Archive for the ‘Stuff’ Category

Filed Under (Politics, Stuff) by Sean on November-3-2010

How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? We must not underestimate the size of the market for works of this kind, for philosophy-fiction. Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.

- Sir Peter Medawar

Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, mentions Peter Medawar’s legendary review of The Phenomenon of Man with alacrity in detailing how otherwise fairly educated people use farcical logic like, “If chimps evolved into us, how come there are chimps still around?”

Alas, Medawar’s hypothesis seems to be as true today as then, and it’s getting worse (and is pervasive in politics, as well). To paraphrase a statement Dawkins made during his last Houston stop with the Progressive Forum a few weeks ago, “It’s truly astounding how otherwise intelligent, rational people who go about their daily life, balancing their checkbook and the like, cease to exercise any critical thinking about the greatest questions . . . it’s a tragedy, really . . . it seems, particularly in the U.S., that about 40% of the population is carrying along the other 60% in moving humanity forward.” Or in light of the current political season, perhaps it’s just shy of 47%.

Sir Peter Medawar (February 28, 1915 – October 2, 1987) was  a British zoologist received the Nobel Price in Physiology for his work on the human immune system and graft rejection. His discovery of acquired immune tolerance helped make organ transplants possible.

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Filed Under (Life, Stuff) by Sean on April-13-2010

This is a story I’m sure you’ve read before. The old Mayonnaise Jar, Golf Balls and Two Beers. Maudlin? Yes. Glurge? You bet your life. Deep philosophy? Not so much. Not exactly the brightest students, either, I suppose. However, seeing as I’ve been going through a shit-ton of crap lately, with the loss of my oldest brother providing the exclamation point, I thought this worthwhile to post. There are versions that use coffee instead. The fact that it uses beer to tell a maxim makes it compulsory.

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the two beers .

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was..

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

‘Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents.. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf ball first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’

The beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.’



Filed Under (Geekstuff, Stuff, Technology) by Sean on June-14-2009

As many of you may already know, I’m a beneficiary of Ford’s recent aggressive social media public relations efforts. I was initially contacted by a social media consultancy out of Canada, retained by Ford, through my blog early last month. My first reaction was one of disbelief, thinking this had to be some sort of grand social engineering phishing experiment. With mild trepidation, I responded with an indication if interest. My choices were the Ford Escape and the Lincoln MKS. Being a huge fan of SUVs, I opted for the 2009 Lincoln MKS (plus, I get to experience my brother’s Escape Hybrid every time I visit Florida). I was supposed to get the 2010 version of the MKS, which is all-wheel drive and sports a twin-turbocharged 355 horsepower, 350 lb-ft torque V6, but a shortage of media fleet cars made this impossible. My 2009 version sports a 273 horsepower, normally-aspirated V6 instead. In any case, I’ve been promised by Ford that they will get me a 2010 to drive as soon as one is available. They’ve also promised to get me the new 2011 Ford Fiesta to drive as well!

The Lincoln MKS

Many of you who haven’t known me that long may not know I’ve always been a huge car enthusiast (though it has waned a bit over the years and my current Ford Taurus would certainly give you no indication). I started as a young teenager by going out on a Saturday with my father and test driving just about everything we could get our hands on – sports sedans, luxury autos, exotics, the works. As a card carrying member of the SCCA, I used to participate in various auto sporting events as well. Cars I’ve owned over the years have run the gamut: a VW, a BMW, 2 Mercedes, 5 Hondas, a Porsche, and a Ford.

Herein I will outline some initial impressions of the Lincoln MKS after having it for a few days. Over that time, I’ve managed to spend hours navigating big city traffic, taking a road trip and running high speed laps around the Nuremberg town. I’ve also satiated my inner geek (ok, maybe outer geek) by diving into the Microsoft Sync platform equipped in this car. This post will discuss my initial impressions of Sync; future posts will go into driving impressions and other aspects of the MKS.

Before I do that, however, I will sum up my reactions to the car as pros and cons:

Pros:

  • snappy performance for the size/class of car
  • good balance of ride firmness; corners and tracks well but doesn’t rattle your spine when driving over potholes and railroad tracks
  • good transmission; really responsive at down-shifting quickly. Manual mode available as well. Auto mode good at down-shifting before corners and engine braking when slowing down – something I’ve never seen in an American car. It seems engineers are doing their homework in studying German sports sedans!
  • decent ergonomics; comfortable and usable interior; sporty seats are suitable for long cross-country trips
  • seamless bluetooth integration with your phone and media device (could be the same device or two separate devices)
  • GPS NAV with real-time traffic, weather and other helpful travel information (e.g., gas prices)
  • QUIET. This car is almost devoid of wind noise even at 90+ mph
  • Air. Conditioned. Seats. It’s like lying down on a huge bag of ice. Gone are the sweaty backs Houston summers made famous.
  • SYNC system receives software upgrades and updates through an in-car USB interface where you can download the update on your computer to a USB drive (or your smart phone’s storage) and initiating the upgrade while connected to the car

Cons:

  • though the car sports very nice interior trim, the excessive amount of “shiny chromeplastic” is a little off-putting. The simulated brushed metal helps to counter that, however.
  • center console cup holders can’t accommodate two grande coffees (seems really bizarre the Germans have this figured out while the guys that invented the cup holders don’t!). See picture below.
  • beltline and cowl are really high; you can’t even comfortably rest your arm on the windowsill it’s so high. Obviously this is styling driven and at least there is a rear camera to assist you while you’re backing up since you can’t see shit out the rear window
  • I can’t use certain features of the NAV while driving (yes I know it’s an insurance thing or whatever, but it’s completely silly and promotes even worse behavior for reasons I’ll give below)
  • NAV system doesn’t have proper ICAO or FAA airport codes to use as destination or waypoint; I tried to use KGLS as the destination but it only knew “Scholes Galveston Airport” or selecting Airport point of interest

Of course, I love gadgets and toys. Consequently, I’m always interested in the latest state of automotive technology. Growing up, I benefited from my father being a huge gadget and car freak as well. I’m pretty sure he got the first car on Earth with built in NAV. I have certainly seen how not to implement car gadgetry. In-car technology has developed much of the way consumer electronics has: no standards, no interoperability, black-box proprietary systems and the like. Computer and technology companies have done most of the heavy lifting in changing the status quo in the consumer electronics industry, e.g., Apple. Now they’re attempting the same in the automotive space. I think that Sync is as close as I’ve seen to how it should be done (on another note, technologies based on other platforms such as Google’s Android could be coming to a car near you soon).

The car was delivered to my office by Becky, a super friendly Communications and Media Fleet Manager from Ford. She handed me the keys and said, “Enjoy! We look forward to reading what you have to say!” The first thing I did after parking it in my office parking garage downtown was pair up my G1 via bluetooth. I figured if I could make hands free phone calls and listen to my media library through the car’s audio system within a couple of minutes without opening a manual, that would be a good sign of things to come. That’s just what happened. I chose Phone from the console, selected the Add Devices button from the bright color touch screen, and a woman with what seemed like a slightly British accent instructed me to enter the PIN displayed on the screen when prompted by my phone when pairing with SYNC. Voila! The screen displayed a message asking me if I wanted my phonebook and call history to be loaded. I selected Yes. Not content to stop there, I then chose the Media button on the console. Within about 3 seconds the audio system started playing the current playlist on my G1. Sweet. While delighting in all this, the phone rang. On the color touch screen, the Caller ID and phone book entry of the caller is displayed along with a choice to answer or deny the call. The weird thing about this was it was my phone’s ring tone playing in stereo on top of the slightly-reduced-in-volume music through the stereo. It was a business call, so I answered and carried on the discussion for a few minutes before deciding I needed to continue this conversation on the way to my desk. I turned the key off, opened the door, and the call seamlessly transferred to my handset without the slightest hiccup. Too cool. In a similar vein, if I’m rocking out to some streaming music through my phone through bluetooth and turn off the car, remove the key and open the door, the phone automatically pauses the media stream. When you get back in the car and start it, the music automatically resumes once the bluetooth connection is reestablished. Similarly, if you’re talking on your handset and get in and start the car, the phone conversation seamlessly transitions to hands-free mid sentence without hesitation. You have the option to choose privacy mode where the phone call continues on your handset. Someone really paid attention to usability when designing this system.

The GPS-based NAV is one of the best I’ve seen. Adding to its touch-screen ease of use is the fact that it gets real time traffic information via Sirius satellite, even if you don’t pay for a Sirius subscription (Ford apparently hadn’t paid for it in this car, which I thought was somewhat puzzling). The first thing you do is choose a destination by pushing the DEST button on the dashboard and selecting the destination through a variety of methods (nearest points of interest, street address, yellow page categories, phone book) or selecting the voice command button on the steering wheel and using voice commands to tell the system where you would like to go (and you don’t even need to train the system for your voice!). You then choose the shortest or fastest route and you’re on your way. The system provides you with turn-by-turn directions along with graphical depictions of each turn on the display. For upcoming turns, the screen is split with a map on the left and the detailed turn depicted on the right (see the photos below for an example). Additionally, it counts down the distance to the next turn or waypoint and displays a progress timer bar to help you determine your arrival to the next instruction. The bottom of the display shows your current location and speed limit, if available. If an accident or other incident happens along your route, a notice is displayed on the screen where you can review details  of it and choose an option to avoid at which point it accordingly reroutes you. One of the exercises I like to do is test out how resilient a NAV system is when you inadvertently (or purposely) miss a turn. Some of them incessantly complain and ask you to make a U-turn to get back on track. The system in the Lincoln, however, doesn’t miss a beat. Virtually the instant after you miss a turn instruction, it recalculates the route such that you can continue your general direction of travel. It’s so seamless that if you blinked you may have missed that anything happened at all. Information available at your fingertips also includes the weather (forecast, satellite images) and gasoline prices at nearby gas stations (see photos below).

There were a few hiccups in the system. Every now and again my phone would become “un-paired” or stop playing audio. Sometimes the device got out of sync where I would be listening to audio on my phone through  wired ear buds, and upon starting the car the phone would pair and stop the stream; I would have to start it up again manually (apparently the command to autoplay/autostop is a change of state and not discreet play/stop commands). It is important to note that you must have an A2DP capable media device in order to stream bluetooth audio through the audio system. If your device isn’t capable, you won’t be able to pair it at all as an audio device (this doesn’t impact the phone pairing, however). I learned this the hard way after I replaced my G1 under warranty that had an older version of the OS before they added AD2P extensions. There is a mini-phono jack if you want to connect an older iPod or mp3 player. My main complaint is that you cannot browse the phonebook while the car is moving over 15 mph or so, which seems silly since that requires you to pick up your phone an lookdown and scroll through its phonebook instead (yes I know you shouldn’t do either). At least you can use voice commands to make calls.

Microsoft SYNC definitely adds huge value to the MKS. Ford and Microsoft mention in some of their public relations material that SYNC is increasingly becoming a major contributing factor in the car purchasing decision process. I don’t quite know how exclusive the arrangement is between Microsoft and Ford, but I could see how SYNC would tip your decision towards a Ford or Lincoln when comparing makes of cars. It will be exciting to see what other manufacturers do in adopting future competing systems as well as what those competing systems will look like. The connected automobile is here and here to stay. After my experience with this car, I can see where having the capabilities SYNC provides makes your life easier and would be a driver in choosing a particular car over another. In today’s hyper-connected world where your information is living in the cloud and accessible through your smart phone, this Lincoln is not only a pleasure to drive but can help keep your connected world, dare I say it, in sync.

That’s it for the first installment! Look for my driving impressions coming soon. Check out some of the pictures below.

Lincoln MKS

NAV System

Travel Information

Cup Holders

 



Filed Under (Business, Stuff) by Sean on March-20-2009

People who know me know that I often rag on Starbucks, mainly about their coffee. They over-roast the beans. They scald the milk horrendously in lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos. You can have any coffee you like at a store, so long as it’s Pike Place. The one thing they do get right, however, is customer service.

Another thing I’m known for is collecting used coffee cups on my desk (or any surface, for that matter). When I went into the office earlier, I decided to pick up one of my collection of Starbucks tumblers and clean it out to take with me. Upon close inspection, I noticed that one particular model (below) was damaged. This particular model has a design flaw; there is no release valve or any way for expanded air to escape. This plagued me all the time with this model since every time I had hot coffee in it with the lever moved to the closed position, I would get coffee splashed all over me everytime I opened the lever to take a sip. In any case, I had presumably left the lid closed, since I noticed that sufficient pressure had built up inside it to actually break the internal arm which connected the rubber gasket seal with the switch on top. Thus it was impossible to close.

Old Starbucks Tumbler

I walked into my neighborhood starbucks and showed them what happened. It’s important to note this was a tumbler I probably paid about $12 for 2-3 years ago. The employee behind the register did not hesitate and told me to grab any replacement tumbler off the shelf to replace it at no cost. “Really?” “Any tumbler. I like the steel ones with the built in French press, ” he responded. So I picked up my brand new $23 plus tax solo stainless steel press pot (picture below) and went on my merry way. He even filled it up with coffee at no charge.

Fancy new Solo Press Pot

My friends know that I go to Catalina Coffee in Houston if I want a good cup of coffee (or Caffe Medici in Austin, where I frequented while attending South by Southwest). But there is a lot to be said about this level of standing behind a product, no questions asked. This wasn’t the first time, either. Years ago, I purchased my parents a Starbucks Barista Aroma automatic coffee maker for Christmas. After 2+ years of nonstop use, it just stopped working one day. My father took it into his nearest Starbucks, and even though it was well out of warranty, received the same treatment as me. This was a $200 coffee maker to boot. It is good to know that even a multi-billion dollar corporation empowers its employees to give you mom-and-pop shop level service every now and again.

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Filed Under (Stuff, Technology) by Sean on April-21-2008

If you are not seeing updates for people you follow on twitter through the web or your favorite client (e.g., twhirl, etc.), you are not alone! Be sure to go to this page and report it! Furthermore, tell everyone to do the same if they’re also experiencing the same problem. Let’s see if we can get about 20,000+ people to get the attention of the twitter people and at least get an update to what’s going on!

(UPDATE)

It appears if you visit this page, they have acknowledged the problem (I presume it’s the same issue noted here from a month ago). See if having them clear your cache solves the problem. I have asked them to clear mine and will post the results here.

(UPDATE 2)

I got this tweet from @biz indicating they are working on the issue. Ironically the only way I got it is running tweetscan on my nick.

(UPDATE 3)

Yes, twitter is still broken. They haven’t cleared my cache or anything, so far as I can tell; I still only see a portion of my twitter stream. The problem seems to only affect the intersection of people with large amounts of followers with those who follow a decent amount of people. E.g., if you follow more than a few dozen people you won’t see tweets from the likes of @scobleizer, who has over 20,000 followers. Likewise, if you follow over 100 people, you won’t see tweets from people who have over 300 followers. I haven’t nailed it down precisely yet, but there is certainly a mathematical function to this. I hope they fix it soon! In the meantime, you can go surf each of your followees individual pages and/or subscribe to their tweets separately with an RSS reader.

I wish they would give us more technical details – there certainly is more tech knowhow on twitter they could tap into to fix the problem. I know they use Amazon S3 and perhaps EC2 for their infrastructure and some sort of caching mechanism (for performance and/or cost reasons?) that isn’t doing it’s job. Obviously writing a simple web app to do what twitter does would be fairly trivial to not have problems, at the expense of cpus, disk space and bandwidth; this leads me to believe they’re trying to be fancy, and it isn’t working so well. IMHO they should have a “brute force” fallback that would work 100% albeit not optimally until they sort it all out.



Filed Under (Life, Stuff) by Sean on April-10-2008

Well I’m not 100% sure if it’s in the same tier as beer when it comes to the hierarchy of needs, but being on Alltop.com is pretty effing bad ass. And check this out – I’m listed twice on Alltop.com. Once under life.alltop.com and once under twitterati.alltop.com (apparently my irreverent drunk tweets are amusing to some)! What can I say? (In reality I stole Guy Kawasaki’s Glock from him and demanded the listing, but it’s the results that count, right??) Alltop.com is a virtual magazine rack, where you can choose from a huge variety of topics and get a quick scan of the content from each source by just hovering over your interest. So go check out Alltop.com now!

We’re in Alltop.com!

 

Twitterati on Alltop.com!

In any case, Guy quickly got up into a crane stance and deftly kicked the gun from my hands and pointed it back at me. He told me I better put up some Alltop.com badges!! While I cannot hold a candle to the badges created by the Bloggess, I was nevertheless inspired.

It’s better than allcrap!

It’s better than allcrap!

Eat your heart out Guy!



Filed Under (Internet, Life, Stuff) by Sean on April-2-2008

Ok, fellow peeps, tweeps, lurkers and whoever else out there on da Interwebz – April 3, 2008 is officially Good People Day!

I could not possibly compile a list of all the awesome people out there in my life and my new and quickly growing social media friends on Twitter and other networks, since it would crash Firefox from taking up terabytes of memory! Gary Vaynerchuk, the most awesome host of Wine Library TV, came up with the idea for Good People Day (see the video below calling us to action!). It’s all about spreading the love and positive karma. For me, this includes all my tweeps and fellow twitterati, all my fantastic social network friends, and many nameless people that hang out in the numerous IRC channels and lend help to those like me who often cry out for it when we can’t get something to work. Gary is truly a role model for this spirit of helping and generosity. He literally answers hundreds of emails and tweets a day to people he doesn’t even know who ask about wine. Just the other day I was asking him advice via a tweet about a certain 1997 Merryvale Profile and whether I should drink or cellar it. His direct message to me within minutes, “DRINK IT.” This is at 10:41pm his time on a Saturday night! How much love is that? And he doesn’t know me from Adam other than as a fellow twitterati (though you certainly don’t have to be a top twitterati to get a quick response from him!).

So I’m sending out much love and positive karma to all those who save my bacon and otherwise lend a helping hand, and to those who follow me on twitter, read my blog or have any interest in what I have to say. This goes to all my close friends, family and total strangers (whom I hope to meet someday at a tweetup or meet up or camp)! Try not to complain or be negative and extend the golden rule to the maximum to everyone you interact with, on line or off. I vote we make April 3 Good People Day every year!

PASS IT ON and keep showing the love!



Filed Under (Stuff) by Sean on March-7-2008

I’ve always been incredibly fascinated with flash mobs after reading about them several years ago in Harper’s Magazine. Below is a video of a flash mob where more than 200 people freeze in place at precisely the same time for exactly five minutes. Needless to say, people notice and start talking to each other to figure out what’s going on. This is a rather organized group called Improv Everywhere in New York City. I also love their Mobile Desktop mob, where three people bring giant CRT monitors and full size desktops into a Starbucks to use their wifi to get on the Internet. My other favorite to check out is where several people in a Starbucks recreate the same scene looped over and over again like in a time warp for a full hour (it’s named after a phenomenon in Star Trek TNG called the Moebius). One of the most famous flash mobs is called the “silent rave” where thousands of people gather together and spontaneously start dancing their asses off to music no one else can hear.

Here is the video of the Grand Central Station where everyone freezes for five minutes. The full post including narrative and background can be found at Improv Everywhere’s website. I just think this is super cool.



Filed Under (Stuff) by Sean on February-20-2008

After seeing this incredibly bizarre, but very well done, animation, I had to post it here. Enough said.