Google is tracking the ebb and flow of Web queries like "flu symptoms" or "muscle aches" in an effort to identify outbreaks.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Pogue: Hail to every BlackBerry, cellphone, Bluetooth headset, Palm organizer, e-book reader, music player, cordless mouse and G.P.S. receiver that recharges through a mini-U.S.B. jack! No more big black power transformers — recharge from your laptop. It's the dawn of the universal, fully interchangeable power cord.This is a great development, long overdue.
POWER STICK Speaking of those hideous black wall warts [chargers]: you don't need them if you have a PowerStick ($65, powerstick.com). It's a tiny universal gadget charger, the size of a stick of Wrigley's, that draws its power from your laptop's U.S.B. jack.
It comes with nine short cables for the opposite end, made to fit the power jacks of common cellphone brands (LG, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia), the iPod or iPhone and anything that gets its power from a mini- or micro-U.S.B. jack (see above).
First, you travel very, very light. (I haven't packed my cellphone adapter in a year.)
Second, the PowerStick does more than charge your gadget; it also stores a second charge, so that you'll be able to do another recharge in the field, without the laptop. (A cool "fuel gauge" lets you know how full it is.) Finally, a processor shuts off the power when the charging is complete, which saves electricity and, according to the company, prolongs your gadget's life.
Noted that this may be the kind of feature that sounds good on paper, but adds more complexity to the platform than the feature is worth, if it causes flaky or unreliable behavior (like Windows Power Management has been known to).
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This is the second time very recently something like this has happened. On her originally scheduled departure date, her destination, Albany, was due for a severe ice storm. We were 95% sure the flight would be canceled. But as of 3 hours before the flight, the NWA site still showed it as scheduled. Beth wound up calling NWA, and then they told her "oh yeah, that flight has been canceled".
Maybe this is just bad luck, but I am not impressed.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Whereas in fields where employers are free to pay for performance, someone who switches professions mid-career, if they along the learning curve fairly quickly, may quickly find themselves making a wage comparable to someone who has been in the field much longer.
Friday, December 12, 2008
This time I took a little time to search. I think I found the closest thing, which is the Moderate Comments option in settings.
What I am thinking of is a kind of view that would make it very quick to see only my posts that have comments, and to read those comments. I think the ideal would include:
- A running list of posts, with the comments below.
- The post itself would be presented in outline form (first couple of lines, then the rest collapsed, uncollapsible via a quick "Ajax-architecture" plus button.
- Something similar for the posts, though the unit for them might be 6-10 lines.
- A way to "Mark As Read".
Saturday, December 06, 2008
3/18/2010 Postscript: I have found this feature on a phone in the wild. Ironically, it is on the cheapest phone in our household--a $20 pay-as-you-go phone that my son got when he broke his real phone.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Black Friday is named for the day when, historically, retailers moved into
the black, or became profitable for the year.
Although, I suppose, from the standpoint of a descriptive dictionary, this usage is steadily gaining ground versus the original usage (from Wikipedia):
The earliest uses of "Black Friday" come from or reference Philadelphia and refer to
the heavy traffic on that day, an implicit comparison to the extremely stressful
and chaotic experience of Black Tuesday (the 1929 stock-market crash). The earliest known reference to "Black Friday" (in this sense), found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, refers to Black Friday 1965 and makes the Philadelphia origin explicit:
JANUARY 1966 -- "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia
Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not
a term of endearment to them. "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas
shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and
over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
The American Medical Association frequently publishes articles calling attention to the health implications of people not getting enough sleep. But their industry is the absolutely, positively worst violator. What medical residents go through is insane.
It was the middle of the night, and Laura Silverthorn, a nurse at a hospital in Washington, knew her patient was in danger.How much of a contributor is sleep deprivation?
The boy had a shunt in his brain to drain fluid, but he vomiting and had an extreme headache, two signs that the shunt was blocked and fluid was building up. When she paged the on-call resident, who was asleep in the hospital, he told her not to worry.
After a second page, Ms. Silverthorn said, “he became arrogant and said, ‘You don’t know what to look for — you’re not a doctor.’ ”He ignored her third page, and after another harrowing hour she called the attending physician at home. The child was rushed into surgery.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I got so frustrated, I put it in the drawer a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, I thought more about it today, and it occurred to me that I should consider a firmware upgrade. So I did the upgrade, and tried the phone again. Based on about 30 minutes worth of data, and holding my breath, but it seems to have cured the problem.
So that is a good reminder--when experiencing problems with electronics, don't forget to try the firmware upgrade. In fact, it is probably a good idea to try it sooner rather than later--you don't have to wait till all else fails!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Unfortunately, all the effort seems to have gone into cramming all the expected features of a contemporary phone, into this tiny package. What seems completely lost is useability as a phone! (Unless perhaps all Nokias work like this--this is my first Nokia in years--in which case it is solely the fault of bad design, and not attributable only to the super-small form factor).
The general theme is waaaay too many button presses to do anything. The best example is mute--a crucial feature in a cell phone. Should be 1 easy click to mute/un-mute, and it should be obvious, at a glance, whether the phone is muted. Not here--to activate mute you have to: 1) invoke the menu; 2) navigate to the Mute option; 3) click Mute.
There are many other examples. Another thing that should be very, very easy is putting the phone on vibrate. In my prior phones, you could do this by just holding the volume switch down. On the Nokia, it requires: 1) access the menu (or, if you set it up, the shortcut); 2) click the menu option for "profiles"; 3) that brings you to a choice of profiles, you have to navigate to the one you want; 4) click the one you want; 5) here is the worst part--after you click it, you have to select "activate".
The whole thing is bad, but even half-way software competent design would eliminate step #5--activate is what you access 99% of the time, so it is what you get when you do a full "click" on the profile. IF you want to do something else (that would be the obscure actions of Customize or Timed), well, that is what the soft buttons are for!
The phone is billed as a "music" phone, but it really doesn't do anything special in that regard, either. As far as I can tell, slapping 3 buttons--fast forward, pause, rewind--on the outside makes it a music phone. The only one of those that is particularly useful is the pause button, which could as easily just be replaced by the center click. And that seemingly uses up all available space for external buttons, so the other stuff that is usually activated by them--camera, voice recorder--is all buried within the standard menu. UPDATE: In fact, the buttons are more of a bug, because they are easily activated a la "butt calls"--an unforgivably, there is no option to lock the handset during music mode. That is just plain stupid.
This phone is like an uncomfortable, unreliable car that you buy just for its looks. I would not recommend it or pick it again (I knew I hadn't done enough research, but took a chance). It violates the basic commandment of design--above all else, do the essentials well.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced "fresh faces" to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.Interesting point--my italics. Because the "fresh faces" concept doesn't seem to work so well, but then again, neither does the status quo.
By nature domain understanding does not lead to specification. Understanding suggests design. A very important part of design is limits. When design is allowed to bubble up from understanding it’s easy to put the limit of the design into places that are logical for the domain. In contrast to design, requirement definition is limitless. The requirements gathering process typically goes on until someone says “I think we’ve got enough now”. That arbitrary stopping point becomes a design limit and hobbles further system development.
The solution is to write the requirements after the design is created so that the scope will be defined.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Better software is the way to accelerate this. Until the advent of the iPhone and Google Android, you get whatever is pre-installed. And that is usually very mediocre--the cell phone makers definitely have the checklist mentality for features: it just has to be adequate to get checked off as being present, there is no concept whatsoever of striving for excellence in design, a la Apple.
Key features I am looking for:
1. eReader platform. I think cell phones will kill off eReaders before they ever get going. A big-screen cell phone will be adequate for incidental reading. If you want more than that, why buy an eReader when you could have a Netbook, for the same or less money.
2. GPS. I may be hoping for too much--I'm not paying $10/month forever to have a cell phone GPS.
3. Good note-taking.
4. This is a far-off dream: universal remote control.
I think something that would increase useability would be a Launchy-style interface, to get a them quickly. Although maybe with the real-estate of a large-screen phone, you could have everything you use frequently on the desktop.
Note taking has got to get much better; I think the design goal would be that jotting a very short reminder note should not take more than 2x as long as on paper, including time to access the app. Also need good integration with voice notes. That would include develop a user-based voice to text profile that is persistent (doesn't have to be started anew with a new handset). Google would have a big advantage here, with its huge database from Goog 411.
A spin-off article I saw listed the gadgets that would not be replaced by cellphones, along with the reasoning, related to functional issues. Two of them listed were: 1) Calculator 2) Alarm Clock. Interestingly, one of my children uses her phone exclusively for each of these functions, even though she has recourse to the traditional, purpose-built alternatives.
So I think there are two main factors holding back wider usage of cell phones for some auxiliary functions, such as these. One is age, and the habits that accumulate with age. As Steve Jobs famously said, death will take care of that problem. The other is the design factor alluded to above.
I believe with thoughtful design, a modern cell phone can be made to work very well for almost any given function. For the design challenge of the snooze button on the alarm, for instance, the phone could automatically go into an "any key snooze" mode, similar to the any key answer feature. As a bonus, software applications running on a modern phone--which is very much a full-functioning hand-held cmputer--probably can offer features that don't exist on the old technology (such as switching between standard infix notation, and HP-style reverse Polish postfix notation for a calculator).
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Although the example of handling printer output does resonate with me. That is always a big problem. A simple, minimalist solution would be to have bins for each day. At the end of the day, the designated person puts all remaining output into the bin for that day. When the new week rolls around, anything still in the Monday bin gets tossed.
I note that the key difference is that example refers to a highly-shared area, not the personal space of a knowledge-worker.
Google docs works so much better. You create a document, and then invite people to collaborate. You can set rules that allow or disallow your invitees from inviting others.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The blame for this travesty not only belongs to the auto executives, but must be shared equally with the entire Michigan delegation in the House and Senate, virtually all of whom, year after year, voted however the Detroit automakers and unions instructed them to vote. That shielded General Motors, Ford and Chrysler from environmental concerns, mileage concerns and the full impact of global competition that could have forced Detroit to adapt long ago.... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.Normally I am against "white-knight thinking", but I have to say, Robert X. Cringely's suggestion is intriguing:
Somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn't need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he'd like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I'd bet it wouldn't take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Postscript: this thread gives some clues. It seems that you need the contacts on the handset to have pictures or ringtones associated with the contact. Okay, that is presumably a hardware constraint, but it still strikes me as exposing WAAAYY too much implementation to the user. Why not just duplicate the contact in both places, if the user chooses to associate a ringtone to it? Why make them have to think about this stuff?
Friday, October 31, 2008
But in scientific terms, the global economy is a closed system. There is no external creditor to borrow from. So I can't quite get my puny mind around what the implications are on a global scale. Why does there have to be a crash? Why can't we all just more or less keep doing what we have been doing?
I mean, I could understand a global economic crunch caused by a non-economic event, like war, or by a critical resource shortage. That I get. But I don't really, deep down, understand what is different, except that there is a crisis of confidence. Is it that simple? That could do it--if one day we all wake up, and decide to not spend a dime, that would cause the gears of commerce to grind to a halt. Paul Krugman alluded to that in his "Consumers Capitulate" column.
Or is the explanation more subtle? Have we felt flush for years, and been too willing to spend money on frivolities, such as meals out or manicures, for example? And now, as we come to realize that our net worth's aren't what we thought, and our incomes aren't going up like we thought they would, are we generating an economic dislocation, by suddenly shifting our consumption preferences? So we have too many restaurants and cosmetologists, and too few appliance repairmen (to keep our old appliances going, instead of buying new ones)?
Krugman: To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. ..So these data are basically telling us what happened before confidence collapsed after the fall of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, not to mention before the Dow plunged below 10,000. Nor do the data show the full effects of the sharp cutback in the availability of consumer credit, which is still under way. So this looks like the beginning of a very big change in consumer behavior. And it couldn't have come at a worse time.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Whereas if people raid their 401k's in order to make mortgage payments, they are going to arrive at retirement, 20 or 30 years down the road, with nothing. And that is a social problem. So better to lose the house and downsize now, than be without a living in retirement.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
For the last few decades, the most popular diets were complex formulas that promised abundant eating with just the right combinations of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Now those regimens are starting to look like exotic mortgages and other risky financing instruments. And just like a reliable savings account, good old calorie counting is coming back into fashion.Yep, this seems pretty reasonable. There are some secondary considerations to what kind of calories you consume--more calories are used turning protein into stored fat than turning fat into stored fat--but the primary factor is just the number of calories.
I take the same view of calories in relation to exercise. I have always believed, for those interested in weight-control and general conditioning, that total number of calories was probably the most important factor. (Training for finely-tuned competitive althletes, seeking to maximize performance, may have more subtleties.) Likewise, in terms of fitness and especially weight-loss benefits, I think that total calories burned is more important than which zone you are in, or what your heart-rate is. (Although some of the literature on interval-training does make it sound "magical".)
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Particularly as cell phones get smaller and smaller, they can get mis-placed. The key to finding them is to realize it soon after they have been lost, so you can call it and listen for the ring. But if Murphy's Law is alive and well, you will have mis-placed your cell phone some time when it is in silent mode.
So, the proposed cell phone feature is a password-enabled Find Me mode. You call your phone, and when it answers by going to voice mail, you have the chance to "enter 9, for Find Me option", followed by your 4-digit PIN. This causes the phone to switch to its loudest ringing mode.
Wake Up and Find Me
And what if the phone is not merely silenced, but is turned off? Well, contemporary cell phones have internal functions even when powered off, so that their alarm clock function works relaiably. So I can envision a more elaborate feature that would work this way:
- When powered off, the cell phone wakes itself up every 12 hours.
- When it wakes up, it "polls" the voice mail system.
- If it finds a "special" voice mail, in which the user activated the Find Me feature, it keeps itself awake but silenced, and will now respond to the Find Me feature described above.
As I think about it, this second version adds a lot of complexity, and poses some issues for environments in which cell phones must be turned completely powered off (airplanes and medical equipment are the two I am aware of). So I guess there would have to be an override option on the phone, that you set before turning it off. And therein lies mounting complexity--the average phone user will not be aware of the Find Me feature, and even less aware of the need to override in sensitive settings. So perhaps this part of the feature can be filed under the category of "cool idea in theory, but too many complications in practice".
Regarding the basic Find Me feature, I think there are fewer usage-oriented complications. I'm not a cell phone systems engineer, but I am pretty sure that the complicating factor for this feature is creating the ability for voice mail to call back into the handset functionality. I don't think it is anything that is impossible to solve, but I don't think it is how cell phones work. Maybe an opportunity for the gPhone/Android?
Although Wikipedia offers a conflicting definition, I take "working-class" to mean someone who is not either independently wealthy (a member of the aristocracy), nor a member of elite, independent professions (traditionally medicine, law or the clergy), nor an business owner. In other words, somebody who has to show up, day in and day out, to earn a paycheck. That could describe a factory worker, but it could also describe a well-paid professional. (The Japanese term, salaryman, neatly captures the idea as related to professionals.)
Anyway, what got me thinking about this subject enough to finally sit down and write about it was this quote I came across:
"A stunning statistic is that unlike in past epochs, the higher up the income ladder you go, the more hours you work," said Dalton Conley, a sociology professorat New York University.The key point being: working, in the sense of trading one's time for income, is highly correlated to economic status.
(1) In fact, it is probably an irrelevant term for almost all parts of America, for all times, except maybe plantation owners in the pre-bellum South.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Issue: something that will cause complications or setbacks for the project.Under these definitions, an Issue is more severe than a Risk.
Risk: something that has the potential to cause complications or setbacks for the project, if it occurs; and there is no plan to actively prevent it.
To me, that is backward:
Risk: something that has the potential to cause complications or setbacks for the project, if it occurs; and there is no ability to completely be sure of preventing it.It seems that the general lingusitic trend of replacing the word "problem" with "issue" has crept into software development.
Issue: a complicating detail to attend to. Something intrinsically manageable, however, so that as long as it is addressed as planned, there will be no significant negative consequences to the project.
Problem: a complicating detail which is not routine, and presents a significant challenge to overcome. This seems to be what most people want to call an "issue".
On top of that, if you drive a hard bargain, you can do much better than store prices. What I did, when switching to T-Mobile for a family of 5, was shop Amazon for our phones. Amazon has amazing, post-rebate prices, but there are a few catches. First catch is not too surprising--2-year service contract, just like you would get at the company store (though even more restrictive in details). Second catch--you have to mail in the rebate in a window--after 60 days, before 120 days of service. That is a big gotcha--everybody knows rebates are dicey at best, but having to remember to send it in after 60 days ups the ante. Third catch--they don't have a way to give you the corporate discount. To get that, you will have to ask after you sign up. I think that works, but it's not the best position to be in, so if you go that route, verify in advance that you will be able to get the discount (and nail down the % off) after the fact.
Those are complications, not automatic showstoppers--the Amazon phone prices are jaw-droppingly cheaper, especially for high-end phones (and it really adds up when buying 5 new phones). What I did, though, was to call T-Mobile to compare. I didn't bother with the store, I went to the business division. They couldn't quite match Amazon's phone prices, but they came close, with less of it in the form of rebates. The clincher, though, was that they offered a one-year contract. I was really kind of stunned by that--everybody knows to get the big discounts on phones, you have to sign up for 2 years. And we were getting the discounts on 5 phones.
1 year is terriffic. That just opens up your options. Either to switch carriers, if either dissatisfied, or just seeking a better deal.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Apple has had great success in part because it has convinced customers to turn away from a $1,000 Windows laptop and to buy its $1,600 laptop instead for its stunning displays and ease of use.$1000? $1600?! You've got to be kidding--$500 is more than I want to spend on a home laptop.
I briefly thought about a Mac. I've heard rave reviews, including "runs Windows better than Windows". I could see paying, oh, say a 30% premium for the Apple experience. But 100-150% premium? I don't think so. Same thing with the iPod--they are double what competitive MP3 players cost. I held out from buying one, and now am using my new cell phone. Definitely not nearly as slick, but one device meets both needs, and anyway, I'm a light user.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Many believe that wild greed and market failure led us into this sorry mess. According to that narrative, investors in search of higher yields bought novel securities that bundled loans made to high-risk borrowers. Banks issued these loans because they could sell them to hungry investors. It was a giant Ponzi scheme that only worked as long as housing prices were on the rise. But housing prices were the result of a speculative mania. Once the bubble burst, too many borrowers had negative equity, and the system collapsed.
MyKey allows parents to limit teenage drivers to a top speed of 80 miles per hour, cap the volume on the car stereo, demand seat belt use and encourage other safe-driving habits.This is a great idea. I think 60 mph would be a good upper limit. Maybe 50, if you could be sure your child wasn't going to need to go on the highway.
also highlighted MyKey’s low-fuel warning, which lights up earlier than normal. He called it “a little thing for Mom and Dad.”
- Crapware (aka, Trialware)-free (because right now Best Buy is getting some people to pay an extra $75 for this)
- Built-in backup (software, but also a mirrored hard drive)
- One or two very modest design and engineering touches--such as the Mac-style magnetic power cord
- The crowning glory would be easy-to-use virtual machines (VMWare), so that you could always roll back to a pristine install
I know I am not the first person to make this observation, but how ridiculous is that--I'm supposed to pay them to remove the junk that comes on the product they sell to me?! As I've said before, it just completely undermines the user experience, unlike when you buy Apple. Needless to say, I curtly dismissed this pitch.
I think a big part of the problem is that margins are so thin in the PC hardware business, that the OEMs are just desperate for incremental revenue. It's almost like spam--even if only one person in 500 upgrades their pre-installed trialware to the payeware version, the comission on the pre-install still represents a desperately needed revenue stream for the OEMs.
I still say that a better user experience is an opportunity for a niche player in the Windows PC market.
PS What did surprise me was that the salesman never bothered to pitch two of the usual favorites--expensive cables and extended warranties. I guess my profile--cheapest laptop in the store, no time of day for the virus protection--told him I was a lost cause.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
It seems that the majority of investors, economists, and governmental leaders are overlooking a very important right hand side of this mortgage rate reset graph. The subprime loan reset period (represented by the green bars) may be nearing the end, but the lightly-shaded yellow bars represent $500 billion worth of option-ARM loans expected to reset from mid 2009 through 2012.I also think the author is overlooking another factor, which is that 5/1 and 7/1 ARMs for non-subprime borrowers will also be re-setting in the next few years. The results may not be quite as catastrophic, but there will still be a lot of rate jumps, particularly if prevailing rates go up between now and then.
On that score, I think I did pretty well. I went in, looking for the $499 Dell Inspiron that was advertised. While I was waiting for them to fetch me that, though, I saw an almost-equivalent Acer, clearance-priced for $375. That is about as low as I can possibly imagine getting a Windows laptop; or, for that matter, any PC. And it even came with Vista Home Premium. I believe Micro$oft has given up on trying to extract a premium for VHP over Vista Home Basic--even the very cheapest laptops now come with VHP.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
As was observed in the early days of email spam--unsolicited, unwelcome email is still spam, even when it comes from a charitable organization.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Thursday, October 02, 2008
two companies showed off their Android applications. Big in Japan showed ShopSavvy, a neat tool that scans a bar code and then searches the web and local stores for the same itemThat's a pretty good idea. I have thought something like that would be useful when considering a purchase. If you aren't tuned in to the price point for an item you are considering purchasing (probably as an impulse), you can very quickly get a readout on what is a good price. Of course, as with so many things, the business model seems like a great big question mark.
Friday, September 19, 2008
To find out, I did what I normally do when I'm trying to save $60: I Googled. Eventually I came upon a note on FixYourOwnPrinter.com posted by a fellow calling himself OppressedPrinterUser. This guy had also suspected that his Brother was lying to him, and he'd discovered a way to force it to fess up. Brother's toner cartridges have a sensor built into them; OppressedPrinterUser found that covering the sensor with a small piece of dark electrical tape tricked the printer into thinking he'd installed a new cartridge. I followed his instructions, and my printer began to work. At least eight months have passed. I've printed hundreds of pages since, and the text still hasn't begun to fade. On FixYourOwnPrinter.com, many Brother owners have written in to thank OppressedPrinterUser for his hack. One guy says that after covering the sensor, he printed 1,800 more pages before his toner finally ran out.
our cognitive elites are increasingly inbred. Doctors used to marry nurses, professors used to marry their secretaries, business moguls used to marry starlets. Now doctors marry doctors, professors professors, moguls moguls, lawyers lawyers, etc. Those “modest origins” of our meritocratic elites are less modest by the year. We might be drifting towards a caste system, except that meritocracy requires some openness, some vacuuming-up of high-I.Q. outliers from the lower classes, some dumping of low-I.Q. duffers from the elites.
A nice, pull-up divider would be a great solution. Keep the heavy nicely segregated from the soft stuff.
I guess Vista, like the Mac, has this built in. About time. I also think it is an example of classic Microsoft. No improvements, the same festering shortcomings live on for years, until a competitor lights a fire under them.
That got me thinking, though. 15 years ago I read that people currently retiring were, on average, getting the equivalent of a 30% return on their Social Security witholding, whereas people just entering the work force could expect a return of between -3% to 0%. 30% is quite a rate of return. Would those people seen a large NPV had they declared all their income, and payed into Social Security, and reaped that 30% rate of return? I'm too lazy to work the math, but it seems like they probably would have.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Imagine trying to do that instead through Webex. The default in Webex is to send a message to ALL meeting attendees. WAAAY to easy to open virtual mouth and insert virtual foot. Ouch!
Monday, September 08, 2008
That had 2 big benefits. One, it let me cut back from 2000 to 1000 minutes, saving $30/month. Two, I can make my company's universal conference call number a fave. I spend about half my day, at least, on calls, and I work from home 2 days/week, so that is a huge convenience. It also should allow me to drop by second line, another $10 saving.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Coleman "wrap and roll" air mattress. This is the third air mattress we have purchased, but the first with this nifty little feature. It is as simple, and low-cost, as could be, but makes the job of storing the air mattress so much tidier. Great example of highly economical value-added packaging. (I think Coleman in general has a lot of VAP.)
MS Mouse 7000 snap-in bluetooth adapter. The bluetooth adapter, an easily mis-placed item, neatly stores in a cavity on the underside of the mouse.
LG Decoy Phone with Built-In Wireless Headset. I don't own this one, but as soon as I read about it I recognized a clear example of VAP driving product differentiation. In fact, I had a very similar idea, years ago, for a built in wired headset, with retractable cord.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Very clever. They should also implement an option for anonymous browsing.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Palin's experience seems ridiculously thin. That is already a problem, but a much bigger problem when the guy at top of the ticket would become the oldest president, by several years.
I wonder if McCain was not excessively captivated by Palin's own apparent "maverick" (boy is that word over-used, for lack of a good synonym) image. This Peggy Noonan article dwells on the notion that McCain defines himself, more than anything else, by his "maverickness".
Then there is a subtlety pertinent to being the first woman in the office. Not every husband is well-equipped to be a good first gentleman (or whatever he will be called). Margaret Thatcher's husband, Denis, I believe was thought to have laid down a great path to follow in the U.K. I really know nothing about Palin's husband, except that he must have far less experience of the world even than she does, so one just has to wonder about that angle.
John McCain is yet another example. That wouldn't have been the case in 2000, but it is now. Waaaayy too old and establishment for the present mood of the country.
The one time the Republicans deviated from this recent pattern? Well in 2000, they did the exact opposite, nominated a guy who hadn't paid any dues at all, and that got us Dubya. Which I think explains this year's strong reversion to form.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
If we were energy independent, the politicians imply, prices wouldn't go up. But if you're an oil-striking American dude - maybe a little naive but smart enough to know that your hot daughter Elly May is going to be better off in Beverly Hills than the Ozarks - you're going to shop your barrels to the highest bidder, not just to whiny Americans with their near-worthless dollars. More oil procured from under U.S. soil means more oil on the global market, not more oil for just us.And let us not overlook this point:
The only smart thing I heard was Obama's advice to fully inflate your tires, although he overlooked the fact that gas stations no longer have free air pumps or even decent pay ones.That last part is SO true! 15 years ago, many stations had these nice, dial-your-psi pumps. When you hit the desired psi, the pump would ding 3 times, and would stop pumping. In one sense it is a silly and trivial thing, but since my solution (using my bike pump) is unlikely to appeal to most people, the absence of good pumps really is an impediment to a public good. A little bit like the shortage of public restrooms in many cities is an impediment to tourism and quality of life.
Friday, August 08, 2008
(The tires example struck me right away, since it was the subject of my New Year's Resolution 3 years ago. And I have found that one pretty easy to keep.)
Saturday, August 02, 2008
"You should never re-enter a vehicle when you're fueling," Mr. Wormser said.
That's because a person who re-enters a vehicle and slides across the seat can acquire a static charge of thousands of volts, caused by friction between two electrically dissimilar materials, such as clothing and seat upholstery, said Dr. Robert E. Nabours, an electrical engineer. If the charge is not harmlessly discharged through the person's shoes or by the person touching metal, such as part of a grounded car, an electrical arc can jump from a hand to the nozzle, igniting gas vapors and starting a fire.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
If you play golf once a week, that is probably a 5 hour time investment, unless you are very good. And if you are very good, and it only take you 3+ hours to play--well, that probably means you play 2-3 times per week, and maybe spend some more time at the driving range. So no matter how you slice it, even a moderate golf hobby takes up an amount of time that could account for a pretty decent starter exercise program.
I don't really have anything against golf, this is just an observation. I know, golf provides a little bit of exercise. But considering the fact that almost everybody seems to want to take a cart now, rather than walk, it really doesn't give you very much.
(As an aside, I have deep doubts that Steve Jobs meets this standard, though at the moment, he seems like a helluva fourth level leader.)
Friday, July 18, 2008
This time, we headed north, into the many, many state parks, all of which have rivers that flow into Superior. Those offered truly spectacular views and hiking, and so pristine. We get it now.
Most irritating thing about it is the way the trackpad works. Hesitating while positioning the cursor is interpreted as a click. This has already resulted in wrong information being transmitted to NetflixThat is quite a useability defect!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I have never been a big fan of eBay, or online auctions in general. I have found that it is waaayy too inconvenient for the buyer. Too much time and energy invested in figuring out what to buy and then waiting to see if your bid wins, which it often doesn't.
Part of the problem is that eBay's auctions do not closely enough mirror bricks and mortar auctions, where both the buyer and seller are under time pressure. In eBay's case, time works against the buyer. If you are trying to buy some item, like a $40 used MP3 player, and you lose a couple of auctions, you have now spent a week (elapsed time) trying to buy an item. It's just not worth it. There is the "Buy It Now" option, but in my experience, the prices people set for those are ridiculous--you could buy the item new, at a store, for the Buy It Now price.
I have an idea for solving this problem, by blending aspects of Buy It Now into the auction process, in order to make the element of time work more like a real auction. The seller would set a "win it now" price, but that price would be hidden from bidders (but once set, not changeable by the seller). The way it would work is that the highest bid exceeding your hidden "win it now" price would be accepted, after one hour of no subsequent bids, as the winning bid.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I just don't like the smarmy marketing attitude of Apple, he's kind of like the teacher's pet in music class, pretending that he's a connoisseur -- I see flaws and bugs everywhere. Fix the bugs and STFU about how great the product is. Sorry. I want to use Apple's products the same way I use a Canon camera, as a product I respect, but if they ever start screwing around the way Apple does, I'd switch to a Nikon or whatever. Problem is there is no Nikon or whatever in PCs and iPods. All the other products suck. Hugely. Apple's just suck a bit less. Not a huge accomplishment for an industry, imho.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Recall Message functionality was designed with a passive rather than aggressive system in mind and is dependent on the Outlook clients' background "sniffer" idle process to remove the recalled message from the recipient's inbox. In order for this message to be recalled automatically, the specified criteria must be met. In addition, Outlook clients must also have the Tools, Options, Preferences, E-Mail Options, Tracking Options, "Process requests and responses on arrival" selected. This feature enables the background "sniffer" to run. When it detects an Outlook idle time (generally anywhere from 60-500 seconds) then it will run and process all unread items in the Inbox to see if any of them require its attention such as Meeting Requests, Read Receipt responses, or Message Recalls.
http://switchabit.wordpress.com/2008/07/08/bitly/This is what I was thinking of several years ago, when suggesting a feature like this for blogging software.
We automatically mirror each page, never know when you might need a backup.
Surprisingly, this usage doesn't grate on me. In fact, I find it oddly charming.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Without addressing whether CT scans for heart disease are effective, I do have an observation. Similar to airports, this is very expensive equipment, and it should be utilized on a 24x7 schedule. What this would mean is fewer machines purchased, shared between more or larger practices, and some inducement needed to compensate patients for taking the "graveyard shift". Still, it seems do-able. If not fully 24x7, the something close, like maybe 18x7. Having it un-utilized all day Saturday and Sunday certainly seems unjustifiable.
Of course, in implementing this kind of factory-like, high-utilization model, we have to be wary of law of unintended consequences. The one I can see coming, a mile away, is that insurers will set their reasonable & customary based on the midnight rate, and pretty soon, everybody will be trying to book the off-peak hours, and the appointments during peak hours will go begging!
Monday, July 07, 2008
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Sky-hooking: back in the 80s, when insurance claims still arrived as paper, and before off-shoring was in the dictionary, an insurance company sent boxes of claims, air-freight, to Ireland, to take advantage of lower-wage, English speaking labor to process them. The sky part obviously came from the airflight aspect of the process. I really don't know what, if anything, hooking derived from, unless perhaps it was some kind of pre-existing claims-processing lingo.
Blow-back to paper: 5 years ago, the idea of receiving mortgage documents via DVD was somewhat cutting-edge. So cutting-edge, in fact, that we had no processes for internally processing them as images. Our vendor, Xerox, helpfully explained to us that was no problem, there imaging workflow included the option to "blow back to paper". Translation: mass-print the entire contents of the DVD, for further processing 100% unchanged from the past generation of dead-tree-oriented workflow.
Skip-tracing: in the debt-servicing industry, this refers to the process of methodically filling in gaps in address records.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
- Parents call the coaches cell phone all afternoon.
- Some parents don't get cancellation emails in time, and make the trip for nothing
- Other parents assume practice is canceled, when it isn't
It finally dawned on me that texting was the solution. Everybody carries cell phones, all the time, and texting is very near-real-time.
But I didn't want to solicit and hand-enter 40 or more cell phone numbers (2-3 per athlete). And I wanted all 3 coaches to be able to send the cancellation (or non-cancellation) message.
I looked around the web a little bit, and found a site called www.networktext.com. It's basically a newsgroup for texting. Ad-supported. It has the key features I need:
- Self-service registering for the members (parents).
- Ability to designate administrators--the only people who can send messages to the group.
- Ability to send texts to the group from a computer.
It seemed to work well, one of the parents even replied (by email) thanking me for setting it up, and another replied by text. To be honest, I am surprised this hasn't caught on more. This seems like a very obvious area for Google to move into.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
We need a solution that measures and displays electrical consumption in real-time. The solution I envision would involve wirelessly transmitting power consumption data for appliances to a small screen, conveniently mounted in the kitchen or family room. Ideally, major appliances would each have a built-in transmitter. In the meantime, X10-style plug in modules for major appliances would go a long way.
Clever graphical representation of the data would be the other piece of the puzzle. Showing people how much more $ and carbon they consumed the day they kept their thermostat at 72, versus when they set it at 65, etc.
This city-sized, accidental experiment in Juneau is interesting:
“People are suddenly interested in talking about their water heaters,” said Maria Gladziszewski, who handles special projects for the city manager’s office. “As they say, it’s a teachable moment.”
This experiment demonstrates the potential:
The results of the research project...suggest that if households have digital tools to set temperature and price preferences, the peak loads on utility grids could be trimmed by up to 15 percent a year.
- 1 = Very Motivated (i.e., unemployed)
- 2 = Motivated (i.e., worried about losing job or hate job)
- 3 = Interested (i.e., looking for a better opportunity, but in no hurry)
- 4 = Would Consider the Right Opportunity (i.e., it would have to be my dream job)
- 5 = Not Interested
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
I'm also tempted to punish the offenders by clicking the "report as spam" option in Google. I wonder what Google does if I report Home Depot email, for example, as spam?
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
TV ads have gotten much, much better. Many of them are visually compelling, at least on the first or second viewing. Quite a contrast to the repetitive, jingle-based stuff I remember from my childhood. Radio, on the other hand, seems relatively unchanged. It's pretty intolerable, I find--once you have developed the NPR temperament, I don't see how you could tolerate the grating ads, even if the content were compelling.
Monday, May 26, 2008
1. IT as a profession isn't all that fun any more.
2. IT if factionalized and balkanized.
3. Outsourcing and off-shoring have lots of problems, including quite possibly not saving money, just buying a much higher volume of labor at lower prices.
Choice quotes for each:
One of the real miracles of the PC revolution was that it often was led by super-users -- enthusiasts who had a PC at home before they had one at work and who led their co-workers as much through example as skill. Well those days of the 1970s and '80s are long gone and IT is today as entrenched and isolated as it was during the mainframe era of the 1960s.
in most organizations power ultimately manifests itself in head count, so IT organizations grow like crazy, becoming ever less efficient in the process. The typical power structure of corporate (which includes government) IT tends to discourage efficiency while encouraging factionalization. Except in the rare instance where the IT director rises from the ranks of super-users, there is a prideful disconnect between the IT culture and the user culture.
Outsourcing, while a very popular recommendation to improve IT, is treating the symptom and not the problem. The problem is IT applications require lots of ongoing maintenance and that costs labor, meaning REAL MONEY. Rather than make applications more reliable and reduce problems, IT managers seem to prefer shopping for cheaper labor. The problems are still there. It is cheaper to fix them with offshoring and outsourcing, true, but it often takes longer. If the end users -- the people who actually make MONEY for the company (IT doesn't, Lord knows) -- are unable to work from time to time, this is okay because IT is spending less money.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
So Express Scripts surveyed thousands of customers to understand better their concerns about generics. It learned some were uncomfortable with how to tell their doctors they wanted to switch, or felt it wasn't their role as patients to bring up the topic. Others found the whole topic too complicated to bother with.Interesting. I wonder if there could ever be a "tipping point" effect, whereby the idea becomes "socialized" that, like recycling, seeking healthcare cost savings is A Good Thing.
With those concerns in mind, Express Scripts made several changes to how customers were informed about simvastatin, such as shortening the text in its literature and changing its color and including a letter that patients could just hand to their doctor requesting a switch.
The company also framed the message to focus not merely on cost savings, but on how generics can be the better value -- explaining that drugs that cost more but don't do more aren't a better value. People often believe branded or costlier drugs simply are better, says Dr. Nease, whereas Express Scripts' new message stated that the "best buys" are drugs that cost less and do the same thing.
Generic statin use among its customers soared to 53% as of March of this year, Express Scripts is expected to say at a conference Tuesday.
Among employers, the hardest pressed may be small businesses. Their insurance premiums tend to be proportionately higher than ones paid by large employers, because small companies have little bargaining clout with insurers.So, another reason for small business to find different rules to play by.
Health costs are "burying small business," said Mike Roach, who owns a small clothing store in Portland, Ore.
Apple, on the other hand, was all about style, elegance, Steve Jobs' vision. What made Jobs happy was having the coolest products, good profit margins, if not the biggest total profits, and getting to boss people around. It was like Wal-Mart and Nordstrom's--same industry, but totally different approaches.
Now, however, Cringely observes that Apple has become a "lean and mean profit machine". So it seems that, finally, Jobs even matching Gates at his own game--winning in volume.
One strategic beneft would be to get a whole lot more people to have a Google login. I would like to use newsgroups and member-only weblogs for organizing various teams my children are on, but the high number of parents who need a Google login is a barrier.
LinkedIn doesn't have the cachet Facebook had, I bet they could buy it for a reasonable price.
Friday, May 09, 2008
Saturday, May 03, 2008
But critics say that the technique's advantage over X-rays has not been proved, except in certain rare tumors, and that proton therapy might not be worth the substantial extra cost. They say hospitals are engaged in a wasteful "arms race" for the prestige and profits that come from having a proton center.I have read for years about this kind of hospital "arms race". When the administrators for each hospital are interviewed, they predictably all say "Yes, there should only be one of these--but OUR hospital is clearly the best place for it". I hope the government-mandated collaboration works out...
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Our son had moderately bad eczema on his feet and legs till he was 6. We saw a few doctors, the last of whom was a double-specialist in pediatric dermatology and pharmacology. He recommended a low-tech but surprisingly effective treatment. Rather than just slather on a lotion periodically during the day, he recommended first a soaking bath, to thoroughly hydrate the skin, then only a quick blot-dry, followed by a heavy dose of heavy-duty sealant, like petroleum jelly. Finally, the coup de grace was to encase the poor kid in damp, cotton pajamas for several hours, or the whole night!
We did this for over a year, and Seth was a surprisingly good sport (can you imagine wearing damp pajamas to bed?!). The effects were remarkable. It steadily mitigated, then eliminated his eczema. And since eczema to some extent tends to be self-reinforcing, I think if you can get rid of it for a while, you have a much better chance of getting rid of it permanently. We discontinued the wet pajamas treatment after about 15 months, and there was no relapse.
I have since used a similar approach to my own moderately dry skin, especially my hands. I hydrate, either by a shower or running my hands under water, then apply the moisturizer. What surprises me is that this hydrate-then-seal approach is not more well-known. Probably fits the classic saying--if this treatment could be bottled, it would cost a pretty penny and be heavily promoted.