My New Favorite Podcast

I am unfortunately in that group of souls that have a long commute. I can't control where my great job is, but that doesn't mean I like spending so much time in the car. To pass the time, I look for interesting podcasts, and I've stumbled on one that has me fascinated. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is pretty amazing.

Unlike most podcasts, HH is incredibly detailed. The latest, Blueprint for Armageddon I, is over three hours on the events leading up to WWI. I've spent some time reading about WWI, but I learned a ton of new information from this podcast.

I'm now getting through "Death Throes of the Republic, Parts I-VI". I've only made it through part I so far, but it's fascinating listening to all the details that lead to the fall of the Roman Empire.

So, if you're into history, and you have some time on your hands, I recommend checking out Hardcore History.


Software: Utility vs. Joy

How many software packages do you use that give you joy? How about simple utility? How about both? My guess is there are far fewer that provide joy and even fewer that provide both. I have dozens of applications that provide utility only. For example, I use OmniFocus and EverNote constantly. Both apps have become part of my daily routine of getting things done and keeping notes on what's happening. However, they are both far from joyful. There are times when it's far from it -- "to do" list is is too long or the EverNote iPhone app crashed again. Some apps appear to provide joy, but it's not the app. It's the data. If I'm checking the weekend weather, it's not the app that provided joy. It's the report of perfect weather that gives me joy. Joy is pretty easy to get, but I find it usually is limited to games or streaming media apps. My personal geeky pleasures for joy are Moon Globe and Starmap for iPhone. There is no utility in knowing that the orange "star" I see every night when I take my dog out is actually Mars or that clear area on the Moon is where Apollo 11 landed, but it does make me stop and check out the night sky. It's nice to know where the planets are or what's up on our planetary neighbor. Yes, it is the data that gives me joy, but I also think it's the ease with which I can get it also contributes.

The ultimate is to figure out a way to build and application that provides both joy and utility. How many of those are there? The only one that comes to mind is Google Earth. I can spend an hour just checking parts of the world out, but I also use it for gain useful utility -- how far to the water from here, etc. For your own applications, you can create joy and utility by first doing something useful, and then make it useable. You still might not create joy, but you at least have a chance.

Any apps out there that provide utility and joy? Your browser is another easy example.

BTW, I've been away for awhile. Back in December, I started as CTO of Wimba. Wimba focuses on innovative collaboration solutions that empower educators and engage students. It's all about collaboration in the education market. It's kept me a little on the busy side these days, and it has greatly reduced my coding time. It has opened up several new topics to discuss, so stay tuned.

Bargaining for Advantage

Bargaining for AdvantageIt's not a programming book, but I recommend "Bargaining for Advantage" by G. Richard Shell. You may not be making multi-million or multi-billion dollar deals (yet!), but the techniques described here work just as well when negotiating an architectural detail or project. Plus, it's pretty interesting to read about how some of the big players made and lost their deals. Check it out. You may find that you have a different strategy when you negotiate your next deal. Remember, deals are made all the time, and it's not always a big business deal.

Good stuff.

Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu

Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu, 1944, 2008 « The Wired Jester In reference to Memorial Day, I came across the above link. More than most battles, Peleliu is one of those that defines sacrifice. The amount of suffering and carnage endured on that small island in the Pacific is difficult to imagine. This is where the term "thousand yard stare" came from.

Thousand Yard Stare, Tom Lea

"With the Old Breed" by Eugene Sledge

Prior to going to Peleliu, Lea was known more for 'Go America!' paintings, but something changed after that. No longer was it a matter of glory. It was survival.

Peleliu is also the subject of what I believe to be one of the finest wartime biographies ever written. If want a real description of combat and sacrifice, you must read "With the Old Breed" by Eugene Sledge. Sledge was on the island for entire 4 months of fighting. 10,000 Japanese soldiers and about 2000 Americans died on this island 3 Miles Long and 1 mile wide, but that wasn't the worst of it. You have to read the book to fully understand his descriptions of living among corpses for days/weeks in 100 degree heat.

Again, thank you to all those that serve and have served. Freedom is not free, and I try to remember every day what it took to create and keep what we have in this wonderful country of ours.

Next post will be back to technical stuff.

Why We Need Audiophiles

Gizmodo - Why We Need Audiophiles - Audiophiles This is a great read for anyone that is interested in great sound. I've said it a few times, I'm not into expensive audio gear because I like gadgets (although that part is fun too). I'm into expensive gear because I flat-out love music, and I want to hear it like the artist meant it to be heard. I will tolerate MP3's on my phone, but not when I want to hear some really choice music played like it was meant to. Sadly, between my kids and my schedule, I do not get near enough time for pure listening.

This is Michael Fremer. He's listening to "Avalon" by Roxy Music on his $350,000 stereo system. It sounds excellent. He's a bit crazy, but if you love music, you need him.

BTW, "Avalon" is one of those pieces of music that screams for high quality. My system isn't quite in the league of $350k, but it does pretty well.

I think the following quote sums up my thoughts exactly:

Because the thing is, Fremer loves music first and foremost. The audiophile I had feared was one who cares far more about the overpriced gadgetry than the actual music. This is not who I ended up meeting. This man listens to music and makes sure it was recorded with the best fidelity, that the intents of the artist have been preserved. And thank God he does, because we certainly don't.

If you ever get a chance to listen to a favorite, well-recorded piece of music on a choice system, take it. You may be surprised at the subtleties and feeling you are missing. Be careful though. Many recent recordings are mixed for MP3 players and will sound pretty bad on a great system. The really scary part is that some recent "Remastered" versions of classic albums were mastered for MP3 players as well. Many times, it is better to stick with the original.

In a future post, I will describe what I built/coded to control my entire media system from one remote. Note, since I have small children, all my equipment is in a locked closet.

Red Sox Opening Day 2009

fenway_welcome What an amazing day. Yesterday, my friend Brian sends me a tweet offering a ticket for Opening Day at Fenway Park. Now, I've been a fan of baseball and the Red Sox since I could walk, but I've never had the privilege of seeing Opening Day. On top of that, after I can't count how many Red Sox games I've been to, I've never seen the Red Sox Ace pitch in a regular season game (only Pedro during the All Star game, but that's another story.) Of course, I jumped at the chance.

The tickets were were actually from a friend of Brian's. They are season tickets, and we couldn't figure out why they wanted us in our seats before 3:20PM for a 4:06PM start (bonus points if you know the significance of the 4:06PM start time.)  So, we get there pretty early, and no one seems to care about whether we go to our seats or not. Of course, that signals we have time to get a beer. A couple of minutes later we find out why the Red Sox wanted our sections in their seats so early. This is where the players were going to come down to the field from! It was hard to tell, but I think they had players coming out from more than one section because it wasn't the whole team. Our section had Big Papi, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, and a few others.




Our seats were great. Check out Ted Kennedy throwing out the first pitch to Jim Rice. I only had my phone, so I didn't have any chance of zooming closer.


Oh, yeah. There actually was a game to be played against the Tampa Bay Rays. It turned out to be a great game. Josh Beckett started for the Red Sox and struck out 10 over 7 strong innings. He looked outstanding! Dustin Pedroia started off 2009 well by hitting the first pitch he saw over the Green Monster. Papelbon struck out 2 in a 1-2-3 ninth to get the save and a 5-3 Sox victory.

Thanks again Brian for the invite.

One more thing, if you ever go to Fenway Park and expect to get any kind of internet access for Twitter or looking up a stat during the game, forget about it. Even the Fenway WiFi couldn't handle all those phones trying to do the same thing. Just watch the game and enjoy!

Music Is Dead: iPods and Young People Have Utterly Destroyed Music

Music Is Dead: iPods and Young People Have Utterly Destroyed Music This is depressing for someone like me. A Stanford professor did an informal study over several years, and he found that students each year preferred low-quality MP3 more and more. Like the author, this is disappointing for me because it most likely means it will become harder to find high-quality music. It's already hard, but it will get worse. Even CDs are being mixed with MP3 players in mind.

I guess it comes down to what you're used to. If it's all you ever heard, then you don't know what you're missing. Personally, I am spoiled by hundreds of high quality live performances, and I always wanted to recreate that sound at home as much as possible. Low quality MP3s just don't do it for me. They are fine on my iPhone or small player, but when I sit in front of my home system I want to hear like I was in the studio.

I had a similar experience many years ago when I had a top-end VCR with one of the best TVs available at the time. I thought the picture was amazing. Then I hooked up a cheap DVD player, and I forgot all about the VCR. The problem here is that these low quality recordings are becoming so much the norm that it will be hard for anyone to know what they are missing.

What is a music lover to do?

Phew! That was close!

I'm not sure why, but I seem to be on an astronomy kick lately. I came across a little tidbit today that reminded me of Deep Impact and Armageddon. At 13:44 UT today (March 2, 2009), a 30 meter asteroid (identified as 2009 DD45) will pass by earth and miss by only 37,282 miles. Even though it isn't that big, it's big enough that it would do some serious damage if it hit. As an example, the meteor that made the Barringer Crater in Arizona is estimated to be about the same size as this one, and the Barringer crater is 570 feet deep and nearly a mile across. To give you an idea how close we came to another crater, 37,000 miles is not quite twice the distance of a geostationary orbit. Unfortunately, you will not be able to see it because it is too small and moving too fast (1/2 degree per minute). I take comfort that we are least finding these objects. I guess it doesn't matter much either way, since there will not be much to do if one was found to be on a collision course. At least we will know it's coming.

FYI, asteroid 2009 EA4 will pass by earth tomorrow doing 21,050 mph. Its closest distance will be over 1.7 million miles -- still close by astronomical standards.

Navy Says Combat Robots Multiplying Fast, Need "Battlefield Ethics" Pronto

Machine Takeover: Navy Says Combat Robots Multiplying Fast, Need "Battlefield Ethics" Pronto Things like this make me nervous. I love the idea of technology and robots (building one would be a blast), but my concern is that war and combat will stop being dangerous. When that happens, it will be too easy to resort to war. There is a big difference between committing your own skin and committing a robot. It doesn't take much before you end up in a video game, and people will separate from the idea that robot or not, real people are on the other end of that robot's algorithm. Don't even get me started on the Terminator references.

I spend a lot of time studying military history, and I've been honored to meet and thank several Medal of Honor recipients, and I tell you they knew what they were up against. It wasn't a robot being risked. It was their life.

I remember an old Star Trek episode where two civilizations figured out a way for war to not be "messy." Basically, computers would "fight" the battles and determine who the casualties were, and those casualties would show up to be euthanized. Without the mess, the war goes on forever. It isn't until Captain Kirk and company are determined to be casualties that the machines are destroyed and the civilizations are forced to actually fight or end the war. Of course, when confronted with the realities of war, the civilizations figure out a way to resolve their issues. The point of show was that you can't take the "human" out of the inhumanity of war. Without humanity, you loose a huge deterrent to war.

It's interesting that many people feel that military people always want to resort to combat first. However, if the military person is a combat veteran, the opposite is more likely because they understand the implications. This is why I always want a veteran in charge. You know they aren't afraid to go there, but you also know they don't take it lightly. Usually, the gung-ho person is the one that hasn't been there before. It's hard to imagine someone sitting behind a computer screen having the same reservations as someone who has been shot at.

Bottom line, war should be hard. It needs to be messy, and it shouldn't be a video game. If it becomes a video game, I expect we will see a lot more of it, and no one (except maybe a warlord) wants that.

To all those veterans and those on active duty, THANK YOU!

iPhone Wishlist

I've been an iPhone user since the first weekend the 3G came out, and so far I love it. Prior to the iPhone, I was a Blackberry user for a while. My reasons for waiting to change were:

  1. My contract with Verizon conveniently ended the same month the 3G came out.
  2. AT&T had lousy coverage at my home and office. However, for some reason AT&T and Verizon swapped in the months leading up to the 3G coming out. Verizon started to have lousy coverage in my home, and I changed job locations. The new location had lousy Verizon coverage.
  3. The price drop made it a great time to upgrade my wife as well. There was no way I was going to get away with a 1st gen iPhone without my wife getting one as well. With penalties, that would have been $1550 instead of $400. I like Apple stuff, but I'm not that big a fan boy.

Fast forward several months, and I'm not looking back to my Blackberry (ever), but there are a few minor issues with the iPhone that I wish Apple would fix. It's been long enough now that I'm starting to wonder when/if these may happen.

No Indicators on the Locked Page

Why make me slide the bar and enter my code just to see whether I have voicemail or email? It doesn't seem to be that hard to have a couple of indicators on the locked page to let me know. This would be a great time saver and a good compromise away from that annoying blinking LED on the Blackberries.

No Sound Presets

To change any of the sound settings, I have to go in and update each separately. Having something like Night, Office, Silent, etc. would be great. The silent switch is good, but sometimes I really want silence, and others I want the phone to still vibrate.

Related to this, I want different sound settings for each email account as well. For example, I have error emails from my site(s) sent to me. I want those to complain loudly regardless of what I have setup for other volumes.

The Blackberry does this well.

Signatures for Each Email Account

I have three email accounts configured on my iPhone. I prefer to separate my email signatures between work and personal. Again, I could do this on a Blackberry.

One Global Inbox

It would be a lot easier to read my email if there was a single Inbox where all three of my accounts show up. This is what Apple Mail does on my desktop, and I use it all the time. Right now, I have to go through the follow set of interactions for each account:

  1. Tap Personal account
  2. Tap Inbox
  3. Read/Process inbox
  4. Tap Personal to go back
  5. Tap Accounts to go back
  6. Tap Work
  7. Tap Inbox
  8. Read/Process inbox
  9. Tap Work to go back
  10. Tap Accounts to go back
  11. etc.

Lot of tapping going on here! Give me a consolidated inbox, and life would be a lot easier for those of us with multiple email accounts. Did I mention I could do this on my Blackberry?

Notice I did not say copy/paste. In seven months, I think I could have used it twice. I can see Apple making the correct decision to cater to the 80% of users out there and not the reviewers.

Don't get me wrong, I will not go back to a Blackberry without a fight, but give me the above, and I will be an even happier camper.

Excuse me, I have to take a call now...