Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tourism vs. Revolution

Tourism and revolution . . . "the two poles of modern consciousness--a willingness to accept, even venerate, things as they are on the one hand, a desire to transform things on the other." -- Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class.

Carbon offset: hurt or help?

Here's a good summary of the argument about whether carbon offset programs hurt or help.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is Microsoft a consumer company?

When the Zune competitor to the iPod was recently announced, and photos were given to the press, I briefly tried to find information about Zune on the Microsoft site. All I found was the press release. Perhaps there was more there, but it should have been obvious. This is a company trying to market to consumers?

Then I noticed an item on Gizmodo, including a YouTube video, about Ellen DeGeneres discussing the Zune on her show. And then she gave one away to everyone in the audience. Looking at the audience, this is a very different audience than one thinks of for a music player: at least 3/4 women who appear to be all over 30, perhaps mostly over 40. And Gizmodo said they couldn't get a version into their own hands. Perhaps Microsoft knows more about its target demographic than I'm giving credit. Perhaps it's going after a different demographic than Apple. Or perhaps . . . this is a company that doesn't know how to market to consumers in today's market. They've done great with X Box but . . . who's paying attention over there?

And what seems like a non-sequitur, Ford's missing the small stuff too. Autobloggreen reports that, "There are sprinklers running watering the lawn at a local Ford manufacturing facility almost daily, rain or shine (including a couple of particularly rainy days earlier this week)." And they've attempted to create a face as an environmentally oriented company, with a renovation of their Rouge River plant by the high priest of green architecture.

Not suggested that Zune=Sprinklers, therefore Microsoft=Ford, therefore Microsoft will go bankrupt too but, it's these sort of details that indicate a lack of cohesion within the organization and a loss of attention at the top.

And speaking of which, I continue to be amazed that Dell can sell virtually everything online when their website continues to be so frustrating. Don't they ever look at Apple's site? My main example: it's impossible to find decent, reasonably sized pictures of a Dell laptop on which you're about to drop $2k plus. Why is that??

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Horsepower Interpretations

A friend said to me the other day that he was thinking about getting a Mazda5 but that he'd heard it was underpowered (review on Edmunds and see quote below). Underpowered is an assessment not a fact. The car in the US has a 2.3L gas engine with 157/148 horsepower/torque. In the UK the car varies from 113/122 to 141/266 (those last numbers with a diesel that of course we aren't allowed to have over here). TopGear recommends the 2.0L petrol which is rated at 143/137. Are US road conditions really so demanding that we have to have much more powerful engines? This is all interpretation based on culture.
Easy to drive and perfectly adequate scooting around town, the 5 loses some of its flair on the highway, however. When traveling the speed limit, it has nothing left for passing. It offers a quiet, comfortable ride but is at a slight disadvantage in the raging L.A. freeway culture.

During acceleration tests, our best 0-60-mph time was 10.1 seconds and that's without a full load of passengers. We managed our fastest times in "D" rather than manually shifting. Compared to the much larger, much heavier 240-hp V6-powered Honda Odyssey, which managed 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds during our 2004 Minivan Comparison Test, the Mazda 5 is underpowered in the minivan market. -- Edmunds

Friday, September 15, 2006

Is Tech Improvement Ever Done?

Is technological improvement ever complete? Does technology ever reach a level of perfection, after which more is too much? I think I've reached that point with my Blackberry. My 7290 had, I was starting to think, developed a little beausage. The metal frame around the screen was a little burnished. I liked this device. Then I dropped it in a puddle and despite application of air from a hairdryer, it didn't work. So, lured by the gorgeous screen and other features like a speakerphone, I purchased an 8700. Three things are bad about that new device. First, it sucks batteries dry about 3-4 times faster. Whereas with the 7290 I had to recharge every 3-4 days, with the 8700 it's every day. That's because the older model has a reflective screen. Not as visible but a miser. Second, the 8700 has a screen that gets oiled by your face when you use it as a phone. The 7290's screen is recessed. And third, the 8700 is made of much cheaper plastic. The 7290 is solid, black plastic. The finish on my 8700 was worn within days, and it wasn't the wear that's beausage. So, I made a trade back to a 7290, a trade with someone lured by the 8700's screen (easy matter). I'm back to the 7290. Is this enough? Is this a device on which improvements are actually compromises? Is this just enough tech, a functional enough plateau? Probably not, but it's nice to think that occasionally technology can approach the level of a craft object where it's quality and functionality are good enough to be sufficient and where simplicity of a sort makes it better than its more complicated successors. (I saved my original 7290 and turned it on the other day. It had finally fully dried out and is now working fine and in the hands of a co-worker.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When will bikes = cars?

Will bike-desire ever be as common as car-desire? Perhaps it is in the Nether- lands. Never having been there I don't know, but some pieces I've read suggest this, with bikes a fashion item like cars are here. But it's going to take a while. Here's the bike I'm proud of, geek accessories and all.

The waterproof briefcase pannier is a German Ortlieb purchased from Peter White.
The red waterproof pannier is from Mountain Equipment Coop.
The bike is a cyclecross-style Bianchi from Wheelworks.
And the light (hidden in the red bag) is from JetLites who might be headed out of business because their website currently lists their products "from 2005".


The 3rd Annual Human Powered Vehicle Rally is being held Columbus Day weekend at one of our two local co-housing places. As the HPV website boldly states, "As velomobiles are to cars, cohousing is to housing." What's a velomobile? "A velomobile is a fully enclosed recumbent (usually a trike) that is designed for use in all weather." Above is an example, in this case a Leiba.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Apple's video strategy

Here's a well reasoned argument for why Apple isn't launching its set-top box ("iTV") yet, that they pre-announced yesterday. (Roughly Drafted Via Powerpage).

Cars and Art

Are cars art? Are cars birds? Two reasons I love cars: they are art objects, the most visible around us everyday (or some of them are). And they're like birds, or at least they engender the sort of classification instinct that is part of the draw of twitchers to birds. (And also they can be used as a canvas, as this BMW at left, but that's not really my point.)

Travel coffee mugs

I have yet to find a coffee mug that I like. The metal ones I've used change the taste of the coffee. Apparently this one doesn't. It's a French Press mug with a canister at the bottom for extra coffee. It's available from Liquid Planet and reviewed here at the wonderful Coffee and Conservation blog.

Standard Cross-Platform Business Suite

From time to time people ask me about what is the best cross-platform business suite of software. Here's the list:

For write, spreadsheets etc. it's still got to be Microsoft Office. Though if you want to pretend you're Steve Jobs, you'll have to make the final presentation in Keynote.

Calendars. If you're in a cross-platform environment, and can afford a Microsoft Exchange server (though there are now hosted options for a reasonable monthly fee) the best way to do calendaring within a group is still Outlook on the PC and Entourage on the Mac. I know there are other options, some documented on this blog. But none have the features that Exchange provides. Of course, you could get everyone in your company to convert to GMail and even sign-up for the Beta of GMail for domains.

Mail. I love GMail, despite any privacy concerns. It is the only mail program that I know of that treats to and from messages all together in conversation threads instead as disparate messages. Beyond GMail, I'm not particular, though I always seem to crash Outlook.

CRM. Customer Relationship Management software is what a contact manager should be. To me the basic distinction is that contact managers, like Outlook or Apple Address Book, are just flat files without the ability to create much if any in the way of relationships between records. CRM's, by contrast, let you interconnect and associate contacts in all sorts of ways--referrals, opportunities, projects, companies. At the small business level, the best product that I've seen is DayLite. It is far and away the best interface and besides, it's relatively inexpensive. But it's only Macintosh. On the PC side you're left with the horribly outdated GoldMine, as well as ACT. At our company we've been using what is the only cross-platform solution--a web-based CRM. In our case, this is Salesforce. It's expensive (we bought during a very good promotion). And very unfortunately, it only syncs to your computer if you've got a PC. If there was ever a reasons for businesses to scrap their PC's entirely and move wholly to a Mac platform, Daylite is that reason.

Mind Mapping. See previous post. I use Mind Manager.

Project Management. I think there's only one choice for cross platform and that's FastTrack Schedule. It's a good program, though with some quirks, notably some limitations in printing and zooming. Microsoft Project is such a big and expensive clunker and it's not cross-platform. They abandoned the Mac long long ago. Another option is the web-based Basecamp.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cross platform mind mapping

A friend asked me about mind mapping programs. These are programs that help with brainstorming and outlining ideas. Since I last looked into these programs, they've all become cross-platform, which is nice to see.

The standard, I think it's safe to say is MindManager.

A simpler and more visually pleasing program is called Nova-Mind.

And the third one, also cross-platform, is Inspiration. Their website is oriented at schools and kids, but don't be put off by this: the product is very good. It's the least complex of the three and I find it to be sometimes the easiest choice for created the easiest maps.

Though Inspiration maps aren't as visually pleasing as NovaMind nor is the program as powerful and extensible as MindJet, I find it easiest, often, to create what you visualize.