August 31, 2007

Creeped out...

As my Mom sits recovering from a recent procedure (I'm keeping her company) I'm finding her roommate anything but charming. Nice enough, I suppose, but her Ring Tone and her constantly calling her husband a f'ing idiot (note, she expanded the f, often) and her firm, nay unquestionable belief that Hillary Clinton is a , and I'm quoting here, "Tramp that murdered that black don't really think they weren't involved do you?" Yes, I clarified that she was talking about Vince Foster, we say in Caleefornia "whatever, dude."

Okay, once you get past this, she's not that bad, but if I had to share the room 24 hours a day with her, I'd probably switch rooms. My mom doesn't seem to mind too much, she's way more tolerant than I.

Google Trick o' the Day

I was reading this Mark Perry's story about distressed home prices in Detroit, Mi and was glancing though these listings when I noticed a very pretty home for $1500. Mind you, I'm not in the market for a home in Detroit, but I thought to myself, "Hmm, I wonder what this home looks like from the air on maps?"

But there was , sneaky sneaky, no address on the listing. I could do research on the MLS site, for sure, but I figured , "Aha! I'll just punch in the zip code...and you can get a feel for the neighborhood. It may not be wholly accurate, but when the first listing is a drug treatment center, it makes you think you know?

It mostly makes me think "Poor Detroit", I mean, this is a city that drove innovation for a solid 40+ years in this country, and now it's a shell, at best. What would you do to revive it, or is it simply another symptom in the decline of middle america? I worry, mind you, with a post like this that I'll alienate my friends in Michigan. I really like Michigan, actually. I've hung around AA for a bit with friends and it seems to be a very sweet town.

Please note: The google trick o' the day is not a daily thing, but a thing that I will do maybe only this one time....just sayin'

Talking about Wireless, man...

I was reading the SF Gate story about "Google a victim of EarthLink woes with cancellation of S.F. Wi-Fi" and while I have no comment, and actually no knowledge about the subject as I don't daily work with likable Googlers Minnie or Sacca. I gotta say this, the language of the story is awfully dire. Mountain View wireless has been up and running for a little over a year and it has been pretty terrific. I can't tell you how handy its been. While one of my children was doing an activity in which parents had to basically wait around, I and at least one other were able to work or play (or in my case read blogs) on the wifi.

That was the first time I used the bandwidth, then I set it up on my Nokia 800, the Pepperpad and finally on the Touch (reviews coming for each, I assure you) and I was able to setup a video call with a pal via the 800. I was in the future! No ipass, no having to select or relogin to different networks, just a tap and a hello to my pal while standing outside on Mountain View's castro street. (Yes, I likely looked like a dork, but a dork from the -future-)

And now, my wi-fi phone happily finds the city's network and uses that higher speed connection to update the mail and other apps. It's quite handy. In short, I wish SF could make this work because citywide wi-fi is pretty cool. And SF has always been cool, right?

August 29, 2007

My Amazon Unbox Review

Since we recently purchased a Series 3 HD Tivo (which we'll talk about later, but it's great) I decided to try out Amazon's Unbox service. This video on demand service allows you to buy videos from a largish selection and have them downloaded to your Tivo via the internet. You can also download them to your laptop and watch them there.

This is not a bad service in theory, prices are on par with buying the DVD, and they provide with many downloads a portable device version. In theory, this is a sweet thing. In practice....well, let's look at the service and what I really like or dislike about it.

I really like being able to download programs directly to the Tivo. Christine and I recently started watching Arrested Development, which has an irregular rerun schedule on broadcast TV. Amazon Unbox was able to download the series to the Tivo easy-peasy, and the Tivo interface is a pretty terrific way to watch television.

I really like watching the programs on the Laptop. I spend a fair amount of time in hotels and such, so this is a cool feature.

The User Interface:

The website is simply awful. It makes you wonder if there is anyone on amazon's staff actually using the service. There are no easy indicators to figure out which have been downloaded to the Tivo or the Laptop. The transmission times are often opaque.

The laptop client application is decent, but fairly brittle. It is incredibly sensitive to the network status of the machine and I must have crashed it 20 or 30 times before I figured out what would crash it, or more importantly what kind of magic I had to do to keep it from failing.

At least the Laptop Client (and the Tivo) give and indicator of how the download is going. The Tivo actually is less informative than the Laptop, but that's okay.

The laptop experience when you are playing is really nice and pretty. I have a thinkpad x61s ultraportable, so having a non-dvd requiring way of playing programs is handy in keeping my bag light.

The portable connection:

I've never been able to make this work with the Archos 504. It just stalls. I'm going to try to give it overnight to transcode and transmit. If it is transcoding, then maybe it'll be on the device tomorrow morning and I'll report on that. That said, why isn't there some kind of indicator that this is happening in the UI? Very frustrating. Update: Don't know what the delay was, but it ended up working after some time. Patience is still a virtue that is elusive.

Getting it to work on the laptop:

The only trick here is to update Windows Media Player to the latest version, and just pick the express options. Make no mistake here, the DRM is really intrusive, it doesn't trust you and you have to accept that for things like Unbox and Netflix's instant watch, which I'll review some other time.

Finally some things that the internet needs to know and the website is -so- bad at telling you:


You can start watching the video once you have gotten past the halfway mark (The program, assumes consistent network speeds).

Offline operation:

If you download a video from Unbox, play it (and thus collect the DRM license) while online, you can then watch it on a plane or offline.

If you download a video from Unbox, go offline, then attempt to play, it may fail. I'll be testing this soon.


It's very pretty actually. It's not HD or anything, but it looks nice. Takes up about a gigabyte per hour of content, os that's solid. The sound is decent, too. Fire renders without artifacts, sunlit scenes. The image to the right, if you click on it is a screen shot which is being re-saved as a high quality jpeg, so there is some transcoding artifacts, but the clouds are cleaner and sharper in the playback than you are seeing here. Go ahead and click on it to see some stuff and things.


Amazon's support is at best slow and polite and not very useful. This blog post will solve more problems in shorter time for the majority of users than thier FAQ or support will. I should be thanked for this, you know?

Overall, it's not bad, once you have it working. But if you own a Tivo, it's worth the trouble to have a program magically appear in your playlist.

Update: Read the comments, there's some very good clarification/information there.

Sphinn is great stuff

Danny Sullivan's new-to-me site Sphinn is fantastic reading. I would consider subscribing if I were you. It covers all kinds of search and general internet-related news and has some pretty terrific writing by Danny and others. I know that the idea of yet another news aggregator is odious, but this is worth your time. Check out their feeds page for different approaches to following sphinn.

August 27, 2007

Greg Stein Mugged

Former Apache Software Foundation Chairman and my officemate, Greg Stein, was pretty harshly mugged on the way home on Friday, and as such. Read way more about it on Kevin Burton's blog.

That's a fair amount of suck, for sure.

August 23, 2007

Masters: Done. What's next?

Warning, long, navel gazey post follows, future posts will be shorter:

3 years ago, I started at Google and at the time I felt as if I were the least educated person ever hired in the history of the firm. I knew that my history and leet interviewing skills got me through the door, but being surrounded by the vast scholarly brainy insanity that is Google I felt that maybe it was time to take the last class that I needed in my CS bachelors.

George Mason was cool enough to let me take my last AI class remotely, and I got an A. It was a largely project oriented class, so it worked well for me as a remote student. For the mid-term and the final Dr. Kaznachey emailed me the test as he passed them out in person and I had to have them done by end of class. They were proctored by a fellow at work who made sure that I only referred to my notes and the book. Since the tests were open book/note it didn't make much of a difference that I was doing them on the computer and not with a pencil.

Of course, giving the, ahem, quality, of my handwritten script, this was a very good thing for me to be able to do. I sometimes think that I should grab one of my 6 year old daughters writing notebooks and practice my upper and lower case writings.

Anyhow, I got an A and I that year I even took part in the National Novel Writing Month, in which I wrote a 50,335 word novel, finishing just shy of 11pm on the final night, having written the last 11k words or so. The ending is a little weak, but overall it was a fun book to write. Go read it if you like.

It is worth pointing out that I was also commuting on a weekendly basis back and forth to Placerville, where my (incredibly supporting) wife with our daughter was finishing out her pre-school. It was hard being away from them, but it left a lot of time at night at Google (with her bounteous kitchens and such) to do these things I have detailed.

At this point, as you might imagine, I was pretty surprised with myself. All this while I was starting my first 6 months at google, in which we launched, put a solid open source compliance regime and I began speaking for the company worldwide. If I could do these things, should I , as a colleague at work suggested, go further still with my education and go for a Masters?

Enter CMU's West coast campus. CMU, a Pittsburg based school, has opened a few satellite campuses in both Qatar and in the valley. I drove to Moffett field and was directed to the solitary campus building by the security guards. The upshot was I applied, was accepted and over the last two years, finished my masters. All of this occurred, mind you, during a very busy time at work and at home. Eagle eyed readers will remember that we had a new baby, a son, join our family about 8 months ago.

Having graduated last Saturday, I didn't realize how freeing and focusing having more than 5 hours of sleep a night could be. It's frightening. It's like the time I learned that the '92 Honda I got from my sister Trish had been firing on 3 cylinders and that's why the trip across country was so weird. I remember times writing papers for the degree where I was literally typing in my sleep (I tended to lean back while typing so I'd end up sleeping while sitting up). It was often hilarious, honestly, what I'd end up writing, but mostly it came out like kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk if you get my drift. I once filled dozens of pages with spaces before I awoke.

So, you ask, what's next? Well, Google is really ramping up developer relations and open source with the arrival of my new boss (he hates it when I call him that) Vic Gundotra (whom I will call 'vicg' in future posts) and as such, I'll be very busy making that happen.

"But what about your scholarly pursuits?", you ask? Well, since I have some Cambridge based employees, I let a pal of mine at the MIT Sloan school know I'd be visiting a fair amount, so he named me a visiting scholar starting the end of August. I hope to run a few seminars for the Sloanies (Sloanites? Sloanscovites? Help me out here...) around open source and the like. I also have a few other ideas on how I can inflict my ideas upon Sloan.

After that? Honestly, I love working at Google and pursuing a PhD or a JD would be something that I'd have to quit work to do well and I'm not looking to stop working for Google anytime soon. Also, a part of me is pretty done with that kind of scholarship. That could be the burn-out talking, mind you, so let's just back burner that for a while.

Before you ask, my Masters program, which was in Software Engineering had a fair amount (too much really) of MBA-like stuff in it due mostly to the influence of the Tepper school on CMU West, so I'm not going to go for one of those any time soon. I will frankly scream if I see the words "PEST" or "SWOT" any time soon so don't test me.

One of the great things about being a visiting scholar at MIT is that you can sit in on any class you like at MIT or Harvard. Don't know what that means for me, but I do know a few classes that might have a doofus sitting the back taking it all in.

The reality of my work and life is that I'll be spending a fair amount of time on planes and as such I'll be blogging more and writing more. As you've likely observed in the above paragraphs, I'm a bit rusty on the whole sentence construction thing, not to mention the whole lets string together a narrative thing much less plotting or storytelling. I've also got a kickin' install of Ubuntu running in a VM on this insanely cool laptop of mine (the Thinkpad x61s) so I'm going to try to revive some of my web programming skills, for cripe's sake.

It is worth pointing out that almost anything is better than "NBC in FLIGHT" which is playing on the domestic flights overhead screens at this moment. This, my dear readers, begs the question: How is it even possible that Saturday Night Live is still being produced? I mean, really...what are they waiting for? The next Tim Meadows?