July 29, 2014

3 ½ weeks

It's only been 3 ½ weeks since July 4 and yet it almost couldn't feel further away. It feels like the summer sun's been beating down for ages now, like we've been mowing the lawn incessantly, like the summer parties have been playing havoc with our responsibilities for months already, forcing us to juggle what we want to do with what we need to do.

And yet, July 4 was only 25 days ago. A shade over 3 weeks. 

This is the slippery slope of the summer; when you think you've got all the time in the world and summer's just getting into full swing when you realize that the time is actually waning and the end is near. Make no mistake: there's still time left. Lots of it in fact. However, it's July 29, and in three more days it will be August. Then the countdown begins in earnest: you've burned through the end of May (Happy Memorial Day!), all of June (Father's Day! Summer's here!), and then July (Happy 4th!) without a care in the world. August usually arrives as a head-scratching, "What the..." type of event where we suddenly realize where we are in time and space and realize it's August, the unofficial last month of summer, or at least summer vacation.

It all happens in the blink of an eye. Weekdays spent working, commuting, planning, worrying, and going about your daily business. Weekends spent on the lawn, on the bicycle, at the park and at parties. It's a blissful duality you don't truly find any other time. So looking back it's been a pretty great 3 ½ weeks so far. How has yours been, and what will you do with the next 4 weeks?

June 24, 2014

Amazon Forum Gem

You never know what you're going to find in Amazon's forums. Usually I forget they exist instead merely reading up on an item's description and reviewer comments. But there are Amazon forums that exist outside of specific products and a chance browsing flyby today yielded a gold nugget. Check it out for yourself: KFC Asked My Wife to Leave.

June 20, 2014

Summer Solstice 2014

A nice article from USA Today about the summer solstice, which occurs tomorrow at 6:51am EDT. Say Hello to Summer!

March 01, 2014

Happy Victo Spring!

Let's face it. At no time in recent years has it been more true than now: we've had a LONG hard winter. There's been tons of snow and to call the temperatures frigid is an understatement. Across most of the US northeast normal temperatures have started in the single digits every morning and climbed only into the mid 20s. Even southern states which are normally unscathed have been affected, as snow has fallen many times in places like Atlanta Georgia, well over the Mason/Dixon line. It's as if old man winter wanted to take out his rage on everyone this year and not even the northern/southern boundaries could stop him.

Things looked quite bleak back in December as storms and cold weather started to occur with more frequency. We were at the beginning of this thing called Winter, unsure how it would play out this year: mild or harsh. The answer was uncharacteristically harsh. And looking at the calendar and realizing that we had months to go only made it seem worse. Enduring one or two storms was acceptable. But 3 more months of it? That was the real issue. The long game. This year Winter has dragged on, as the snow and temperatures kept falling, dragging our moods down with it.

But there is finally something to be hopeful about.  We're no longer at the beginning of this. We're near the end. We've endured December, enjoying the Holidays even as the storm season picked up. We've ushered in the new year and made it through January as temperatures plummeted. We've limped into February and finally made it through. Now the calendar has been flipped one more time and we're finally into March. Now things are different.

The concept of Victo Spring means there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That we've flipped the calendar to a whole new month and can look forward to a new season's imminent arrival: Spring. Victo Spring is the harbinger of that season; like a mountaintop herald playing his trumpet sending the message, "Spring is coming! Stay strong!". Victo Spring is the extra push we need to make it through the homestretch; to wait for the winter weather to finally break and for the warm weather to finally make it's appearance. The arrival of Victo Spring sends the message: It's Not Long Now.

And this year there is a new wrinkle: the mainstream media is embracing it. Apparently everyone else in the world is coming around to the idea of March 1 as the "unofficial" start of Spring. Most of them are calling it the "meteorological spring", to differentiate between the weather-related season of Spring and the astrological Spring, also known as the spring equinox which occurs March 20 or 21 depending on the year.

Here's a sampling of the articles which reference and support the March 1 theory:
But we all know where all this started, don't we? With me, and posted here first, years ago.
But in the end it's all good. March 1 has always seemed like the arrival of Spring and although it's been a long time since I originally started vocalizing that thought, and came up with the Victo Spring concept, the payoff is now as it finally gains acceptance by everyone. It's all over the place: March 1 IS the arrival of Spring.

With that in mind:  Happy Victo Spring! And may the weather where you are finally start the long warm-up process soon.

October 24, 2013

The iPhone 5C sets a dubious new record

The iPhone 5C may have shattered a record, but it's hardly one that's likely to make the folks at Cupertino happy. While most iPhones stay at full price until the next version is available, or gradually reduce in price over many months (originally years) the 5C has the distinction of being the fastest-reduced iPhone ever. Repeat: ever. As evidence: the iPhone 5C was introduced at $99 and immediately reduced to $79 by retailers. As if that wasn't head-scratching enough now WalMart is taking it one step further: reducing it to $45 for the Holiday rush. Other retailers such as Best Buy, Radio Shack and Target are all followiing suit with price programs and reductions of their own. Amidst all the talk about the iPhone 5C NOT being the low-cost iPhone we were expecting, I posit that maybe it is after all.

More reading: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/07/tech/mobile/buy-iphone-5c-cheap/?iref=obinsite

August 21, 2013

Honey, is that a Dragon in the Water?

Lots of things wash ashore at beaches but I trust nothing ever like this. This could put some fire back into the old discussion over whether dragons really did (do?) exist.
Note: Yes,  there are Komodo dragons in the world. This may be a whole different beast entirely.

August 20, 2013

Viral Job Hunting in Grand Central Terminal

You never know what you're going to see in New York City and Grand Central Terminal is arguably one of its hubs where anything can happen. Today a young man positioned himself at one of the most used exits,  the Biltmore Room which exits to 43rd street, and handed our slips of paper to any takers While New Yorkers are used to seeing and receiving flyers for restaurants, sales and other things handed to them, this was a bit different. Each piece of paper had his resume on it and this was a kind of viral marketing tactic to find himself a job. While I didn't get a picture of him I did grab his resume and am posting it to help spread the word.  Disclaimer: I don't know him & I can't vouch for him, but it took inventiveness and guts to come up with this and do it. I figured that alone merits the post.

July 23, 2013

Superman/Batman Movie

Yes, this movie is happening and if they're wise they should definitely grab plot points from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.  An older, darker, grouchier Batman against a morally weakened, puppetized man of steel? That would be great, at least in concept. DC has a history of ruining their movies, and their Superman track record isn't great either, but I give this high hopes for succeeding. The comics are fan favorites and the movie should do well. Looking forward to hearing more about this.

July 22, 2013

The Night Gwen Stacy Died

For Spider-Man fans, a new twist: a novel which uses Peter Parker's life as a rough outline then alters it to place it in the real world and with slightly different characters. Peter's still there, but he's not a superhero. Thus, no costume, no webbing, no super-villains. Gwen Stacy's not in the book either except in the guise of Peter's new girlfriend who adopts and begins using the name. Oh, and Peter's a cab driver with a bit of precognition going on. Think of this as a real-world novel with a guy named Peter Parker who seems awfully familiar.  Worth a read.

July 19, 2013

Microsoft Surface - coming to a clearance sale near you?

CNET recently published a story about Microsoft Surface and it's problems gaining traction.  In my opinion they've gotten it all wrong. CNET mentions that the lighthearted dancing ads was inappropriately themed for a device aimed at the business crowd. While that is a viable opinion, my take is that's exactly why they did it. They wanted to show a device that could replace your laptop, could do real work, but was also fun. The whole enchilada. They took a chance. Instead of showing staid suitly-clad businessmen on their way to the boardroom they showed young hipsters dancing in the conference room. If you're trying to make a product look cool, this was a good attempt.

The story also declares that Steve Jobs wouldn't have done this, and that's why Apple is far ahead of the game and Microsoft is...Microsoft. Yet, while the iPad was marketed primarily as an entertainment and consumption device there's no denying it has slipped in through the back door of many companies and it can do real work. Later ads have shown it being used in the fields of music, architecture and medicine. But what ads are they best known for? The silhouetted dancers. So now I wonder why Microsoft tried that tactic?

July 16, 2013

Google Reader

Google reader was put to rest on July 1, Google seeing fit to sunset a product that was obviously loved by many. It seems like one by one some of our favorite longstanding products don't pass muster anymore and despite our objections that they're still perfectly usable get banished to some archive like a blog you've forgotten or your Myspace page.

It does seem as if Google underestimated how popular this product was. They have tons of data at their disposal and thus should know exactly how often it was being used, yet their initial reasoning that Reader use was declining doesn't seem to hold much water. If that were so then people would scarcely look up when they read the announcement. They'd be too consumed by the newer tools they were using, too busy to care about a tool they'd long forgotten, as Google suggested. Instead what they were presented with was something of a backlash, a cry for help, or many cries at once.

 It was almost as if hundreds of voices cried out at once -- Ben Kenobi

One by one the news stories were filed first by technology blogs then mainstream press alike. And they weren't just reporting the facts, they were lamenting them and the departure of a tool they used every day. Every. Day. Does that sound like a tool that's use is declining and dying?

Gigaom does a good job of chronicling some of the reasons Google pulled the plug and the most interesting/compelling reason is because it was too open. That's right: too open. With competition from Facebook and Twitter each building their own ecosystems which are essentially walled gardens Google felt the need to build their own which is how we got Google+. While Gigaom correctly points this out, they also state that the underlying technology responsible for this openness, RSS, isn't going anywhere and can still be used with a different reader. What they didn't point out was how much power Google has to affect this as well: they own Blogger as well as other web site creation and hosting tools like Google Sites. What if someday Google decides to not support RSS at all? Imagine every Blogger site's RSS feed broken for good. Or imagine the Chrome browser not supporting RSS and somehow not playing nice with sites like Feedly. It wouldn't be the first time a major player has dropped support for a technology, as evidenced by the broken Flash-enabled web pages on Apple devices.  Its unlikely Google would do this, but if they don't want their content being automatically pulled into Feedly or the new Digg reader then its a step they could take. All the while making it extremely easy to automatically pull that data and share it using Google+.

June 26, 2013

Does Nook Still Have a Chance?

Yesterday Barnes & Noble announced it was shutting down color tablet manufacturing, a sign they were ceding the battle to other tablets such as the iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire. CNET does a nice high-level breakdown of the problem the Nook faced leading to this decision.  One key thing that has bubbled to the top is that Barnes & Noble will work with third-party manufacturers.  It seemed while reading the original statement yesterday that these third parties would be licensing the Nook technology and perhaps form factor, re-badging with their own brand similar to what Asus does with the Nexus 7. Today however it seems they may be using those third parties to continue making the Nook tablets. If this is the case the brand would theoretically survive, at least for a while. My prediction is that the Nook brand will still die, and these third party manufacturers, if they do take over and continue the Nook, won't be able to do it for long, and won't have much success. The brand is dead, even if Barnes & Noble won't admit explicitly yet.

June 25, 2013

The Nook is Dead

Much has already been written about the Nook lowering their prices first for Mothers Day (Nook HD dropping from $199 to $149, HD+ from $269 to $179), then Fathers Day (Nook HD $129, HD+ $149). Plenty of people wondered if there was more to the story, such as if Barnes & Noble was planning anything further regarding their fledgling tablets.  Today that shoe was dropped as Barnes and Noble announced they were simultaneously killing off the Windows Nook program and their Nook tablets, instead opting to focus on their ereaders and open up their Nook tablet blueprints to allow others to license and create low-cost tablets using their mold.

First of all, this news isn't particularly surprising. It was really just a matter of waiting. To be fair: the Nook was a good attempt by Barnes and Noble to capitalize on a growing trend in their industry. It made sense. They should have been able to gain a substantial portion of this market, sharing it with Amazon if nothing else. As the two dominant physical book sellers they had every expectation of capturing the market. But their insistence, almost up to the end, of offering a "cultivated" experience (read: walled garden) left most users looking longingly at their friends with other tablets. The Nook, in all it's tablet configurations (including the Nook Color), was the tablet also-ran (and most would argue their strict ereaders are too). People flocked to Kindle's ereaders and tablets, as well as the iPad and the Nexus. But not the Nook. It simply didn't offer enough and couldn't compete. It was almost like Barnes and Noble didn't understand the actual wants and needs of the tablet market by continuing to offer a watered down experience.

Secondly, the Nook itself was never the top-tier player it needed to be and was always second fiddle to the Kindle in terms of the eReader experience and the iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire in terms of being a tablet. It seemed that whenever the Nook wandered in to a new area and tried to make a name for itself it was overshadowed by the big boys. While the Nook Color was the first color reader/tablet, it didn't enjoy its moment in the sun for long. The Kindle Fire soon burst upon the market, almost instantly capturing more attention and affection. Nook tried to fight back with software upgrades, then dedicated tablet devices (Nook HD, Nook HD+) but still couldn't get the formula right. Add to this the fact that new spectacular devices like the Nexus 7 were introduced which did everything right and basically redefined what a top tier tablet should do, and the Nook fell farther behind. The introduction late last year of the iPad Mini meant that even Apple was moving onto its turf. And some would say the Nook's nosedive went into overdrive.

To be fair, they tried a late Hail Mary that probably would have worked a year or more ago: they opened up the Nook HD and HD+ to the full Android market. But it wasn't enough to stop the bleeding. There wasn't enough time to re-build fan devotion or gather new customers. It was over, and finally today Barnes and Noble announced they were pulling the plug.

My personal experience with Nook goes back to the Nook Color. While not explicitly being marketed as a tablet they did indeed mention the forthcoming apps and that you'd be able to do lots of things with it in addition to ereading. I picked it up, not yet having the options of the Kindle or Nexus 7. The initial experience was good mainly because of the lack of competition. But as time went on, the lack of good apps and Barnes and Noble's frustrating walled garden approach left me wanting more. Much more. I contacted representatives who told me it would open to the full Android market "very soon". That didn't happen.  It never happened. I ended up rooting the device (an easy root, using an N2A card) which gave me some satisfaction but ultimately introduced system instability and slowness as apps were upgraded and the hacked OS couldn't handle it.  In the end my Nook Color was abandoned, left sitting on a shelf while I eyed and eventually purchased an iPad Mini. It did everything I wanted out of the box, and had the full app store I would need for further customization and extensibility. All these were things the Nook needed. At the end they finally gave it to the Nook HD tablets, but it served as a cruel reward for a losing fight.  It was almost as if Barnes and Noble said to Nook, "You did good kid. Now here's us opening up your OS to the full Android market like we promised."

You can almost hear the Nook HD saying, "Gee thanks. Maybe a little sooner would have helped."

May 27, 2013

Tech Support: Get with the 21st Century

A simple exchange of filing a warranty claim against a new TV which suddenly won't turn on:

Rep: Please attempt to turn the unit on.
Me: OK (fake wait). It won't turn on.
Rep: Is it connected to either coax or a cable box?
Me: Yes, it is.
Rep: (Long pause) Which one?
Me: Coax.
Rep: I'd like you to disconnect the AC cord from the wall.
Me: OK, done.
Rep: Hit the power button and hold for 1 minute.
Me: (Perplexed). OK...
Rep: Is it turning on?
Me: No, we've removed it from the power supply. It will never turn on.
Rep: Ok, it looks like you've got a defective unit. Please fax your receipt with purchase information to our support fax number and we'll begin processing. Once received we'll email you the RMA label.
Me: Fax it to you? Then you'll email me? How about if I just send it to your email directly? I don't have a fax machine; they're pretty antiquated at this point. Isn't there a direct customer service email I can send it to?
Rep: Yes, but that will take longer.
Me: Whatever. I'm going to use the email anyway.
Rep: Have a nice day. 

In this day and age, with the plethora of digital scanning/photography tools out there, is there any reason to all but demand someone use a fax machine? Hell, if I wanted to I could use my iPhone to quickly scan a picture of the receipt and send it to the guy's email WHILE I WAS TALKING TO HIM. But a fax machine? I'd have to dig one of those up, probably at my local office supply store.

Filing this under perplexed, confused, mildly outraged.

May 22, 2013

Amazon Worlds

Short for fanfiction. The act of creation where a writer takes existing characters from a book, movie, TV show or videogame and creates new situations and storylines. Generally not done by professional writers. If so, and payment is made, it falls within the category of media tie-in.

Today Amazon announced their new author program, Amazon Worlds. This is the latest entry to a cadre of products such as Kindle, Kindle Singles, and others. This new initiative takes aim not at totally original work or author-owned creations but at fanfiction, defined above.  While this is exciting news and a brand new market for Amazon, it certainly comes with some pros and cons. Lots of cons. First: the pros.  It seemingly legitimizes fanfic, and even pays the authors for it. So it's possible that many fanfic writers out there who have written scads of Star Trek material could actually pull a paycheck in the near future. The cons: it's a one-time payment, and everything they write becomes 100% owned (in different ways) by Amazon and the original material's copyright holder forever and ever. The breakdown is this: the material you write, including original story plotline, any new characters and situations become the franchise owner's property. So if you created a new Star Wars character in your story it becomes the property of LucasArts/Disney, and when you see a doll of your character in Toys R Us you won't see a penny from the sales. Memo from Disney: Sorry, but thanks for the great idea!

Also: Amazon can do whatever it wants with your story. It can re-sell it, re-package it, put it in an anthology, all without paying you any more money. From my point of view it certainly seems like the fanfic writer doesn't get much for their writing, although the point can certainly be made that they've done it until now for nothing. So they're ahead in that sense.

My take: personally I like creating my own worlds to play in. My own characters, situations, settings, etc. I think it's safer that way and everything belongs to you. However I'm sure this announcement will appeal to many fanfic writers eager to get paid for their Dr. Who manifesto. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and is accepted by both franchise owners and fanfic writers.