Monday, July 28, 2008

BlackBerry Conundrum

As I previously stated, I had a BlackBerry temporarily for work which prompted me to buy one for personal use when I had a chance. So far, I'm very happy with my decisions. I was happy to turn in the other unit, as I feared it would soon become a leash. I also like the convenience and connectivity afforded my personal BB.

So, I'm not sure why I feel compelled to mix the two, but that's what I've attempted. I asked at work if I could connect my personal BlackBerry to their enterprise server. The way I saw it, this would be a good mix of potentially increased productivity without increased expectations. Plus, by paying for the unit and the service I'm not stepping on any toes with the request. The sort of thing where if nothing changes then nothing is lost, but if I can work more efficiently then I look better and am a better value for the company. It's a win/win situation, right?

Not quite.

The losing starts with the roadblock in my plan. My company's policy does not allow personal devices. It is mostly due to the support problems that causes, and that the engineers at the firm live in an alternate reality where our IT is responsible for any technical problems they, their clients, relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, etc... may encounter. So, I can't have my own phone and hook it into the corporate mail system.

But wait! There's a Plan B. Plan B is for me to cancel service for my new phone and get a BlackBerry from work instead. This would save me $40/month by eliminating the family plan and data service. I would have an unlimited data plan and could link it to my personal email. I would have enough minutes allocated for all my calling needs, and my boss assures me that I can make personal calls within reason, so I wouldn't have to carry multiple phones (which would be a deal breaker for me).

The problem with that idea is it would mean that I'm essentially selling my private usage data to the company. Essentially, they would own a device that I use extensively for personal communications, including phone calls, instant messages, and email. At any point they could fire me with no notice and rifle through the device spying on my personal communications. Without going to such extremes they could still easily track the calls I make, which is something I'm not comfortable with, even if my calling habits are fairly mundane.

Is there a solution? I'm not sure. One solution would be to forget about the whole thing and leave my work email at work when I leave at 5. [Ha ha! More like 7.] There would be no expectation of increased productivity or availability, but I would also miss out on the benefits.

Another solution is to forward my work email to a personal account. This is the one I will try starting tomorrow. There are a few problems with this method. I won't be able to properly reply to the emails unless I log in to the email system or reply from my personal account. There will likely be a longer delay between the time the email is sent and the time I receive it. Also, I'm likely violating some risk management/email retention/privacy policy with every email that forwards, creating a vague possibility of legal ramifications. I'll want to be more proactive to filter the noise, because all of that email will end up in 3 places (work inbox, personal inbox, BB). Hopefully this will give me some of the benefits without introducing the nastier problems. I'm flirting with the boundaries of work/life balance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blogging Bonanza

I went nuts tonight. Between finishing un-posted entries and creating new entries, including this one, I'll have 10 new posts. Considering the ~35 posts I made during the last 11 months, I think that's quite a feat.

I don't know how it may look if someone out there has this blog in their RSS reader. I did edit a lot of entries tonight. All of the entries that were newly released tonight I had to modify the dates on. Many were posted with the original date that the draft was started, which would be okay if I hadn't added new content on top of the entry. If that did anything funky to anyone's reader, I apologize. I was editing for clarity, not to hide anything.

While I was at it I also deleted a few entries that were incomplete or more boring than usual. Then I went back and tagged nearly all of them. Finally, I added a few new items to the side bar of the blog.

Consider this yearly maintenance. I think I'm done now.

Idea: Replacement Caps for Wal-Mart's New Milk Containers

As you may know by now, Wal-Mart has started selling milk in a new type of container. This container causes problems when pouring the milk. I think that the problem could be solved by selling a reusable cap with a built in spout alongside the milk. The savings of the new container would eventually even out the cost of the cap, and both Wal-Mart and the vendor selling the cap could make money off of it.

I'd produce this myself, but I have no idea how to get started. I tried contacting the company that designed the new containers but they aren't easy to get in touch with. I thought it best to put the idea out here instead.

What McCain Should Do

If McCain wants to keep Obama from running away with this election he should make a very public spectacle of firing top campaign management. On the other side of this he should immediately begin running a campaign that makes almost no negative mention of Obama, and his focus should be on his own integrity and commitment to the United States. His current campaign makes him seem old, outdated, and the wrong choice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Finally Making a Move from Microsoft

Years ago I attempted to shift my home from Windows to Linux (GNU/Linux with KDE, GNOME, and a few other window managers, for the sticklers out there). It was a terrific success and then a huge failure. For around six months Windows was almost never used at home. Then my wife started school and a week into that it wasn't worth the struggle to get things to work with her school.

Her school was generally uncaring about what she did or didn't have available to her, for them she had to have a Windows OS and Microsoft Office. They wouldn't accept PDFs, her assignments involved creating documents that use features RTF doesn't support, and at the time still had issues saving Word documents. So, even though I managed to trick the school's website into unblocking Konquerer, she eventually had to use Windows.

Windows is a drug. All it takes is one use and you're hooked. Ignore the side effects, the constantly degrading performance, the nearly mandatory reinstall every few years, the need for all sorts of protective [and resource draining] software, it's still easier than fighting the tide. Roll with it, and you become addicted to the ease of communicating with others who are hopelessly addicted to Microsoft's proprietary formats. You can move on with your life and forget about the computer.

Along came Vista, and things started to change. The staunchest Microsoft supporters can only give a meek yelp of defense for Vista. It is becoming a Windows Me 2, and everyone is avoiding it. As more people move to that OS I hear more chatter about this or that device becoming a useless brick. Now that you must jump through hoops to buy a new system with XP, more people are becoming sympathetic with those who switch from Microsoft.

The resurgence of Apple is the tipping point. Apple is becoming less of a niche market every day. It helps that Apple kept their price points up so Macintosh owners are now associated with money. America respects money, so America has started to respect Apple again. With respect for Apple comes the understanding that interoperability [the real definition, not Microsoft's distortion] is important.

To give due respect, FireFox plays a big part in this as well. FireFox is largely responsible for the browser market opening up again. Now that Internet Explorer is relegated to a mere two thirds of the market fewer businesses are ignoring the other browsers. This means there is far less of a chance that a website will required IE for basic use. Although I still encounter a lot of small organizations who are behind the times and want IE for important features to work, sometimes inexcusable features like rendering or navigation. It is far better than it was, which is important because the World Wide Web becomes more useful every day.

When a shock to my Inspiron notebook bricked it this weekend I had a choice. I could continue with my addiction to Microsoft, or I could pay a little more and make a big step toward freedom. I took the step and I bought a MacBook.

A Quick BlackBerry Post-Mortem

I recently carried and returned a BlackBerry 8820 for my job. I did this on a temporary basis as a stipulation of my vacation, since not enough notice was given I had to be on-call for at least two of the five days. My experience overall was a positive one, I was able to be responsive and somewhat productive what out of the office.

I never finished this one. Long story short, I found myself checking my mail too often. I felt slightly leashed to work. The 8820 was too big for my liking, and the keys too small. Yet, through all that I was able to be away from work without worrying too much that I'd miss out on things. I could communicate still, and I was able to make a big contribution with only a small amount of my day.

I decided not to press for a BB through work, but to get one for personal use. Last weekend I did just that. I chose the Pearl because it's more phone-like yet it has larger buttons that are easier for me to use. I'm trying to work something out where I can get my work email on this phone without the attached expectations of having a work BB. That way I can use my free time to help my productivity without my boss (or her boss, more importantly) feeling that they command 24 hours per day of my time. We'll see how that goes.

Traffic, A Light at the End of the Off Ramp

I wanted to analyze this intersection and point out why it's so horrible. That was obviously more effort than it's worth. This post is about eleven months old...

Of the daily annoyances I encounter, the ones that involve driving are probably the most prevalent and irksome. Whether it be bad drivers, bad laws, or poorly designed roads, driving can be one of the most stress inducing activities you frequently partake in. Probably the saddest part of all is that I know how relaxing driving can be if you find yourself in a situation where none of those factors can influence you. In North Jersey those situations are especially scarce.

Take this intersection, please...

This image, courtesy of Microsoft Virtual Earth, is the intersection of a heavily traveled semi-limited access divided highway and a relatively (especially for the design of the road) highly traveled side street. The highway, State Route 46, acts as a secondary artery for Northern New Jersey. Its path criss crosses I-80, at times it's a limited access highway and at times it's simply divided and is littered with retail and the occasional residence. The cross street is one of those old farm roads come neighborhood through way come major thoroughfare that this area is littered with. Several other neighborhood side streets intersect in the immediate area, as well.

Did you notice what this picture lacks?

It lacks a traffic signal. All of the intersections pictured on the cross street are controlled by stop signs alone. Making matters worse, none of the stop signs apply to the major cross street. All of them apply to the tributaries and off ramps.

Any traffic engineer could watch this intersection during moderate to heavy volume, which happens frequently, to see how the traffic flow at is a horrible failure.

DVR is a Game Changer, Someone Tell the Networks

When I started writing this I planned to write three or four consecutive posts about TV. I had a lot of thoughts about how TV could be better for DVRs, and I like to think that DVRs could be better for TV...

First, the problem: When a sports broadcast does not end on time the broadcaster often shifts the start time of later programs so they can be displayed in their entirety. This wreaks havoc for the DVR user, whose device relies upon the program scheduling to know when to run. Extra innings in a Sunday afternoon baseball game can cause prime time to shift, sometimes by over an hour.

I think that the networks are foolish to ignore the DVR market. I know they really dislike DVRs because they embody a change in demographics that scares advertisers. I think that this data can easily be tracked and the ad revenue will not cease for quite some time. In fact, if they work with DVR providers they may be able to collect more accurate information on the subject. I think that time shifting, particularly with the ease that a DVR offers, opens up the viewership to new demographics while the existing demographic stays the same. It also could change the value of off-peak time. Imagine running new content at 3 a.m. and telling viewers to set their Tivo, but I digress.

The important part here is to make sure that the intended viewer sees the show they want to watch. Even those who don't have a DVR may have time constraints that prevent them from watching the 9 o'clock time slot. There are more potential solutions when you consider the DVR, but even the average viewer could benefit from a few changes.

Give the event some insulation. Put a show after the event that can easily be canceled if the event goes into overtime.

More Chain Mail Lunacy

In retrospect, I should have posted this one as-is back in November...

Last time, I was complaining because a coworker used me as a source rather than doing a simple two second search to verify the validity of a piece of chain mail, and I commented on how the email actually linked to the article that invalidates it. This time it's far worse. This time the CIO actually forwarded one of these messages, claiming a new computer virus is spreading, to the IT Department.

Why Doesn't the Theater Industry Do Something?

Here's a brief diagnosis of what's wrong with the theater industry. I was going to suggest that they do more dinner theaters and IMAX screens, and I still think that's the answer. Make a movie ticket significantly more expensive and increase your service level. That will make movie goers feel special and they'll respect the entire experience more. One thing is for certain, something has to change if this industry doesn't want to join the drive-in...

After much ado, I recently purchased my first HDTV. I've had a surround sound system for quite a while. I also have a Netflix membership and a very comfortable couch. This leads me to the question:

Why should I ever go to the theater again?

I'll further qualify this by stating that I am nearly 30, so I'm mature enough to not bite on advertising hype. I've learned the people and conversations that I need to ignore so that the plot is not spoiled for me. There are other factors to help solidify the decision that I really don't want to go to the theater anymore, but I won't bore you with them.

Back to the question, I think that people need a compelling reason to go to theaters. I'm going to try to find ways that the industry could answer this question, but in reality the industry should be attempting to answer it themselves. Without an answer, I believe that somewhere around three of every four theater goers who purchases an HDTV will abandon the theaters and never look back.

The Simple Answer

The simple answer, and the one that theater owners have stuck to, is that they must keep DVD release dates pushed back as far as possible. They must cling to the old system where movies come out in theaters and then are released on consumer media some arbitrary time span later. This gives the theaters a temporary monopoly that adds value to their ticket sales.

This is the same flawed logic that is hurting the entertainment system everywhere. They are simply so afraid of change that they will spend every dime they can to make things stay the same, instead of adapting. They're ignoring what their consumers want. The consumer wants to either stay at home or have a better experience at the theater. They don't want to go to the theater to spend $50 for sticky seats and obnoxious company. (I can hardly remember the last time a movie at the theater wasn't marred by some selfishly loud commenter or teen who can't hang up their cell phone.) People will not continue to honor the monopoly of the theaters if the entire experience is terrible, the rest of the industry will not continue to ignore this either.

If the industry and the consumers abandon the theaters, who is left? No one. The theaters will fold at that point. America will then be left with an immense collection of empty big box multiplexes and a mere memory of when it was worthwhile to go out and see a movie.

Basically, while the limited monopoly answer is still part of the equation, it's not a good answer. Theaters can not afford to rely on this. The supplier is threatening to take it away and the consumer is demanding it go.

It's an indictment against the theater experience. The only way to fix this is to fix the experience. The answer lies in asking more questions. Questions like, "How can the experience be fixed?"

The Never Ending Netflix Queue

Here's a post I started writing a couple of months ago and left as a draft. I remains true, though Karenann no longer has her own queue so mine has grown to about 45 movies. I think I was going to try to analyze why the queue never really shrinks, but I'll just post the thought as is...

I've been a member of Netflix for several years. I've had my own queue since late 2005. There have been periods where I only have one movie out at a time, and others where I have two.

Originally, I only allocated one movie to myself. Then I watched as the other two sat on the entertainment center unwatched. So I gave myself another slot. I was watching movies far more frequently. I figured that I would process a bunch of movies that I wanted to watch and then give the slot back once I'd whittled my queue down to 10 or 15 movies.

My queue has never dipped below 25 movies.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It Is Not WWIII, Yet

I'm looking forward to debunking the World War III rumors that are currently being spread by spam. Just in case you see this and you get an email that you're tempted to open, don't do it. These spammers are using this as a way to spread malware so that they can recruit more computers to do their spamming. We haven't invaded Iran yet, and you probably still have a chance to vote against more war this fall.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

5 Days

5 days is how long it's taken my package to get from Jersey City to... Jersey City. I don't know whether Amazon or the USPS is at fault but it is ridiculous either way.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Thank You For Working

I want to take a moment to express my appreciation to everyone who is working during this three day weekend. Even those who were able to take the 4th off, but have to work today or tomorrow, deserve some gratitude. Holidays are great, but the world continues to move. Thank you for facilitating that movement. Rest assured that there are people who don't take you for granted.

Netflix Redeemed

After a few weeks of customer complaints they decided to keep their profiles feature.

I'm still going to work to move my ratings outside of Netflix. I've begun rating movies on IMDB for this. Then I'll delete my profile and assimilate my information into my wife's, since she's no longer using the service anyway. I still wish they made the data portable, it would make everything so much easier.