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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I Hate Astroturf

Back in high school marching band, we'd go once a year to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the big statewide marching contest. At the time, the field had an astroturf surface, and one of the highlights for us was getting to march on a better surface than the ankle-deep, hole-ridden fields we used each Friday night. The artificial turf was smooth and predictable and easy to march on. We loved it!

Later on, while marching in the Razorback Band in college, I learned the truth about astroturf: it is evil beyond all expectation. Aside from the carpet-burning, shoulder-dislocating, ACL-tearing characteristics that are so well-known to athletes, there are the lesser-known, more insidious problems -- astroturf sheds and generates static.

When you walk across an astroturf field, you build up a bigger charge than a car battery. All that static then attracts thousands of tiny little loose pieces of plastic grass, which leap up onto your shoes and embed themselves in your socks. These are horrible, insidious little things that are nearly impossible to remove, and if you try washing the socks they only transfer onto the other clothes in that load, then melt into small black balls in the dryer.

Thus it was that astroturf earned the nickname we had for it: devil grass. We all tried to wear only old socks to the rehearsals at Razorback Stadium, so they could be thrown away later, and we did our best to keep those shoes separate from others. Fortunately, we only practiced there on Fridays before games, so it wasn't too bad. I can't imagine what the football players had to go through. [1]

Astroturfing on the Internet is at least as bad as the devil grass.

A few weeks ago when I first posted about net neutrality, several things struck me as odd about the comments.

First, it was strange that I got any at all. As far as I know, my only regular readers are my friends and family, most of whom seldom understand my techie posts enough to comment, but I dismissed the sudden influx as being due to my endorsement of Save the Net.

Second, I thought it was odd that most of the commenters didn't have links to blogs of their own. That I dismissed as just people who are more blog readers than blog writers, since that described me for a long time.

Third, it seemed unusual that few (if any?) posted followup comments. Drive-by commentary certainly isn't unusual in the blogosphere, but I usually try to check back in on threads that I'm involved in, as do most people, I think.

Finally, and most damningly, they were nearly all opposed to neutrality regulations. This is certainly a contentious issue, but based on most of the commentary I've read and conversations I've had with fellow geeks, sentiment seems to be at least evenly divided, if not actually leaning in favor of neutrality. I found it nigh unbelievable that the expressed opinions were so overwhelmingly opposed.

It occurred to me at the time that the telecoms could be comment spamming blogs about the subject, but I dismissed that notion on the grounds that a) my blog is too insignificant to warrant that kind of attention, and b) I deemed the telecoms to be too clueless about the opinion-generating power of the blogosphere to even think of the possibility. Maybe in a few more years, but not yet.

Looks like I was right to begin with. They're either more clueful than I thought, or they hired some PR firms that are.

This is certainly a debate worth having, since it is an important issue in the future of the net, but that's really not the way to engage in it. There are people I respect who disagree with my point of view, and that's fine, as long as they're open and upfront about it.

As strange as it may seem, honestly and frankness are really important in the blogosphere, since by and large our thoughts and expressions are the only things by which we can judge each other. Lies and deceptions undermine that, and thanks to the million eyeballs principle, most of the time they will be uncovered.

Or at least they will as long as the means to uncover them are open and accessible to all. That might not be the case, though, if the pathways to the truth were throttled and controlled by those who wanted to suppress it. Ironically, their very actions in opposition to net neutrality make a powerful argument for it.

So, in honor of their sneaky, weasely (if unsurprising) tactics, I smirkingly bestow upon the telco and cable companies the standard title of demagoguery: Big Telecom. Or maybe Big Bandwidth sounds better, I can't decide. ;-)

In the meantime, now that PR firms have caught onto the potential of blogs, it will be their next task to learn how adversely bloggers react to being manipulated. That'll be fun to watch.

[1] I should add here that I absolutely LOVED practicing in Razorback Stadium on Friday nights, under the stadium lights and surrounded by all the history and tradition of the field. That experience made the post-practice cleanup totally worth it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Short Boring Post

I'm still here, and obviously still alive, although I had my doubts a couple of times this weekend.

We knew our friend Rebecca was coming this past weekend, and that was great. Then our friends Bill and David surprised us, which was great. We all went out to eat Friday night, then came back to our house for karaoke, which was great (well, as great as karaoke can be).

Rebecca and her brother threw a surprised mass birthday party for Heather Marie and me (belated) and several other friends Saturday afternoon, which was great. Then we went to see X-men 3, which was really great (maybe I'll post a review later).

Then I was sick all day Sunday, which was...not so great. I'll spare you the details, other than to say that I'm 54 hours removed from the end of the ordeal and feeling almost entirely recovered, but I expect to still be sore tomorrow morning.

Other than that, it's looking like a pretty quiet week so far, which will be a nice change.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Computer Driving Skills

Someone on Slashdot tonight repeated a common refrain in a discussion about whether basic programming skills should be considered essential for computer literacy: Everyone says you don't have to be an engineer to drive a car.

That's an imprecise comparison, though. You don't have to be an electrical engineer to program a computer any more than you have to be a mechanical engineer to drive a car.

People who know how to use a computer, but who have no concept of programming, are more like people who know how to ride public transportation, but who can't actually drive themselves. You can get along fine with only public transportation, but you'll be mostly confined to those places that have routes running to them. That's also much easier if you live in a large, densely populated city rather than out on the frontier. Maybe that's why Windows is more popular than Linux: it's easier to get around it without learning how to drive.

That can easily break down, though. If you're dependent solely on public transportation, while lacking those skills yourself, then your options are limited to only what is provided to you. You don't have the option of living in a place without those services. And, when those services fail, you're left with no recourse. You'd be the computer equivalent of the public transit-dependent residents of New Orleans. When the buses stop running, you're left with few options. [1]

In fact, not to belittle the suffering of the people of New Orleans, but disasters aren't a bad analogy for computer use. When everything starts to break down, and the people who normally provide services for you are no longer doing it, do you have the skills to provide for yourself (at least a little), or will you be trapped, waiting for FEMA? Basic programming skills are a bit like basic survival skills in the event of an emergency.

In the end, I guess rudimentary programming skills aren't really essential for computer literacy, but they should be considered essential for computer liberty, since without the ability to make the computer do your will, you'll always be confined to the position of waiting around for declarations from elsewhere regarding what you're able and allowed to do.

You'll be the 21st century equivalent of the medieval church laity, forever dependent on the literate clergy to relay the scripture to you.

[1] Yes, I'm well aware that there were economic factors at work in New Orleans that went beyond mere skills and dependency. Analogies are seldom perfect -- get over it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

So Lame the Con of Dan

Heather Marie and I went to see The Da Vinci Code today. I've already recorded my thoughts on the book, so I'll confine myself to the movie for now.

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I'm unbothered by the concepts in both the book and the movie. They're neither new nor accurate in most respects. Count me amongst those whose faith is not shaken by fictional books or movies, even those with delusions of veracity.

First and foremost, the movie is a pretty accurate recreation of the book, complete with all the original material's flaws. That means that right in the middle of the movie the action is broken up by a solid 20-30 minutes of exposition. That's right: there's essentially a 30 minute History Channel documentary embedded in it. Fortunately, the flashback and memory effects the movie uses are cool enough to hold your attention through most of the exposition.

Overall, it was consistent with what I expected. I've always thought the book was about on par with a bad novelization of a decent movie, and the movie bore that out. Unlike most book-to-movie adaptations, I'd say the movie was far better than the book. That's not to say it was a great (or even particularly good) movie, just that it was better than the book -- not a terribly difficult accomplishment, in my opinion.

It presents an interesting contrast to two other recent book-movies, Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia. I don't think many people would seriously claim that either adaptation was better than the original books, but in both cases the movies were made with such obvious love and respect for the originals that their spirits shown through.

In the case of Da Vinci (the book), though, not only is there very little spirit available to begin with, but it will never inspire the love and devotion that LotR and Narnia do. So even though it is a more accurate adaptation than the others, and even though it improves upon the experience of its source, it still falls far short of the quality of LotR and Narnia.

In a strange twist on the concept of "garbage in, garbage out," the books that seem to suffer the least from the transition to film are often those that are little more than the pop fiction of their day to begin with. Gone With The Wind, The Godfather, Jaws -- all great movies that came from (let's be honest here) popular books that weren't exactly great literature. Although The Da Vinci Code joins these and other movies in disproving the notion that a movie adaptation can only be as good as its source book, it still demonstrates that you can only do so much with a weak foundation.

In the final analysis, I'd say that it's a decent, fun summer mystery/thriller/action movie, and it was worth the cost of admission...for a matinee, least. I'm not sure Ron Howard was the best director to make it (I would've liked to have seen M. Night Shyamalan's take on it), and I'm not sure Tom Hanks was the best choice to start in it (Harrison Ford? John Cusack? Ed Norton? Johnny Depp? I'm not sure), but it was passable. I'd give it a C+. It would've made a B- without the gratuitousness of the self-torture scene.

Personally, since the book takes place almost in real-time over about a 24-hour period, I think it might've worked better as a 24-style TV movie, but since nearly everyone would've known everything about it to begin with, then that might have only served to drag out the details.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A faire time

Heather Marie and I took a trip over to Muskogee today for the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival. Overall, it was a pretty good trip. "Faire," I'd say. After going when it was cold and rainy last year, I thought that any weather would be an improvement, but after the dry, dusty conditions this year, I'm not so sure. Last weekend would've been ideal weather, but we had other plans.

If you get a convenient chance to go to a renaissance faire, I highly recommend going at least once. Personally, I'm not into the dressing up thing, but I might give it a try someday. It's still a lot of fun anyway. This was our third (or fourth?) year going to Oklahoma, but it's really only the second faire we've been to.

Our first trip was in 1998 or 1999, when we went to the Withrow Renaissance Faire at the Withrow Springs State Park. That was the last year it was held at the state park in conjunction with the ACA Crossbow Tournament. The following (and final) year it was held on a farm nearby. The one in Muskogee is far larger and more complex than Withrow Springs ever was, but from what I remember reading, the Withrow faire was one of the first ones in the country, originally organized as a promotion for the crossbow tournament. The incarnation we attended was a descendant of the original, but not directly, as far as I know. Still kind of a shame that it's gone, though.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crocodile Tiers

Lots of good comments on net neutrality, although I tend to disagree with most of them. :-) It's interesting, though, that so many have come from one side. I guess there's just a natural tendency to express dissent more than assent. Or I'm seriously in the minority.

The more I think about it, though, I increasingly suspect that the real reason bandwidth companies are pushing for this is that it puts them back in control. Most of these companies are identical to or descended from the big 20th century media companies which, for most of the past century, the were the arbiters of consumption, determining what was worthy of notice.

I've always thought that was the real motivation behind record companies fighting Napster. It really was because they'd lose money, but not due to piracy. Before the advent of cheap online distribution, we all bought whatever media companies were willing to sell to us, which was usually what they told us we wanted to buy. It's really easy to make a fortune when you not only control the supply, but manipulate the demand. Brilliant!

Online distribution breaks that, though. Not only can anybody with the will and time to do so create new things, they can distribute it on equal footing with the biggest companies in the world. And thanks to world wide word of mouth, users are about as likely to find and enjoy the 5-man company's web app as they are the app that 1000-man MegaSoftCorp built. On the Internet, there are few barriers to creators, and consumers are the ones who decide what they want to see.

A tiered Internet would provide a way to reintroduce an element of control and approval. Aside from the obvious quality of service improvements, it also introduces a namebrand element, as Joel Spolsky pointed out in his article on iTunes pricing.

It's not about money, it's about information, and it's not about choice, it's about control.

I don't have any direct evidence for that, just my native suspicion and paranoia. ;-)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Minor Frustrations

So, I found myself wondering today: What is the correct, responsible answer developers should give when asked to estimate the time necessary to fix the bugs that haven't been found yet? No particular reason, just curious. ;-)

In the real world, there's not much exciting going on right now. We finally started filling in our second front flowerbed on Sunday. Not incredibly interesting, but it represents major progress in our landscaping efforts. We still need a lot more topsoil to fill it in, then some stones to build up around the fountain we're adding to it, but we can see the end of the tunnel now, at least.

And judging by the response to the net neutrality posts, apparently the way to generate a bunch of comments is to blog about something that ticks people off. I have to admit, it's a little tempting to play to the crowd a little bit by picking topics like that, but ultimately I have to just write about whatever interests me or is on my mind at a particular time.

That means it'll be 90% boring to anyone who is not me. Sorry. :-)

Monday, May 15, 2006


My post on net neutrality yesterday garnered a fair number of comments, including a link to a pretty good article in Wired.

First, let me say that I'm not a fan of government in general, although history has shown that some degree of limited regulation can often be beneficial. That's not really germane to this debate, however, since the idea that one side represents government regulation while the other represents the free market is wishful thinking at best. Make no mistake: there will be government regulation. The real question is who it will benefit.

New broadband uses (HDTV, streaming whatever, things we've never thought of) will certainly lead to increased demand, but there's no reason to believe that charging more to certain content providers for preferential treatment will necessarily expand the total available bandwidth any more than the current system. Individuals and companies can already purchase more bandwidth if they desire, and supply and demand already seem to be at work in the current market. As in most cases, charging open-market prices to everyone seems effective and reasonable.

My primary concern, though, is that bandwidth providers are not merely providing bandwidth. If YouTube wants to pay for preferred service, will cable companies be willing to provide it to them? If Skype needs a higher tier, how much will phone companies charge? Will a network provided by a conglomerate that owns a record company be fully accessible to iTunes?

As I see it, the problem is that too many of the bandwidth providers are also competing with their customers as content providers. In such situations, the company-provided service will almost always have advantages not available to outside competitors. Ask a small local ISP what kind of service they get from their upstream provider when that provider starts offering competing services. The Wikipedia article on Common Carriers provides some good background.

Competition is good, but it doesn't work well when one of the competitors is able and willing to leverage an advantage in another market.

It's a complex issue, with real pros and cons on both sides, and lots of unanswered questions. From all appearances, there is certainly space and need for some kind of reform. The current infrastructure is in not immediate danger of collapse, though, so there's little need to rush into changes, especially when it seems that all the prominent lobbying has been coming from one side.

Fast, unbalanced legislative action produces bad law. Let's take our time, engage in the debate, and craft something that's good for everyone.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Wii Gamers are Going Home

Based on the lines to try the Wii at E3 last week, it seems safe to say that Nintendo won the three-way competition for attention hands down. Without any doubt, the system looks like a load of fun, and I'm already planning to pre-order one. I'm sure I won't be alone. It would be easy to credit the novelty of the controller and Nintendo's franchise games, but I think there's something else going on.

I think serious gamers are going home.

Gamers love playing games. Most of us would rather play games than watch movies or TV. It's not that we're spending too much time on pointless activities, it's that we're spending our entertainment time in different ways.

Based on the price and features of the PS3, though, it is clear that Sony is more interested in building a home entertainment center than a game system. It's all about Blue-ray DVDs and HDTV...oh yeah, and it plays games. $600 may not be much for a machine that does all that, but if what you're primarily interested in is games, it's preposterous.

The Xbox 360 is better at being a game machine. It's less of a jack-of-all-trades than the PS3, with some upgradeability to add future features. Although the media center integration distracts a little from its primary purpose, those features haven't caused any delays or added expense because of DRM or extraneous components. The 360 is $400, but I can imagine maybe getting one eventually.

Nintendo is the only company that's really talking solely about games, and gamers who are interested solely in games are listening. This has been Nintendo's mantra all along, but people are only just now starting to notice. I began predicting this sort of market shift a long time ago: that MS and Sony would continue moving further and further upscale, with an increasing focus on producing the elusive set-top box entertainment hub, eventually leaving Nintendo as the lone game console company.

That hasn't quite come to pass yet, but from the directions the three companies are taking, and the statements their executives are making, it's easier to foresee that happening in the next generation.

Personally, I'll be glad to go back to Nintendo. The online library they're offering will give me a great chance to relive beloved classics, as well as try out games I missed the first time around. I predict there will be lots of 30-something gamers who are similarly nostalgic about our childhood games, and who are more interested in gaming than watching.

The Beginning of the End of the Internet?

The title really isn't hyperbole. Oh, sure, something like the Internet will go on, but it will be a less innovative, less flexible, less exciting, less useful network than we enjoy today.

Rather than recapping all of the details myself, I'd encourage you to read Scott Kurtz's post today on Net Neutrality at PVP. (I'd encourage you to read the comic everyday, too, but that's beside the point.) More details and information are available at Save the Internet and Wikipedia has a great overview of the entire issue.

To imagine what kind of Internet we could be heading toward, it's only necessary to think back to about 1990. At that time, the Internet proper was pretty much limited to schools and government agencies. For the relatively few private individuals going online, access was a hodgepodge. AOL customers couldn't talk to Compuserve customers who couldn't talk to Prodigy customers etc etc. Now, replace AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy with AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon (to choose just three possible examples), and you could be looking at the Internet in 2010.

Finally, I recommend signing the petition at Save the Internet. I'm not usually a big petition guy, but I think this is one that's worth supporting. If you're at a loss for words, my comments are below:
The longterm viability of the Internet depends on the unhindered exchange of information.

Although the telecom companies are presenting the "tiered" internet as a way to provide preference to certain companies, it seems inevitable that preferences for some will lead to discrimination against others.

If the NRA or ACLU choose not to pay the extortionistic data "protection" fees, will left- or right-leaning corporations give their traffic the service it deserves?

Will cable or phone companies be willing to provide fair access to new companies that offer potentially competing services, such as or It seems unlikely.

In fact, the Internet needs more neutrality, not less.

Companies like Google already pay for the bandwidth that they use. Customers already pay for the bandwidth they use. Should either party be forced to pay twice?

Please act to protect consumers and innovative technology companies rather than the vested interests of the telecom companies.
Take a few minutes to think about what kind of internet you want to use for the next few decades.

Remember: It's easier to prevent bad laws than to fix them later.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Busy and Tired

I can't really think of what all I have going on this week, so it's weird that I feel so harried and worn out.

I think part of it is that work is still kind of crazy and frustrating. More than that, though, I feel like I'm spinning my wheels. There's an saying to the effect that 5 years of experience isn't the same thing as 1 year of experience 5 times. I sort of feel like I've been getting the latter.

With that in mind, I feel like I need to invest in a little personal professional development, I'm just not sure what.

One thing that I'm thinking about is earning one of Microsoft's new .NET certifications. The main reason isn't to earn the cert, it's to use the cert test as deadline to motivate myself to focus on the details. It's annoying that the prep books for those tests aren't coming out until this summer, but the main reason I'm reticent about more MS stuff is that I'm not sure that's the direction I want to go.

.NET is actually a really nice framework, but I've grown pretty tired of MS-related stuff at work, and I would love the opportunity to work with another platform. Mac programming, Smalltalk, Lisp, Ruby, mobile platforms, web development, anything...I just think it might be nice to get a change from Windows development with Visual Studio.

I wish there were a place for some of those technologies at my current job, but I don't see it anytime soon. I'm not in a hurry to leave, regardless, but it would be nice to have a little more variety. One of the trade-offs of small companies.

The main alternative to more MS stuff is picking some other technology to work with on my own time, and one possibility that I'm considering for that is trying to volunteer for an open source project of some kind. Doing that would provide some accountability and direction for what could otherwise be a purely academic exercise for me. One down side, though, is that it's not as quantifiable as a formal certification, but I'm not sure anybody other than me would care, so maybe that doesn't matter.

I see this as a binary choice, since over the next six months I'll really only have time for one or the other. So the question is which one. Solidifying my .NET skills would be more likely to improve job quality and options, either at my current employer or elsewhere, while moving in a different direction could be more satisfying, and might conceivably even lead to totally new opportunities.

I can see lots of pros and cons on both sides, so I think it's just something I'm going to have to think about some more. I don't want to wait too long, though, since I'm anxious to do something different.

Too much angst, time for bed.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Unusual Inspiration

I found a couple of good sources of inspiration for drawing this week, although the reasons they were inspiring are kind of unusual, since they were based on imperfection and difficulty.

Last night I finished Attack of the Bacon Robots, and it was a real trip down memory lane. Not only did I find the comics themselves nostalgic, but they reminded me of things that were going on in my life at the time I first read them, although I didn't always immediately recall the gaming-related events they were concerned with.

There was a time, during college, when I was easily one of the most informed people I knew on all things related to video gaming. I had a list of probably twenty or so gaming sites that I started reading every night at 9pm (when they updated). In the days before RSS, that usually took 45-60 minutes, and constituted the majority of my entertainment activities most evenings.

Yes, that's sad and slightly pathetic, but it left me very well-prepared to immediately comprehend any gaming references and allusions PA might make. My turn of the century gaming history is a little rusty these days.

So, why was it so inspiring to read all the old PA strips? Because they were so bad! Actually, they weren't really terrible, but the first one was decidedly primitive compared to the strip from five years later, not to mention the level of artwork in some of their most recent comics. I find the idea that something that began so simply can evolve so much pretty inspiring.

The other good inspiration has been the articles and workshops in the copy of ImagineFX magazine that I got earlier in the week. In addition to being technically helpful (if frustratingly Photoshop-centric, like everything else), they're also refreshingly forthright. There's no attempt to gloss over the time and effort necessary: I've noticed that the captions for some of the most impressive examples of artwork note that the featured artist took multiple weeks to complete them.

Now that I can aspire to! It's really disheartening to think people banging out drawings like that over the course of an afternoon, which is the impression often given by over-simplified tutorials and demonstrations. There's no way I could do that, it's super-human! It's encouraging to realize that they can't do that either. They're not really all that different from me, these artist creatures, and I could do some pretty cool stuff, too, if I spent a month on it.

The trick, of course, is making the time to spend an hour or so a day creating and cleaning and tweaking and polishing an image, which I admit will be hard for me to do right now, but it makes the final outcomes seem at least a little more achievable.

So Penny Arcade has reassured me that even though it may not be obvious on a daily basis, long term improvement is possible, while ImagineFX has reminded me that it's ok for things to take a long time, even for the experts.

Obvious lessons, I know, and ones that I've learned before, but it's good to relearn them from time to time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Things I Used to Want...

...that their makers caused me not to.

Ever since the controller announcement last year, I've been pretty excited about the Nintendo Revolution. I've kind of gotten tired of video games that require dozens (or even hundreds) of hours of play to really glean enjoyment from them, especially if they're just variations on the same stuff we've been playing for over a decade, and Nintendo was speaking my language with their talk of new experiences.

I don't know if I want a Wii less than a Revolution, but I know I'm less certain that I want one. Hmm...I guess that does sort of mean that I want one less, doesn't it?

Likewise the Origami. From all reports, that was sounding like a nice little piece of hardware. I'm a big fan of rethinking the ways we interact with computers, and I've always liked the Tablet PC concept, so this was looking pretty good. I wanted an Origami.

I don't so much want an Ultra Mobile PC. When you get right down to it, I don't really want anotherPC at all. I've got a nice laptop, I've got a serviceable desktop, and I spend at least 12 hours a day in front of some variation on a standard computer. Enough!!! I want something that isn't another freakin' PC, no matter how mobile it is!

That's what went through my mind when I read this article in the NY Times and Robert Scoble's related post.

To some extent, the Old Grey Lady is showing her age and revealing the extent to which she just doesn't get it :
Since it's so hard to enter text, few will try to do e-mail, programming, word processing or spreadsheet work on this computer.
Those things are hard with the UMPC interface, but just maybe, robbed of our comfortable straight-jackets, we can rediscover that computers have the potential to be more than glorified typewriters and calculators, and decide that maybe text entry isn't the best interface for this new, unknown kind of beast.

It's nice to dream, anyway.

Also, to some extent, the UMPC demonstrates how Microsoft doesn't get it. They had, in their grasp, a potential tool for redefining the human-computer relationship...and they outsourced it to OEMs. I'm sure on some business level that made sense, but in the real world, I find it baffling.

One problem with that approach is that the OEMs make PCs. If you give them the opportunity to make any kind of computer, it's going to trend toward what they know and are comfortable with, which means it will become Just Another PC, just like the Tablet PC.

Another problem is that MS has the vision and the means to really innovate and make good systems when they try. The Xbox 360 is a really nice system, in nearly every way. It looks good, it integrates well, and it provides a unique experience. By handing the UMPC off to its OEM partners, Microsoft punted on innovation. I'm sure Dell is a great company, but it's hardly a hotbed of innovation (not that they've announced a UMPC anyway).

The biggest problem I see with outsourcing the Origami -- sorry, UMPC -- design and production, though, is that most of the OEMs have little incentive to make the format succeed as a platform. For the most part, they're doing pretty well with desktops and laptops, and they can anticipate a nice windfall when Vista finally ships. In order for the UMPC to really succeed, the systems must be priced lower than average laptops, preferably a lot less, and that really doesn't leave much space for profit. The margins on laptops and desktops are reportedly pretty low, but they're almost certainly higher than UMPCs would be.

I think this is key. To put it another way: Nobody else is going to be nearly as enthusiastic and tireless in promoting your idea as you are.

Early on with the original Xbox production, rumor was that MS was planning to design the platform, then license production to other companies, the same way 3DO did in the mid-90s. Before the release, though, that plan was scrapped in favor of doing it themselves. That was obviously a good call, and that approach is paying off even better with the 360. MS has control over every aspect of the design and marketing that way.

Apple has done the same thing with the iPod (and all their computers, for that matter), and that's what Microsoft should've done with the Origami: build it themselves, style it along the lines of the 360, make it cool. Heck, even interface it with the 360 somehow. Move it out of the computing division and into the home, and between it and the 360, show us what else computers can be.

And then they could call it the Origami, and really fold and reshape our expectations. Because I really want an Origami, not another PC.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chip Flip

Coming back from Wal-Mart tonight, Heather Marie and I got into a heated...discussion...about the nature of Pringles potato chips.

Most individual chips of any brand have one side that is saltier or more flavored than the other side. I maintain that the great thing about Pringles is that the salty side is completely predictable: it is always the "bottom" side, as the chip is removed from the tube.

Heather Marie maintains that there is no difference between the top and bottom of a Pringles chip.

Anyone else have an opinion?

In other matters, I'm a little torn at work. I definitely feel a little under-utilized at times, which can obviously lead to some feelings of insecurity and uncertainty. I'm not sure what, if anything, I can do to break that cycle, but I'm inspired by Alan Kay's statement: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Maybe what I need to do is look for ways to become more involved in future development, forge a sort of personal job variation on the Blue Water approach to marketing -- seek out fresh new areas instead of struggling in old ones.

Something to think about tonight, anyway.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Since I finally got a Wacom tablet, I've been trying to get back into the habit of drawing a little bit each day. So far so good, but I'm discovering that turning my cheap, simple little hobby of drawing into a digital hobby makes it a lot less cheap and simple.

The primary problem is that there really doesn't seem to be a very good substitute for Photoshop. It's not just the 300 lb. gorilla in the room, it's the 20 ton whale in the swimming pool. From what I can see, it is so dominant that it really hasn't left much market for anything else.

I find that especially frustrating on the Mac, where one of the things I like best about the platform is the availability of inexpensive, quality software. That may sound strange, since it's Windows that has the reputation for having the most software available. While it's undeniably true that Windows has vastly more choices than the Mac, it's really a question of quality. On Windows you often have a choice between the few dominant programs in a category for several hundred dollars, plus a hundred crappy cheap or free ones, whereas on the Mac you can choose between the few dominant programs (often the same as on Windows), plus half a dozen or so really good, inexpensive programs. What good are hundreds of options if only a few are truly viable?

Perhaps I just haven't found it yet, but I'm surprised that there isn't a good Mac alternative to Photoshop, something that is to Photoshop what Rapidweaver is to Dreamweaver.

I also found a great magazine at Barnes & Noble the other night called Imagine FX. It's a great source of digital art tutorials and advice. Unfortunately, since it's from the UK, it's $15 on the newsstand, or $99/year for a subscription, not to mention that it really makes it tempting to get some of the nice (and expensive) tools that they demo.

Oh, well. Maybe I should just stick with pencil and paper for a while.