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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Yes, I can make calls over the Intraweb really cheap. Yes, I get free long distance on my cell phone, and many of those people on the same network so I don’t even get charged for minutes. However, I still like having a traditional land line at the house for various reasons, and I like being able to make long distance calls from it (especially since the Cingular/AT&T merger made my cell phone number a toll call from my house…)

Anyways, a while I go I chose to switch from a fairly expensive AT&T long distance plan to Pioneer Telecom (as reviewed by PhoneDog.com). Signup was easy and over the web.

Service and quality so far has been great, billing is automatic and only online, and last month my bill was $0.57, total (no fees, no minimums, no taxes, etc). Compare this to my old AT&T bill that ran $12 to $18/month (we had a special deal for international rates, not that special).

So check out PhoneDog, see what they may recommend for you, and I highly recommend Pioneer.

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Compare-Mb-White Compare-Mb-Black Compare-Mbpro15

A friend at work asked me for a laptop recommendation, so I figured I would simply post that here so that the peanut gallery could add their comments as well. At a high level I suggest the following. My reasoning is below, feel free to disagree with me in the comments:

  • The mid-range MacBook (the one with the SuperDrive for burning DVDs)
  • Upgrade to 2GB
  • Plan on getting an external USB hard drive for backups

My standard recommendation for all personal computers these days is “buy a Mac”. I’ve been firmly in that camp since switching (from Linux) about four years ago, and I’m even firmer in that camp since their switch to Intel chips. Essentially I believe that Macs are better at and easier to use for the majority of common tasks that people really want to do (digital life, Internet, managing personal data). There’s often an adjustment period for people coming from Windows, but in the end a Mac can do everything and more, and often make the workflow more efficient. For power users, there’s no question that the combination of a great GUI and a core BSD operating system is the killer combination that has most technical conferences completely dominated by Apple hardware these days.

Some people may have reasons that they want a desktop machine (and Apple has plenty of good options there), but I also generally recommend that people tend towards laptops these days, they are just so good and so flexible. The current laptops are amazingly capable:

  • All of them include an integrated video camera – iChat A/V is really cool!
  • Support for the Apple Remote Control – It seems trivial but its really nice for showing slideshows on a big TV
  • And of course beautiful screens, good battery life, built-in wifi and bluetooth, and a nice touches like indicator lights on the charger and batteries

So for a laptop, my basic recommendation is to go for the mid-range MacBook (not the Pro…more later). There’s not a huge difference between the regular and the Pro, and most normal users won’t notice them:

  • Slightly more screen pixels (well, many more on the 17″, but that thing is just too damn big)
  • Better graphics card, and the out-of-the-box ability on the Pros to support separate displays on the internal screen and an external monitor (this is nice for the ability to instantly increase your screen real estate, but I’ve heard the regular MacBook can do this as well through a software hack)
  • Backlit keyboard (OK I’ll admit that this looks frickin’ cool, but the place its most useful is on a plane…where I’m usually trying to conserve battery power…)
  • An ExpressCard slot for peripherals, but most of these can be attached through USB or Bluetooth

Of course the MacBook Pro can get you more power (faster CPU, space for more RAM, and a better graphics card), but unless you’re going to be editing a professional movie or rendering massive images, my feeling is that the MacBook is a great fit for almost everyone, and up to $1000 cheaper. In fact, I actually prefer the slightly smaller MacBook form factor.

So my standard recommendation is for the mid-range 13-inch MacBook. I think that the upgrade to the SuperDrive (for DVD burning) is well worth it. I also highly recommend filling it with 2GB of RAM. RAM is about the most important thing you can do for Mac performance. It can be cheaper to buy from an online retailer like crucial.com, but sometimes that requires throwing away the RAM that shipped with the box, so its good that Apple has lowered the overall cost on RAM so its easiest to just upgrade when you order.

I gotta say, I do think that the matte black MacBook looks really damn cool, but I’m not sure its worth the style tax of $200 (with 40GB more disk space).

If anyone strongly disagrees (or supports), please feel free to comment below!

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Paparazzi!

Takes a full-size screenshot of a web page using WebKit (no more scrolling in FireFox and sticking things together)

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Self-Publishing

A couple of sites to investigate for printing your own books/photo books:

Blurb – Makes it easy to do semi-custom books with more text than iPhoto

Lulu – Self-print any sized book from a PDF file

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I finally got around to upgrading to Gallery 2 for my pictures. Took me too long, but the wait was worth it. I was even able to leverage a Debian backport to make it easy to maintain but still maintain our crazy ExecCGI environment where the code runs as my user (and more importantly, under my quota).

This is the first step in a few changes around here, but is a major step before I add some very key content…

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Das Keyboard

Das Keyboard – The Blank Keyboard for Demanding Users.

I was using one of these over at a friend’s house last night and the clickity-click was as comforting as an old IBM PS/2 tank keyboard. I also liked the black color and NO LABELS on the keys.

Unfortunately thought they are still holding onto the old num-pad layout, which I’ve ditched in favor of getting the mouse closer to the right side using one of these.

If I was still using X as my primary environment and was using the num-pad to replace the mouse for getting around it would be great, but I guess I’ll have to wait until they come out with Das Kompact Keyboard.

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I started my career as an Engineer, as from an earliest age I was always driven by building things. Through a few convoluted steps, I eventually dabbled my toes in “the dark side” * of Marketing (Product Management to be exact). Having been on the Eng side of the table has helped me immensely as a PM (and sometimes been a problem, but old habits are hard to break). I know very well the innate distrust of Marketeers by anyone who does technical work for a living, and I try every day to keep that in mind.

I think one of the most important clarifications to make when describing what marketing does is to clear up the misconception that “marketing is just about telling people what to buy.” That may have been the old approach for companies like Coke, but in my line (Enterprise Software), you can’t just build something cool and then tell people to buy it, you actually have to build something they want.

“Marketing” is most importantly understanding the customer. Market research, customer interaction, etc. If I ever have to explain very quickly to someone what it is I do I sum it up as, “Work with the customer to understand what they want (to do), work with development to get it built, work with Marcom to communicate that value.” I think the fact that “Marketing” is mostly associated with the last item is our biggest problem, maybe we need a new name for all of this which isn’t so loaded with preconceived notions (or maybe its just that most people only see part C, so that’s all they associate with Marketing).

Anyways, it is definitely true though that there are a lot of bad marketers out there who encourage the stereotypes and re-enforce the distrust. I’ve been following a number of good blogs these days that talk about the importance of sincerity and clarity in outbound communication: Seth Godin, Joel Splosky, and perhaps a new guy John Dodds.

It was the latter that had a post which inspired me to write something: Geek Marketing 101. His top points that really resonated with me include:

1) Marketing is not a department. (Exactly what I said above)

2) Marketing is a conversation, but most people don’t speak geek. (One of the reasons I think I’m good at this)

7) Technical Support is marketing. (I would expand this to say that every single person who touches the customer is marketing, and you want feedback from them all)

* – After spending enough time in Marketing I started to realize that the real dark side is Sales…somewhere that I hope to dabble a bit in the future just so I can better communicate with the other side of the table in my day-to-day dealings.

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How I GTD

Update Dec 3, 2007: I have recently switched over to OmniFocus for managing all of my projects and actions. It actually took me a couple of tries to get into the groove, and at first there were things that infuriated me. Now, I use OF for the majority of my day-to-day actions, but I still maintain a freakish amount of checklists and other notes in my old OmniOutliner file. I still definitely hold to my recommendation below that you begin GTD in a tool-agnostic way and use something simple to start for you: text files, OmniOutliner, OneNote, whatever…but maintain the flexibility to customize your system so that when you decide to switch whole-hog into a “professional” tool you’ll have a good idea of what features you really need, and don’t end up tweaking your system to match the tool.

GTD has been a tremendous boon to me in managing the insane number of responsibilities I’ve been juggling between work, school, and home over the past six months. Only now during the relative calm of summer break have I sat back to look at the major change its had for even those non-panic’d times of my life. I’ve recommended the book to a number of people, and while some have dabbled, its sometimes hard for them to take some of the first steps. One of the most helpful things to really get me started was some pointers by my friend Mark as well as him letting me poke around in his personal organization system so that I could get an idea of what a “real-world” solution that works for someone looks like. When Mark later came to me and asked about the system I developed and said that was helpful to him, I realized it was time to get around to acting on one of my deferred actions and put together this article.

(more…)

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Ick, Windows

I can’t believe how painful it is to use this crap.

Our IT department at work recently decided to switch from Webex to Raindance for our online conferencing needs. Raindance looks pretty sweet, so I’m happy to make the switch. The only problem though is that they don’t have a presentation tool for the Mac. I’m not sure if IT planned this out, but the timing was such that they were able to quickly come up with the workaround, “We’ll give all the presentation users Macbook Pros.” OK, cool, new hardware for me (except for the fact that its a first gen Apple laptop, and those always have problems…this one has been no exception).

So now I’ve proven that Windows and Raindance will work successfully under Parallels on the Mac, I’m trying to get Windows “activated” so the whole thing doesn’t shut down in 4 days. This is perhaps the most ludicrously complicated process there is, and MSoft’s support personnel are not only clueless, but their phone systems seem broken. I’ve been sent on circular goose chases between three different departments, hung-up on while transferring several different times, and still not a single person has gotten me any closer to resolving this issue.

The amount of time I’ve wasted on this is criminal (for my company). All of the business media I read these days whines that “American’s must get more productive in order to compete in the global market!” Here’s a first idea, ditch Windows.

Raindance is a good product. They obviously care (somewhat) for user experience. I’m surprised they don’t have a Mac version. đŸ˜›

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Coghead

I came across* this company the other day and was pretty impressed with their vision. Guy Kawasaki (an advisor of theirs) sums up the idea as follows:

Coghead provides a web-based application that allows tech-savvy businesspeople (that is, non-programmers) to create and deliver their own web-based applications…Coghead’s website is both an application authoring tool and an application delivery service. At Coghead’s website people can create an application using simple-to-learn methods (or pick a pre-built app from Coghead’s application gallery) and then invite co-workers to use the application.

This is a fantastic idea, and something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Imagine if you could take the power that Wiki has had on corporate data sharing and then put structure behind the data and add logic for processing. Very powerful.

As I’ve moved away from programming into more business-oriented functions in my company, I’ve identified many latent needs for quick-and-easy web applications to fill a variety of purposes inside a corp. Now since I’m an ex-coder I can (and sometimes have) put together a few simple systems to meet these needs, but its always kind of a hack and there’s always the ongoing issue of support through IT. What’s worse, 90+% of the other people I work with aren’t programmers at all, so we resort to using the wrong tools (Excel), crappy tools (Intuit QuickBase), or no tools at all (ack!).

The real power of Web 2.0 (or Office 2.0, or whatever 2.0) is putting creative power into the hands of everyone. We saw the first explosion of this with blogging, which lowered the barrier of entry so everyone could start posting. I think Coghead could be a material step forward in making the web (and not just computers) an incredibly productive tool for everyone.

* – OK, so I first read about them in Business 2.0, so its not like I’m the first on the block to see this, but the fact they got glossy print even before launching the Beta is a good sign that the people in charge of the company has clue about running a business outside of building technology (which, by the way, they haven’t proven yet).

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