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Archive for January, 2007

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ISBS Review: Google Analytics

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

To quote the late, great Peter Boyle, “Holy Crap!” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In a word, “Wow.” In another word, “Awesome.” And then there’s “Cool” and “Slick” and, well, you get the idea. Google Analytics is a service provided by Google to track statistics about your website. It’s easy to use and the results are user-friendly, visually pleasing, and extremely informative.

While I still don’t have full access to my server logs, I do have a level of data analysis that approximates what some of the server-side aggregation tools provide. And, as is Google’s style, it’s very easy to use, easy to setup, and oh yes, lest I forget: free.

Read the full review (including screen shots) over in the Ramblings section.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | No Comments »

CNET Doubts the iPhone Hype

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

CNET presents Thirteen reasons to doubt the iPhone hype.

They’re even more harsh than I was, and they completely left out the question of scratching up the surface! Do I hear 14?!?

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

ISBS Review – MacWorld 2007 Keynote Address

Friday, January 12th, 2007

No, I wasn’t there. But I did read engadget’s liveblog, and have some thoughts on what Steve Jobs had to say:

1) Microsoft Bashing
Saith Jobs:

Our retail stores are selling half their Macs to people who’ve never owned a Mac before. Switchers. More than half the Macs sold in the US are to switchers.

OK, I know he’s speaking to a very biased audience, but I’m surprised no one in the press called him out on this. He’s suggesting that people who’ve never owned a Mac before are “switchers” (people switching from a Mac to a PC). But what about people who have never owned a computer before? Like, for instance, high school or college students buying their first machine. I don’t have stats readily available, but I’m guessing Mac’s market share among this crowd is 3-5 times its overall market share. Which makes his claim about switchers not only wrong, but very wrong.

On a related note, we have this:

We had a new competitor this holiday season, Microsoft’s Zune. How’d they do? They garnered 2% market share in November 2006… We don’t have data for December. No matter how you try and spin this, what can you say?

This was apparently followed by a video of a Zune bursting into flames. Here’s my question: what do you think Microsoft’s target penetration was for Year 1 of Zune? I’d be surprised if it was much more than 2%, given the iPod’s 60-80% dominance in the space. Heck, later in his talk, Jobs boldly predicted that the iPhone would take 1% of the cellphone market in Year 1, and that market doesn’t have a dominant leader like iPod. I guarantee someone at Microsoft has already created the internet commercial showing an iPhone bursting into flames after obtaining 1% of the market…

2) Apple TV
Like all Apple products, the physical device looks super cool. I’m also a huge fan of the onscreen menu, designed to look just like the iPod’s. It might not have been the best interface for television in a greenfield, but since it’s so ubiquitous now, it’s instantly understandable by millions (particularly their target audience). So nice job there.

I think they’re going to sell eleventeen billion of these suckers right out of the gate. But I think they’re going to be surprised about how people use them. To wit: you can download content directly off the internet, you can synch content with your computer, and you can stream (but not synch) content from 4 other computers. So, question: why, except in rare cases, would you store videos locally on your AppleTV, as opposed to storing them somewhere on the internet? Or, if privacy’s your thing, why not just store it on your computer & then stream it to the AppleTV when you need it? Basically, I’m predicting that the 40GB of storage is a bit of a waste. Also, the stream-but-don’t-synch rule is the most half-hearted attempt at DRM I’ve ever seen. Most folks that buy this device will have wireless internet connections, right? So if I want to watch a video on my friend’s AppleTV, I can stream it. But if I want to give him the video, I simply have to upload it to a web server, and then have him pull it down off the web with the AppleTV and store it locally. No extra hardware or software needed, and only a little bit of tech expertise.

3) The iPhone (soon to be called the ApplePhone)
Again, this device looks extremely cool. Thin, high-resolution, fully-featured, and with that “just works” quality that Apple is famous for. They’ll sell five times as many of these as they do AppleTV’s. But I’ll never buy one.

Why not? Because they didn’t solve my deal-breaker problem: I don’t want to listen to music for a few hours, get where I’m going, and find out my phone is out of batteries because of all the music I’ve been listening to. Also, as a Blackberry user, I’ve learned very quickly that different applications use the battery at different speeds. With the Blackberry, I’d probably get five hours of talk time if that’s all I did. But if I’m surfing the web, I can drain the thing in around two hours. When the battery gets low, I have to curtail my web usage so I still have a phone in case I need one. It’s the worst of all combo-unit problems, and someone needs to solve it soon.

Ironically, Jeff Porten predicted what sounds like a perfect solution – two batteries. One for the phone, one for everything else. So one of two things is happening here: either Steve Jobs isn’t reading The Vast Jeff Wing Conspiracy (and really, who’s doesn’t?), or someone decided it was more important for the device to be paper thin than to have two batteries.

Second point: I’m very, very curious to see what kind of coating the surface of this thing has. They’re telling people to touch it all day long, drag their fingers around on it (including all manner of poorly manicured fingernails, dirt, sweat, etc.) AND they’re telling them to put it up to their faces, complete with scratchy 5 o’clock shadow beards, more dirt, more sweat, etc. And this is the next generation of a device I wouldn’t even breathe on unless it was inside it’s clear plastic, protective case! Hopefully, at least one of their 200 patents was for scratch-proof surfaces…

Other things: Cingular as the sole provider. Jeff outlined some problems with this, although as I said in his comments, it doesn’t surprise me, since this is how most cellular devices work these days. When iPhone is a huge success, I’m sure you’ll eventually see a T-mobile compatible version. Then, we’ll first start discussing “exclusive” content & features. That’ll be fun.

Oh, and the pricing: $499 isn’t so much, given what it does. But this logic about buying a $199 Nano and a $299 phone, combined into one device at “no premium” is pure spin. This thing costs them less to make than two separate devices. They’re charging that much because they think people will pay. Plain & simple…

So, to summarize: Great product. Lots of potential pitfalls. Version 2 (or 3, or 4) will probably feature more memory, longer battery life, improved scratch-resistance, etc. and is probably the right move for the money-conscious customer. That said, lots of folks are going to “have to have it” right now, so look for killer success once again…

4) Corporate Strategy
To me, this was the most interesting thing in the keynote address:

So, today we’ve added to the Mac and the iPod, we’ve added Apple TV, and now iPhone. And you know, the Mac is the only one you really think of as a computer, and we’ve thought about this and we thought, you know, maybe our name should reflect this better than it does. From this day forward we’re going to be known as Apple, Inc. We’ve dropped the computer from our name.

I think this is HUGE news. Why? Because it signifies two things:

First, that Apple is finally entering the fray as a world-class technology company. It’s computers have always been niche products, hovering below the 10% market share threshold, even though their technology is typically superior to the competition. It’s iPods, though, are category leaders, and they target the entire market: Mac & PC. The new products they introduced this year, AppleTV and iPhone, both target the iPod community much more than the Mac community (as a Windows user, I can use all the features & functionality of both devices). That means they’re attacking the mass market, and that means the future is very, very bright indeed for Apple. In fact, I can now see the day where Apple gets out of the desktop/laptop business altogether (likely by splitting it off into a separate company & selling it to Dell or HP). Apple can continue to produce OS X and license it to the hardware guys (like Microsoft did with MS-DOS), and then focus on the mass-market, high revenue markets of music players, streaming TV devices and phones. Very, very cool.

Second, it means that Steve Jobs has found a very clever way out of the box the Mac Zealots had put him in. They winced at Intel chips, and mocked Windows on a Mac. But no one complained about the Windows version of iTunes, and no one is even mentioning the non-exclusivity of the iPod, the AppleTV, or the iPhone. Jeff and I have debated many times the reputational disaster that would occur if Apple tried to leave it’s niche behind and go mass-market with its computers. We’ve talked about rebranding new products, sheltering the coveted Apple name, playing up to the zealots while pitching to the Windows crowd (like Disney did with Touchstone, etc.). Jobs has done a truly masterful job of achieving the same thing without changing brands. His new products have been so “Mac-like” in appearance and so undeniably successful, that the mass-market availability of them flew under the zealot radar and is now gone forever.

A couple years back, Apple sold more iPods than Macs for the first time. I’m sure that margin has grown since. And these new devices will expand it even further. In 3-5 years, when people talk about Apple’s product line, the Mac will hardly be worth mentioning. And despite the zealot cry, that’s a very good thing…

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

More good news for stem cell research

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

I’ve posted before about amazing advances in stem cell research, but now there’s this from CNN:

Scientists reported Sunday they had found a plentiful source of stem cells in the fluid that cushions babies in the womb. The announcement may make it easier to sidestep the controversy over destroying embryos for research.

Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells. They reported they were able to extract the stem cells without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.

One of the more promising aspects of the research is that some of the DNA of the amnio stem cells contained Y chromosomes, which means the cells came from the babies rather than the pregnant moms.

The doctors go on to say that actual embryonic stem cells may “do more tricks” (I swear those are the words they used) than these stem cells, but that these are a giant leap forward, and represent a way around the ethical concerns that currently occupy at least our federal government, if not some percentage of the citizens as well.

As before, I’m amazed that this isn’t bigger news…

Categories: The Future is Now | No Comments »

What a Weird Day…

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

For anyone who didn’t follow the news today, a few updates:

First, New York City was not the target of a massive chemical weapons-based terrorist attack:

A natural gas-like odor hung over much of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, confounding authorities. The smell seemed to be gone by early afternoon. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was no indication the air was unsafe. “It may just be an unpleasant smell,” he said. He said sensors did not show an unusually high concentration of natural gas, and the city’s major utility company reported it found no gas leaks.

Some commuter trains running between New Jersey and Manhattan were suspended for about an hour as a precaution. A few city schools were briefly evacuated. Some apartment dwellers were advised to close their windows.

(Unreported in that article were the evacuations of both the Empire State Building and Macy’s flagship department store.)

Also in the news today, the Port of Miami was not attacked by terrorists who put C4 explosive in one of the packages bound for a cruise ship:

A package that was going to be loaded onto a cruise ship at the Port of Miami tested positive for plastic explosives Monday, the Coast Guard said. The package was tested six times and each time it came back positive for C4, said Petty Officer James Judge. Miami-Dade police were examining the package to confirm whether explosives were present.

And finally, Austin, Texas was not the site of a massive avian flu epidemic:

Police shut down 10 blocks in downtown Austin for several hours Monday after 63 birds were found dead in the street, but officials said preliminary tests found no threat to people. Workers in yellow hazardous-materials suits tested for contaminants in a cordoned-off section near the state Capitol and the governor’s mansion before authorities finally gave the all-clear in the afternoon.

So, just to recap: no chemical weapons in New York, no C4 explosives in Miami, and no avian flu in Austin. Is it just me, or is it astounding just how much didn’t happen all in one day?

Categories: The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Go Wil, Go!

Monday, January 8th, 2007

I’ve been slowly catching up on blogs this past week, since I was away on vacation at the end of December (how dare the blogosphere not stop updating while I’m away? Now I have all this stuff to read…). Anyway, Wil Wheaton’s blog is always entertaining, but over the last couple of weeks, he’s pointed out some pretty cool stuff:

First, we have Gregory Wester, who scaled a security fence at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 3:30AM one night, and calmly boarded a Delta 737 jet, which was scheduled to take off at 6:35AM. Authorities arrested him on various charges, and after thinking about it for a while, cancelled the flight & booked all the passengers on other planes. Here’s the money quote:

“It blows my mind that you can’t get 3.5 ounces of toothpaste on a plane,” [said Steve Shaw, 27, a passenger on the plane], “yet somebody can sneak on a plane and take a nap.”

Next, we have the Magic Eye website. This kind of thing was hot for a while when I was a kid, and I remember getting quite good at it, although I wasn’t able to see any of the 3-D images on the computer screen. That could be that I’m so out of practice (it must be 25 years since I last tried), or something to do with looking at the image on a screen and not on paper. Probably the former.

On a somewhat related note, Wil linked to a site called The Image Mosaic, which will let you update dozens of your personal photos, and then use them to re-create another photo. I might try this with various pictures of my kids one day, but the site claims it’s down until February. Check it out, though, the samples give you a good idea of what it (claims it) can do.

And then finally, we have Wil’s review of the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m not sure if I blogged about this before or not, but rather than shunning his iconic early role as Wesley Crusher on ST:TNG, Wil has taken a paying gig at tvsquad.com to occasionally review one of the episodes. They make great reading because a) he’s often brutally honest about what he did and didn’t like about the episode, and b) he reviews it both from the perspective of a Star Trek fan, and also as an actor who was there during shooting. So you get to hear both sides of the story, so to speak. Tvsquad.com has a categorization feature that will let you look at all the ST:TNG reviews if you’re so inclined. I recommend you do…

Anyway, that’s the list of cool stuff I found on Wil’s blog lately. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogosphere…

Categories: Primetime TV, Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

New York’s Subway Superman

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

This is one of the coolest stories ever.

Basically, a 20-year-old film student, Cameron Hollopeter, had a seizure on a New York Subway platform and wound up falling off the platform and on to the tracks. Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old father of two, who’s daughters were with him at the time, saw the train coming, and jumped onto the tracks after him, pinning him in the 21-inch space below the train. The conductor saw them, made an emergency stop, and turned off the power. By then, Mr. Autrey and Mr. Hollopeter were underneath the second car of the train. The train was so close to Mr. Autrey, that the ski cap he was wearing had a grease stain on it from the bottom of the train.

Mr. Autrey is being treated like the hero that he is. He’s been interviewed by all the major news programs, the mayor of New York called to thank him, Donald Trump gave him a check for $10,000, the film school that Mr. Hollopeter attends gave him $5,000, as well as $5,000 scholarships for each of his daugthers, and he’s received interview requests from David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres and Charlie Rose. I’m sure there’s more where that came from, too.

Well done, Mr. Autrey. Well done, indeed!

Categories: New York, New York | 1 Comment »

A Holiday Gift Guide Worth Reading

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

‘Tis the season for the unending streams of lists – The Top 10 Outrageous Moments of 2006, The 40 Most Offensive Celebrity Arrests of 2006 (categorized by offended ethnic/religious group), and of course the always reliable List of Dumb Holiday Gifts You Can Buy on the Internet. If you’re like me, you dread the arrival of these lists, but find yourself compelled to look. Much like passing a traffic accident on the road, or receiving a hyperlink to a picture of Britney Spears getting out of her car at a nightclub.

So trust me when I tell you that I feel your pain. Really, I do. And I completely understand your skepticism when I tell you that this list, created by Matthew Baldwin of the Dallas Morning News and the very entertaining Defective Yeti blog, is different. Not different in an “every single one of these damn things says their different” kind of way. No. This one is more of the “made me seriously consider clicking through to some of the products even though I read this at work and would probably earn myself a visit from the corporate internet police for doing so” variety.
Let’s face it. At this point, you’re going to click on the link, if for no reason other than the insane curiousity you’ll feel if you pass it by. So providing a couple of examples isn’t really necessary per se; it’s more of a credibility thing. I wouldn’t want you to think I intentionally steered you wrong. After all, how can one resist a list that contains The Beer Belly (pictured above-left):

The beer belly [is] a polyurethane “bladder” that straps to your stomach, allowing you to sneak up to 80 ounces of hooch into your favorite sporting event. . . . The company has a companion product for women that fits into a bra and has been christened “The Wine Rack.”

Still not convinced? Perhaps you’ll enjoy the USB Humping Dog (pictured below-right):

Plug the adorable plastic puppy into the side of your laptop and he’ll enthusiastically thrust away, thereby reducing your already ADD-addled attention span to mere picoseconds. And it’s a dog! That’s humping! What could possibly be funnier?

If you like those, you’re sure to enjoy the Barbie Doll with Pooping Dog and the Breath Capture Test Tube. Go ahead, give it a look!

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

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