Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Year is Way Too Long to Wait: Wecome Back, Doctor...

..he's back. So very very excellent...

...and thank you, Doctor, for bringing Kylie Minogue along for the ride. Seriously.

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's All This About T-Mobile & Twitter...oh. Nevermind.

So...I got fooled. It happens, even to 900 year old tech geeks...

Turns out, a series of technical problems, a misinformed T-Mobile technical support person, and a couple of inflammatory blogs (mine included, I suspect) let to the appearance of Twitter being banned from T-Mobile. No such thing, claims T-Mo... and, sure enough, my SMS is happily chattering away again.

"...the Times regrets the error."


Friday, December 14, 2007

T-Mobile to Customers: Tweet This

So I got into my morning groove this morning the way that I normally do: picking up my cell and preparing to delete the 50 or so twitter messages from when I was asleep, and I saw....about 4 twitter messages (or tweets).

Really? Seriously? My entire twitter community slept in? Didn't seem possible...

...and then this afternoon I get shot an IM from a friend with a link to this Techcrunch article. Apparently, I am not alone - T-Mobile US customers awoke to the same issue. It seems like T-Mobile is blocking short code 40404 and telling their customers that if they don't like it, fine - pay the $200 to get out of your contract:

…Twitter is not an authorized third-party service provider, and therefore you are not able to utilize service from this provide any longer…. T-Mobile is not in violation of any agreement by not providing service to Twitter. T-Mobile regrets any inconvenience, however please note that if you remain under contract and choose to cancel service, you will be responsible for the $200 early termination fee that would be assessed to the account at cancellation.
Oooookkkkkkk then. Thanks. Nice note.

So - that's fine. I get it. I spend years of my life heavily involved in SMS text trafficing (sounds like a movie staring Michael Douglas), and carriers always get the last word on authorizing short codes (the 4-9 digit codes that allow SMS messages to pass through many-to-many gateway). Their stated goal is to protect their clientèle from expensive, unwanted text traffic. However, in this case, short code 40404 (the Twitter short code) must have already been authorized by T-Mo, or it never would have been carried on it in the first place. Also, Twitter is an opt-in service, so its the user's decision to carry the text traffic anyway.

T-Mo? Any response here? What's the deal with reversing the decision to carry tweets?

...ok, time for me to install Twibble, then.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Microsoft-Zune Conundrum

This was going to be a posting about the Zune2, about it's utter awesomeness, and how - after 3 weeks of Zuning, I picked up my iPod Video (sorry "classic") and thought " lifeless, how dull, how clunky." Really, I thought those things.

Then the professional reviewers chimed, all ranging from "Hey, we're surprised this thing is so good" to 5 star ratings.... and then I thought. "Eh, why write another me-too posting?" (The best of the lot, btw, was this interesting 3-way comparison review by the CNET folks.)

So - yeah, quick synopsis of my (now deleted) Me Too review: the Zune Marketplace / Zune2 combination blows past the iTunes/iPod Classic combination in almost every dimension. There - you can argue with me about that if you like, but I got 'em both. I use 'em both.

Why then, am I going to add the following to the conclusion:

Microsoft is going to lose in the marketplace.

Because, as is true of most things in this world, its not the better man (machine) that wins, necessarily.

Apple's iPod has - deservedly so - captured the lion's share of the marketplace. With over 100M iPods of various versions, shapes and capacities in the marketplace, the word "iPod" has become synonymous with digital music.

Apple's legendary marketing campaign (which has continued non-stop since the thing came out 6 years ago) is partially responsible, but so is their coordination and grudging cooperation with accessories manufacturers. The shapes, forms, functions and - in some cases - ludicrousness of iPod accessories (seriously, an iPod toilet paper dispenser? Really?) is shocking in the depths of its penetration into vertical markets. Auto manufactures have even jumped on the bandwagon, designing their internal sound systems around the ubiquitous little device.

It was the shear force of the accessories marketplace that caused me to abandon my beloved iRiver years ago in favor of the iPod. I travel a great deal, and when I am stuck at the airport and need a power cable, or a new case...anything, really, the iRiver and I were sadly out of luck. And, honestly, I've been very happy with the iPod - it's served me well.

When I started to get disenchanted with it was during the last Jobsian round of iPod releases this past summer. I didn't really care about the iPod Touch...the interface was cute, but I sneeze things bigger than 16Gig, Steve-o...would it have killed you to make a model with a hard drive on it? Sheesh. Anyway, I digress... So the iPod "classics" (whatever) had larger storage capacities. My music and video consumption is pretty huge, and my iPod Video 60 Gig is bursting at the seams... so I set my sites on the high capacity "classics." More storage, basically the same design, and...uh, wait a minute. The pinouts changed? I need new A/V adapters to make my already existing accessories run? What the hell is the point of that?

...the answer, of course, is - sell more accessories. There is no technical reason the iPod pinouts changed, they just did so Logitech and Connectix and the rest of the iPod coattail companies could get additional revenue boosts from the new iPod family.

Then I turned my head to the right slightly and saw the new Zunes coming out:
  • hardware redesigned from the ground up
  • Zune marketplace redesigned from ground up - including DRM-free music and podcasts
  • WiFi synching enabled
  • high capacity drives
  • thinner machines
  • new navigation widget (The "squirkle." Don't ask.)
  • integration with both Media Center and XBox360
and, something Apple would never do: free upgrades to the firmware of the original Zunes - essentially bringing them to the same level of functionality as the Zune2's.

I bought in. I got one - and it, as I said previously, magnificently hit all the goals. (Wireless sync is my personal favorite. I walk into my house after work, and by the time I get to my home office, a new days' set of podcasts are on the Zune in my pocket.) However, almost immediately upon purchase of the Zune, I realized all the items in my life that I had iPodified. The one that keeps me from eBaying my iPod? The Alpine x001 head decks in my cars.

There are only a handful of tech companies out there with the clout to enter a hopelessly stacked-against-you game like this and hope to become a serious threat - and Microsoft is one of those companies. There stock is lagging behind Apple's now, but they still have enough money in the bank to buy and sell able several times over.

If Microsoft is serious about wanting to capture the digital media experience with its Media Center-Xbox360-Zune triad, it needs to do 2 things immediately:
  1. Outspend Apple dollar for dollar on its marketing campaigns. Not these weird Zune-As-60's-Acid-Flashback ads I see on TV, but saturated marketing that gets the message out - and that never stops. Not just ad spots that inform and are informational, but billboards, internet campaigns, etc.

    I was discussing this over the weekend with a friend, an avid Machead, and he said something interesting about the effectiveness of Apple's marketing over the iPhone this summer. He watched people in the Apple store on 5th Ave in NYC walk into the store, and without reading a manual or talking to an assistant, pick up an iPhone and start to use it. Was this because of its "intuitive" interface? Or was it because we had all already been exposed to 6 months of those goofy TV spots that showed us how to use 2 fingers to stretch open a webpage in Safari?

  2. Work your partnerships, people! Get in tight with the Case Logics, the Alpines, the Logitechs... offer out subsidies to accessory providers to get them to support the product. (How hard would it be for Alpine, for instance, to sell a $20 adapter and firmware upgrade for the x001 to support the Zune?)

Without these two extreme spends, Microsoft will never sell anything close to a significant percentage of the portable media marketplace - and people will point at the failure of the Zune in the marketplace as another episode of Apple's Mac vs. PC ads. Hmmm... maybe John Hodgemen can be holding a Zune in the form of a "Mini Me"?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ok, It's Official - Aliens Have Landed and Abducted Verizon Executives

Alright. Joke's over. What is going on?

Still reeling from the announcement earlier in the week that Verizon is opening up its network to 3rd party developers, I open up my new reader today I find this little gem:

"Verizon decides on LTE for 4G Wireless."

Huh. Really?

In one week, the Big Bad of the wireless industry - the company who told its OEM partners to cripple bluetooth on their handsets - decided to all cute and cuddly with developers? Oh, AND abandon EV-DO (excuse me - offer an offering in addition to EV-DO) in lieu of 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks and go toe-to-toe with WiMax?

...I have to go lie down.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wired Took The Title I Wanted, so I'll just say: Verizon now equals Open Apps? WTF?

Wired stole the title I wanted to use...

"Pig Fly, Hell Freezes Over and Verizon Opens Up Its Network - No, Really."

Undoubted feeling the pressure of Apple's SDK and Google's Android, Verizon changed course so fast everyone of them must have gotten whiplash.

Oh, believe me - I'll have quite a bit more to say about this once I digest every morsel...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Where's Irony? Just go straight down Democracy, take a sharp left at Profit."

Consider the two quotes below, and see if you can tell me the difference - because I can't...

"...There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped,or turned back, for their private benefit...."

- Robert Heinlein, Life-Line, Published: 1939

"...the House Education and Labor Committee unanimously passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007. Among other things, the COAA would require colleges and universities to adopt strict antipiracy policies and possibly offer students access to subscription-based music services like Napster...the bill would put colleges and universities on the front lines of the war against file-sharing. As part of the financial aid administration process, schools would have to inform students about their official policies about copyright infringement, as well as possible civil and criminal penalties. They would also have to "develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity..."

- Eric Bangeman,, Published: 11/15/2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Visualizing Flight...

...long ago, at the dawn of the human flight - ok, not really - I worked at an FAA laboratory slaving away over algorithms and processes to detect hazardous weather around airports and report that information to the tower. When the project went to production (it was handed off to Raytheon under the brandings of TDRW and ITWS), I scrambled onto a different project at the same lab: tracking oceanic air travel and looking for ways to increase efficiency, and reporting those efficiencies to oceanic air controllers.

Part of that process involved collecting information from all flights from US to Europe and back again. The resultant data was mapped onto graphics systems, and the patterns were played back and tracked after each day's data collection. The results were eerie and beautiful - air travel from the US to Europe took place in the evenings, the flights back were in the mornings. The resultant patterns of information looked like migratory routes that birds would take... we'd watch them for quite a while, sometimes transfixed.

We also wondered what the patterns for air travel all over the world would look like - but, of course, this was over a decade ago: data collection was slow and cumbersome, and the horsepower required to track and compute the paths of flights all over the world and display them just wasn't there.

Well...that was then, this is now. Check out these results from Scott Hessels and Gabriel Dunne - Hessels and Dunne work on the Celestrial Mechanics project for the FAA. There are a lot of great visualizations these guys are doing with real FAA data, but surely the most awe-inspiring (and the one that takes me back 10 years to those giant SGI Onyx monsters at the FAA) was the plotting of traffic patterns over the US in a single day animated by Aaron Koblin... so, click the pretty picture and enjoy this, its worth the watch.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Rocket Comes up for Air...

To quote that famous philisopher, Keanu Reeves: "Whoa."

It's been 5 weeks since my last posting - not like me. Please consider this a mass "sorry 'bout that" to all those who have been emailing. (Yeah, I was surprised by the emails myself. People read this? Again: Whoa.) It's been a hectic 5 weeks, too. A lot has gone on:

...and, I've been busy as well...building out my new company's product line and presence, traveling to Spain (for work, I and Sangria), and hitting the CTIA thing again.

All in all, quite a bit of stuff - I'll be back to it in a few days.

No, really. I will.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Xohmwear Over the Rainbow...

Elsewhere in this blog we talked about most of the US carriers not really paying attention to user needs and desires - and that locking people into a specific plans for 2 years and locking them out of certain phones and applications forever would eventually backfire.

They laugh, "Haha!" (Sometimes to me, actually. I've gotten email through this blog from a few employees at some US carriers that are...entertaining.) "He who controls the frequency, controls the Key to the Garden!!!" they shout from their rooftops. Oh, how true it is...

...unless you leave the backdoor open, I suppose.

WiMax, the long-range, high-speed packet protocol loosely designed on the 802.xx family of protocols is starting to make its way out of the land of vapor and into the real world. You know something in tech is about ready to pop when more than one company starts to give it marketing names.

On the Sprint side, WiMax is Xohm - a $5B expansion of their network that other US carriers laughed at has a roll-out completion horizon. The first rollouts will be - gulp - this year in Washington DC and Chicago. In addition, Google as gotten all "I'm all about Xohm!" by partnering with Sprint to allow it to access its social networking repertoire and provide location based services via WiMax, as well as provide a platform for downloading music and video on the go.

Combined with the soon-to-not-be-vapor Google phone and some yummy VoIP apps, we have ourselves an interesting alternative to standard cell handsets. (Actually, some of those handsets are already here - check out the LG KC1 WiMax phone, which was released last year. All it needed was, oh, I dunno...a WiMax transmitter? Sometimes being too early to the party is as bad as being late to the party.)

Over on the PC and portable device side of the house, we have another marketing name: "Echo Peak." That's the name that Intel has given to its universal WiMax/WiFi module that it is embedding in its new line of chips. David Perlmutter, Intel's SVP of Mobility (excellent freakin' title, David. Seriously.) promises us shipping, available-on-store-shelves laptops with Echo Peak by...ahem...early 2008.

Oh look...up there in the wind. I believe that is called "change."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Score One for the Constitution...

Nice try, President Bush. But, seriously - its not like getting dad to fix your speeding ticket for you:

"U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said the government orders must be subject to meaningful judicial review and that the recently rewritten Patriot Act "offends the fundamental constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers."

What this means is that the federal investigators must have court approval before they can force ISPs to turn over your internet records. Just like they would if, oh for instance, they wanted to go through your file cabinet at home.

Wow. Does this mean the founding fathers were right even in the digital age? Huh. Interesting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Now we're singing the same iTune...

Ok - the iPhone. Nice trick, but seriously crippled by the singular carrier (haha. Get it?) and 8Gig capacity. The user interface is impressive, but you aren't satisfied with your phone very long if it doesn't - you know - behave like a phone.

Sales are shrouded in a cloud o' confusion (no doubt caused by the Reality Distortion Field), and Apple doesn't seem like clarifying -- which probably means that it is selling fewer units now that all the hype is down than the analysts were predicting.

How do you get your investment dollars back, wow Wall Street, please the consumers by giving them what they want, capitalize on the 110M iPods sold to-date and - oh yeah - decouple yourself from the carrier conundrum? Easy:

iPhone - GSM radio + 16Gig = new iPod Touch

Now this is what people were asking for all along. A wide-screen iPod video player with larger capacity that uses the new iPhone interface and allows WiFi connections to the iTunes music store. (The capacity needs to be more than that, of course - but Jobs is on a flash-memory kick. It will go up, hopefully.) They took the long, weird road - but they got there.

Ironically, if Microsoft had its crap together and didn't take baby steps into the consumer electronics world, they could have been there 9 months before Apple...which would have been interesting. The Zune had the wide screen, the nice interface - everything...including a crippled WiFi connection and a 2004-era capacity harddrive.'s always sad to see opportunity slip away for someone, but...ah well.

Now, if Apple didn't change the connectors on the iPod Touch from the iPod Video, I'm happy as a clam. (Something you'll hardly ever hear from me - so don't get too used to it.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rocket in Transit - Again!!!

This month has been a little tricky, so I haven't had a lot of time to
rant from the Rocket.

Suffice it to say that the Rocket is in Transit. (Trans-continental transit!) The move is, as you would expect, web-based, mobile and involves a ton o' tech...when the Rocket lands next week, I'll highlight what worked in the move, and what didn't...uh, hopefully that latter topic is small-to-none in size.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Entertainment Weekly 2.1: The New Media Talent Continues to Play Musical Chairs


It's only been a few short weeks since I first wrote about the current crop of new media talent, and how their cults of personalities have made waves in the industry...and the shift in talent hasn't stopped yet.

Quick round up of what happened over the past few weeks:

  • Over at, Susan Hickey - who replaced the irreplaceable Karina Stenquist has...uh....disappeared. Mobuzz went oddly silent for the first few days in August - then Anil de Mello, the producer of, popped up on camera with a bizarrely worded announcement that "Susan is no longer with us" and that was doing a casting call looking for a new host. Given all of the - oh, lets just call it "tepid" - response to Susan over on the forums, one wonders if poor Susan caved under the onslaught of criticism. A shame, really, if that was the case. (It does, however, point out - if somewhat cruelly - the immediacy of the relationship between the talent and their audience in this new media world.)
  • Another mysterious disappearance over at co-host Patrick Norton also disappeared...although not quite in the same alien-abduction manner as Hickey did - Patrick has been showing up as a guest on TWiT, and appeared (briefly) in a episode to collect his things. Roger Chang takes the co-chair with Robert Heron - which is an excellent choice if they make the switch permanent. Rumor mill (and common sense), says that Patrick is headed over to Revision3 with his old boss, Jim Lauderback... and I'm not validating this rumor with this article from the weenies over at Valleywag ("more than one tipster"...cut me some slack- that's only one step above quoting "a mysterious Soviet scientist" as your source), but rather from episode 110 of Diggation, which finds the Digg Brothers sporting barely contained smirks while hypothesizing on Norton's next gig.
  • While we are talking about Revision3, check this out...valley blogger, and sometimes Cranky Geek, Om Malik becomes an unlikely pop star the new Revision 3 creation: The GigaOM Show. Although I was amused by Om on Cranky Geeks and other appearances, I never thought about him being able to carry a whole show...turns out, he can. Who knew? The show still has quite a bit to work out - the Salvation Army-esque couch makes for an awkward seating arrangement for Om's guests - in all the episodes, the guests all look faintly uncomfortable to be sitting there. (Om: talk Louderback into buying a boardroom table. Trust me here.)
BTW, huge bonus points to Revision3 for putting Kevin Rose and Jason Calacanis onto that awkward couch together on The GigaOM Show...the only way it could have been better is if they had been placed on one of those queen sized beds that have been slept in by an old married couple for 20 years...watching Rose and Calacanis fighting to keep from slipping together into the divot in the middle of the bed - now THAT would be entertainment!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

I'm Rap-a-Tap-Tapping on Your Line....

It's a fun tradition in the US to try and ram as many new laws and proposals through Congress at the end of July. Why? Because all those go-getter lawmakers have visions of sipping margaritas on Nantucket throughout August! Ah! Summer....! We've worked so hard, and now we need a break...! I wonder what Ted will be wearing when we come back from recess? It's so exciting! I can't wait to try boogie-boarding with Nancy! ...what's this piece of paper in front of me? Hell...just sign it so I can get back to my brochures!

The result of all that party planning? The Protect America Act of 2007! (Oh, I wish I was making that name up.) Now, instead of all that trouble that our President got into for trying to protect us through unlawful wiretaps - we just eliminate the law! Yay! No more issues.

The PAA now gives broader authority to the NSA to tap into phone calls, email and internet traffic without having to bother the higher courts for pesky permission. (It effectively re-writes the 1978 wiretapping law that was giving the Bush administration such indigestion - the law should be renamed the Always Protect President's Right to Ignore the Constitution Act...A-PPRIC. Catchier, I think...and it will look better on those 1984-esque posters I expect to start seeing in government buildings any day now.)

This law didn't go into effect without a few objections - and it has been given a 6 month horizon...I suspect that at the end of the 6 months there will be a vigorous attempt to re-instate using distorted statistics on how many lives this law saved, but I digress. (If you want to see who caved in the senate, see this. If you want to see who caved in the house, see this.)

What the PAA really is, if you read between the lines, is not so much an attempt to track terrorist conspirators communicating between American and non-American phone systems, but a way in for the RSA to tap into VoIP calls -- something that they currently do not have the authority to do. Perhaps its the summer doldrums, perhaps it's the heat, but there has been very little mentioned about the passage of this law. It made the papers the day it went through, and there has been some well-thought out public comments about the introduction of this law, but very little backlash.

Ok, so I'm sitting on the beach with my summer reading drinking my margarita like everyone else, but I do have one or two little sniggling questions: what was the justification for giving the President and the NSA this sort of sweeping authority? Also, where was the fire? What was the rush to get this thing through this year....?

Monday, August 6, 2007

It's a Fake, Sad Day...


Fake Steve Jobs Revealed.

On the other hand: who knew this guy was this entertaining?

Monday, July 30, 2007

If these guys can do it, what was Ashley Simpson's deal?

Not sure how they pulled this off, but very cool...

Lip Dub - Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from amandalynferri and Vimeo

Comcast: Don't sue us, we'll sue you...

Service companies love to change their terms of service or services, they do it all the time - and most of those times the changes happen without uproar since the ToS changes are typically pretty small. Actually, literally very small - the service company usually notifies their consumer base with tiny 3-point font notes that arrive cleverly disguised as junk mail. Or, if you are lucky, a small 3-point font addendum to your monthly bill. That was the path that Comcast chose when they decided to change their terms of service with you this summer.

Let's see...what were the ToS looks like, oh, they are moving the Anime channel out of the premium package...well, I guess that's ok...and....they moved a couple of the sports packages around....fine. Hmmm...upped their service fee a bit...well, I guess that's expected....and it looks like they want me to wave my rights to sue them in cases of negligence or fraud...I guess that....wait, WHAT???

Yup - read your bill closely, kids. By not responding to a carefully worded "opt out" clause, you have 30 days to "opt out" of giving up your rights to sue Comcast if they rip you off. (If you are freaking out right now and think you are running out of time, you can opt out with Comcast online.)

The US Court of Appeals has woke up to the fact that, hey, big companies do things all the time to inconvenience their user bases. Huh. What a shocker. The case that pushed them over the edge was an AOL user named Joe Douglas who woke up one morning to find out that his account had been transfer to "Talk America," when that company bought a segment of AOL's business. AOL didn't even bother with wasting all that paper with 3-point font, they just made a change to their ToS on their website. (If you want to read about it in excruciating detail, here's the filed petition with the US Court of Appeals.) In this case, the court ruled in Douglas' favor, stating that it wasn't reasonable for a consumer to be checking a service provider's website every day for changes in the ToS.

The system is still broken, tho - technically, Comcast did notify its users that they were changing the ToS, but the language was dense and the important "you can't sue us, neener-neener!" phrase was buried in with several relatively unimportant ToS changes. Companies like Comcast are playing fast and loose with these rulings, and many of their tactics are bordering on deceptive practices.

So, for now the best we can do is read each bill from your service providers, credit cards, etc carefully when they arrive each month. Annoying, but I don't want anyone depriving me of the fun of joining a class action suit should the need arise...

Thursday, July 26, 2007


...oh, like this posting won't generate a crap-storm in my inbox.

So - turns out, analyst's initial predictions of 500,000 - 1 million iPhones sold in the first 2 days was a little off. Um, by several hundred percent. AT&T earnings figures released yesterday show iPhone activations at 150,000. The stock market responded by slapping both Apple and AT&T in the ass. (Apple down 6% to a still impressive $134.89/share, and AT&T down a percentage point to $39.68.)

Now, I'm not slamming Apple's marketing and construction of a great consumer product here (although not subsidizing the phone was a ridiculous thing to do), I am - again - pointing out their naivety in dealing with carriers. Getting in bed with AT&Tingular and forcing users to get on a 2 year, expensive contract with a specific carrier on top of the $600 you are asking them to shill out for a phone (which, by the way, is not supported by a great number of businesses - so you can't even get your workplace to defray the cost), was a silly leap of faith of the consumer market.

Steve has shown this sort of "leap of faith" before. Remember the NeXT Cube? (Remember, I'm 900 years old.) Steve decided to market this machine only to colleges and universities. His rationale? "Have you seen the budget for the University of Michigan?" he asked at a press conference. "That isn't a university, its a fortune 500 company!" Uh, Steve? Have you been to, like, the architecture department at the University of Michigan? They have, like, $500.

NeXT cube: great product, bad leap of faith.

To be fair - and, actually, I don't remember seeing this mentioned anywhere else... those activations were in last quarter (Q2) - with all the activation problems maybe the missing 350,000 subs activated after July 1 (Q3).

Well...we'll know in a few months. In the meantime, run out and buy your Harry Potter book, since that took the spotlight off the iPhone. You only have a few days before the Simpsons' movie takes the spotlight off of Harry...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is the Googy-Man Buying a Phone...?

...or, more accurately, a whole lotta phones?

So - the 700MHz band of the radio spectrum is up for sale, and Google kicking the tires and pulling out its HUGE wallet. What's the big deal?

Set your Wayback Machine to the time when UHF (uh, that's Ultra High Frequency, not that odd movie with "Weird" Al Yankovic) was "adopted" by television in the late 1940's. (I say "adopted," because there was no concept of auctioning spectrum bands in the late 40's, people just used frequencies until things got very crowded.) It was chosen for a reason - that specific frequency band is very energetic, and penetrates a lot of things - so it is excellent for slipping it's little radio wavey self through your brick or wood wall so your "rabbit ears" on your TV can pick it up. (Uh, for those under 25: a "TV" is a "television," a primitive broadcast receiver used as entertainment before there was an internet, "rabbit ears" was a dipole antenna used for television reception - although in this drawing it, admittedly, looks like a pair of ovaries - and a brick wall is that thing your mom would through plates against when dad came back stinking of gin.)

Flash forward to the mid-90's, when the FCC declared that by 2009 (the date was extended from the original 2008 deadline), all terrestrial (over-the-air) television broadcasts would be required to be a digital broadcast, and gave terrestrial broadcasters the slice of the spectrum that would be required for such a broadcast. In return, however, their analog broadcast bands (47MHz-88Mhz and 174MHz-230 MHzfor VHF broadcasts, and 300MHz-3GHz for the UHF broadcasts) would get returned to the pool of available spectrums... (Jeez, that preamble all kinda came out in one giant, electromagnetic, geeky orgasm didn't it?)

....sooooo....that brings us to today. The 700MHz band is going up for auction, and cell carriers want it. Verizon wants it, Sprint wants it, and AT&T wants it... it's more spectrum, and the signal that can be carried would be clean and be perfect for cell phone transmissions....

...or wi-fi/wi-max transmissions.

Enter Google. Google wants more than just all of your personal data and web habits, they want the 700MHz band. They also - not coincidently - want all the extra "dark fiber" buried in the US. (Without having another existential geek-gasm: "dark fiber" is a term used for the bazillions of miles of unused fiber optic cable that was laid in the ground during the dot com bubble by no-longer existing teleco wannabes like "Global Crossing." Those companies went belly up or experienced extreme "financial stress," and the fiber remains underground, unused.)

So, let's add all this up, shall we:

  • 700MHz is good for high speed communications with decent range and energetic enough to penetrate solid structures
  • Google is considering bidding on this band, to the consternation of Verizon and the other 900 pound cellular gorillas
  • Google is also looking for people with expertise in locating and identifying the owners of dark fiber
  • Google is playing around in setting up massive municipal WiFi networks
  • Google has more money than your Daddy will ever make in a million lifetimes, regardless of who your Daddy may happen to be...yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Miss Hilton.
So, Google buys the 700Mhz band and the dark fiber, pays a couple of guys named "Ed" to put up a few thousand transmission towers, wires them all together with their brand, new fiber - puts out that google phone we've all heard about (or works a deal with Apple...or, you know, buys Apple).... afraid, Verizon, be very very afraid! Rejoice, cell phone toting public held hostage by your cell phone carrier! Weird out, activists worried about Google making that final connection between your information and the pipeline that carries that information about!

Despite my concern over Google become an information-datamining-warehouse-evil-behemoth, only a company the size of Google with the resources of Google could take on the current cell phone giants by changing the underlying infrastructure. Moving to an IP-based mobile communication world ultimately gives the consumer a real, true choice. Not just a choice between AT&Tingular and Verizon, but a choice between traditional cell phone network technology and a real, wireless broadband infrastructure.

It also means, of course, that Google really will own that wireless pipe that your information is traveling across.

...oh, but we live in interesting times, don't we?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Future is so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades...

...ok, I don't want to get into the habit of doing movie reviews in a technology/society column - in fact, this may be the only time - but Danny Boyle's recent entrant into the SciFi genre, "Sunshine," is absolutely worth a mention. Boyle, who scared the living bejeezus out of us with "28 Days Later" - as well as made some of us swear off of drugs for life with "Transpotting" - takes us (literally) into the heart of the sun and humanity with a time honored tale: take a few humans (8, to be exact), give them a purpose in life, throw them into a crucible and then watch what happens.

It has been many, many years since I have seen a film that qualifies as (what used to be called) "hard science fiction." There are no monsters here - other than those we create for ourselves - and there are no fantastical elements. This is pure, unadulterated technology + people. (Hence, ripe fodder for this column.)

It is some time in the future - the when doesn't really matter, because it isn't that far off - and the sun is growing dim. Desperate times call for desperate measures - and humans concoct a way to essentially re-light good old Sol using a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan. Two problems: 1) it requires a crew "on site" to place it and set it off, and 2) they tried once before and that crew was never heard from again. Ready, set...go.

The science here is really quite good - although speaking as an ex-astrophysicist - it would take more than a huge nuclear bomb to "jump start" a star, nearly everything else in this film is completely within the realm of reality...including the method the Icarus II uses to get close to the surface of the sun. The effects are unapologetically exact, and the film maker assumes - rightly so - that if you can't keep up with what's happening, the hell with you.

In a time where people's conception of science fiction consists of giant alien robots coming to earth disguised as trucks and cars, Sunshine is a breath of fresh air in a genre gone seriously stale with simple, easy-to-understand (not to mention: absurd) plots.

...I now return you to your regular scheduled blog.

Drivin' Down the Highway....

...ok, so you have all this great digital music, podcasts and audio books floating around the hard drives of your life. (Sounds like a bad song from the 70's: "Hard drives of my life." How do you get them into your car in a way that won't annoy the crap of yourself? (Cuz, its pretty easy to get annoyed doing this stuff.)

I have two cars - and I tend to outfit them identically. Mostly because my limited brain can only memorize one list of controls as I'm whizzing down the freeway at 95 miles an the legal speed limit of 60 miles an hour. For nearly 5 years my cars have been equipped with systems from Phatnoise, Inc, called Phatboxes. Wonderful, nearly perfect machines that had almost no marketing behind them. They hit the market at the perfect time with the perfect solution, but - save for a series of limited run TV spots - they weren't marketed very well, and so very few people knew about these things. (They also took a left turn into home audio, which was a huge mistake.)

The system consists of an in-car docking station that allows for cartridges of up to 120Gigs in size to be inserted in a car player (Phatnoise calls these cartridges a DMS - Digital Music System). (There is a docking station for your computer that allows you to sync up your music and playlists.) The unit is controlled by most major unaltered head decks that support alphanumeric display and CD jukeboxes. (The usual digital playback function selections - genre, artist, etc. - replace the standard CD functionality: disk skip, next track, etc.) Kenwood also made a system of head decks that specifically connected to the Phatboxes - Kenwood rebranded the system as the Kenwood Music Keg.

The best features of the system came a few years later when Phatnoise licensed AT&T's natural voice technology to make a system Phatnoise called "SSA Voice Indexing." This is the system that sold me on the Phatbox. Nothing is safer when you are whizzing down the freeway (AT THE LEGAL SPEEDLIMIT, MASSACHUSETTS, CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK OHIO and KENTUCKY! Now, clear those charges, please!) then an audio system that you don't even have to look at while driving. Seriously. It is that good.

But, alas, I replaced the Phatboxes recently. Why, if I liked them so much? Strangely enough: the rise of the podcast caused the discord. Like it or not, Apple currently owns the digital audio category...and I am hopeless addicted to podcasts. Listening to podcasts in my house, gym, public transport and my car involved no fewer than 3 devices that had to be synced nightly. (The iPod and the 2 phatboxes.) While this was fine for music, which I add at a slower interval to my digital archive, addiction to daily podcasts require daily syncs. Opening up the trunk of my cars and bringing the phatbox DMS' in each night and remembering to bringing them out to the cars each morning was getting seriously annoying.

So - just as I abandoned my wonderful iRiver music players for the iPod (try finding iRiver accessories at an airport when you forgot something at home), I found myself forced to find an appropriate iPod solution to the car audio problem.

For years, however, there just wasn't one. Lame aftermarket attempts by Phillips, Kenwood, Harmon-Kardon and others, as well as partnerships with auto makers like BMW, Acura, Infinity and others resulted in a confusing mish-mash of head decks, navigation systems, satellite radio, and 3rd party boxes. (Don't even get me started on that "FM transmitter for iPods" bullshit.) Installations were a nightmare, and the results were underwhelming - with non-alphanumeric head decks displaying crap like "Disk 102 - Track 22" as a way of navigating through your 10,000 song library. WTF boys?! I've seen the Apple iPod API spec -- you have COMPLETE control of the iPod, and get query all of the metadata on each MP3 or AAC track. You make the GD head deck yourselves - what, exactly, is the freakin' problem? Either you support this viral little musical player, or you don't.

I knew if I waited long enough, something interesting would happen - and it did. The grand old dame of car audio, Alpine, figured it out. "Why don't we, " they postulated on their own, "assume that everyone on planet earth owns an iPod as their primary music player? Why don't we also assume that they like to use the iPod's interface for navigating their music?"

...and then they added one more leap of logic...

"Why don't we call Apple up on the GD phone and get them to help us out?"

Hmm. Good idea.

The result was the Alpine X-001, a truly beautiful creation that completely integrates all of the iPod functionality (except video playback) and User Interface design in a single DIN unit. A hidden cable attached to the iPod's interface to allow complete control of the unit, with an intuitive display user interface that mimics (imperfectly of course) the iPod user interface screen. The large scroll wheel in the center takes the place of the iPod click wheel, and some of the scroll wheel functionality feels a little first generation - but the effect is wholly convincing: artists, genres, albums, podcasts and playlists are easily accessed - and album art is even shown on the tiny iPod-sized screen.

The unit takes both XM and Sirius as satellite providers (I have Sirius), and uses the scroll wheel in a similar manner to access the satellite providers' offering. CDs are not accepted here - the assumption is that you are a digital child living in the digital age, and have no need for actual bulky media like CDs.

Best part? Even though the system is designed from the ground up for iPod support - it is, oddly, iPod proof. The cable that connects the iPod to the X-001 also connect to standard USB-2 ports. In fact, anything that supports a FAT32 or FAT file system can be accessed with the X-001. This means that music stored on a thumb drive, or even my dearly departed iRiver, can be displayed and played back via the X-001. Very, very cool.

The music sounds great - of course, it's an Alpine - and the system boots up incredibly fast. It isn't without its drawbacks, naturally. The "Saved Stations" feature is basically useless, as it stores the stations with unalterable titles like "Station 1," "Station 2," etc. Big help, thanks Alpine - and the bluetooth phone integration feature (oh, did I neglect to mention that?) doesn't display caller id information on the display. Uh, why?

However, at $399 a pop (MSRP), it was impossible to resist. The X-001 looks great, and installed easily in both of my cars. (I seriously miss the SSA Voice feature on the Phatboxes, though. Oh well, can't have everything.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quick Vista Tip: "Fixing" Your iPod

Just a quick note. When attaching a storage device (iPod, camera memory card, etc) to a Vista computer that was formatted with FAT32 under XP, you will be greeted with a disturbing dialog box saying that Vista would like to "fix" whatever device you've just connected.

Uh, don't click the "fix" button.

What is going on is that there is an archival bit on the hard drive or device you've just connected that Vista needs to have reset. You can do this quickly (and harmlessly) with the following command line:

chkdsk (iPod or other device drive letter): /f

Done. You'll never see the "Scan & Fix" dialog for that device again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Entertainment Weekly: 2.0 - The Talent of the New Media World

The story so far....

Episode one: creating the market, concept and technology for podcasts (perhaps parented by the flashy-clothed Adam Curry, perhaps not).

Episode two: create a distribution channel so people didn't have to go and hunt for these things themselves. Slight modifications to already existing Really Simple Syndication technology solved that little dilemma. This allowed iPodder (oops, I mean Juice) to be created as a simple podcast catcher. The resultant podcasts can be placed anywhere your listening-deprived heart desires. Oh, yeah, and...iTunes does this too, just not as well.

Episode three: add video and stir. The next logical evolution in this rapidly adopted medium was to add video to the content. The first person out the door with a video podcast production is mired in hazy history, but many believe it to be a serialized comedy podcast about zombies from Rocket Ace Moving Pictures called Dead End Days. (October, 2003). (The first true production that could be called a "video blog" was from Steve Garfield, released in January of 2004.

Episode four: get this stuff OFF the computer and your iPod and onto a TV set where you can have a proper dinner in a little metal tray while watching these things. As I wrote about in April, technologies now exist to move this stuff to your television. I'm currently using the popular TVTonic on my Vista Media Center, but other solutions exist from Akimbo, Apple, and now TiVO, for getting video podcasts directly to your television.

Which brings us to the inevitable ---

Episode five: the rise of the internet long-tail media stars....

Oh sure, watching a cat fall onto a bunsen-burner on YouTube is fun, as is watching that whacky guy from down the hall in the dorm squirt beer out of his nose...but, uh, those "talents" don't really have any staying power. The secret to long life and viral addiction for internet media is the same as it is for all media. Get someone, or a collection of "someones," that has enough on-air (on-IP?) presence that you want to see that person again and again. Someone who consistently brings in viewers (downloads?) and who becomes a fixture - not just in their chosen media - but on other media as well (print, radio, social networking sites, twitter, etc.)...

How do you know when that person has reached that level of achievement in this weird new media world? Same as you did in the old one - they pull a Katie Couric: moving around the podcast-sphere with much fanfare when new opportunities and career advancement are dangled in front of them.

Judging by the recent spate of Couric-esque moves, we've definitely reached Episode five. A quick, non-inclusive list over the past few weeks includes:

  • Jim Louderback leaves Ziff-Davis to become CEO of Revision 3. (I like how Yahoo refers to the new media space as "niche television.") Although not always on-air (on-IP?) talent, Jim has been a guiding force behind ZDTV's TechTV, and hosted "Fresh Gear" for quite a while. When he was at ZD Media's internet division, Jim helped launch and "Cranky Geeks" (hosted by the ever-cranky John Dvorak, who frequently takes potshots at Louderback). Both and "Cranky Geeks" are coming to TiVO-cast.
  • Speaking of Head Crank Dvorak, he apparently picked up a VP spot at the PodShow. I don't think he is an on-air presence over there (yet), and I have no idea how this effects his relationship with ZD Media...if it does at all.
  • Veronica Belmont, fanboy favorite (yeah, including me), on CNET's amazingly entertaining Buzz Out Loud podcast announced she was leaving last week to move to (ma-HA-low), where she will be given her own video podcast (presumably of indeterminate length).
  • Karina Stenquist of, another fanboy favorite (again, including me), left last month to pursue other options. Karina has been replaced by Susan Hickey, who has her work cut out for her filling the easy non-talking-head style of Karina. Karina hasn't landed anywhere else, yet - but she was rumored to be seen wandering the halls of Google. Hmmmm. Has she slipped into urban-legendhood already?
There are more, of course...Tom Merritt, another CNET isn't leaving Buzz Out Loud, but his voice on the podcast nation is spreading. (Check out the brilliant "East Meets West" with Roger Chang.) Leo Laporte's TWiT empire is growing with frightening speed, and in it's wake TWiT is creating new "long-tail superstars" like Amber MacArthur, Paul Thurott, and Steve Gibson. Over at Revision3, Kevin Rose and Alex Albrech are household names among the digerati (diggerati??) as they out Wayne "Wayne's World" ... and, of course, over at ZD is John Dvorak with his collection of seriously cranky geeks.

Want more proof that these guys and gals are the new media elite? Quick - name 4 prime-time news anchors. Yeah, didn't think so.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Twitter is as Twitter Does..., I was out with friends at a fine drinking establishment in Palo Alto last night - and the conversation turned to, as I find it often does these days, social networking in general...and Twitter in particular.

The conversation moved into that bizarre, twilight realm I find myself in when I am talking about twitter, jaiku and pownce.

Me: ", you have this group of friends...or, uh...not...and you send out small notes on what you are doing."
Female Friend: "Like IM?"
Me: "...uh, no. No, not exactly. IM is point-to-point, twitter is more of a broadcast."
Male Friend: "To your friends?"
Me: "...well, yes. And to strangers."
MF: "Total strangers?"
Me: "...uh."
FF: "Why would I do that?"
Me: "...uh."
MM: "Oh, so its an engine for stalkers?"
Me: "...uh."
...and so on.

I didn't get frustrated trying to explain twitter, because last night was - for all intents and purposes - the exact same conversation I had when I was first introduced to Twitter. "Why," I asked, "would I volunteer this stuff to the world at large...and more importantly, why would I give a crap what other people are doing?"

Twittter, Jaiku and their ilk are contradictions.... they are, at once, egotistical and voyeuristic. They are both a brand new concept, and a 30 year old concept. (Anyone remember CB radio?) It is simultaneously irritating and fascinating.... and, it can gobble up your monthly text message quota if you aren't careful. They call themselves "mini-blogs," but that is disingenuous to both blogging and twittering. You aren't blogging with these technologies - you are not really offering an informed (or uninformed) opinion about the world, or reporting on a fact necessarily. What you are doing is contributing small observations of your world to the world.

That, in fact, may be why this phenomenon is so engaging and enraging at the same time. You are performing the virtual equivalent of standing on top of a rock and yelling "I am here!" at the top of your lungs - if you are lucky, you will here a voice in the wilderness returned to you -- if you are unlucky, that voice in the wilderness is merely your echo. It is at once engaging and an act of lonely desperation.

Clive Thompson, in an excellent Wired article last month, postulated that Twitter creates a climate of a "social sixth sense." Each message, individually, is just annoying chatter - but taken in aggregate it provides the listener with a touching portrayal of each person in your social circle. After listing to the "tweets" (as each, 140-character-or-less post is called) of your friends for a month, you find yourself suddenly in tune to how they are doing. This gives you a "social leg-up" the next time you meet them in the real world. You know, without ever having discussed it with her, that Susan's mom was in the hospital, so you ask Susan how she is doing. (BTW, I found it amusing that Thompson posted his twitter name in his article and then later complained via a tweet that all these people were trying to friend him because he posted his twitter name in his article.)

I think that Thompson put his finger on an important point - but there's more to it than that. By participating in twitter, you not only get aggregate knowledge of what your friends are up to, but you get aggregate knowledge of what the world is up to...

...that is not as grand and as pompous as it sounds, btw. Consider David Troy's mashup application, TwitterVision. TwitterVision provides you with a world map, and a random sampling of tweets and the source tweet location, as an overlay. Watching TwitterVision is addicting - and provides you with a profound sense of what the world is thinking. Where Thompson points out that twitter gives you an aggregate view into your friends over time, TwitterVision provides you with an snapshot view of the world over an immediate time slice called "Now."

Social networking at its finest? Maybe, maybe not. But it provides us with a powerful glimpse of what is just around the corner.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Form Over Function? Not always a good idea...

...for technology, architecture, relationships...anything, really - but let's concentrate on technology for a second.

Don't get me wrong - if you can design something to be practical and beautiful, do it. If you can't - go with the practical. And, no, this posting is not about the iPhone for a change.

Microsoft's XBox360 is really a gorgeous device. I own two of them, and they are not only amazing game consoles - they are purportedly capable of generated all the graphic effects for the first "Jurassic Park" movie in real time. They are excellent media center extenders, allowing me to place high definition television throughout my house (relatively) inexpensively. The machine itself is small and svelte - looks good underneath a plasma screen - and, via wireless controllers, does not clutter up the living room.

It is also a runaway hit - with 10 Million units sold by end of 2006, and a projected additional 15Million to be sold by, well, right now. By any standards for any consumer electronic device - it wins.

The internet, however, gives us a bit of a darker picture. XBoxes (or XBoxen, for you Brian Regan fans) are flaming out. A lot. 30% failure rate. Again, that's a lot. For anything. Really. I can't stress it enough.

So what's going on? To produce these stunning graphics and high definition, 30fps video playback, the XBox360 employs a high-end GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) and a specially designed CPU (Central Processing Unit), and each one is on almost continuously. For folks who don't know how this all works, its ok - but you just have to remember a simple rule: to move an electron through a gated operation in a chip requires energy. That electron gets moved whenever there is a calculation to be done - which, for high end graphics, happens a lot. Each chip generates between 110 degrees and 150 degrees when running on all cylinders...which, again, happens a lot.

All of this would be fine, if the heat was managed properly...and attempts were made, but within the constraints of the beautiful form of the case. The machine is air cooled, with two small fans at the back of the unit - and a heat pipe (a piece of heat conducting copper tubing) runs from the CPU to the back of the unit. Well thought out...

...the GPU, on the other hand, has a traditional heat sink (a large, metal mass with metal fins to allow for passive air cooling) attached to the motherboard. Because the heat from the heat sink is contained by a narrow cooling channel (again, because of the design), the heat has nowhere to go. The heat is, unfortunately, transferred directly to the motherboard, causing warping and reflowed solder.

Did this information come from Microsoft? Nope. It came from a man who bought 8 of these things due to failures, and took them apart to determine the cause. (In fairness to Microsoft, although they were slow to respond with an explanation for what happened, they are going to take a 1 billion dollar hit - that is billion with "B" - and extend the warranties of the XBox360 owners by 3 years to make up for the design defect.)

How did so obvious a design flaw make it into the wild? The desire to make it pretty first overrode the desire to make it dependable. Apple has been - rightfully so - driving the consumer electronics world towards making devices that have a sex appeal that people want to own, not just need to own. It's not just marketing, it aesthetics - and it makes sense. We have to live with toasters, televisions, music players and computers - so make them look good, feel good, and operate intuitively. However, think through the consequences and don't rush to market without examining all the possibilities. Could MS have put out a device this gorgeous and not had the heating issues? Absolutely. Want proof? Someone did it - here's a modified XBox that is liquid cooled, nullifying the heat issue. It still looks just as cool - actually, it looks cooler.

Form and function on equal footing. There's an idea.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hitting Two Birds with one Stone...

....very clever.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

It's 4th of JulyPhone!

Ok - so, here we are - on the other side of iPhone Phriday (yeah, I'm gonna have fun with words for a while...sorry), and I'm curious as to where we are....

I saw the lines on 5th avenue, I saw the mini-lines outside all of the AT&Tingular stores all throughout Manhattan. (You guys looked just iAdorable in your little iFolding-Chairs waiting in your little iLines.) Amusingly, heading into an Apple store on the Monday after iPhone Phriday revealed....plenty of iPhones. So, how'd they do?

Apple is notorious for not giving out sales figures - but because they are a public company, they will have to eventually. The last unofficial reports I heard placed sales/activations at 500,000 over the weekend (iPhriday through Sunday) - short of the 3,000,000 I heard rumored as first assembly line run of the product that would be "needed" for opening weekend, but still very respectable. (As there has never been a cell phone "event" like this before, I can't find any comps for other phones in terms of weekend sales figures - I suspect the initial Razor phone up there back when it, too, was a status symbol -- but that's just guessing.)

Assuming the 500,000 is close to reality, and knowing that a few of those days over the weekend fell into Q2, it's probably a reasonable guess that Apple can declare 200,000 - 250,000 of those units on the Q2 books. So - not bad, at $400-$600 a pop.

Next, I heard all of the podcasts from the Apple lovers and the Apple haters -- so I can kinda get a balanced idea of what people thought of the phone. (I was particularly amused to hear Veronica Belmont say that she bought one on impulse when she was getting a phone for her CNET review, and its still sitting in the box while the specter of Buyer's Remorse hovers over her shoulder.)


  • Best user interface ever. I believe it - Apple is very good at this, very good.
  • Satisfying phone experience - fun to use.
  • Nice that you can activate without dealing with AT&T directly -- well, except for the folks that had issues
  • Music player is excellent.
  • Screen very readable during the day
  • WiFi works as advertised
  • No 3G - stuck on the goofy AT&T EDGE thingy
  • Hard to get pictures off the phone wirelessly. (You are stuck emailing them.)
  • 6 button pushes to get to the "make a phone call" point.
  • Touch screen keypad. This was almost a universal dislike. No tactical feedback, tricky to use, only goes landscape in the safari browser
  • No 3rd party apps. We knew that tho.
  • A significant portion of people had problems activating. An unidentified AT&T spokesperson said "We weren't expecting this kind of response." What?
So - drop me a note, tell me what you think. Do you like this thing? Worth the wait? Is this a typical Apple Generation 1 device, or is it ready for primetime now?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Uh, ok - Now I have an 11th Sign...

...jeez - that was quick. I thought I'd get at least 4 full weeks before I got torqued enough to come up with an additional "sign" to add to my "10 Signs that the US Needs Legislators that Understand Tech" - but I didn't even really make it to 3 weeks.

So - remember when we all had block parties and "high fived" each other on the street when Rumsfeld "resigned" back in November? And then remember when we held our breath when Bush started the second film in the "Defense Department Creature Double Feature" by installing Robert Gates as the new head defense dude? Well - how bad could it be, right? I mean at least Gates had reasonable credentials -- he was already the Secretary of Defense once before (under Regan), and has been in six presidential administrations, all totaled.

After (uh, after?) Gates was "installed" in office, people starting digging around his public speeches when he was president of Texas A&M, and found this little gem: "Robert Gates: 'cyberterrorism' is the worst WMD out there." Well - ok. I'd still take a denial of service attack on over, say, a gigantic syphilis bomb exploding over southern california, or a Dalek attack on London...but, I get his point...sorta. We should be concerned over the "Goldeneye" scenario: a coordinated attack on key internet and public network sites that could potentially cripple parts of the world economy. Bad shit. Plausable. I get it.

Hey - cool. Maybe all of those years as head CIA guy paid off. Someone in charge of the nation's defense who understands that attacks on our country are not limited to suicide bombers and physical targets.

Then, uh, this surfaced: It happened. 1500 Pentagon computers were brought offline by a hacker attack. Ok, the machines that were brought offline were unimportant, really - just "dirty net" email servers and the like...but, it did show how a plausable attempt to bring key government systems offline could succeed. So, you can imagine how my illusions about a tech savvy Head Defense dude were shattered like so many dreams of the Easter Bunny when Gates responded to the question of whether his email was effected by the attack with the comment 'I don't do e-mail. I'm a very low-tech person.'

What? I'm sorry. What?

Sure enough - it's true. He doesn't use email. Or computers. At all. Email that is sent to Gates is presented to him on paper, which he then marks up and his administration assistant types into an email client. Bwahahahahaha.

Robert Gates: Sign #11 that the US Needs More Legislators Who Understand Tech. (Robert, I was going to you an award, but I figured you'd be confused when the UPS guy showed up at your just take my word for it, you have spot number #11.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Vision Quest: To Quote Roy Batty...

"...oh, if you could only see what I have seen with your eyes."

A lot of folks (yes, I said "folks") out there are pretty damn curious about this. I've gotten more email about this operation than from all the other posts combined (I apologize for not writing more about this in the wrap up with the video, but I've been busy looking at stuff with my new eyes! Very novel - I like it.)

So, let's see if I can answer all of the questions from the emails in one shot....

What did I experience before/during/after?

  • When I was planning this procedure, I scoped out the doctors and found who I wanted to do it very early - last fall, as a matter of fact. I went in for the pre-op check in November of '06 to see if I qualified (I did, obviously). I subsequently went through a scheduled-canceled-scheduled cycle a few times, until I wound up at last week (June '07.) This was mostly due to work commitments...they were very flexible about rescheduling.
  • I didn't actually get nervous (I am not a nervous or squeamish person by nature - and operations of any sort tend to interest me on a technical level) until just after the pre-op procedure (called the "C2") just a few days before the operation. That night I didn't really sleep as I had visions of losing my eyes in a freak lasik accident. (A friend of mine said "the problem is you know too much" about how it all goes down. Probably right.)
  • During the C2, they took the final measurements of my eye (the cornea, the lens, the vitreous humour density - and then the surgeon ran the algorithms required for the LASIK machine to autoshape my lens to approach 20/20 vision. After a few decades of work in the software industry, I briefly wondered how much it would suck if - after I was underneath the laser - someone's else's file was loaded in by mistake...but, uh, I assumed they must have had some safeguards in place. (He did, actually - apparently, the level of safeguard was so intense, that if they put the machine over the right eye when it was programmed for the left eye, the machine wouldn't work. Cool.)
  • The morning of the operation, I was sorta ridiculously calm. I was driven in, had the pre-op conversation, signed the little form that acknowledged the risks of this, listened patiently (haha..get it?) as they, once again, explained the problems that could results, took a Xanax, and went into the room.
  • If you check out the video I posted on the previous article, you will see exactly what I experienced. From "my end of the eyeball" it was a very strange experience. Because the surgeon knew that I understood the optics and the tech involved, he described exactly what he was doing at every step of the operation. (I heard one of the nurses ask if that was a good idea - and he said "He requested that I tell him what I am doing." So, that was good...)
  • When the first corneal flap was removed (all together now: EW!), I saw my vision completely cloud over - I just let it happen and trusted the doctor and the tech, I had no choice. This was done by the first "intralasik" laser - it made no noise at all.
  • I saw a blinking, red alignment light. You need to try to keep that light in your central field of vision at all times.
  • I saw the doctor swab my lens with a cotton swab. That was bizarre - I felt nothing.
  • I saw a field of red pixels - which I assumed was the laser alignment grid - and then I heard the tat-tat-tat of the shaping laser come on. (Every time the beam fired, it made a loud TAT noise - the effect would have been disturbing if it wasn't for the Xanax.)
  • If you are squeamish, don't read this bullet: I could smell the burned lens tissue as the laser turned it to plasma.
  • The laser stopped, and he swabbed my lens again.
  • He manually positioned the corneal flap back into place, and swabbed it down. (I immediately could see a poster that they had taped to the ceiling. Not completely clearly, but clearer than I would have with contacts or glasses.
  • The procedure was repeated for the second eye. Total time for both eyes was about 20-25 minutes.
  • When done, they sat me in a dark room and let me put on my iPod. They would check in on me to make sure I was awake, and as I sat there in the dim light, I could see an eye chart on the far wall. At some point during that few hours in the dim light, I became aware that I could read the chart - I had no idea when that happened.
  • I was brought home - I expected to be convalescing that whole night - in fact, I set my weekend up in a way where I didn't have to do anything, but by 6 or 7pm, I was watching a movie on my television.
  • The next morning, I woke up with 20/25 vision. I drove myself back to the doctor's office for a post-op exam. Despite the dire warnings, the operation had gone better than everyone expected:
    • The reading glasses I used when I had contacts were no longer necessary, despite hearing that I still would need that after the operation.
    • My distance vision was not as sharp as with contacts, but was visibly getting sharper by the hour. (I am told by the doctor that it will continue to improve as the weeks go on - and it seems to be true.)
    • My night vision is just as good as it was with contacts.
    • What about the "prism" effects people complain about? I have put my night vision to the test several times over the last week - and small points of light appear as, well, small points of light. I do see the prism effect, but very faintly - and only on sodium arc lamps. (The low-power, orange hued overhead street lamps that are common on city streets and major highways.) The prism shows up only when I look directly at the lamp, and then only faintly. The prism pattern occurs as a straight line "rainbow" at the 0, 90, 180, 270 degree marks at a distance of about 22 degrees from the light source. For the curious - the prisming is caused by the pixel banding patterns that the laser cuts into your lens to shape it - essentially, the laser turns your lens into a Fresnel lens, just like the kind that used to make the baby Jesus disappear and reappear in those freaky catholic handout things. The distance between the banding is obvious very small (measured in angstroms), and my speculation about why I only see these sometimes is that the distance between the bands must be close to the frequency of the sodium lights.

Ok, so here's the deal for a successful LASIK:
  • Do your homework. There are a lot of quacks out their that you can get involved with that will do a sloppy or bad job on your eyes. (You don't want to wind up dictating a blog entry on, do you?) I came away with the metric: if the doctor has done less than 5,000 successful ops in a row, I wouldn't use him/her. Also, nothing is better than finding a reliable reference.
  • Do not bargain hunt. Dicker your heart out when you are negotiating a price for a car or jacket or something, not on your freakin eyes, dude.
  • Do what they tell you - both pre- and post-op, not just during the operation. If they want you to wear the goofy goggles for 2 weeks, even if your eyes feel fine, do it. Take the meds, the drops, the vitamin C, the whole deal.
  • Bring your iPod (or iRiver, or whatever) for post-op recovery. The hardest part about this whole procedure was staying awake in a darkened room for 3 hours while zoned out on Xanax. (If you fall asleep: rapid eye movement kicks in...uh, you don't want that...but you do want the Xanax, trust me.)
  • Get someone to drive you - I almost stupidly took a cab to/from the place-o-cutting....not a good idea, you will be VERY zoned out at the end of the day when you have to go home.
Throughout the whole process, there was no pain and no panic. I have been asked over and over if I would do it again - the answer is unequivocally yes, without any hesitation. My vision became impaired when I was a kid - I had mumps when I was 6 years old, and my vision deteriorated rapidly after that. (That was one of the effects of that virus - it moves from the saliva glands into other soft tissue fairly easily. Be glad that it has been virtually wiped out, kids.) So, for 4 decades I have donned spectacles or placed little pieces of vinyl on my corneas every morning - so, after the LASIK was the first time in my adult life that I have seen unaided.

So, yes. Absolutely. Without any hestitation I would do this again. Science wins this round.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Vision Quest Completion: My LASIK Day Yesterday

So, the idea was to have been that my LASIK surgeon would give me a copy of the video of my surgery, and I would post it up here while I described my time under the beam, but... the doctor was switching from analog video equipment to digital video equipment, so nothing was recorded. Sigh.

Luckily, a quick YouTube search produced this gem from "jackdakota" and his LASIK. It's amazingly well done, and perfectly describes my day yesterday.

For the record - within 3 hours I was walking the dogs, by the next morning I drove myself back to the doctors to get the "morning after" report: corneal flap sealed perfectly, my vision is now 20/25 in both eyes. The distance vision is not as crisp as with contacts, but is predicted to increase dramatically over the next few weeks. Oddly, I no longer need reading glasses, which they didn't think would happen.

So...sit back, and enjoy my day yesterday through "jackdakota's" eye.