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ISBS Review: The Amazon Kindle

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

I realize that this probably would have been more useful before Christmas, but I’ve been using the Amazon Kindle for about a month now, and I’ve finally found the time to write up a review. So, if you didn’t get one for Christmas and you’ve got stuff to return at Amazon, maybe this will help you out.

One sentence: The Amazon Kindle is surprisingly good at what it does, but surprisingly stubborn in its desire to only do that one thing.

More than one sentence: When I read a book on the Amazon Kindle, I quite often forget that I’m not reading a real book, sometimes to the point where I reach for the upper-right corner of the page to turn it, rather than pushing the “Next Page” button. Reasons for this include screen resolution, form factor and simple design.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

How People Found Me – 2009 Edition

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Back by popular demand (well, OK, back by Ilya’s demand, but heck – I’m easy…), it’s a roundup of the most interesting and/or disturbing Google searches that led people to I Should Be Sleeping.

I used to do this monthly, but eventually slacked off. So, to make up for it, I’ve culled through the 5,930 different queries that brought people here this year, and pulled out my favorite 50. I even divided them into categories for your reading pleasure…

1) The Financial Funnies

Since this year was all about the collapsing financial markets, I thought I’d start with some “money funnies…” (sorry, but you might as well be warned, it’s going to be that kind of blog post…):

QueryComments
dick fuld astrological birth chartThis guy has a different theory on why Lehman Brothers went out of business…
harvard man washes urinalsAnd you thought the recession was over…
how do i hack into the swift networkWell, you start by being a little more subtle than Googling around for directions…
time magizine people who caused bankingI think I’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities: bankers and customers.

2) Hi-Tech Hijinks

When you write about technology once in a while, you’re bound to get a few Google glitches:

QueryComments
capslock-sleepingi’d use proper capitalization, but my caps-lock key is taking a nap right now…
cool things to do with cameraOK – other than, you know, taking pictures – I’m struggling to think of a second thing you can do with a camera…
digital camera for idiotsPerhaps we just shouldn’t let them take pictures. Then there’d be no need for this product…
excel macro to create family treeClick here for more cousins…
how do i hook up an ethernet cable to the phone lineThose are both wires. I think, perhaps, you should go ask your teenage kids for help.
i phone bursting into flamesYou do? I hope you’re calling 9-1-1…
iphone noseWant to stop and smell the roses? There’s an app for that!
why won’t it let me on webkinz? it says my password is wrongI think perhaps this guy has already found the answer to his question…

3) Hollywood Hilarity

The world of entertainment is never a bad source for, well, entertaining queries:

QueryComments
disney koolaidYou know, it’s one thing to drink the Disney Kool-Aid. It’s quite another to Google around looking for it…
disney wonder bathroom fragranceFor people who want their bathrooms to smell like a Disney cruise ship (see Kool-Aid, Disney above).
simon cowell and mel gibson look alikeTop result of this search: No. No, they don’t. (Editor’s Note: Sadly, not true)
tiger woods facial recognitionHeh…this query probably meant something totally different earlier in the year than it means today.
upgrade r2-d2 to bluray“You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope. Also, if you could upgrade him to blu-ray, that’d be great. Thanks!”
what space shuttle was honored by its use of its name in a star trek movieOK, if you’re thinking “Enterprise,” then I’m sorry to inform you that the shuttle was named for the Star Trek ship, not the other way around…

4) Musical Mirth

This year, several of the more musical queries managed to hit a wrong note or two:

QueryComments
a song about graphs“Because you’re mine. . . . I draw a line.” Or perhaps: “You’re just too good to be true; can’t take my pies off of you.”
billy joel just the way you are analyzedIt’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the patient lies down on the couch….
does billy joel’s piano have a teleprompterYes, yes it does. Billy Joel’s piano almost never speaks without a script.
good night my angle bill joel“Goodnight my angle?” Would this be “acute” lyric? Or am I being obtuse?
sleeping rappingAnother truly disturbing sleep disorder. I mean, if having two turntables in the bed isn’t disturbing enough, there’s all that noise
whats the name of the song that goes la de da de dum on verizon phoneJeez, I hope they spelled those lyrics correctly. Typos can really negatively affect search results…

5) Isn’t That Ironic?

These were the best of the worst (or something like that):

QueryComments
best bad foodBut if it’s bad food, then how can it be – oh, nevermind…
best error message ever“Your formula contains an error.” Oh, man – that’s a classic. Sometimes I type in wrong formulas on purpose, just to see it…
narcissistic blogsOn the one hand, it’s a bit of an insult that this query led to my blog. On the other hand, the person was looking for it…
new york rangers stadium phone numberYou might want to try Googling Madison Square Garden. Also known as the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Perhaps they should get a different nickname?

6) Sleeping Around

With a name like I Should Be Sleeping, people are going to ask questions:

QueryComments
i am sleeping all my lifeSleep Googling – a dangerous affliction…
pitchers of people sleepingBecause once you’re ordering four or five sleeping people, it’s just easier to get a pitcher…
violation of sleeping rights“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of a really good nap.”

7) Stupid Criminals

A couple of people broke the laws of common-sense Googling this year:

QueryComments
a picture you killed abraham lincolnThis person apparently believes someone is going to confess to the crime…
does light dissuade criminalsLocal police chief does internet research on his latest crime prevention program: daylight.

8) Funny . . . or maybe a little scary?

These queries were more disturbing than anything else:

QueryComments
air force bloopers“Hey – remember that time when Johnson flew all the way across the Atlantic with his blinker on? That was heee-larious!”
birthday tricks on people like flamingos in the yardThis guy sounds like quite the prankster…
boys hugging houseI know Dorothy said “There’s no place like home,” but this is a bit much, don’t you think?
can i get sick from touching a geicoWell, if you could, I’m guessing they’d offer health insurance too. Perhaps you meant “gecko?”
highway bloggingThe precursor to texting while driving…
what’s wrong with anti semitism?Oh, lord – please let there be more results for this than the one about the bear doing the moon walk (Editor’s Note: 531,000 – proof that some sanity still exists in the world).
zombies funnyOh, yeah – zombies are hilarious. They really kill at the local comedy clubs. (Editor’s Note: sorry…)

9) Generic Google Guffaws

These were so weird, I couldn’t even categorize them:

QueryComments
how many f’s are in this sentenceNow we’re asking Google brain teasers? Did he actually expect an answer?
man in bear suit doing moon walkOh, lord – please let there be, at most, one result for this search. (Editor’s Note: 47,200…)
roughly 25% of us use two of these a day what are they?Again with the trivia? New from Google Labs in 2010: Google Guesses. Give it a riddle, and it tires to guess the answer. Most common result: “Who’s There?”
art turkeysMost popular search result: Vincent Van Gobble…
president electoral vote of 1014-62Well, given that there’s only 538 of them, one can only hope this search produces zero results. (Editor’s Note: 9)

10) A Dirty Mind

And then there’s the porn. Well, not exactly porn, but people who go looking for, shall we say, adult entertainment online, and wind up at my site somehow. Each time I do this, I take solace in the fact that when they got here, I can be pretty sure they were disappointed:

QueryComments
and he’s talking to davy who’s still in the navy +homoOh, come on – it says right there they were just talking
bathing no closeAlso known as “bathing far away?” I don’t think this person Googled what he he Googled…
excel macro suggestivePorn industry continues to innovate. New this year: suggestive macros. “Hey, big boy, click on this button and I’ll fill your column with numbers, if you know what I mean…”
why are there two people making out on my bed when i should be sleepingI’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe it’s not your bed…
how to photograph your naked wifeTip #1: get off of Google and talk to her about it…

Well, there it is: my top 50 queries of 2009. Quite a year, huh?

Categories: Tech Talk | 4 Comments »

Wall Street Journal – Charging for Free Content?

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Remember when the Wall Street Journal’s online content was free? And then they decided to start charging for it? And then it was free again? But sometimes it’s not?

As it turns out, the Wall Street Journal has implemented a rather unique, some may even say bizarre, online access policy. If you go to their website and click on an article, you have to login with a paid subscription. But if you Google a particular topic and the same article comes back as a search result, you can click through and read the entire article for free. So, in other words, you can’t read the entire Wall Street Journal on their website without paying for it, but if you were curious enough to enquire about everything in it, they will gladly share their content with you for free.

Perhaps an example would be useful. Follow along in a separate browser instance if you like:
Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Money Talk, Political Rantings, Tech Talk | No Comments »

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog . . . but it helps if they do!

Monday, October 19th, 2009

A colleague of mine just informed me that he joined Twitter. After weeding out the obvious spammers who would follow him if he would just please click this one link, he seems to have settled in at around ten followers.

On a lark, he also created a Twitter account for his daschund, Logan. Again, after weeding out the obvious spammers, Logan seems to have settled in at approximately seventy followers. Mostly women, he says, as well as a random assortment of dog lovers, kennels, and other seemingly legitimate dog-related vendors.

So, it would appear, that in the sixteen years since Peter Steiner first pointed out in The New Yorker magazine the anonymity that the Internet can provide, this very anonymity has turned out to reduce your audience size by a factor of roughly seven-to-one. Not only that, but it’s a pretty good bet that sometime in the next sixteen years, sociologists and linguists will come together to discover that the previous sentence actually does makes sense…

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Why Are We Still Arguing About Keyboards?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Speculist has an item up that once again bemoans the inferior QWERTY keyboard that persists over the superior Dvorak keyboard, despite its roots as a mechanical speed bump to prevent fast typists from jamming early typewriters. Speculist examines this age-old issue, as you might imagine, from a new perspective – that of the sticking power of well-established standards in the face of newer, better alternatives. They provide examples of other “QWERTYies” in our world – the English measuring system, the “office at work” in a work-at-home world, and others. Pretty interesting stuff…

A commenter took it one step further: a lot of our newer keyboards are not physical devices, but virtual keyboards appearing on a touch screen device (iPhone, Palm Pre, etc.). Surely, it would be easier to swap between QWERTY and Dvorak on those devices, right? All of the problems surrounding the conversion of physical keyboards melt away – you don’t need multiple keyboard drivers, you don’t have to worry about relabeling (or dual-labeling) the physical keys, multiple users of the device can change the setting back without having to know what it’s currently set to, and so on.

But then I got to thinking: touch-screen, “virtual” keyboards can do even better. They can let the users customize their own keyboard layouts. Perhaps you learned to type on a QWERTY keyboard, but your last name contains a “Z,” and it’s always bugged you that this frequently typed key was stuck on the weak, pinkie finger of your left hand. What’s to prevent you from starting with a QWERTY layout, and then swapping the “Z” key with, let’s say, the “J” or the “M” key? Or maybe you’re a writer/blogger/twitterer who writes a lot about UNIX. You could swap the home-row keys on your dominant hand from “JKL;” to “UNIX” (finding new homes for the the J, K, L, and semi-colon keys, of course). Any combination should be equally easy for the device – after all, they must have a graphics map built somewhere already that tells them what spot(s) on the touchscreen correspond to each letter. So all they’d have to do is update that map!

The downside, of course, would be that your customized keyboard wouldn’t be (automatically) available on other devices. For something as ubiquitous as an iPhone, that could be solved by allowing users to e-mail their keyboard layouts to each other, or post them on websites for easy download/installation, reverting back to the original when the guest is done typing. More ad-hoc devices (like public kiosks, for instance) might have to stick with a common few – also selectable by the user at start-up.

Suddenly, it occurs to me that there’s another definition of QWERTYies. They’re not just standards that stick because we’ve all become accustomed to them. In some cases, they’re standards that exist because we used to need standards in places where we don’t anymore. Telephone rings come to mind – it used to be that every telephone had the same RRRRRRING!!!!! Today, we have the ring-tone. TV Remote Controls used to have standard layouts, depending on the model of your TV. Today, universal remotes can be programmed with any layout and/or new key combinations.

I’m sure there are more, and I’m equally sure that as time goes on, the list will only get longer. In the meantime, though, I’m going to start designing my ideal, personalized keyboard…

Categories: Tech Talk | 3 Comments »

Microsoft Tablet Looks Awesome…

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

WANT!

There’s a very cool video on the gizmodo site, but it doesn’t have an embedding option. Go check it out – trust me…

(Hat tip: Jeff Porten)
 

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Cold-War Era Search Service?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

There’s been a lot of political talk on my blog of late, and there’s sure to be more, so I thought I’d take a quick break and discuss something a little more frivolous – like Soviet intelligence agencies.

Seriously, who in their right minds decided to name a search service KGB? Were they assuming that they’d have absolutely zero customers over the age of 30? Makes me think the service is going to text me answers to questions before I even ask them…

And not only that, it’s entirely phone-based. I can’t even type a question into their website and get an answer on screen. I need to type in my 10-digit mobile telephone number and receive the answer on my phone. Even though they know I’m currently using a web browser. Really, folks? In an era where almost every phone can access Google almost as easily as a text message, and Google (especially with its excellent mobile version) can provide multiple responses (from multiple sources) to the same question at once? Why, this technology seems like something that was built when, well…when the original KGB was still around.

Congratulations, KGB! You’ve created an inferior product that inherently limits my interaction with it, and you expect to use it to compete with one of the largest and most successful technology companies in existence today. Oh, and you appear to be spending millions of dollars advertising it on television. How many TV ads do you see for Google? That’s right, none. You know why? Anyone who uses the web already knows about it.

Enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame, KGB…

Categories: Tech Talk | 5 Comments »

Tech Talk

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

A few interesting stories today from the world of technology…

1) Apple Blocks Palm Pre’s iTunes Compatibility

One of the features the Palm Pre boasted upon launch was the ability to synch with Apple’s popular iTunes software, so that songs purchased at iTunes would appear and play automatically on the Pre. Yesterday, Apple release iTunes, version 8.2.1 which addressed “an issue with verification of Apple devices.” In other words, they modified their software to prevent it from synching with the Palm Pre.

This is both disheartening and ineffective. Disheartening because Apple has long been after firms like Microsoft to publish open, standards-based specs in order to allow all software, devices, etc. to make use of all technology infrastructure. Seems we don’t “think different” so much when the monopoly shoe is on the other foot, huh? Furthermore, it’s ineffective because Palm Pre users can simply choose not to upgrade iTunes, and continue to enjoy automatic music synching. That is, until Apple adds a feature to iTunes that they really want. Oh, and by the way – according to the above-linked article, Palm sold about 55,000 Pre’s during it’s launch weekend, compared with Apple’s one million units sold when the iPhone 3GS debuted.

2) Twitter’s Google apps Hacked

It seems someone correctly guessed the answer to a Twitter employee’s password security question, then changed the employee’s password, then logged into his/her account, giving the hacker access to the entire suite of Google apps – documents, spreadsheets, calendar entries, e-mail, etc.. Twitter’s co-founder and creative director, Biz Stone, was quick to point out that this was not a security flaw in Google’s applications, but a broader issue of security for the cloud computing model. In response, thousands of Google app users around the world said, “what’s the difference, exactly?” At least the incident led to a priceless quote like this one: “Just putting a pet’s name on a Facebook page could allow hackers to obtain your password.”

3) Michael Jackson Music is #1 for Third Straight Week

While it’s interesting in itself that Michael Jackson’s music is topping the charts now that he’s dead (I thought that only worked for painters?), the fascinating technical angle here is the sales channel choice. It seems that in the hours after his death, online sales of his music spiked dramatically. Now, three weeks later, online sales have stabilized, and fans are rushing to music stores to buy CD’s. I have two theories here: first, that online sales are more immediate, so the group of people that wanted his music immediately upon his death grabbed it online, and the people who weren’t in as much of a rush waited until they were in stores. Second, the physical CD probably contains pictures, liner notes, etc. related to Jackson, and the fans saw these as more valuable now that he’s gone. In any case, I’m sure music retailers everywhere are learning from this interesting trend.

Categories: Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

Apple: We didn’t know there would be sun…

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

It seems the new iPhone 3GS is not a big fan of direct, prolonged sunlight:

Apple says in a support article that “if the interior temperature of the device exceeds normal operating temperatures, you may experience the following as it attempts to regulate its temperature: the device stops charging, display dims, and/or weak cellular signal”.

In its message, Apple says that the iPhone has a safety feature which warns users that the device is becoming too hot. As well as leaving the handset in a car, it says that the phone may overheat when left in direct sunlight for prolonged periods, when GPS tracking is used in a car on a hot day or when its iPod function is used in direct sunlight.

If the warning appears, Apple says that users of the iPhone should turn the device off and allow it to cool before using it.

Oops.

It’s one thing for a phone to have trouble in a car on a summer day, but if you’re going to tout your device as a GPS replacement, then it better be able to sit on the dashboard for hours at a time.

Users on forums are also claiming problems outside of cars – phones too hot to put to their ears, phones that get hot when they use the video capture feature, etc., etc.

This reminds me of the first round of iPods, who’s screen would scratch if you looked at it funny. Apple spent the first few months claiming it was a “user issue,” but was eventually pressured into replacing damaged iPods and, ultimately, fixed the problem in a future version of the product. Look for iPhones with cooling technology in the near future…

Categories: Tech Talk | 13 Comments »

Scaling the Internet for really big news

Friday, June 26th, 2009

According to CNN, when Michael Jackson died, he almost took significant parts of the Internet with him. Sites that experienced slowness or outright downtime included Google News, TMZ, Perez Hilton’s blog, CNN, Twitter, Wikipedia, the LA Times’ site, AOL Instant Messenger, and MJFanClub.net (a Michael Jackson fan site).

The article calls it the biggest mobile event in history:

AOL consumer adviser Regina Lewis . . .told CNN that, although the numbers weren’t in yet, the day should prove an historic milestone for mobile internet traffic. “It could go down as the biggest mobile event in history,” Lewis said. She felt that was down in part to people checking news headlines from work. “People wanted to keep tabs on this story, but if you’re an accountant you’re supposed to be working on your spreadsheet. So they were using their personal cellphones to do so,” she explained.

While the scale of response to Jackson’s death might be unprecedented, the pattern of it was not, Lewis added. “With the advent of social networking, we saw a sequence that we traditionally see around the death of celebrities,” she said. “One, people clamour for the latest news; two, they share it; three, they react; and then the next stage, which we’re seeing alive and well on video sites … are tributes. In the case of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett, (people have) a lot to work with in terms of images and video,” she said.

A similar event that comes to mind (purely from an infromation technology point of view) is September 11, 2001. On that day, cell phones and web sites had huge outages as well, with some web sites reverting to plain text feeds in order to maximize their use of bandwidth to get information disseminated.

What’s different here, is that almost eight years later, the number of mobile devices in the world has dramatically increased, as has the breadth and depth of bandwidth-hogging rich media, like video clips. So, while scaling to handle another 9/11 involved adding more web servers and IP bandwidth, solving this problem is going to be a bit more complex. Network infrastructure folks, responding to Michael Jackson’s death, will have to respond to a wider variety of devices, protocols, and data objects moving around concurrently.

Yet another way Michael Jackson inadvertently changed the world…

Categories: Tech Talk, Words about Music | 1 Comment »

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