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Friday, March 31, 2006

Finally Friday

After a week of late nights (tonight was the only night I got home before 9:00) it's finally Friday! Work got a lot better in general this week, although I still had the usual "more complicated than expected" development stresses. I'm definitely ready for a weekend now, though.

We don't really have any plans for the weekend, and it looks like it may be wet and rainy, but there are several things on the tentative agenda.

We want to sleep in tomorrow morning. And we've got a couple of discs from season 2 of the Gilmore Girls to watch. Plus we're on a quest for fun, funky, Gilmore-sized coffee mugs. "Coffee tureens" as they've been called on the show. Maybe we'll go mug-hunting.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Late Night

I wound up staying at the office tonight until nearly 9 o'clock. I needed to work a little late anyway, so I just told Heather Marie to pick me up after her bellydance class. As it turned out, we had just enough time to make it home before the heaviest parts of tonights thunderstorms hit, so we didn't have to drive in the hardest rain.

I'm afraid that doesn't leave much time to do anything interesting, though. We pretty much just came home, grabbed a snack, and watched a couple of old movies on Turner Classics before heading to bed.

Nothing terribly exciting at work today. The simple quick stuff I had to work on turned out to be neither as simple nor as quick as expected, but I think I should be able to sort it out pretty fast tomorrow morning. Then I can start on the simple, slow, tedious stuff that I have to do next. And sometime in the next week or so, I need to relocate my desk to make room for more incoming employees. Alas, the days of big desks and plenty of space were short-lived. Now it's back to small desks and cubicle variations.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Old Drafts

Just to clarify, the Backblog posts aren't things that I wrote weeks ago and only just now got around to posting. In fact, they're all just sketched out (if that), and I'm writing and/or finishing them now. They're really just ideas that I'm going back and finishing.

So, since I have three left, why no new Backblog tonight? Mostly because it's late and I'm too tired to finish any of the ones that are left. I'd spread them out more, but most of them are fairly topical to stuff happening around me recently, so I want to get them done while that's still true.

In non-computer-related Ryan news, I've lost 10 lbs since the start of the year, which is pretty cool. Doesn't seem like much, but it's slightly over 3 lbs per month, which isn't bad. Definitely a downward trend.

Now I think I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Backblog 2: In which Ryan ruminates on the Copyright Lottery

Over the past six months or so, I've started several blog posts, but lacked the time and/or inclination to finish them right then, so I just saved them as drafts to finish later. This week is later. This post was originally begun on March 3, 2006.

Heather-Marie and I have had several discussions lately (sometimes very heated ones) about copyrights, and how they've become over-reaching and oppressive. The particulars of the discussions, such as our positions and cases (both real and hypothetical) aren't really important, though. What is important is the question that finally came out of them:

Why do people think copyrights are worth so much?

Really think about that for a little while. Unpack it. Pull it apart and look at the pieces. Why are copyrights so highly valued? All of the original things you have ever created, from songs to poems to school papers to fingerpaintings you made when you were 4 years old, are covered by copyright. And in the United States, they will be until 70 years after you die.

Your great great grandchildren will still own the copyright to your senior thesis when they are 60 years old (based on some rough estimates, of course). And that's assuming there are no further extensions, which seems unlikely.

Setting aside arguments about copyright length, why should we even care?

The simple answer is that we've bought into the myth of the Copyright Lottery: Because some creations are worth tons of money, it raises the perceived value of all of them.

If you buy one of 500,000 tickets for a $2 million dollar lottery, your ticket might be worth $2 million. But let's face it -- it almost certainly isn't.

Likewise, the worldwide music market brings in about $32 billion each year. Given the tens of thousands of songs produced in a given year (both professional and amateur, since both are subject to copyright), only a very small number of them account for most of the money, but those few skew our perception of the monetary value of songs in general, which is much lower.

The uproar over Google Book Search is another example. Some authors are upset because giving people easy access to the text of their books could cost them some revenue. Well, true, it could potentially decrease their revenue. In reality, though, most authors make so little from their books that it will never affect them. Obscurity and oblivion are far bigger threats than copyright infringement. It only seems otherwise because we're blinded by the high profile successes.

In fact, that's true in every field, from books to movies to music to sports to business: the 1% of 1% that make it big cause us to overlook the vast majority who don't.

The vast majority of creative artists do what they do out of love or conviction or passion, not to get rich, and they are the ones who are most hurt by copyright laws that so completely bind up all works (in the interest of protecting the high-achieving 0.01%) that they're doomed to languish in obscurity. If you asked authors to choose between a 1 in 1000 chance of riches and a 999 in 1000 chance of their book never being read at all, I can guess what most of them would say.

Thankfully, because of the equalizing effects of technology, things seem to be changing. It's no longer impossible to imagine a future in which no musicians make hundreds of millions of dollars, and instead many more of them get a slice of the pie. That would mean that a very few would get a smaller slice than they're accustomed to, but many more people would get some than have before. That's not part of a communist pipe dream, but a real potential economic future in which technology has lowered the barriers to entry and raised the general quality far enough that more people can participate in creating and finding new works.

That may be a pretty scary (and perhaps unimaginable) idea, if you're already on the copyright gravy train or seriously hope to get on it. If you're not, though, then it's one of the most exciting changes in the history of human creativity.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Backblog 1: In which Ryan rants about cellphones

Over the past six months or so, I've started several blog posts, but lacked the time and/or inclination to finish them right then, so I just saved them as drafts to finish later. This week is later. This post was originally begun on Sept. 25, 2005.

I've had a snazzy, fancy, websurfing, picture-taking cellphone for a while now. You know what? I make calls on it. That's pretty much all. And since my wristwatch broke, I've been using it as a really expensive, complicated pocketwatch. Whee.

I've play Tetris on it some. It had never before occurred to me that anyone could screw up a version of Tetris, yet frustratingly, my 2005 cellphone can't do Tetris as well as my 1987 Game Boy.

Early on, I took some pictures with it. I guess they're probably ok. I'll likely never know, though, since I'd need either the $10/month photo sending service package or the $40 special USB cable kit to get them off.

I've got some cool ideas for utilities and apps I'd like to have on my phone, too, but good luck getting them there. Cellphones are not particularly hacker-friendly (that's "hacker" in the original, non-pejorative use of the word) in the way that computers are, since you can only get software on most of them my uploading and distributing it through the phone company's service.

And that really hits at the heart of what I want: I want a cellphone that's truly on my side. One that works exclusively for me instead of feeling like a double-agent for the phone company riding around in my pants.

If my cellphone hardware supports Bluetooth, then I don't want my service provider to disable it for their own purposes. If my cellphone has a USB connector, I don't want my service provider to opt for an over-priced proprietary connector to protect their bandwidth distribution. If my cellphone can play MP3s, I should be able to load up my own audio files as ringtones, instead of being forced to overpay for the official ringtones because of artificial barriers. If I know how to code apps for my phone, it should be easy for me to load and run them.

I want a hackable cellphone. A phone that has an OS that allows me to modify its behavior (within the bounds of the law, of course) to meet my own needs, either through code or scripting. For example, if I have events scheduled in my phone's calendar, I want to be able have it automatically disable the ringer when they start. Maybe there are phones that do that, but mine sure doesn't.

Failing my ivory tower phone phantasies, I'll settle for a phone that is just that: a phone. Nothing more, nothing less. My wife still uses a Motorola StarTac, and except that the battery is beginning to die, it's still the greatest small cellphone ever. It doesn't have any special bells or whistles (heck, it barely has a phonebook by modern standards), but for clarity, reception, and ease of use, it is absolutely unparalleled.

Lately there is some hope that really good, simple, effective, inexpensive phones are making a comeback, at least in Europe. Now if we can just get them here.

And yes, I am aware of the contradiction that I'm wishing for a phone that will allow me to do more, while pining for one that does less (but does it really well). I'm also aware of the irony that for years geeks in the US have been bemoaning the lameness of our cellphones compared to those in Japan and Europe, and that we're finally starting to get access to more of the popular world-phones here just in time for the ultra-simple, barebones phone to become in vogue.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ready for the Week

We got some good rest this weekend, and now I think I'm ready for the week. Ready or not, it's coming anyway. I hope so, anyway!

We tried to make some traditional Indian dishes for supper tonight. I think it all turned out ok, and I suppose it tasted good, but I didn't much like it. There's not much food I don't like, though, so that does lead me to believe that we probably did something horribly wrong. We should probably hunt down a good Indian restaurant somewhere in Northwest Arkansas to get our curry fix in the future.

And now, serendipitously, Bride & Prejudice is on TV. Heh. What a great movie!

Not much coming up this week that I expect to be blog-worthy, but I just noticed today that I have kind of a blog backlog of posts that are only in half-finished draft form, so I may try to finish some of them up for topics this week. That will probably mean more tech posts and fewer personal posts this week, but I doubt anybody will care much one way or the other. :-)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Early Morning Post

Well, not really early "early" or "morning," strictly speaking, but I've been up a while, gone to the gym, and now I'm pulling the pictures from Heather's bellydance performance off the digital camera, so in some ways it seems like my day is just starting.

I'm basically just posting early so that I won't have to worry about it the rest of the day, in case I get caught up doing something else and forget.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tile Puzzles

Work may be a little bit like one of those sliding tile puzzles next week. We're going to be rearranging desks and furniture to try to make space for some more workspaces. I think we've got some good options outlined, we'll just have to see what works.

I'm also currently in the lead in our office NCAA bracket, although that could change dramatically in the next 27 seconds. We'll see.

In the meantime, I think I may go offline for most of the rest of the weekend, except for blogging. I need to decompress a little, I think, and sitting at a computer doesn't always do that for me. Oddly enough, if I get a chance to just sit and program for an hour or two, it does relax me, rather like a pianist in some ways, but I don't really have anything to code on except work stuff at the moment. Or at least nothing that could occupy me for an hour or so. Maybe I need to start looking for some Sourceforge projects to contribute to.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Looking for Friday

I had another photography class tonight. It was pretty good, although not really directly useful to me. It covered studio lighting, which isn't something I'm likely to ever do much of. The basic discussion of how different lighting techniques behave could be useful, though. The next two classes are on macro photography and wedding photography, but I'm seriously planning to skip those. My camera doesn't have a great macro mode, and I'd rather eat bugs than shoot a wedding. In both cases, though, I might pick up some good general tips, so I'm not ruling it out.

Now I'm about to go get ready for bed, because the sooner I go to sleep, the sooner Friday gets here, and therefore the sooner I get a weekend, which I badly need at the moment.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Snow Day

Well, not a "snow day" in the sense that we got a day off because of snow, just in the sense that today was a day on which it snowed a little. A very little, but a little nonetheless.

Work is much less stressful this week. Things have calmed down quite a bit, one of the bosses is visiting from out-of-town which is always fun (seriously, it is), and I've finally finished with the boring tedious assignments.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Do Less for Me

Jason Fried, of 37 Signals fame, has said on numerous occassions that adding features actually decreases your market instead of increasing it. That seems counter-intuitive, but I've been living a perfect example recently.

When I first found it circa 1996, Paint Shop Pro was a great little image editing app. So great, in fact, that I actually paid for a downloaded copy (no small commitment on 33k dialup!) It was a large step up from Windows Paintbrush, but was a lot cheaper than Photoshop, even then. Photoshop had many more features, of course, but few that I ever needed.

Several years later, now on Windows 98, I found myself ordering a boxed copy of the latest version of Paint Shop Pro. I was pleasantly surprised that it had added some new features, although I didn't use many of them, and besides, all the stuff I'd used before was still there. Actually, I should say "most of the stuff," since a few things I'd become accustomed to were noticeably harder, but I didn't think anything about it.

Finally, several more years down the road, I'd just built a wizbang new Windows XP system, and I figured I'd ditch my stodgy old version of PSP in favor of the shiny new model. Wow, what a mistake! Even after using it (or trying to, at least) for close to four years now, I still can't consistently make it do what I want. Supposedly simple things like swapping colors are either impossible (sometimes) or behave unexpectedly (nearly all the time).

It's obvious that in a classic case of Photoshop Envy, they've been trying to match the big boys feature-for-feature. I dunno, maybe they've succeed. Maybe there's almost nothing that Photoshop can do for $500 that Paint Shop Pro can't do for $50. Maybe if I were doing complex image editing, I'd be thrilled. Guess what: I don't, and I'm not.

What I need is an app that makes it really easy to do the things that I need to do 80% of the time: resize, recolor, and rearrange. I really don't much care about the other features most of the time. I see that Paint Shop Pro X is out now. Good for them. I hope they sell a million copies, but I don't think they'll be selling one to me.

I've become pretty happy with GIMP on Windows, and I'm trying out some Mac apps to fill the same niche. It has nothing to do with cost or open source software, it's just a preference for apps that do what I need very well and very easily, regardless of how much or well they do things that I don't need.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Childhood Stuff

I was searching for some semi-related information tonight, and I ran across a site commemorating Burger Chef. Wow. Talk about places I'd completely forgotten about! There used to be a Burger Chef in Pine Bluff that we would eat at sometimes, and now it seems that there's quite a subculture devoted to it.

That brought back all sorts of Pine Bluff-related memories back to me. When I was little, Pine Bluff was the city we went to most often, and to a pre-10-year-old, it seemed like the biggest place in the world. That impression was apparently helped by unfamiliarity with the parts of the city we seldom visited and a poor mental map, which combined to make it seem much bigger than it really was, at least judging by Google Maps.

Regardless of the reality, there were some great places there. In addition to the aforementioned Burger Chef, there was the Big Banjo (a banjo-shaped pizzeria -- I kid thee not), Pickwick Books (one of the last of the independent booksellers), Big Top Pizza (think a low-end Showbiz/Chuck E. Cheese), and an Alco, not to mention all the stuff at Jefferson Square. Later on there was the Pines Mall, which was pretty nice at the time; dunno what it's like now.

Overall, I have a lot of found memories of Pine Bluff, which may sound strange to those people who aren't familiar with it...and perhaps stranger to those who are. Anyway, I just had to indulge in a big of reminiscing.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Evening at the Theatre

Heather Marie and I went to see Tim Conway and Harvey Korman tonight at the high school arts center in Bentonville, and it was really fun. The show was pretty good, but it was a little disappointing. Tim and Harvey were awesome, but about 30 minutes of the 90 minute show were just filler provided by an impressionist. She was pretty good, but I would've paid the same amount to just see 60 minutes of the two stars. I guess you need some kind of stage action to cover set changes and such, though.

Heather was a little disappointed that they didn't do more of their old skits from the Carol Burnett Show, but since I've never really been into it, I remained unbothered. Personally, I could've happily watched several hours of them just standing onstage and bantering.

We had a really nice dinner afterwards at Atlanta Bread in Rogers. I kind of wanted to hit the Celtic Grill, which is just a couple of blocks from the arts center, but we were afraid it would be too crowded.

Overall, a pretty nice end to a fun weekend. Now comes the work week. Work is getting a little less stressful, which I'm grateful for, and there's a fair amount of other interesting things going on, so at least it won't be boring.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Quiet Rainy Night

It's softly raining here now, which is quite a nice change from the severe weather last weekend. It's a good thing that I got the weed control stuff spread on the backyard this morning, since it needed to be watered in within 48 hours, and this should be enough rain to do it. Unfortunately, that means that poor Magaidh has been unable to go out in her backyard all day, and probably won't get to until late tomorrow or even Monday. Of course the worst part is that she doesn't understand why, poor thing.

Heather Marie and I are heading up to Bentonville tomorrow afternoon to see Tim Conway and Harvey Korman perform. Most of the guys at my office didn't have a clue who they were, and they weren't too excited after I explained, but Heather's coworkers were all suitably impressed. Even if we're a little out of our generation, we're both thrilled! It should be a lot of fun.

Now I'm going to go snuggle up in bed and fall asleep listening to the rain.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Liking Blogging

There's been quite a blog storm the past week, first regarding Dave Winer's announcement of his intention to stop blogging, then a semi-related legal/personal/etc eruption, and the subsequent discussion. You know what? I don't really care. I only noticed because it hit some blogs and sites that I read regularly.

When I first started getting into blogs, I looked around for what were supposedly the biggest, most important blogs, and his came up. I read it for a while, but the topics generally weren't my cup of tea, and I didn't find his perspective interesting. Nothing against him, it was just my opinion, and his blog was hardly the only one I passed over.

He did some cool stuff with RSS, but I'd say that at this point, he's about a relevant to blogging now as Marconi was to radio in 1950. It has grown far beyond anything its founders can directly influence.

I can see, though, how "professional" bloggers could get burned out. If your blog is based on searching for, and sifting through, then commenting on interesting things online, then yeah, that would get old in a hurry. It would be like some kind of externally-imposed ADHD.

As for me, I'm still enjoying my blog, but I only do it for myself. I'm not an A-list blogger, or B-list...or even Z-list, judging by my traffic stats. That's good, because it means I don't have any audience to answer to. I'm doing the blogathon with Lance and Heather Marie for the fun of it, but daily posting is hardly too onerous. I just think of my blog as a public letter to some imaginary readers about whatever happens to interest me at a given moment.

For the time being, that's still a lot of fun.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Great Sports Days

The first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament are, in my opinion, the greatest sports days of the year. I'm not generally a huge college basketball fan (except for the Razorbacks, of course), but I always get caught up in the first two rounds of the Big Dance. I have a definite weakness for following events that completely time-absorbing. The Olympics work well for that, since there's always news or updates or medal counts or something, but they can hold a candle to the NCAAs.

The later rounds don't enthrall me nearly as much, since there are half as many games, and they're mostly at night, but the first two rounds are great. All day at work, the talk is about who's leading which game, whose bracket is doing best. Who's ahead? What's the score? How much time is left? I love it!

Without Heather Marie around to remind me, I figured I'd better blog early so I can get ready for bed. Last night I foolishly stayed up late watching Ghost Hunters and other creepy documentary fare, forgetting that I'd have to go to bed alone. If Magaidh hadn't been with me, I might very well have stayed up reading until sheer exhaustion drove me to sleep. ;-)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bachelor Week Continues

Heather Marie is still in Smackover, so I'm still doing the bachelor thing. I'm an only child, though, so I'm pretty much ok with some alone time. And, as expected, I've so far finished exactly none of the projects on my to-do list.

The biggest reason I'm missing Heather at the moment is that work has reached new and unexplored levels stress this week, and I could really use somebody to vent to. Actually, I'd greatly prefer a friendly geek ear I could bend in person, but I'm still woefully lacking in local geek company. Lance and Dan commiserated with me online, though, which I appreciate a great deal.

Speaking of which, you really need to update your Blog, Dan. :-)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bad Boxes

I was opening a box of cookies tonight, and I noticed that one end says "Open Other End," as usual. Ever since I started trying to figure out which end of a Junior Mints box to open in a darkened theater, this has been a major pet peeve of mine. It is absolutely horrible user interface design.

Think about it. There are only two possible user actions: open one end or open the other. It is completely within the power of the box designer to make both of these options equally correct, and the added expense would be minimal. It would also be possible to make a box that could only be opened from one end. Instead, they give us a small, inconspicuous label telling us to open the other end.

In fact, Junior Mints are even worse. Both ends are labeled, one with "Open This End" and the other with "Open Other End." Care to guess how distinct those two labels are in the middle of a movie trailer while holding a coke in one hand and balancing popcorn on your knees? Right.

User Interface Theorem: Whenever possible, make sure that all available actions are correct.

Corollary 1: Whenever possible, make incorrect actions impossible.
Corollary 2: When prevention is impossible, make sure the actions are easily differentiable under all likely conditions.

In other topics, Heather Marie is gone to the big city of Smackover for the rest of the week, so it's just me and Magaidh. I've got a couple of household projects on my to-do list, but I have serious doubts as to whether or not I'll get to them. As long as I get the floors vacuumed, swept, and mopped, I'll feel like I'm doing pretty well.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Journey Proud

"Journey Proud." That's the term I learned from my mom that names the feeling you have right before going on a big trip. You know the feeling. Everything is all packed and ready, the lists are checked and rechecked, the itinerary is confirmed, and you're laying in bed the night before, wide awake, staring at the ceiling, and trying to go to sleep. Journey proud. She learned it from her grandmother. Beyond that, its etymology is a mystery to me.

I've never asked about whether it's possible to be journey proud for someone else. Maybe there's a different word for it. But whatever it is, I'm that.

Heather Marie is going down to Smackover tomorrow morning to attend the Arkansas Museum Association conference, and although we've been apart on trips several times since we got married, there have only been a handful of times that she's been the one to go off and leave me. (She's got a scholarship to attend, which is amazingly cool, even for an amazing woman like her. I'm really proud of her.)

I don't worry too much when I travel, since I figure my safe return home is more or less under my control. Not so with her. No control from me at all. In fact, she's not even driving herself, she's riding with some people from the museum in Rogers. Strangely, even though she has no long distance solo driving experience, I know she's a good driver. I don't know jack about her traveling companions!

I'm assuming this must be what parents of teenagers feel like when their kids start going off on their own. It's kind of a strange way to feel about your wife, I know, but maybe it'll help prepare me for our kids to do the same thing someday. At the very least, it's given me a newfound empathy with my own parents.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


This was cross-posted from my mostly-unused LiveJoural blog, since Blogger was being stupid last night. Post-dated to correct time.

As you can guess by a post on LiveJournal, I'm once again shut out of Blogger. Well, actually, it is working, just too slowly to be useful. It's already 11:30 here, and I want to go to bed instead of spending the next 20 minutes hitting reload and waiting for the Blogger interface to load correctly.

Today was pretty nice. We got to sleep in some (which was nice after several nights of severe weather), then we lounged around and watched a few more episodes of Gilmore Girls. Later in the afternoon, we took Magaidh for a walk in the park in Springdale, then we went out to dinner with some friends at Las Fajitas, an outstanding little Mexican restaurant between Lowell and Springdale. They have fantastic margaritas (or so I'm told by people who like them).

I'm also dying to know more about the history of the building, since it's fairly old (by current local standards, anyway), and has a big (inoperative) neon sign on the north side proclaiming "Charcoal Steaks" or something to that effect. I have this romantic mental image of the building as a small, isolated road house located halfway between Springdale and Rogers back when 71B was only two lanes and it was still possible to be isolated anywhere around here. I'm sure the truth is much less prosaic, though, so I'm probably happier not knowing and sticking with my delusions.

Ye olde weather radar makes it look like we may be in for some more bad weather about 1am, so I'd better get to bed and get some sleep before it hits.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Battery Backup is Cool

We frequently have problems in our neighborhood with the power flickering briefly. Obviously that wreaks havoc on our computer equipment, so last year I finally got an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). I carefully set it up, plugged in my desktop, and waited anxiously for the next power outtage.

Finally, after a few months of waiting, we had a power failure during a thunderstorm. At the moment, I happened to be on Heather Marie's laptop, connected to my computer via remote desktop. Naturally, when the lights went out, the laptop switched over to battery power, and the UPS kicked on. I smiled smugly as I continued working uninterrupted...

...for about two seconds, until I lost my network connection to the desktop. It didn't take long to realize, with no small chagrin, that I'd forgotten to plug the wireless network router into the UPS.

So, that detail taken care of (and remembering the cable modem while I was at it), I again awaited a good blackout. Thus it was last night, when everything went dark at 11:23, that I was finally able to continue smugly working on my iBook, surfing the web with impunity in a world temporarily bereft of electricity.

It was only after 8 minutes of listening to the UPS warning beep that I remembered I only had 10 minutes of backup time before I lost my internet connection and couldn't post my blog entry, and that the power might not be back on before midnight. Thus the micro-post yesterday. It's a good thing I did it, too, since it was about 2:30am when we finally got electricity back. It seems to have only been our neighborhood that lost power, though. Go figure.

All of this leads me to wonder why we don't have battery backups for houses. Here's what I'm envisioning: a bank of batteries with enough stored power to keep all the lights and small appliances going for up to 1 minute, until a generator can kick in. That would be enough to protect against brown-outs and flickers, although obviously it would have to exclude heaters, AC, and major appliances.

Just something to add to my dream home wishlist.

Friday, March 10, 2006

No Power

Power's out, blogging fast before the UPS goes.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Is Origami a Paper Tiger?

Microsoft's Origami certainly looks cool, but it also looks like it could be a bit of a paper tiger. It does fill a price/size gap between PDAs and laptops, but it's not immediately obvious to me that this was a gap begging to be filled. I actually wonder if this isn't just an attempt to relaunch the Tablet PC platform in a new form factor with an eye toward increasing the size and feature set as interest rekindles.

When MS first started talking about the Tablet PC at PDC 2001, this is the type of device they were predicting. Unfortunately, tablets got derailed by bad implementations and marketing that were beyond Microsoft's control.

Their first mistake was ever showing tablets that had the now-ubiquitous convertible spinning screen and keyboard. Tablets were originally conceived as a new platform, but the unimaginative laptop manufacturers seized on them as a mere laptop feature, and proceeded to produce small, underpowered, overpriced laptops with touch screens rather than capitalizing on the tablet's unique features and strengths. MS should never have even hinted at laptop-like tablets in the early presentations.

The other major mistake was that manufacturers didn't do enough to get tablets into the hands of users. Everyone I went to PDC with in 2001 came back raving about tablets, but almost none of the people we described the concept to got it. Without fail, though, everyone I know who eventually got to try one hands-on said, "Wow, this is really cool!" (followed shortly by: "I wish I could afford one.") Unfortunately, it was early 2005 before I ever saw one in a store where shoppers could try them, and even then it wasn't obviously labeled as a Tablet PC, nor was there any real indication what that meant.

It appears that MS is determined not to repeat the first mistake this time. At the very least, it should be interesting to see what new mistakes they can come up with.

I find two Origami-related ideas intriguing. The first is mobile workstations, where a monitor and bluetooth keyboard/mouse would await a user, who would sit down, plug in the monitor, and start working just as if it were a desktop, then unplug and leave the room while still working. A good example would be doctors entering and leaving exam rooms.

The second intriguing idea is using an Origami device not as a wireless remote, as some have suggested, but as a media center receiving station, from which you could watch movies served from a Media Center PC.

Regardless, I'm really excited about computers breaking out of their desktop prison.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Programmers and Dogs

A couple of years ago, our Scottish Terrier, Magaidh, dug up and killed a mole in our backyard. She was so proud of herself! Not only had she fulfilled her inbred drive to kill small, furry animals, but she had actually provided a useful function for her family! Bless her heart, I'm afraid that Heather Marie and I didn't exactly react in a manner that acknowledged her great achievement. We just really didn't want her to bring the dead thing inside, so we freaked out over it a little bit.

I think I gained some insight today into how she felt at that point.

Despite the conviction many people hold that software developers derive pleasure from inflicting pain on users, quite the opposite is true. We actually really want to build things people will enjoy using -- things that will be useful to them, and that they'll benefit from. We don't always succeed, and we know that, but when we fall short, good developers genuinely want to impove.

Remember the dog or cat bringing a gift to their master that may actually be gross or distasteful. That's how we feel sometimes. We thought we'd done a good (or at least passable) thing for you, our users, only to be greeted with frustration and disinterest, if not outright anger and disgust.

So my message to software users is this: Have some faith in us; we really do want to give you something good. If you don't like what we have built for you, by all means, tell us. Please do so in a cooperative, collaborative way, however. Help us to make something better for you.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Who are windows for?

Not Windows, but actual physical windows. I ask because our dev staff is changing rooms at work, and once again the new room has inadequate windows, in my opinion. The problem is that it seems the windows in both our old room and new room were designed and placed by the architects based on their outside appearance, rather than their inside utility.

That caused me to think about some of our software development, and how we've really been focused on the parts that our users don't use. It seemed strange at first to think about how little of our software is used by our users, but now that I've gotten comfortable with the idea, it seems obvious. Software is like an iceberg: probably 90% of the code is below the surface. The end result is that when a product is 93% finished, and the 7% remaining is UI code, then to users it appears that the product is 70% unfinished.

That was driven home by a podcast interview I heard today with Jason Fried from 37 Signals (Inside the Net) in which he talked about their development methodology. Contrary to software development convention, they always start with the UI first, then build the backpane to support those features.

That seems like a really good approach for a lot of systems, especially those that are primarily aimed at end users using a GUI. It forces you to think more about -- and more like! -- your users, and it helps make sure you put the windows in the right places.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sick Sucks

I wound up spending most of the evening after work laying in bed trying not to throw up. I didn't realize it when I fell asleep, but the two hour nap did me a world of good. Heather Marie was sick this afternoon, too, so I'm thinking maybe it was something we ate.

After I finally woke up, we ate a little supper and watched a few more episodes of Gilmore Girls. I continue to be impressed by what a great show it is. I'm just sorry we didn't discover it sooner.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar Yawn

Probably due to the fact that I've only seen four of the nominated movies (Harry Potter, SW3, Kong, and Narnai), and those only in minor categories, I didn't have much interest in watching the Oscars this year. Yet here I am, at nearly 10pm, dutifully watching the Academy Awards. Honestly, though, it's almost entirely due to Jon Stewart. We tuned in at the beginning to see how he was doing, and found ourselves surprisingly entertained. He's really done a great job.

There were a fair number of "don't forget that movies are best in a theater" announcements, though. That's especially ironic for a year in which the best picture nominees have one of the lowest total grosses ever. Yes, I do think some movies are much better on a big screen, but I don't think it necessarily has to be a theater, especially when more and more people are building home entertainment systems that can rival theaters, at least for small groups.

What movies sell is a story. Emotional engagement. Enjoyment. Not a night out. That's what theaters sell. A trip, a vacation, an experience. Somehow I think both parties have lost sight of that. Studios need to make movies that people will enjoy watching, regardless of the venue, and admit that the theatrical release is really a promo for the DVD and merchandising.

At the same time, theaters need to recognize that their real product is the experience, and start looking for ideas to improve their product. Ideas like preferred seating (pay a little more to get in sooner or have guaranteed good seats), in-theater concession orders and delivery, more food selections (chicken wings? pizza?), adult-only showings (not for porn, but for a quiet date without the kids), etc. Some of these things are being tried, but not to the extent they should be.

Here's hoping they catch on soon, because Heather Marie and I have wanted to go see a movie for several months now, but there hasn't been anything we wanted to see badly enough to put up with the expense and hassle of going. Kind of a pathetic commentary on the state of movies today (and, admittedly, us).

Oh, I've seen five nominees, I just remembered March of the Penguins.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Forget Me Blog

Nearly forgot to blog tonight! Heather Marie and I were watching the DVD set of Gilmour Girls that I gave her for Valentine's Day, and we got so totally Gilmoured that blogging was totally out of my mind (which wasn't so bad, really). If I hadn't come in to turn off my desktop, I'm sure I wouldn't have remembered.

I got up this morning and went to the gym today during the bellydance costume workshop Heather was teaching at, then went in to work for a few hours until she was done. The bosses are still stressing about getting the next version done, and they're looking for all sorts of ways to speed up development. Honestly, though, if we could work out some way for them to let us programmers come in and work outside normal hours, we'd be done in no time. I'm at least 100% more productive during nights and weekends than I am 9-5 with all the daily office distractions.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Wow, this has been a seriously long week, and it's not even over yet. True, it's 11:30 at night one a Friday, but Heather is teaching a bellydance costuming class tomorrow at the Jones Center, and I'll probably go in to work until she gets done. Plenty to do, and not a whole lot of time to do it.

In fact, I'm actually writing this with my eyes closed because I can hardly keep them open, and even that is hard, since I keep falling asleep. I'm off to bed.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Thursday Night

Well, at least I didn't have to wrestle with Blogger to get my post up tonight. What's really annoying is that Heather Marie didn't have any problem at all last night. I guess we must be on different servers.

History Day was a lot of fun today. There were fewer than three entries in both the two main categories I judged, so at least there wasn't any of the stress that comes from having to pick the top three, just the stress of ranking them.

Which is good, because I've already got stress aplenty from work! We're under a lot of pressure to ship the new version ASAP, and even though I'm sure we can do it, success won't necessarily lessen the pain of the process. We've been "asked" to take only bare minimum vacation time until it's finished, which wouldn't be so bad except for those of us who put off and/or cancelled last year's vacation in order to get it out by the end of the year. Sigh.

So now here I am, posting my blog entry early, then spending an hour or two trying to figure some stuff out before bed so I'll be ready to go with it first thing tomorrow at work. Here's hoping all the extra efforts pay off.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Livejournal's Lookin' Good

Well, as much as web design and site administration disinterests me, I think I'm definitely going to have to see about setting up a personal blog at What a pain. I've been trying to post something for 35 solid minutes now, and Blogger only just now managed to actually bring up the post form. I still don't have a clue if it'll actually work or not.

This is a problem, since I'm judging History Day tomorrow for the museum, and I need to be at the Jones Center in Springdale at 7am. That's about 30 minutes earlier than I usually wake up, and I'd really like to go to bed already! :-(

So, another lame post, then off to bed. And I even tried to post early tonight! If it doesn't work, I guess I'll have to use my account over at Live Journal.