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.