Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Backwards and Forward

This may end up being my last post of 2007 because I'm going to the Texans game tomorrow and Monday night is my brother's New Year's Eve party so I'm going to be pretty busy. I've already fallen behind in my projects! User authentication without cryptography is killing me. Anyway, I wanted to piggyback on Ars Technica's summary of the past year and predictions for next year, in true end-of-year fashion. They argue that 2007 was the year of open source, online video (and user generated content), casual gaming, RIAA lawsuits, and climate. While I've encountered all those things (though I didn't get sued), I don't think they quite characterize the year, except for the online video one. In my opinion, there were few things to characterize this year. Besides online video there was mp3s gaining more ground (e.g. Amazon Digital Downloads emerged), that little thing called the iPhone, Apple cracking down more on rumor mills, the steep freefall of Vista's popularity, the renewal of World of Warcraft as digital crack, viral marketing (especially via blogs), and 300 (everyone freaking keeps saying that line and it's not funny anymore) among several summer hits (that were actually entertaining). Piracy was a hot button issue, yes, but it has been every year for the past few years. These are scattered things (except for the first two) that didn't really dominate the year but were pretty big deals and hopefully you remember them and can reminisce. If not, you can probably find news on all of those things in my archives.

What about 2008? I'm never that great at predicting the future, I just occasionally get lucky with Apple announcements. I know that for me it will be a huge year because I'm taking the frightening plunge in moving to an entirely new city and starting my first permanent full-time job. In technology as a whole though, Ars Technica bring up the good prediction of the war of the iPods. I definitely see that. I also see a war of iPhone clones upon the horizon though, which they mentioned also. I think OS tensions will rise as people stick to XP, which will remain a magnet for viruses and worms. I think people will finally be able to buy Wiis on-demand, though the Xbox 360 will still hang on and continue to beat the PS3. Of course, the Wii will get very few new games though because it's a Nintendo console. I see PC gaming gaining some increase in popularity. I see the writer's strike ending in some compromise that will ultimately hurt the writers years down the line. I see more television going online and on-demand entertainment gaining a lot of steam. Hell, surveys already show that people like watching shows online and it's helping measure ratings more accurately. And I see piracy getting stronger than ever as the MPAA and RIAA martyr more and more people. Oh, I also think we'll see more solid-state disks and Flash memory used in more places. That's all I've got though! What are your predictions, Nostradamus?

Going back to this year, DVice has a great look at why the iPhone dominated (despite all the pundits who claimed it would fail due to price): they didn't inundate people with choice. There are too many iPods, there are too many crappy phones, and in this modern-age (as I've mentioned before several times) people have to make too many decisions. They get stressed out! It should be easy to pick out and use your phone, and many people are willing to pay crazy amounts of money to reduce the complexity of their lives. That's an important concept, especially in software. Don't tell me about how the iPhone doesn't support Flash or 3G or blah blah blah, the people who are buying it clearly don't care that much. It works and they're happy. Some of them hack, and that's good and well for them. The point is, Apple's strategy worked.

I hate to talk about Apple so much, but I have more interesting news from Cuppertino: they're trying to patent a process where people can add themselves to queues for products when they're on the go. So you could order something from Best Buy when you're heading to the gym, and they'd text you when it's ready so that you could go pick it up right away. Or maybe it could skip long lines at Starbucks while you're on the way there? On the flip side, it could also track your orders: good for businesses, bad for your privacy. Apple doesn't always act on these patents, but this could be interesting, if not scary. The other big news is that the movie studios are realizing that iTunes is here to stay and are ready to talk movie rentals. No information yet, the point is that iTunes is really gaining clout with the studios for them to consider this.

One more tech tidbit: I liked this list of startup tips. It's concise, comprehensive, and interesting. It's worth a skim.

As for movies, just two things. There's a new trailer for Harold and Kumar 2. Maybe it's just because I love the first one, but I really enjoyed that trailer. I'm definitely looking forward to it coming to theaters. The other thing is to look out for these Indiana Jones 4 promotional crates at your local theater:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Excited About Abrams

I checked out my old movie new haunts after a long break from keeping up with them and came up with more interesting movies than interesting tech news, so let's start with that. J.J. Abrams' current projects have me pretty pumped. First of all, there's Lost. ABC put up the trailer for the new season of Lost, and I think it's pretty cool. I guess that the whole rescue operation gets pretty complicated (I loved the flash forward in the season finale last season). They've been putting some interesting deleted scenes, too. They're interesting and fun to check out, but I haven't yet found anything extremely important. The other cool Abrams project going on right now is Cloverfield, and Yahoo Movies put up a new clip from it (an extension of the teaser trailer). I didn't see the theatrical trailer until now and I like it. I'm pretty sure now that it's not a terrorist attack or an earthquake but actually a monster attack. Its his take on a Godzilla-like movie I guess, but told from a shaky cam. This style of cinematography surely isn't new, but could make for a pretty neat thriller. I don't expect a Blair Witch Project, I expect something that will actually put us in the shoes of genuinely scared people during a slightly more realistic portrayal of an attack on New York City. I'm still more interested in the attack on Gotham City, of course, and this poster will be in my room someday:

Speaking of superheroes though, the Hellboy 2 trailer is pretty sweet, too. Guillermo del Toro is just so awesome at dark fantasy and I was never that interested in the first movie but I like how this one looks so I may have to go ahead and rent Hellboy sometime.

There's more trailers to talk about though. Apple has the trailer for The Signal in HD and it's an interesting horror movie. I like horror movies that don't focus on gore but are more along the lines of a psychological thriller. What's much cooler about it though is that there are 3 directors portraying a signal that tells people to kill and focuses on their fears and such to get them to wreak havoc. I'd say it's a movie to keep an eye on. The other trailer I thought was worthwhile was for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but only because Kristen Bell is awesome (I wish I bought the Veronica Mars Season 2 DVDs back when it was $15 on Amazon because it's back to $40 now). It's just a romantic comedy about a guy trying to get over his ex, who's a TV star, and it includes Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Mila Kunis as well, though I'm still skeptical. I think it could be funny, but I can't justify running out and seeing it until I've seen reviews because the trailer just didn't grab me. Plus, the main actor is the writer (Jason Segel).

Then again, I was wrong to think bad things about Walk Hard because Moriarty is pretty vocal in his recommendation of it. I can tell from his impressions that it'll be hit or miss with most people because of how off the wall and obscure it can be, but color me intrigued.

While I'm on movies, Gizmodo is still pushing DVD as being better than Blu-ray or HD-DVD, and I agree. The DRM, the lack of content, and the price are pretty big deterrents, but there's also the fact that you need a pretty big HD TV to tell the difference and so it's just not worthwhile yet.

Wired has a good list of the top 10 startups worth watching, and I definitely agree on a few of them. It kind of goes without saying that BitTorrent is hot because torrents are so popular. Powerset is a great one because semantic web is such a fascinating field and so I definitely think that there's a bright future in natural language search. Then there's 37Signals, whose Basecamp project management application is well-known among programmers as is Ruby on Rails. You can see the article for more, but those aer just my top 3 from that list.

Remember that whole Fake Steve Jobs being sued thing from last post? Yeah, that was a joke. I guess I'm just stupid for having not seen it coming, but it was just a big satire, though plenty of people commented on his blog and fell for it, so I'm not alone (though the ThinkSecret settlement was real). Also real is the Philips LivingColor Lamp, which is a cool lamp with a wireless remote that allows you to adjust the color settings on this really bright but subtle (and small) lamp. I would totally get that lamp if for nothing else but to help out at theme parties.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yo Ho Ho, A Pirate's Christmas For Me

I had a couple of noteworthy items on privacy, so I felt like I could stretch the title a bit. The RIAA just gets more and more ridiculous as time progresses, it seems. They decided to distribute their own news segment about a big crackdown on pirated CDs and how to look out for pirated music. It's one of those things that's so stupid that to even highlight what's wrong with it is to state the obvious. I can assure you that a pirated CD does not have worse sound quality than a normal CD though, that's one of the things wrong with this video. Oh, and no one wants Christmas ring tones. The bottom line is that they're focusing too much on the negative and their scare tactics are clearly not effective. When you tell your consumers that CDs that are "too good to be true" are probably pirated, you're kind of a moron. I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but it seems like everyone realized but them that there has just not been an upward trend in the quality of the content of music nowadays and so the reason the industry has been faltering is that people have been using the Internet to become more selective and only buy what they know they'll like as opposed to the 90s where people bought CDs that looked pretty or were from familiar/recommended artists. In this world of Internet radio and Seeqpod and Pandora and, the playing field has changed. They need to move towards embracing that.

Famed torrent site Mininova found their pirate spirit and decided to use it to build a legitimate service: content distribution. You give them the content and they'll help you seed the torrent and everything, all for free. It's intended for independent artists and filmmakers, but there doesn't seem to be any restrictions on who takes advantage of it. I love it because they're just showing off how torrents can really help the world past just piracy.

Apple's PR people never cease to piss me off. Their desire to protect trade secrets is relentless. They finally got to Think Secret, which was a pretty well-known blog for Apple rumors and leaks. So basically, they were paid off to shutdown. They went to the Fake Steve Jobs blog and made him the same offer. He's under contract with his sponsor, so he's resisting at his own peril. Get this: they sent him a detail list of his assets at risk if he doesn't cease a desist, including his kids' college funds (with their names). That's all kinds of messed up. Their case against him is pretty thin. There's nothing wrong with writing a satirical blog about someone, even if it is about Steve Jobs. The posts they claim that are in violation don't prove that anything was leaked; the evidence is circumstantial. It's just upsetting to me that they have this cult following and they choose to run their name in the ground among geeks, their most loyal followers, with this craziness. Oh, and Fake Steve criticized the EFF for promoting censorship (i.e. helping bloggers settle with Apple and basically being sell-outs) so they won't help him. Hypocrites. Hear that, EFF? No one takes you seriously and no one ever will.

While I'm pouncing on Apple, they've filed for a couple of patents. The first patent made sense: auto-shutdown after charging or file transfers. Great idea. The other patent is for programmers to inject code into software's run-time stream so that it can restrict execution to certain hardware. So if you tried running a Mac application on hardware that Apple didn't like, it wouldn't work. First of all, this is bad for the same reason DRM is: you're restricted use too much. Let consumers do what they want with what they bought, don't nickel and dime them out of possible uses. Don't force them to use your hardware just because you wrote the software. That's called being snooty. Second of all though, am I the only one who sees the potential for security issues? If it actively checks the hardware and you put out a virus that gives it faulty information, couldn't you theoretically crash people's machines who ran software based on this patent? Oh, and what about the false positive rate? Let's not forget about base rate fallacy. I hope that this patent is an idea they don't intend to implement, but I'm afraid given their issues with people hacking iPhones that they will. On the bright side though, Apple is adopting Intel's UMPC platform Menlow. That doesn't mean a whole lot to us right now except that they're following Intel's roadmap so we can hopefully expect to see Apple on the cutting edge of mobile applications past just the iPhone (or even improving the iPhone in 2G).

Just a couple of quick, fun items. Google Talk lets you translate in real-time if you invite one of their translation bots into a group chat. Isn't that pretty cool? I've run into the language barrier before on Google Talk many months ago, and that would've totally helped then. Remember Y2K? It turns out that Linux wasn't built to last past 2038! I'm sure it'll be fine by then with the increasing acceptance of 64-bit processors, but it's still kind of quirky. This and this are wickedly funny. They're what video game boxes would say if they told the truth. This is one of my favorites:

Have a great Christmas, everyone! I'll have another post for you soon enough. Hopefully I'll be more productive over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hulu and Cranium Wow

My Fall semester is officially over! Academically, I couldn't be happier that it's over, to be honest. Aside from Network Security and Privacy, I won't really miss my classes very much. I managed all the grades that I wanted, so I'm pretty excited about it. Marketing was lame, OS was a drag, and Vision was just way too difficult. Finance was alright, though I wish I didn't have to take that final (she drops the lowest test and I screwed up my last one). Network Security was definitely a ton of fun though, and I really took a lot away from it. Now I can start my extremely busy Spring Break. I have to start looking at this research project I want to help with, I have to code up an internal professor review feature for the NSC site, and I have to help write a web application to help prepare high school students for TAKS (standardized test). Nice break, huh? Oh well, I prefer it to be productive rather than boring. Plus, I should have a pretty easy time this Spring, which is nice because I want to hit up all the happy hours in Austin.

On to the good stuff. I got my private beta invite for Hulu and I was definitely pleasantly surprised. You can find out a little more about it here. The concept? Basically, your television on-demand from anywhere. It has full-length shows, clips, reviews/previews of games, and feature films. It's a huge step up from Joost, mainly because it's so ridiculously easy to use and very responsive. I eventually stopped using Joost (though I still have it installed) because it was clunky and it always took me forever to find the content I wanted. I really wanted to love it because the videos were high quality and generally loaded pretty fast, but it was a pain to navigate.

Hulu, on the other hand, is like everything I could've imagined in a free, on-demand service. It really lends itself to casual browsing. You can browse popular clips or search for content and then there's a little link below each video to add to your playlist (see the first screenshot). Then, you can just mouseover the playlist link in the top right corner to see a drop-down of the top 5 items and start playing them (see second screenshot). It keeps your history as well so that you can always show your friends videos you saw a week ago. Each video page shows you related videos, lets you submit reviews and rate it, and all that good stuff. What's really neat about sharing the videos is that you can not only e-mail it but embed the whole video or a clip of it. Check out this clip from Friday Night Lights from the second to last episode where Smash Williams is in over his head with college recruiting:

Plus, the ads are unobtrusive. There's occasionally an ad before the video, but they're usually really short and the ad in the top right corner is pretty small also. The video quality is also better than I expected (much better than YouTube), and it's all legal so you don't have to worry about your favorite Family Guy clips disappearing.

I do have a few gripes though. When you browse by show, you can't add episodes to your playlist, which is kind of annoying. You also can't do this from the video itself, only from the home page, popular clips, or a search. You can't mark favorite videos, which would've been nice. You can't tag videos, which would be really good for making search easier. Overall though, it's pretty amazing for being just in beta. There's a ton of content, and I think that the major networks could shut down their full episode players and hand over their content to Hulu. It makes it so much easier than going to each different site for a different show.

Now to switch gears, I want to give a brief review of Cranium Wow. I got it as a birthday gift a little over a month ago, but I've played with other people's sets to so I've played it quite a bit. So what's different about this from the old Craniums? Well, a few rule changes, different die, new games, and movers. The rule changes are pretty minor: the soonest birthday rolls first and I think that's new. When you get to the middle of the board you do all 4 categories in clockwise order and then your opponents pick one more for you to do, which I believe is new. The die has 10 sides for the 4 colors plus purple to fast track to the brains. The new games are Side Show (move a team mate's body to get your team to guess whatever the card says), Team Gnilleps (spell the word backwards, except that the whole team has to participate now), and Mind Meld (everyone on the team writes down 3 things in a category and if 2 people match in 1 item then you win the roll). I think that's it, but I haven't played regular Cranium in a while so there's also Copycat (act like the person on the card) and Odd Couple (pick the 2 things on the list that don't belong) in case that wasn't in original Cranium. The movers are cute and the hair is changeable. There are 12 in all, and your box comes with 4 of them. Oh, and it has 600 cards which appear to be all new and has some more pop culture mixed into them.

So how does it play? To be honest, it's faster and at times can be easier. There are a number of easy cards, and some hard ones. Then again, difficulty is subjective based on who you're playing with. But still, the purple color on the die makes the game a lot faster. You can finish a whole game with 2 teams in under an hour. If you have more teams though or if you get a lot of hard cards the game can take about 2 hours. Despite this though, it's still a lot of fun. I find my friends pining to play it whenever we have out get togethers. I think it really does revitalize the series with great presentation inside and on the outside of the box, and it's a lot better than getting a booster pack if you have an old Cranium set. It's pretty much what you've come to love, plus more. Yeah, it has quite a bit of easy cards, but that doesn't mean your team will get them. I don't regret getting this game at all, and I think it actually doesn't work too bad with small groups (though it's obviously best with larger groups).

Alright, I gotta jet for now, gang. I'll bring you guys another post this weekend!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Dark Knight Trailer

I'm seriously only posting today to tell you good people that the first theatrical trailer for The Dark Knight is up. I really want to blog right now. It's taking a lot of willpower to not chunk my Finance notes and just wing the final. However, I've come too far to not see this class through. I'll try to put up a post tomorrow night, but it all depends on how many martinis I go through after my final in the process of celebrating. From then on out you'll definitely see posts more often (my goal is at least twice a week, and all being high quality posts). My next post will be a review of Cranium Wow and Hulu (I just got in the private beta).

Until then, keep re-watching this. It's only the most phenomenal trailer I've seen in a while because of my intense anticipation for this movie, so I don't want to get your hopes up. That being said, omghi2u Joker. For the first time, I think I finally believe in Heath Ledger in this movie. I didn't hate him before, but I wasn't convinced until seeing him in the role. I know I've said this before, but what I love about the Batman series is that the villains are really human, just like Batman. Batman has no super power, and his villains' strengths and plans really play off of dark, sordid histories or psychotic tendencies. There's this gray line that Batman begins to play with over time as far as his own sanity goes, and the Joker is this awesomely complex character who I just love as a bad guy. He's more than just prototypical, he's a great arch-nemesis. I have faith in Nolan bringing that out in this movie because he's just a great director. When you bring back Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, and then you decide to add in Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart, how can you go wrong?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Speaking of Usability

My Hell week was quite interesting culminating in me screwing up my Finance test and forcing me to take my Final or be stuck with an embarrassing 89. Since then I've been trying to play with my Vision final, but it's really not very fun. So I thought I'd take a break to write this post. This weekend has had its ups though, my friend has a murder mystery party last night and I highly recommend trying it out if you haven't before.

Anyhow, I don't think you guys came here to read about my weekend. For some reason, I like talking about usability. It's a gift and a curse since it's really important in today's fast-advancing society that people can keep up with technology, but at the same time I feel like a broken record player. At least one other person is with me on this one as he talks about usability problems on a professional blog. I like that he makes it a conversation, because that's really what our interactions with technology devolve to. I know it sounds silly, but don't you think you subconsciously talk to your computer? 90% of the time, you say how much you hate it and want to kill it. The rest of the time, you're praising it for those cute pictures of your brother's dog, or for answering #4 on your number theory homework, or for finding you a route to the liquor store so you can pick up some gin. When it comes down to it, we've become a little spoiled nowadays with the web when you consider how it used to be.

Back then, it was just text on white backgrounds with images that took a commercial break to load. Now, have you noticed that we're mad when pages don't load fast enough or when we can't find exactly what we want? He kind of unknowingly makes a great point: our attention spans are so much lower. When we don't find what we want, we register a bad experience and move on. We search somewhere else. First impressions really are everything, and the web has gradually shifted over the past few years to being dominated by blogs. So it's definitely important for professionals to relay to their users what their site is really all about very quickly and easily. The RSS button should be easy to find. Any ads should be unobtrusive. Basically, the opposite of this blog. I'm not much of a fan for Dvorak anyway because his opinions are almost purposely ridiculous to get a rise out of geeks, but I only know what that blog is about because I'm a nerd. Yeah, my blog could be better, but it's far from professional. I could go on and on, but I think I've made my points pretty concisely about the importance of usability on the web.

Notice anything different in that picture? No? Actually, neither did I when I first tried it. It looks just like Firefox 2.0. Surprisingly, it's Firefox 3. You can try out the early beta yourself here. What's really awesome about it is that it's a "portable edition", so it's essentially running in a sandbox and won't write anything to your machine (except for transient data during execution I'm guessing while it's running because of virtual memory usage) or screw with your current install of Firefox. It lets you just try this one out. I couldn't figure out how to get to the famed "Places", but I did like a couple of things that I stumbled upon. You can bookmark things with that star on the far side of the address bar. I like it because I never was a fan of the whole pop-up to add a bookmark. The other big thing is that when you click on the URL favicon (left of the address bar), it basically tells you if this site is really who they say they are and how Firefox knows it is, or if no information is available on it (which most sites I looked up were as such, so I don't know how this will work). Also, it'll give you the extended SSL information I showed you above, which is much easier than clicking the little lock in the corner and is much more detailed so that people other than security gurus can understand it. The verifier is who gave you the key that you're using to encrypt (i.e. hide so that eavesdroppers can't understand your messages) anything you send to Gmail, which is more important than you may immediately realize. It provides just a huge overhaul of security features though, and I'm extremely impressed. All these things make a lot of sense and go a long way in helping people browse the Web safely. If they really pull all this together, I will become a Firefox evangelist, because this really goes beyond IE's stabs at improving security.

I should really get going here, so just a few quick things. If you're looking for a free, online project management tool, consider Project2Manage. I just started playing with it tonight and I think I may use it. Netflix is going to be redesigning their mailers because the current ones are causing extra labor for Postal Service workers and, thus, costing more to ship than Netflix is paying. I wonder what they fix to make it easier? Any thoughts here? Facebook is mad at people putting up ads on their pages because they claim it'll make pages too cluttered! Isn't that the craziest thing you've heard the executive team at Facebook say? Not the applications, no no, but people trying to put up ads now. Really, they just want to be making money off their own product. That's cool: just make a first-party application to put ads on your profile and the hosts will just share in the profits. How many people will really do this anyway? You can keep banning these 3rd party things, but you don't want someone else to monetize this kind of thing before you. At worst, you decide you don't like it and you take it away later (like course listings). Apple's next man in line may be a Briton! I just found that interesting. Lastly, if you're on a Treo or another phone with wireless web but haven't been able to figure out IM (like me), check this out. it's not great, but it's not bad either.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hell Week

Hey guys, I promise a post this weekend. That's right, I actually guarantee it. I'm itching to post again, but I physically cannot right now. I'm so swamped. It's actually a little scary (I went to bed last night at 8AM), but I think I can get through it with enough willpower This week (past and future) involves an OS homework, a gigantic OS project, a gigantic Vision homework, difficult Network Security homework, an OS exam, a Marketing test, and a Finance test (back-to-back on the last two). Yeah, it's beyond ridiculous. After this though, my next (and last) exam is next Thursday, plus a take home final for Vision. So I'll definitely have time to post this weekend. I didn't get a chance to post last week because it was my last week with someone very special in my life. They're not dead or anything. In fact, she's still around and it's nice that I can still hang out with her. I have every faith that we'll end up together if it's meant to be. If not, I've been happier beyond all measures with her and I'm so glad that she's still a part of my life.

There are a couple of quick things I would like to briefly mention. Gmail has made some great improvements to the Gmail including Group Chat, AIM support, and better usability of labels. I love how the Gmail team is so receptive to user feedback; good job, guys! The other thing is that my Network Security professor, being the badass he is, made Slashdot last week. He broke anonymity with the Netflix contest data. Netflix has a running contest with a prize of $1 million for an algorithm that recommends movies more accurately than their current algorithm by at least 10%. They attached the records of 500,000 of their users to the contest with their identities stripped from it, but my professor and a grad student here at UT found an algorithm to link identities extremely accurately to IMDb. How crazy is that?

Oh, and please sign this petition. YouTube marks videos of stutterers as comedy. To me, this is utterly unacceptable. Speech impediments are not a laughing matter to those of us with them, and I also fear that kids who sneak onto YouTube and see videos like that being called 'comedy' will feel motivated to make fun of stutterers or clutterers at their school.

Before I sign off here I'll leave you with a picture of my loot from Black Friday:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shying Away from Vista

Sorry it's been a while, but I spent last week working on my hardest project ever: exploiting buffer overflow in 7 programs for Network Security. We worked at least 45 hours over 4 days to get 6 of the 7. I've gotta say, hacking is hard work. Now, over the break I have homework in three classes and a project to start on for OS, so I still can't post much. Exciting, no?

Not to throw unwarranted support for Macs (I think they're cool, but I'm not part of that cult), but I think that this is a pretty funny little ad:

I remember a time when people were just railing on Vista for being too flashy and having too many versions. Now, IT professionals are shying away from upgrading. When the integrity of your business relies on a piece of software that has more anecdotal evidence behind crashing than the alternatives and it has known issues with certain hardware (though this has been a receding problem, to Microsoft's credit) and potential problems with business applications it's a bit daunting. It's past irrational worries, these people don't want to deal with a mess. This is a pretty sizable issue for Microsoft. Windows is their bedrock, and a significant portion of their sales goes to enterprise customers. If they lose the trust of these people, and they turn to Linux and OS X, this will surely erode the good name of Microsoft. In my humble opinion, this could be the beginning of the end for Microsoft. I know, that's an extremely bold statement, but I don't think it is because I think that they're going to re-organize, smarten up with Windows 7, and put out a more worthwhile OS after getting feedback from Vista. If it's another flop though, you'll see more defections, and by then it'll be too late for Microsoft. They'll still be around, sure, but they won't be the powerhouse they are today because when it comes down to it, their fame and fortune is predicated upon Windows. They have a bevy of other products, and they'll continue to bring in money, but without their crown jewel they'll bleed for a while. I hope they see Vista as a stepping stone to a better OS, because I think that it's the shell of what could've been something amazing.

Across the water in Washington, Amazon put out a new product called Kindle. I have no private knowledge of this product other than totally ambiguous rumors back in the summer so what I'm about to say is just my own personal thoughts. It's a pretty cool little product, but what confuses me is the target audience. Basically, it's a e-Reader that runs on EVDO wireless (for free) so you can download books on demand pretty much where ever you can use your cell phone and you can also have news papers and blog posts delivered straight to your Kindle automatically. It uses a special screen that's easy on the eyes, which takes little power to hold the display of text so it lasts an extremely long time on one battery charge. The problem? It's $400! I don't understand who would buy this because any bibliophiles would find it cheaper to go to a library or just order the books, and it doesn't support pdfs so the business professionals who could use it for reading company documents and such are out of luck. I think at $200 that it would be a much more palatable product. Not to mention the fact that people just like to have a hard copy of their books. Still, I think that for this product category, this is as good as it gets. It's easy to use, it's small, it's lightweight, it actually has built-in wireless, and it's just a great niche product. If the price goes down, I think you'll see more interested persons.

This Friday is Black Friday, a day named such because business use it to go in the black (turn a profit) when the holiday season starts. I encourage you to be careful if you brave the crowds. There are a lot of nuts out there. If you're not sure what's out there, this site has a nice compilation of the deals in a spreadsheet. Supposedly, Amazon will have some good deals also, but you have to wait until Friday to see them.

Ok, I need to get back to Finance homework, so I'll do my best to post again before the end of the break. My special girl got me Cranium Wow, and I've played it a couple of times already. It's been a lot of fun, but let me play it a little more over the break before I give you guys the skinny on it. It's basically originally Cranium with a couple of new games, some fun figurines, and a couple of twists on the rules to speed up the game. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pay the Writers, Already!

So I don't have time to post today, but this is way too huge to not talk about it. Watch this first:

I know, you're watching a biased piece of media there since the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) created it, but it's not like the studios created one explaining their position or anything (unless you count this or this). You can see an AP video about it here. The strike has been going on for three days now, I think, and there's a bunch of people out there with them include actors from Reno 911 and Heroes, among others. If you think this is small potatoes, take a look at some pictures.

We're going to start feeling the effects of this strike very soon. Jack Bauer joined the strike, so no 24 until it's settled. That probably hurts the most. But wait, there's much more. The Office is no more until the strike is over. A lot of showrunners have been picketing, so it's only a matter of time before they're on reruns as well. Heroes has been lackluster this season and promises a better show if this strike goes in their favor (oh yeah, they'll stop at episode 11 because of the strike). Oh, and your precious late night shows are no doubt now in reruns because of how heavily they rely on writers. Jon Stewart is paying his staff while they go on strike, actually. In a matter of speaking, we're screwed.

Fortunately, The Governator is trying to step in and resolve this, which is refreshing because we all want our shows back! Meanwhile, the studios are suspending staff not working on currently running shows in a diabolical showing of idiocy. Awesome, what a great PR move. Kick yourself while everyone already hates you.

Personally, I support WGA. I don't think this many people join a strike out of greed. Nor do I really see more than a few people online saying so. I have no reason to believe that they are being paid fairly as no one has provided any counter evidence. Their demands really aren't that bad: give them back the percentage they used to get on video sales and give them a fair cut of the Internet market. They're very smart in mentioning the whole PC/TV merging thing, because I already see techie homes doing this. It's going to happen, sooner or later. It's not just a crazy theory, it's going to happen. It's a slow road we've been driving on for a while now. They really do need to get in on this market. The studios are definitely making money online, and they need to start paying the people responsible for it instead of using all of it to line their pockets. I signed the petition, and I hope you will, too. I want 24 and Heroes and The Office again, damnit!

Oh, and while I'm posting, check out the first trailer for Valkyrie. It's about how a band of German soldiers commit high treason and try to plot the assassination of Adolf Hitler during World War II. I definitely want to see this one.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Predicting the Future with the Past

Yep, I'm amazingly still alive! Things have been relentless at school. I have two tests next Friday, a project due Monday, and a crazy homework and project due a week from Tuesday. It looks like by the time I can breathe it'll be Thanksgiving! My girl has been keeping me going though, and I did end up taking the offer with Amazon so I'll be going there next July. I look forward to it and still don't regret the decision. I'm only sad when I think of being there alone, but I take solace in how beautiful the city is and how satisfying work was there. Speaking of Amazon, catch the new layout now that it's actually out? I love how much more dynamic the pages got, and I like that many toys and games now have videos with them. Very neat stuff; I'm proud of them for finally enhancing the user experience in some unique ways (including video reviews).

I've spent a while here looking through all kinds of news and have come up with a few things I want to talk about before I go to bed, starting with Joel Spolsky's entry on Evidence Based Scheduling, a system it sounds like Fog Creek pieced together from other existing ideas, but I'm not clear on that. Anyhow, this is an excellent read if you ever want to be a technical manager. Scheduling projects is typically not very fun for a programmer because it's a little daunting to time out everything you have to do to get something done, and you're worse at it as you look farther into the future. I know that we've definitely drawn upon some of those planning suggestions at work over the summer and they worked great, but his post highlights in more detail the aspect of using the accuracy of past estimates to better keep track of how close your ship date is to when you say it is. I don't know if there's any mathematical validity to his technique, but it doesn't sound too shabby because you almost never are right on the money in planning out your future. No matter how experienced you are, it's just tough in this field. Software construction is a whole different ballpark from building construction: we don't have those pesky laws of physics and nature to bound our work, just ourselves. In reality, we really are our own worst enemies: either perfectionists or sloths or even victim to requirements creep. Though I do believe we follow a trend in how we do these estimates, so that's why I'm promoting the concept.

It's funny, I don't know when I started using Google. I remember one fine day in early 2007 using the Internet at my neighbor's house with only one URL given to me: When we got the Internet later that year, I naturally used Yahoo to find Flash games and other junk to occupy my pre-teen boredom. Then I moved to Metacrawler, because it was concise about searching and Yahoo gave me too many crap results, and then people started using something called Google, which I argued was still too many results compared to my Metacrawler and probably wasn't as efficient. Then I somehow got lured into Google by the simplicity of it. Back in those days, we didn't have Broadband, so I loved anything that loaded fast. I don't know if this phenomenon is more apparent anywhere than this picture timeline of the layouts of Yahoo and Google. What's really telling is the real estate dedicated to advertising: it was one of the primary reasons I wrote off Yahoo's early beta of their new AJAX-ified Yahoo Mail. It really amazes me that as backwards as several of Google's products are in UI design (though I still champion Google Maps as being the best free online map service, despite the fanciful Live Maps), Yahoo always makes itself worse. I'm honestly amazed that they're still doing so well; I guess they've made some pretty good acquisitions. It's sad because they have all this potential, and they're just not doing anything with it. They really shouldn't let Google bully them around in market share.

Am I to know that Blockbuster is going down the drain? I was shocked to see the headline of that article. Granted, Netflix is doing well, but I never thought that Blockbuster has been actually digging themselves into a hole. I figured that their strategy with Total Access was balanced enough to keep them afloat, but it looks like they're still operating under losses ($35 million worth). Ouch. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised though because I always use I Love Video in Austin since rentals are like dirt cheap ($2.50). In any case, it's pretty noteworthy, and speaks to the power of a little guy (Netflix) coming out of nowhere to take on a formidable giant (Blockbuster).

I just think this story is funny. Some guy on a train jammed the phones of everyone in a 30-ft radius of him because a girl in her twenties said "like" too much. I say like a little too much myself, but I do see the irritation of people having long, drawn-out conversations within earshot. It's like I'm being distracted with information I never cared to know. Why do people get on a bus and have personal conversations? If I want a soap opera I'd be watching Friday Night Lights (which is really excellent right now, if you don't watch it).

The only movies I want to mention briefly are trailers I liked. A newer trailer for The Golden Compass is online in glorious HD and it's just awesome. I'm definitely biased here because this is a movie I seriously daydreamed about as a kid. I enjoyed that book so much that I would totally imagine what the movie would be like or a game and was amazed that it hadn't happened already. I have to see it. Another book is being made into a movie: There Will Be Blood is actually based off of the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil, about the conflict that oil brings to a small town during California's oil boom (I think this was the early 20th century?). The trailer just really fascinated me for some reason, and I liked how it ended in a semi-creepy way despite this movie not being a horror/thriller movie at all to counteract the title. The other trailer is for Southland Tales, which has been out for a while but it's still a funky one. It got mixed reviews at film festivals, but I'm still hella interested given that I can damn near act out Donnie Darko myself.

I'm too tired to do a meme, and it'll probably be another week before I post again (sorry), so here's a picture from Broomball a couple of days ago. We lost, but it was still fun.

I just got a 1GB memory card for my camera so I guess I'll be able to take even more pictures now (I was using 512MB). In fact, I'll share one more picture from yesterday: ACM's Big Event. I had two plates of this delicious Rudy's BBQ and I'm pretty impressed that I'm still alive right now.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Treasure Island is Horrible

I'd like to write an insightful post right now, but I promised my brother I'd do this first, so bear with me here. I promise to share pictures at the end.

So my birthday was last week, and several of my cousins, as well as my brother, came with me to go barhopping on Friday night. We were all having a good time when we ended our night at 413 E 6th St, Austin, TX, aka Treasure Island Pirate Bar. I had been there before and the bartender did tricks with the bottles so it seemed like an interesting place to come back to. It ended up being a bad choice though.

At 2:00 AM, it's standard that all bars on 6th Street stop serving alcohol. Usually, they give you a few minutes to pay your tab, drink some water, and take another bathroom break. Not so at Treasure Island. We were rudely shoved out the door. I mean they physically pushed us out. What were we doing? I was taking pictures with my cousins, very innocent smiles, and drinking water. We weren't being rowdy at all. It wasn't just us, it was everyone, to be fair. Still, they even pulled the glass out of water out of my brother's hands! Come on! We just spent money buying a couple of rounds of shots, why kick us out so quickly?!

When we get outside, we complain to the bouncer and he says, "Yeah, we are assholes. If you don't like it, go somewhere else." I am not exaggerating, those were his precise words. So I encourage you, my humble readers in Austin, to not support this bar. There are plenty of others on 6th that treat their customers with some respect.

As promised, here are some photos, I'll write more later: can chicken. This is from a few weeks ago.

Fred is so precious!

The guys from Friday night.

Happy birthday to us!

Monday, October 22, 2007

I'm behind

I know =P Just had a bday, give me a few days here. I promise a new post before the week's end with promise of more posts more regularly in the near future.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Interweb is a Dangerous Place

You think it's dorky to still say Interweb? Anyway, I know it's been a while, but the busier I am the more motivating the news has to be for me to report on it, and there's just been kind of a drought recently. I think it'll be easier after this semester since 15 hours and football is tanking me.

Anyhow, the good news is that Amazon has cut down my job search with a full time offer, and it's a big deal to me to finally get this opportunity. I feel blessed to have such a great offer in front of me, and it's really a product of everyone who has helped me over the past 20 years, so thanks to all you guys. Whenever I give Amazon good press here, it's because I'm honestly impressed by the product, and that's what really excites me about potentially going there full time. They never had to brainwash me to like them or believe in them as a company.

What I really wanted to talk about today though was security. I'm still trucking along in my Network Security and Privacy class, and it's been a lot of fun though there's so much material that I wonder if our first exam will swallow me whole. Our first project is actual to steal fake sensitive data from a fake site they set up by impersonating the user or getting them to "accidentally" send it to me, except that it's not so fake. Yes, it was created solely for this project, but the ideas it's based on are, frighteningly enough, actually used for authentication.

I think what this course has done for me most of all is make me more afraid of the state of online security. I just wanted to share my fear in an effort to help you guys protect yourselves better. I used to think that the people who got viruses and other bad things were just way too naive and opened spam e-mail or went to shady sites or something. In actuality, it's so much easier than that to be compromised. A botnet searches for unpatched holes in your system's security to make it a zombie and use it to send spam and mount distributed denial of service attacks (a fancy way of saying that it'd make you an accessory to illicitly taking down web sites and, likely, extortion), and you may not even know.

There's much worse though. If you don't have a password set up on your router, someone could plant a one pixel (unnoticeably small) applet on a web page that would maliciously change your router's firmware and make it so that legitimate sites (like PayPal or banking sites) redirect to phishing sites (sites engineered to steal your credentials without you knowing). So would go to their malicious site, though the URL wouldn't change and it'd look exactly like the real thing. Scary, huh? It's called drive-by pharming, which is actually a pretty cool name.

If you're worried about phishing, you should keep your web browser patched, and your OS for that matter, and maybe try out PwdHash. There's much more I can say about phishing, but the I want to move on to something else that PwdHash helps with (slightly): user authentication. This process is largely dependent on the server authenticating you being smart, but it also relies on you choosing a good password. If you must use the same password at multiple sites, use PwdHash. It fights against phishing (though not drive-by pharming) and it gives you a different, seemingly random password everywhere. If you can find your password that you use at any site in a dictionary, that means it's pretty easily crackable. Please, include numbers and symbols in your passwords!

Of course, even if you set up a firewall, change your router's password, use random passwords, and don't go to shady sites (or trust phishy e-mails), you're still in danger. Crazy, huh? There's always the threat of cross site scripting (XSS) attacks, where-by a hacker basically injects code into a web page or a URL and uses it to take cookies from you or just does generally bad stuff to your machine or uses you to inflict damage on other sites. Speaking of cookies, there's not quite as bad and insecure as you may think (as I once thought): only the site and server that created them can read and edit them, but unfortunately there are ways around this for a smart hacker dealing with a naive user.

You could blame the creator of cookies for not designing it well enough, but the rule that he established would sound pretty good to me if I didn't know any better. You could blame the creators of TCP/IP for not having stronger security protocols, but how long until someone finds a loophole? What I've come to learn more than anything is that when it comes to technology, there's always a way to get screwed. If it's hard enough to get screwed over, then you'll likely be fine because hackers prey on things that are computationally less greedy. But still, your system is only as secure as the least secure part of it (and for a network, the same goes for the weakest computer on it), and how you authenticate is only as safe as the most vulnerable part of the process. It's scary, very scary, but there's definitely hope.

There's plenty of public knowledge out there about these issues to protect yourself. For the most part, the little things count (like what I cited above). Just don't be too trusting when you're out there on the web, and keep a progressive back-up of your data. Live every day like it's your computer's last. No matter how careful you are, it's still possible for you to lose everything, if not to a hacker than to hardware failures.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Amazon's Unveilings

Full disclosure: I worked at Amazon this summer, for those of you who didn't know, and I was not a part of creating the new mp3 store or the new site navigation. I did see the new navigation, and had some time to play around with it, but I didn't actually tell anyone about it or blog it, for that matter, because it wasn't public.

Amazon finally opened their music store, and I was pleasantly surprised. My earlier impressions of it were that it would end up being an unfortunate mess, but I think they've really come a long way since what I had been hearing about it. All the music is totally free of DRM and features UMG, EMI, and tons of indie labels. The only reason they're missing Sony BMG and Time Warner, I imagine, is that they haven't let go of DRM yet.

There are a few reasons why I really like it and have faith in it. You can basically download the music from anywhere, you just need a browser. Strangely, you need a downloading tool to get an entire album, but this is nice because it doesn't require additional software (though I wonder if Amazon is working on an iTunes-like player to supplement this) to get a random song. This means that smartphone users could probably download music from Amazon MP3 and sync with their computer later, so this would even better compete with iTunes. I like how easy it is to preview tracks: you can forward through them after hitting "Play All", you can hit the play button next to each track, and it's much more responsive than iTunes is. These previews aren't just available for an album or artist, they're for search results also. The pages overall are clean, and the album pages have direct links to the CDs in case you want to buy those instead (the CD pages now have the same preview functionality, much better than what it was like before). To top it all off: the top 100 songs at any given time are $0.89 (with songs usually priced at $0.99) and the top 100 albums are $8.99. Overall, it's an easy shopping experience.

There are some problems though. For one thing, if albums can cost as much as $11.99 (maybe higher, I haven't browsed thoroughly), won't they be as much as the hard CDs? Then all you're saving on really is shipping. You can't re-download tracks once you've bought and downloaded them once, which isn't that big of a deal since it's not like you could on iTunes and if you could then you could just give out your account information to friends and they could all have your music very easily. I'm sure they are tracking your purchases for recommendations though, which is another thing they should flesh out more (and knowing Amazon, I'm sure they are). Why do we need software just for album downloads? That's weird. It's kind of like Down Them All: it only appears when you click to download a song or album. It sounds like bad design, to be honest, that you can't download full albums from the site, but maybe there's a better reason or maybe it's something they'll hammer out now while in beta.

Why are their odds good? They're Amazon. They have a huge brand name, they have really smart people, and they can probably personalize, recommend, and cross-promote stuff better than iTunes can without being obtrusive and, hopefully, while staying fast, convenient, and cheap. I think they're very well aware of the business model, so I believe in them.

I have to go pretty soon, but real quick: Amazon has started a Web Lab for their new global navigation. Basically, only a portion of visitors will see the new design, and they'll use data from these visitors' clicks to determine if it's good or bad or needs tweaking or what before they roll it out. I was at first very stubborn about the new design, but it didn't take me long at all to embrace it whenever I went back to the current Amazon site. It makes a lot of things better and easier. You always have access to the entire site in the corner of the screen, the top bar gets a lot smaller, you can see what's in your cart without clicking to it, etc. They put a lot of time, thought, and effort into this design, so don't discount it as some overnight impulse change or anything. They're really focused on making the site easier to navigate, faster to use, and more visually appealing. If you manage to see the new site, definitely play around with it. In my opinion, it's their largest overhaul of the UI since first opened its doors over 10 years ago, and it probably actually is.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stay Tuned

Ok, I totally have to blog about Amazon MP3, but I have a Finance exam in about 10 hours so just wait a bit. I just need to get this exam out of the way...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Piracy Beats Legitimacy?

I know, I kinda fell off again. I have pretty bad luck, let me tell you. Every week bad stuff just seems to happen. Last week, I was consumed with interviews for NSC and that was followed by a crisis for someone dear to me, and then I had a project due at midnight last night.

Still, I wanted to crank out a small post in the new format I decided to move to. At the heart of what I want to talk about is this article. When it's easier to pirate stuff than get it legally, what do you do? I mean the advantage with movies to buy the real DVD from a bootleg copy is better quality, and it's more reliable, right? And with books it's just a lot more convenient than trying to copy a book you borrow from a friend or something. With TV shows, do we have that? It turns out that not only can you get high quality copies of popular shows, as we all knew, but it's easier than ever now for non-techies. The program described in that article will literally just pull new shows you your computer as they're available, and there's no restrictive DRM on it or anything! Why would you turn to iTunes, which NBC has abandoned, has only comparable quality, and is strapped with DRM?

Basically, the studios need to use their heads and collaborate with Apple or another major player (who else is there that big though?). They need to hand over more content, and Apple needs to compete better with pirates. When it comes to digital media, it's beyond just delivering content, it's about making it faster, easier, and better quality than pirated copies at an affordable price. They're failing to do this, and their success is limited and will stay limited until they try to progress. How long has iTunes had video now? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was the Fall before last. So why hasn't it gotten much better?

To top it off, Winamp is bringing the heat with the support of mp3 blogs for you to stream your libraries as you listen to them. Oh, and it makes it easier to host an mp3 player, much easier than back in the pre-Napster days. I haven't used Winamp in forever and even I'm tempted to get this new version. Who knows, I may try it out later tonight. Not territory iTunes will enter anytime in the forseeable future anyhow, it focuses too much on simplicity whereas Winamp focuses on the music geeks.

I love Ars, so I'm plugging their iPhone Touch review. It's a great read, as always.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Touchy Touchy

There it is, the new iPod Touch from our friends at Apple. It's literally the iPhone minus the phone, but you can see for yourself. Apple made an announcement on Wednesday that could be construed as ruinous as it was amazing. They decided to drop the iPhone price to $400 (only an 8GB model now), and strip off the phone part of it to make this new iPod available for only $300, in addition to revamping most of its iPod line. Considering that it only has 8GB, that's a big pricey, but you can double the capacity for another hundred bucks. I love Apple's strategy: making you feel warm and fuzzy about handing your money over to them by selling it you at a ridiculous price at first and then stripping it down for a much cheaper, but still high, price. What's you're clearly paying for here is the style and design, but that's arguably what you pay for in all Apple products, I suppose. I'm not here to trash this new iPod though, because I think it's something that was bound to happen and will do extremely well. The iPhone is an amazing mp3 player. If you're ok with not being too fancy though, you can get an 8GB iPod Nano for $200, and a 4 GB for just $150. Here's where I think they fell short: why do you need two Flash-based mp3 players at the same capacity? Why wouldn't they put more capacity in the Nano rather than doing a re-design? Did it really need a fatter screen to play video and have a visual interface like the iPhone?

One can't deny though that their iPod line looks pretty damn cool now. It's pretty and what's really nice is that they've really fleshed out the gamut of prices. Heck, they even have the jukebox market covered with the iPod Classic at a paltry $249 for 80 GB and a hundred more 160 GB while sporting a visual interface almost identical to the new Nano. Some say this is dumb, but I think it's smart. You have to have a hard-drive based mp3 player to keep it cheap but with a large capacity.

The worst thing they did though was to have such a big change so early and the best thing they did was the iTunes WiFi store. Ok, so I know that the Apple marketing guys are brilliant and they always have a plan, but why would you alienate iPhone first adopters so early? We all knew it was going to have to happen at some point, but if you did it in like mid-October then surely no one would criticize Apple as having made the price artificially high at launch or anything like that. I know it's been a little over 2 months now, but that's not a long period of time for technology to advance them to cutting the price by a third. At least they're going to give early adopters a $100 rebate. Plus, if they had waited a little longer they could start selling these other iPods and opening the WiFi store the day of the announcement, and maybe even put more capacity on the Nano (theoretically). So why, Apple? Why did you shoot yourself in the foot? They have to have something up their sleeve here. There's something I'm not seeing, and it's driving me a little nuts. I'll try hitting up some tech podcasts and see if any of the other pundits have reasonable ideas. Could they really be planning for something bigger just before the holiday season? Because it looks like all their cards are on the table, unless they're going to have new laptops or something out in November.

Ok, well now back to what they did right: that WiFi store. Totally genius, and a long time coming. I wonder if Microsoft is kicking itself at all knowing that this should've been then. It should've been their gravy train. They totally dropped the ball on the Zune and handed it right over to Apple. Apple took that ball and filed a patent, and ran with it. The iPod Touch and the iPhone will both soon be able to buy music (not video content, yet) wireless, and when you dock to your computer it'll sync up so that your iTunes will also have the music. Quick, easy, and pain-free. Of course, it's stupid that you have to pay another buck to convert songs you bought into ringtones, but I'm sure that's for royalty purposes. Anyhow, people bored on buses or in class can now use that time to quickly hand over more money to Apple, which they can now use to keep labels on board since no other mp3 player does this. Smart, huh?

Of course, not everything is well with the iTunes music store. NBC isn't happy. Apple claims that they want to double the price of shows, whereas insiders retort that Apple actually wants to cut prices in half. Things are so heated that NBC has even turned to the DRM-restrictive Amazon Unbox for more flexible pricing. Now I love Amazon, but Unbox still has serious issues. For having so many developers who love Linux, it amazes me that Amazon Unbox doesn't support Linux because they're using that stupid Microsoft DRM technology. Anyhow, Apple must be out of its mind to think that they can cut prices in half. We'll see what happens though, but I think they'll find that these studios are even less open-minded than the record labels are.

The New Format

Hey gang! So, I've been gone for a while, I know. I assure you that it was not my intention to abandon this blog, but things got hectic. Through only my own fault I did something stupid and added all this extra work onto myself. Things with NSC have been crazy busy. I have all this work to do for school. I think I've made some of the people I love dearly hate me. It's been kind of an intense and kind of a crazy start of the semester.

In a lot of ways, it's nice to be back in Austin. I've missed this place so much. When I walked around campus for the first time in 3 months, I couldn't help but smile at the little things. Shivers ran down my spine when I went to the Rec Center for a workout. I felt all warm inside to walk down into Taylor basement. I felt happy again when a certain person came over to study. I have a full docket of 15 hours though. Foundations of Finance and of Marketing don't seem too difficult, but all my CS classes will be challenging: OS, Computer Vision, and Network Security and Privacy. I feel like I'll enjoy that last class the best though. I'm worried about how much I'll like Computer Vision, but we'll see. It's a bit more math intensive than I would've preferred.

Overall, I don't know how I feel though. I feel like my feelings are clouded my all these other things that have been going on. I'm scared of a lot of things, but I'm optimistic about others. I went to Copa last Thursday and I was really bad. Hell, maybe I was never good at Salsa. But you know what? I'm not done. Not by a longshot. Even if it kills me, I will one day be the kind of dancer that girls will long to dance with. I'm not done with anything. I can be a better student. I can be a better speaker. I can be a better person. I can be more loveable (probably =P). I can be more fit. I can be a better cook. I can be a better driver. I have all these lofty goals in front of me now, but I can get through it all, I think. I'm done selling myself short.

Unfortunately, my life has definitely gotten too busy for me standard blogging schedule. What I've decided to do is to change the format of the blog to where I blog about a few things whenever I think they're interesting to talk about. I'm not going to talk about everything interesting anymore, I'm going to pick out the best stuff and talk about them when I can make time for it. In fact, I'm going to talk about the Apple announcement right after I wrap up this post. This is the only way I can keep this blog together, because I don't want it to disappear. I fear somehow that it may take a part of me with it, and I can't afford that.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Moving Back In

I guess I forgot to mention that I'm in the process of moving back into Austin and doing NSC stuff, and with classes starting on Wednesday just keep your eyes peeled for my next post. I'm sure it'll be very soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Before I get started here, I have to say that I hate Sprint. I called them to activate my brother's old Treo 650 for me, and they were rude and ugly the whole time. If you can help it, don't use Sprint. Anyhow, I saw Superbad today so I felt that a brief review was in order. It was a pretty entertaining movie, but quite crude. Maybe not quite on the level of Clerks 2, but still pretty heavy on cursing and gratuitous innuendo. If you can look past all that though, it's quite funny. The last portion of the movie is definitely the funniest, but it's pretty evenly sprinkled with what-the-hell humor. I guess I laughed so much because I could see the inner perv that every, and I mean every, guy experiences for a couple of years following puberty, cut lose on the big screen in the character Seth. What makes this movie so funny is that the casting is spot-on. I just love every character in this movie; they're perfect. Keep in mind that this is a comedy, not a drama or anything, so good acting means good delivery and believable caricatures. There were a few scenes where I had to look away because the scene was so shocking or I felt embarrassed for a character; that's what good acting is in a comedy. Anyhow, I give it a B because it was rather crude, but worth seeing if you can appreciate juvenile humor. You have to basically try to not be mature about it or an adult and realize that it's all just for fun.

This is truly amazing: so Google decided to refund customers of Google Video in Google Checkout credit when they shut down their video on demand services, but people were pissed. However, they actually responded and are additionally going to refund people's credit cards of purchase as well now! That's really quite an impressive response from Google. They're even going to extend the life of the videos by 6 months! This is how customer service should be.

Oh, they're also allowing you to embed Google Maps, handy for web pages and blogs and such. Very useful, I imagine. By the way, while I'm on Google Maps, have Houstonians noticed that we have Street View now?

Remember yesterday how I reported that Paramount and Dreamworks went HD-DVD only? Well, it turns out that they were paid off to do so, according to a Viacom insider, which doesn't make them look too good. What does it say about Toshiba that they have to pay studios to want to use only their format? Ouch.

Wal-mart has jumped on the DRM-free bandwagon at higher quality than typical protected content from UMG and EMI. Again, another solid step for DRM-free music since Wal-mart is such a big player, but I just hope that this pilot doesn't fail horribly, or that they don't misread it as increasing piracy but rather see it as a way to trust their fans and hope to bring back their business after all this alienation of lawsuits and DRM.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, torrent-sharing site, Supernova, is finally back online after quite a long hiatus. The Pirate Bay took over to get it back online, and it looks like it's here to stay. It's too late to say if it's back to its original capacity, but it's still looking good.

Lastly, this is a good read for the casual Linux user. It's just some commands that no Linux user should be without knowledge of.

In movie news, I only have a couple of trailers to talk about. The first is for Cassandra's Dream, which is a Woody Allen movie, but I have no idea what's going on in that trailer. If you've actually decoded it, please do comment and fill me in. The other trailer makes more sense: it's a rockumentary from Martin Scorcese about a Rolling Stones concert from 2006 called Shine a Light. Both are low quality because they're on YouTube, but the latter is cool to see.

Let me show you guys a cute picture before I close off of my brother's dog enjoying a jog on his tredmill:

Now for the Tuesday Twosome, on canned meat:

1. Do you check your email once a day or more? Explain:
More, because Gmail is always on for me. Now that I have a data plan on my phone though, I'll probably check even more often!
2. When you receive SPAM emails, do you just delete them or take the time to mark it as SPAM? Explain:
I mark them as spam, but it's pretty rare with the Gmail filter in full force.
3. When a friend/acquaintance emails you a “forward” email like a joke or chain letter, do you forward it to your friends or just delete it? Explain:
I never forward those things unless they're either extremely important or extremely funny. I hate forwarding stupid stuff.
4. Who are two people whose emails you look forward to receiving? Explain:
Pretty much just my girl. I don't know of anyone else who sends me any good personal e-mails.
5. Do you believe that email has completely replaced other forms of communication?
Not at all. People don't use it near enough for that. However, I think that text messaging and IMs have gained power quite quickly in recent years.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Copowi is Cool

Well there's no single important piece of news recently, so I thought I'd just use my main topic today to heap praises on Copowi, a new ISP that has promised net neutrality no matter what legislation gets pushed through. They're at the mercy of the existing telcos though as they obviously don't have fiber of their own out there. Of course, they have higher prices as well, and they're banking on the audience of users who aren't taking price into consideration. Heh, an interesting policy, right? Still, I think enough geeks may care about this cause to give them support. Are people really happy with their current broadband connections? I know I have unexpected, unpredictable outages, often at peak times because the connection is just inundated with users since Time Warner and Comcast and such are such cheap, greedy bastards. I think people would definitely pay a premium for quality service, and net neutrality would then just be an added bonus. There are certain niches where brand loyalty is important, and I think we don't have that in ISPs mainly because everyone hates them. If you change that though then you may have something to really run with.

This is interesting: Microsoft is licensing its audio watermarking technology to a small company in Seattle making its money off of similar technology. The idea? Free, ad-supported music. I'm not exactly sure how it would work, but it sounds like the watermarking would provide some targeting, and would likely bring up privacy concerns. I'm not going to cry foul until I see some solid use cases here.

In a very interesting move, Paramount and Dreamworks have decided to ditch Blu-ray for just HD-DVD, depriving the Sony-backed format of such titles as Transformers and Blades of Glory. Definitely not good news for Sony, but since HD-DVD is still playing catch-up, it isn't near bringing us to a definitive winner.

The Silicon Valley has decided to bring social networking to adult entertainment in the form of Zivity. It sounds nuts, but I'm genuinely intrigued by the concept (note that I didn't say this is the first Web 2.0 porn site, but it's quite different from Suicide Girls). They're going to give you high quality, free pictures of girls clothed, and you can pay to take the clothes off, and then you get a certain number of votes to give bonuses to the models you like best. This is strange because it's pretty racy and it involves significant investment, but it sounds like it tries to reward models and photographers appropriately, at least.

An MIT spinoff is trying to manufacture a chip with 64 processors involving the mesh architecture being researched at UT Austin by Dr. Doug Berger and Dr. Steve Keckler, both brilliant guys, in TRIPS. Can someone shed some light as to how they were able to fabricate this chip so quickly? In any case, I bet that TRIPS will come out with something even more powerful, but more useful for research than the mainstream.

There was only one piece of movie news I really wanted to bring up today, the teaser trailer for Harold and Kumar Go To Amsterdam where they're really running from the law as they're mistaken for terrorists. I'll admit that it's better than I would've thought, but it still leaves me skeptical.

Now for a bit of Monday Madness:

1. How many desktop computers in your home?
Just one, but I have on in Austin as well.
2. How many laptops?
3. What kind of internet service do you have? (i.e. phone modem, dsl, etc.)
4. Do you tend to use more than one email account regularly?
Yeah, Gmail and utexas, but both are controlled via my Gmail.
5. Do you use email as a main source for communicating to your family and friends?
Not exactly. I use IM or Facebook more frequently for family/friends my age, and the phone otherwise. I still use e-mail, just not primarily.
6. What kind of computer monitor do you own (flatscreen, or other)?
A 19" CRT in Austin, a 17" LCD in Houston.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Goodbye, Summer 2007

Alas, my summer is almost done now. Before I get to the retrospective though, I'd like to share some pictures from last week where I was pre-occupied taking in the city with a very special, beautiful girl:

The flowers in Pike's Place are really beautiful this time of year, and the sunflowers are ginormous.

The Japanese Garden at the UW Arboretum is breathtaking. I love the little island in the middle there.

There was even a Tea House!

Sunset on Elliott Bay is truly something to enjoy.

The Pacific Science Center was fun since the both of us are such huge science geeks.


Golden Gate Park is perfect for a late afternoon picnic. You can't jump in the water, but it's still a sight to behold. I love how the sky almost looks like a blue texture I just painted on there.

The Seattle Aquarium was really awesome. They had a giant circle for the jellyfish to swim in since jellyfish have to swim within currents.


The river otters are soo cute!

We had sushi at Maneki and it was awesome! Mmm...California Rolls...

I got a good picture of the skyline from a harbor cruise.

So as you can see, I've been too busy to post. Sorry about that. I wanted to talk real quick about my thoughts on how my summer went. If you don't care, then just check back tomorrow for a real post.

This summer felt like an exact opposite of last summer. It was almost creepy. Fun-wise, last summer was probably my best ever. I meshed very well with the Rapscallions, our little group of interns, and we had pool parties and pick up basketball games every week. Plus, that was where my interest in Salsa began. However, work became rather pedestrian. I felt like a real member of the workforce in that on Sunday night I always felt like the weekend flew by and I didn't want to wake up for work in the morning. This summer, it turns out that I was actually slightly sad some Saturdays that I didn't have to go to work that day! Of course, in July, I actually fulfilled my whim and went to work on Saturdays, in the interest of spending time last week with my girl seeing the city.

Anyhow, Amazon was a lot of fun. It was good and bad. It was bad in that it wasn't quite what I expected. It wasn't as glamorous as Google or anything like that, but it was still fun is what's fun. In fact, at first, I wasn't really all that excited about my team. They just seemed like all business, whereas last summer I hit it off immediately with my mentor and the other intern's mentor on our team. Over the summer though, I definitely grew to like all of them. They were actually a fun bunch, and extremely smart. I don't know if I'll ever get over how smart everyone is there and how attached they are to getting work done for the good of the company. Now that is the power of loving where you work: when you care about doing what you do. At TI, the morale didn't seem as high. The HR people hyped it up as being high, but I saw it as more of an Office Space environment. At Amazon, it was a plain environment, but very open and friendly all the same. Plus, there's a wonderful view everywhere in PacMed (and in TCC, as well, I'd imagine). Yeah, free food and chocolate milk would be nice, but free tea and hot cocoa packets are still good. Plus, two monitors! The only drawback was the big plus of Dallas: I didn't have as much fun outside of work. I didn't mesh as well with the interns this summer as last. Not to say they weren't cool or smart, they were, I just never felt as close to them. Plus, I missed home terribly, especially my girl.

As for the city, it's freaking gorgeous. As happy as I was to be back in Texas yesterday, I hated getting off that plane and looking outside to see ugly. There's nothing pretty about Houston at first glance. Yeah, it has hidden gems, but Seattle's beauty is so overt that you'd have to literally be blind to not see it. Plus, it was so humid here! A 20 degree jump really sucks. The biggest problem with living there for me was not being able to get around by car because I lived in downtown. I guess the actual big problem with going there is the high cost of living and the insane prices for real estate. Amazon would compensate appropriately, so I could probably still spend sensibly, but it still requires saving a lot of money. I'd love to settle down there though. It just seems like a wonderful place to raise a family, it really does. There's just so much to do with kids, and so much to do for a date, as well.

So would I move there? It's funny, I've said that Seattle isn't Austin, but Austin also isn't Seattle, and that's the best way to sum up my current predicament. My mom wants me to move to California, but I don't know that I can make enough out there right out of school to afford to live there. Austin is a fun, smaller city with some natural beauties of its own and its close to other places in Texas, especially my family. Plus, I have a lot of friends there, and it's a great city for a bachelor should I find myself in that predicament come next fall. However, Seattle is a wonderful big city, and it's surrounded with lots of fun stuff to do, including Vancouver and skiing. Plus, the weather is much better there. I don't know what I'm going to decide, to be honest. I loved Amazon, and I think I'd genuinely enjoy working there full time, but that's not to say that I couldn't find just as fun a job in Austin. I really am not sure what I'm going to do right now. Then there's my girl, who I love like crazy, and I want to be included in whatever I decide.

Well, I have the fall to look forward to. I get to spend it with her, most importantly, and I have to decide my future. It's scary in a lot of ways, because my first job will pretty much make or break my career. I have to go somewhere that gives me a diverse skill base, gives me a solid career track for advancement, compensates me appropriately, is in a vocationally fruitful location, and where I'd really enjoy what I do. Definitely not easy, but Amazon is definitely in the running.