider my closest peers - not necessarily in size or popularity, per se, but in consistency, focus and approach. And of course, I'm willing to listen to any feedback you have on what I'm still lacking.

Therefore, some big names are going to get cut. Sorry, guys.

But not every one is getting the axe.

And what you've been waiting for, of course...

I have also opted to replace the Politics section with a more generic "Resources" box that includes sites like Mashable, Read/Write Web, TechMeme, and Robert Scoble's shared link blog. Though I was at first skeptical that Robert's surfing would be fun to watch, his shared link blog has introduced me to many a blogger who has a story to tell.

On the Web, nothing is in stone, so even this revamp may not be long-lasting. I will continue to add and cut, as I see fit, but I'm glad this change has been made. Comments always welcome.

July 11, 2007

An All-Star Experience, Plus 37 Bucks

After leaving the office this evening, I didn't head straight home. Instead, I drove to my father-in-law's, where we continued a growing tradition of taking in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and enjoying a little wager between the two of us on a number of mundane elements in the game itself, such as who would hit the first double, whether the first pitch of the game was a ball or strike, and of course, which team, American or National, would emerge victorious.

Though he and I are separated by fifty years, both Ed and I share a passion for sports and competition. While I may be content to take in the events for what they are, he enjoys a side bet as much as the actual contest, placing $5 in each category, just like we do each year for the Super Bowl, or even when we play cards, where we can sometimes be seen taking on Hearts or Cribbage for a nickel a point. This evening, I drove to his place, dropped off my laptop bag, avoiding the Web and office demands for a few hours, we made our selections, and let the drama unfold on the TV screen before us.

As Ichiro Suzuki hit the first inside the park home run in All-Star game history, as the hits racked up, and the American League pushed toward victory, I sat, pen in hand, marking which of us had won each category, seeing whether the total hits broke 12 1/2, or if all runs plus hits plus errors in the game would exceed 21 1/2. Though it was just the two of us playing in a friendly wager, you' have thought you'd entered the sports book in Vegas, for how seriously we took each at-bat.

When all was said and done, the American League had won, 5-4, their 10th straight victory in the annual series, much to my delight. My father-in-law was pleased I'd spent the evening with him, and I was happy to see that for once, I had won the bet. After too many events that have seen me paying him for the privilege of competing, today, we emptied out his wallet to the tune of $37. Can you think of another friend who pays better than this one does?

July 10, 2007

Our Car Insurance Debacle (a.k.a. Online Billing, Please)

Over the years, I've made a whole-hearted effort to avoid paper as much as manageably possible. 95% of all postal mail to our address is for my wife, with the exception of Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Newsweek and Business 2.0 magazines, and all bills I can move online I do. For the most part, any mail that comes to the house with my name on it is junk, to be ignored. But this last month, I realized I hadn't moved exactly everything over, and as a result, we've been on the shady side of the law for about six weeks. Oops.

In late June, my wife said she needed to register her car, but upon readying to do so, she said her car insurance had expired. As we are jointly registered on one account, that of course meant that mine too would have been past due.

Scrambling through the condo, I found the reminder from our insurance agency, from May, stating the expiry was upcoming if we didn't pay immediately. As of May 23rd, it turned out we were driving uninsured, a big no-no, for obvious reasons.

Calling the 1-800 line to pay via credit card also failed, as we were just over 30 days late, and I would have to go through a broker to reestablish our insurance. This later led to calling the agency during work hours, getting more than 20 pages in PDF to add dozens of signatures, and faxes to and from our insurance carrier just to get our status back in good graces. And, even after all this, plus paying a small penalty for turning our insurance back on, I don't yet have new insurance cards for my wife or me, so if anything were to happen between now and when they arrive, it will require a little bit of explanation.

While there's clearly egg on my face for the oversight and ignorance of standard billing, I'm a bit annoyed that there was no other warning of my impending illegality. I pay all my credit cards online, the phone bill and even old world tech like our gas and electricity from PG&E is paid online, and I receive a monthly e-mail from them, instead of snail mail, reminding me gently to log in and pay up.

Had I received a single e-mail, I would have logged in, posted my credit card data, and we'd be good to go. Instead, I'm an outlaw, and menace to society. As a side benefit, my wife is ticked off and can't figure out how she married such a dolt. The good news there is nobody else can figure it out either, so she's in good company.

July 08, 2007

ANtics Episode 3.19: Reality Bites

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

Oh the All-Star Break. A great time to relax and bask in the wonder of baseball... most years. But this year, as the A's slumped into the break like an underage wannabe frat boy with a fake ID returning to the dorms after his first bender, the shine has seemingly come off this team. As the team fades in the standings, home fans were treated to a 4-error night by Marco Scutaro, a 2/3 of an inning start by Joe Kennedy, bases loaded double plays and way too much Crosby and Kendall, just in the last week. It's no wonder Joe Blanton wants to pound everything in sight. Don't you?

Click to See Larger Comic

All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

5 Contributions to Kent Newsome's Swivel Feeds

Kent Newsome, full-time uber-blogger and part-time viral link tagger, has asked me to contribute to his ambitious project to rebuild his RSS feeds list. While there's no doubt he and I read a lot of the same feeds, especially from very prominent bloggers, I'll provide him five I think are rising stars in the blogosphere - the future A-listers, if you will.

1) ParisLemon (MG Seigler)

URL: http://www.parislemon.com/

Summary: Apple and Web geek with a healthy dose of sports fanaticism thrown in. Given my own focus on tech, Web and sports, I find many of his comments are in line with my own, but from a different angle.

2) WinExtra (Steven Hodson)

URL: http://winextra.com/

Summary: Thoughtful discussion of the blogosphere, technology and trends. We recently had a blog-led conversation on whether blogs were about conversations or are simply an extension of old media to new.

3) Cuddletech (Ben Rockwood)


Summary: An unapologetic Solaris and storage geek who loves to show you his thoughts of what works, from the command line. Questioning authority and wearing his heart on his sleeve.

4) Ken Jennings (Ken Jennings)

URL: http://www.ken-jennings.com/blog/

Summary: You may have first met Ken on Jeopardy, but since his unceremonious bouncing from the show with more than $1 million in his pocket (after taxes), he leads a happy life on his blog, talking about trivia, religion and technology. Good guy, good blog.

5. YuviSense (Yuvi Panda)

URL: http://blog.yuvisense.net/

Summary: This 16-year-old Indian student loves Microsoft and blog analysis. Amazingly technology astute and analytical for his age. Wants to join Redmond as soon as possible, and barring late-teen rebellion, should make it.

July 07, 2007

Going Into a Food Coma

Dinner at Ruth's Chris steakhouse is an undertaking, one that requires planning, pace and time. Tonight, in celebration of a friend's birthday, my wife and I headed to San Francisco to pad our waistlines and empty our wallets. Both were accomplished.

Ruth's Chris aims not to skimp on quality, atmosphere or portions. A typical meal consists of a 24 ounce steak for more than $40, plenty of side dishes, salad, bread and all the soda, water or wine you can drink, depending on preference. And if you miss dessert, that's a mistake. While grabbing cheesecake or ice cream can set you back another $10, it's absolutely essential.

I first visited a Ruth's Chris in Manhattan, and while I expected the West Coast restaurant to be lower in stature, tonight's dinner was just as filling. I'm sure I'll be avoiding the scales for at least a week, and I just might go easier on the ballpark food the next time we are in Oakland. Maybe.

For the five of us, even without alcohol, our bill, following dinner, sides, and dessert, came to almost $450. The tip added $100 more. But when it comes to a good steak, you shouldn't compromise. Expect to eat well, have a great time, don't be rushed, and enjoy the experience. I expect we just might be back on some near future occasion, ready to focus on the food.

A's Shut Out Again, Frustratingly

This week, my 27 innings attending A's games in Oakland have not exactly been well spent. Counting Wednesday, Friday and today's games, the A's have been outscored 21 to 4, losing all three games painfully, by scores of 10-3, 7-1 and 4-0. And as much fun as it is to attend the games and root root root for the home team, the continued losing without opportunity to gain ground on the other teams is wearing on us.

It seems if it's not one thing, it's another with this team. On Wednesday, it was bad pitching from the starter, Yesterday, we saw 5 errors, including 4 from supersub Marco Scutaro, and today, the team couldn't hit worth a lick.

I don't know what it is going to take for this team to get out of its doldrums. A trade? Players returning from the DL? All I know is that we will be in our seats hoping something changes soon.

July 06, 2007

New TAB Post: Five Steps to Being an Apple Fanboy

It wasn't all that long ago when the rest of the world wouldn't obsess about the latest Apple products. There was a smaller subset of us who watched the Steve Jobs keynotes, bought and sold Apple stock below $15 a share, and knew that despite our low market share, we had made the right choice. Boy, have things changed. With the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iMac, Apple is back in a huge way.

For those new to the platform who want to be good Mac advocates, I noted five lesser-known tips on The Apple Blog, namely:

1. Never Admit Fault With Apple Around Non-Mac People
2. Make Your Apple Usage Visible
3. Present the Apple Logo in a Good Light
4. Don’t Sound Too Eager
5. Do Your Homework. People Will Expect an Expert

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Five Lesser-Known Tips on Being an Apple Fanboy. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

July 05, 2007

Seven Days Without iPhone, and Still Breathing

Counting Friday of last week, when the iPhone first went on sale, today marks the seventh day that Apple's hybrid phone/Web browser/iPod has been available to the masses, stock depending of course. And despite my being a well-known Apple fan, and having a tendency to acquire Cupertino kit on the first day of release, I still haven't ordered one, haven't set foot in an Apple store, and haven't seen one in person. Yet life continues.

As I noted before, I'm holding out for version 2.0, at the very least. I am not a huge fan of switching to AT&T as my cell phone provider, and don't expect I can just pick one up and ask the office to approve its purchase if I were to submit an expense report.

Meanwhile, as I received jubilant calls from my younger sister, a proud recipient of a free 8-gigabyte iPhone, courtesy of Steve Jobs, as a 20-month Apple Store retail employee, as I read the many gushing reviews by early adopters, and read media reports that Apple may have sold upwards of 1 million devices since launch, and that the iPhone is practically sold out everywhere, I watched, amused, but not with a longing that truly felt as if I were left out.

I am happy for Apple that the company has another hit on its hands. I am glad that for those early adopters, that the iPhone is doing what was expected. I expect that in the next few years, should Apple continue innovating, that one will find its way into our home, but not yet. I also expect I just might make a trip down to the Apple store soon to hold one, see the interface and give it a try, but for that trip, I will leave my credit card in the car, to avoid any mistakes.

Besides, if Engadget's review is any indication, the iPhone isn't yet a Blackberry killer when it comes to e-mail, and for me, that's a critical must-fix before I pick one up. Apple, we'll be watching to see your continued efforts and enhancements. Get the e-mail right, and we'll start to see our resistance shed.

Bay Area Real Estate Like a Hamster Wheel

There's no secret that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. Homes that would be less than $200k or $300k in most areas of the United States commonly price well above $1 million here, and elements that most families hold as expected in a home, such as a backyard, a basement, or a lack of congestion, are considered luxuries. And for anybody trying to start out their career in the Silicon Valley, having not yet struck it rich (as many try and few do), the ever-increasing cost of living can have you wondering if you will ever catch up.

Jeff of Narduzzi Nation captures the plight in a note yesterday where he said, "Unfortunately, just about every house we would want to buy in our area is out of our price range, and as much as we want to stretch ourselves to buy our dream home, we don't want to be 'house poor'."

Two income families, even without the expense of children, can't always be assumed to have enough cash to move up the real estate ladder here in the Bay Area. Barring a tremendous income for each, a good chunk of the money coming home is going back into the mortgage, or the rent, some going to principal, but a great deal just going to the interest - your monthly thank you note to the bank for letting you live in their place...

It's obviously a catch-22. If you buy a $400k home and watch it appreciate, to $500k or $600k, the added equity you achieve doesn't even match the corresponding increase in that $600k or $800k home you were eyeing. If one assumes that mid-level market home prices are increasing at the same rate as more expensive homes, you don't get closer to the next rung up in the ladder by hoping for increased equity. Instead, you'll get further away. The difference can only be made up in three ways:
  1. Increased savings overall, in parallel with limited spending
  2. A dramatic increase in income, which in turn, allows for #1
  3. Simply moving out of the area to a place more affordable

But if you believe in the Silicon Valley, and you want to make a life here, rather than leave the area in the hopes to achieving the American Dream of a two-story house, two car garage, and more than an acre of green grass, you just might be stuck on this hamster wheel of sorts, running in place, while not getting any more near to your goal. At church, I've seen many couples, once they start having children, realize they can't afford to grow a family in the Bay Area, and can't take on a larger home with more bedrooms for the kids. I know many families who have left, headed for less-costly pastures in Texas and the Mountain states (Colorado, Utah, etc.)

My wife and I own a 2-bedroom condo, which is good enough for the two of us, and our 17+ year old beagle, and we've watched as the value of the home, and those in the complex have increased, but I don't feel as if we are any closer to leaving the condo and getting a stand-alone home this year than we were last year, or the one before that, or the one before that. The only way our lifestyle will change is if either of us see points #2 (a dramatic increase in income) or #3 (we move out). We don't intend to go anywhere, but if it came down it, we would have to exchange one dream for another, and become new residents somewhere else. Somewhere without the brain power of the Valley. Somewhere away from the action. Somewhere with a slower, less expensive way of life.

Is there a way out of this issue? How can we expect the value of our own home to increase beyond the rate our target home is increasing? Seems like we can't win.

July 03, 2007

FeedBurner: From Fee to Free: Should We Flee?

For the majority of 2007, I have been a subscriber to the premium versions of a few Web widgets, including FeedBurner, for RSS distribution and optimization, and SiteMeter, for visitor tracking and trends. The few bucks a month out of my pocket are typically well spent, first to gauge my curiosity, and second, to provide real data on what's working with the blog and what's not.

Not too long ago, Google acquired FeedBurner, putting the popular application under the company's corporate umbrella. While I haven't yet seen any impact due to the change, today we learned that all those premium services, which I had valued at $4.99 a month, are now available for the low, low price of $0.00 a month, courtesy of Google.

While I can't argue with the price, it not only makes me feel like I was paying something for nothing, but any time you give a product a price of free, it suggests it lacks value, and raises the concern that the product may not see the level of innovation and support it might receive if it were to generate revenue. Why would Google take its engineers time to optimize something that doesn't inherently drive cash into the account after all, instead of focusing on AdWords?

Therein lies the detail. If Google is controlling the distribution of the blogosphere's RSS feeds through FeedBurner, and the reading of those RSS feeds, through Google Reader, there's nothing to stop the company from capitalizing on that monopoly and slapping RSS ads everywhere. After all, who doesn't love an ad-supported free service? That's how television has worked for a century!

I wish I could say I'm ecstatic that I'm no longer going to be billed by Google. Those 5 bucks a month will get me one more 25 cent can of Diet Coke on a daily basis each workday, after all. But I just wonder if we'll be as ecstatic about the move once the full picture is revealed.

For more discussion, see:

Insider Chatter: Free FeedBurner? The HIGH Price You Pay
ParisLemon: FeedBurner Pro and MyBrand Made Free By Google
WebProNews: Google Feeds Free FeedBurner MyBrand

Evan Almighty is Simply Alrighty

Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman, was hilarious. When given God-like powers, Carrey manages to use his powers for the mundane and silly before realizing so many in the world need their prayers answered and that always giving people what they want may not be the best thing. While Carrey could be seen enhancing his girlfriend's bosom, or teaching his dog to sit on the toilet, in the sequel, Evan Almighty, now led by Office funnyman Steve Carell, is almost all business in his new role as Noah, charged with building an ark to protect his hometown from a promised flood. Unlike "Bruce", "Evan" is overly religious, and the near-preachiness of the story, at least for me, seemed to sap some of its potential.

Some spoilers ahead... you have been warned...

Evan Baxter, who we last left as a newscaster at the local anchor desk, has now successfully run for Congress, and is moving out of the small town and into the rich suburbs, much to the concern of his wife and kids. After he prays to "Change the world", God turns him into a modern-day incarnation of Noah, down to the long white beard, and acting as a magnet for two of every kind of animal, to find shelter in the ark. Unlike "Bruce", which saw Carrey aloof in his brush with deity, the "Evan" movie is rife with references to Genesis 6:14, and commonly known elements of the Noah story, like the appearance of two doves, one of whom fetches an olive branch at the conclusion of the film to show all is well, as the proverbial rainbow shines in the background.

In the movie, we can understand the stresses of a freshman representative who has to choose between home life and a career, and Evan's trying to escape this new assignment from God, through denial and in other scenes, through physical escape from the plague of animals that won't leave him alone. We understand when his wife and kids, as well as the local media, think he's a nutcase. But, as with most summer comedies, there are big holes. It doesn't really make sense that the animals be housed in the ark, despite the parallels with the Bible story. And when the thousands of animals do congregate by the in-process ark, the media and townspeople aren't seeing that as a sign that just maybe Evan is on to something. But it is funny to see how this modern-day Noah is just as much at risk due to building code violations as he would be to the mocking of unbelievers.

The supporting cast, beyond Carell, is pretty good. John Goodman is solid as always, though I didn't see him promoted all that much, and Wanda Sykes is funny, though it seems her job was to drop one liners for the camera each time she was in the picture. With no character development for her, it seems she was just reenacting her standup routines best seen on Comedy Central. Carell pulls off the Noah routine well, looking forlorn with what has befallen him, and struggling to maintain a career when he has a higher calling. But he's no Jim Carrey. There's only one of those, and the absence of the star who can take over the movie screen and have your sides in stitches reduces this film to a Sunday School story with jokes.

July 02, 2007

Addicting Games Sure to Reduce Productivity

With the improvements in Web browser functionality, Flash adoption, Java and high-end graphics cards commonplace, simple games no longer need downloadable software, dedicated consoles, or other equipment. Instead, game developers can create in-browser applications that, with few exceptions, work in every browser on any operating system. Now, instead of worrying about whether to make the PC version before the Mac version, or if Linux support is crucial, developers can write once and play anywhere.

While some of the most popular online hangouts include Yahoo! Games and Pogo (an Electronic Arts subsidiary), other sites without the big bucks behind them are creating simple games that are hard to stop playing once you've begun. Among them are the aptly named Addicting Games, Cognitive Labs and One More Level. I can hear the kids' cries now... "Mom! Do I have to go to bed? Just one more level!"

My favorite by far is Addicting Games' Pinch Hitter. Having been introduced to it by some subversive friends at Athletics Nation, I've shared the links with family and colleagues, and am never satisfied with my results. While capable of hitting the occasional home run, I still have a tendency to strike out, which can severely damage my score. I strongly suggest you take a few swings yourself. If you do play, be sure to post your high score in the comments. Only on rare occasions can I top 25,000.

Ratatouille Doesn't Need a Sequel

As far as Pixar movies go, Ratatouille wasn't exactly the best the company has ever delivered. While the vast majority of movie goers have enjoyed the film's story of a scent-gifted rat who takes on Parisian cuisine, I can only say that I found the movie humorous, but by no means an instant classic. Though any Pixar film is better than any other studio's animated feature, I found Ratatouille fell behind The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, the Toy Story series and even A Bug's Life, and if it generates a sequel, I don't think it'll find any legs.

As a kid, I remember a children's book on a mouse named Anatole who worked in a french cheese factory with a career as a cheese taster. It could be that with that background, and having already seen a 9-minute sneak preview of Ratatouille via a promotion from Pixar on our TiVo, I felt that the story was an old one by the time I saw it. I was amused by the characters, and enjoyed the story, but much of it didn't work for me, from the age-old geek gets girl subplot, to the family crisis caused when the main character sets out on his own. I also wasn't keen on the imaginary friend chef, or the ultra-difficult food critic, who echoed the evil queen stereotypes in Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. The show also seemed quite dark, especially if being marketed toward young children.

Would I recommend seeing the film? Sure! But only once, and don't expect it to be the best movie you've ever seen. For other, likely more positive, comments, check out Webomatica's take on the film.

July 01, 2007

Can The Kings Pick Up Yi Jianlian?

Cross-posted to Sactown Royalty...

It has hardly been a quiet off-season already for the Sacramento Kings. They fired their coach, then saw the search for a replacement go from one candidate to the next before settling on Reggie Theus. The team looks to be a mess, with owners forecasting a second consecutive losing season, and last week's draft pick, Spencer Hawes, didn't exactly light the world on fire. That's why when I saw today that Yi Jianlian, a 7 foot Chinese superstar, has declared war on Milwaukee and is demanding a trade immediately, that I'm practically begging for Sacramento to get in on the discussions. After all, the city has an extensive history with its roughly 20 percent population with Chinese descent, and needs a player with his skills in the worst way.

For more of my comments on the Sacramento Kings this off-season, make sure you haven't missed: