Better than Email Bankruptcy

A few weeks ago I swore I would unsubscribe from every email I got.  I know get less than 10, sometimes less than 5 emails a day, down from a flood of 100+ emails a day.  None of this is counting spam that gmail filters out.

If you are overwhelmed by the amount of email you get, take the Unsubscription pledge and free up enough mind space to answer the mail that does matter.

“I swear to unsubscribe from all mailing lists with an unsubscribe button and mark the rest as spam.  If I fail may I be struck down and turned into a clay zombie.”

XM Radio wants you to eat spam.

“Please do not reply to this email. This is a service email from XM Satellite Radio. Please note that you may receive service email in accordance with your XM Satellite Radio Customer Agreement, whether or not you elect to receive promotional email.”

This comes from the company that double charged me for my subscription and has required a phone call on each renewal.

XM radio, you can send me spam and hide behind a legal fig leaf, but I can tell google you are sending spam.  If enough people tell gmail you are sending spam, you will fall into a black hole.

And if XM Radio still gets past my spam blocker, I still won’t read it.  But it doesn’t stop there!  I can also blog about it.

If you are thinking about signing up with XM Radio, don’t trust them with your mail email address, use a hotmail account that you don’t check very often.

Playstation 3 (PS3) plays blu-ray over HDMI with sound but no picture

I search the internet for a long time on this one.

Blu ray over component cables give both sound and image, but it is disappointing quality.  To get image quality you have to use an HDMI cable.  So I got a Dynex cable from Best Buy,  and got sound but no image.

It is not the HDMI cable that is broke.  “Most” cables now are 1.3 compliant and only the bionic man can tell the difference between the image from a good and a worse cable.  Cable quality appears to only matter with 10ft plus cables.

The problem is that you need to go into the PS3′s settings and enable the higher resolutions.  This was programmed by engineers who are wiz’s at selecting settings on the PS3, then switching over to the digital TV and switching sources, so you can verify that the resolutoin is something your TV can deal with.

You got 30 seconds.  Go!

Grandma is screwed.  Unless she’s the sort of Grandma that kicks your ass in Metal Gear Solid.  Sony should provide an update that makes this minigame easier, maybe give users 2 minutes to change the resolution, or let the user decide how long he wants for the switch over.

(BTW, if this doesn’t work for  you, then odds are it is a bad circuit board in the TV, or bad sockets/connectors for the HDMI- try a different port or wiggle the cables.  If you are using a low quality cable 10+ feet or longer, that might be a problem, too.  I was using a puny 3 ft cable.)

10 Ways to Increase Your Productivity as an IT Worker

1. Quiet offices.  Failing that, create enough white noise to drown own extraneous signals.  Many companies generally see quiet environments as a status symbol that IT workers don’t deserve.  You can fight this sort of industrial sabotage by using Etymotic headphones, which can block up to 40 decibels of call center chatter, gossip and waterbed commercials on your cubicle neighbor’s radio.
2. Don’t reboot. Save the environment by suspending or hybernating your workstation.  Save your productivity by not rebooting.  If an application asks you to reboot, always say no.  Often a reboot an be delayed for up to a week without noticable effects.

3.  Use public transit.  Ironically, you can get more work done by taking the extra time to commute by metro or bus because you can read or use a laptop on a bus, but not so much when you drive.

4. Use TimeSnapper.  Work on a computer takes away all your cues for the passage of time, especially if you are concentrating and doing work, but also when you have wondered off onto a unproductive activity.  TimeSnapper lets you know how your day really went, especially the daily productivity scoring. That said, TimeSnapper isn’t something I’d want to give my supervisor direct access to as it is very invasive and harsh grader.  I think a lot of offices have a social illusion that everyone is working all 8 hours of every day and have lunch breaks exactly 30 minutes, but in fact a lot of time is sucked in in browsing file directories, conversations with co-workers and TimeSnapper makes that very obvious.  I did once work in an office where the boss wanted people to log 5 minutes of vacation time if they took a 35 minute lunch break or arrived at 8:05.
5. Use Tools.  Use IDE’s, utilities, commercial component libraries if you have the budget.  Not giving tools to your developers is industrial sabotage, developers not using tools when they are available is malingering.  Not using tools is like expecting your plumber to assemble a monkey wrench, from iron ore, on site before he starts fixing the pipes.
6.  Keep up with the times.  Every five years everything in IT becomes legacy.  The amount of work you can get done by not using legacy programming languages and tools more than outweighs the cost of switching.  The fear of change that keeps companies using COBOL in 2008 is just another example of industrial sabotage.
7.  Don’t shave, shower or brush your teeth.  Or dress.  I’m kidding.  I’m running out of ideas.

8.  Don’t write a blog entry for 10 ways to increase productivity when 8 will do.

MacBook on a Bus

My singular economically rational goal in buying a mac was to make the time on the bus productive. I’m not there yet, but I’m closer. So far I’ve done these productive tasks:

* write a blog entry, using NeoOffice– tomorrow I try out a blog specific editor. [Update: this is being posted with Qumana a free mac blog editor, more on Qumana in a future post]
* read blogs (at least those with feeds that contain full entries) using Vienna
* read a user manual in PDF format for work related software
* used my mac as an ad hoc cell phone

Some other stuff I’ve done of questionable value include watching movies, trying out new software.

Update work documents. I gotta figure out how to get documents to and from my laptop without having to think about it twice a day. In my opinion, any twice a day synching tasks are completely unacceptable, because I already have too many setup and tear down chores. Current most likely candidate: Google Gears apps, like the google word processor and the Remember the Milk application. [Update: Google gears didn't help. I couldn't export a word document from the browser when in disconnected mode! Plus, I can't connect my laptop to the internet at work so while at work I'd be isolated from my documents.]

Software development. I gotta get an IDE and portable SVN working directories set up). The synching chores here may be too great to practically use it for work code, but maybe not to severe to use it for my personal web projects. [Update: .NET development on a mac still looks like an advance user scenario, so I'm just going to set up my dev-environment in Parallels.]

Mail. Simple one, but I still haven’t got it set up. [Update: I got it set up. Apple mail is perfectly serviceable.]

Disconnected. The lack of a network really cuts into a lot of applications and not just the web-browser. For example a blog editor can’t get past the set up page.

Temperature. The MacBook runs hot sitting on a lap for 40 minutes. I’ve installed a fan speed control (smcFanControl) and bumped up the minimum speed. Even with that, the computer says the CPU is 41 C.

Powered by Qumana (The blog editor that somes likes to post blogs full of \ and \n escape codes)

Personal Technology: MacBook taking the Starbucks test

The idea Starbucks laptop has enough battery power to get through a sitting at starbucks, sets up instantly and can connect to weak wi-fi signals.

Setup: 0 items to connect for reading the news. 0 connectors for the wireless mouse. 3 items to connect for ipod. Well, I was on a roll until I thought I needed my iPod. Moral of story, for usability in the field, don’t mix laptops and external drives. Fortunately Last.FM was able to deliver the music anyhow. Another observation, the default wi-fi browser doesn’t prioritize networks. At Starbucks we have about 20 networks, about 3 are free and open. Sadly, I don’t know how to tell it to just connect to the most powerful open network.

Use: Task switching in Leopard is pretty cool. Hit F3 and you get all the windows spread out like paper on a neatnik’s desk. The mouse immediately turns off the trackpad stopping all accidental touches.

Reading log. Someone needs to invent a better reading log other than Delicious. No one reads my delicious log AFAIK. And now it is time to reboot safari to install the delcious plug in.

Personal Technology: Live blogging my new Macbook

Thanks to Apple Computer Corporation, but no thanks to MacMall or UPS for this computer buying experience.

MacMall–well, their finance company–rejected my credit application because they said “We couldn’t verify anything.” The customer service representative I complained to was powerless to do anything useful, but offered to sell me an extended warranty.

UPS played a cruel game of keep away with me. UPS has no memory, they can’t remember that I work and am not at home during the day. So they make a pointless trip to my apartment to deliver stuff that I will eventually have to pick up at the depot. This time I called after the first visit and said, hold it at the depot. Instead, despite the box saying 1 of 2 and 2 of 2, they held back ONE box. The other box they tried to deliver. I learned this at the depot, they said I could wait. So I started waiting. The driver knew I was at the depot, he’d been called or something. He decided to leave the box at my apartment and then drive to the depot to tell me about it. RAT BASTARD! I yelled at the clerk who was powerless to do anything about it, apologized and when home to retrieve my box. My neighbors have only once before opened a box that UPS delivered. This time, the Mighty Mouse was saved only because my neighbors probably don’t own macs and didn’t follow through with stealing it.

Good Things to Say
* It is light.
* It connected to the wireless in my house effortlessly.
* Despite not having used macs for about 15 years, I’m not too frustrated with the GUI…yet
* International keyboards are easy to set up отлична!
* It is only warm on the lap–not hot–but I’m not doing anything processor intensive either.
* The keyboard is very serviceable for a rectangular keyboard. I prefer split, but I suppose I can expect to see laptops with split keyboards.
* The track pad is fast. Multi-touch scroll is very cool, I hope there are more multi-touch gestures. And while there isn’t a trackpad lock, there are features to “ignore accidental touches” and to “turn off the trackpad when the mouse is connected”
* The hinge is sturdy. Why? Because it is annoying to ride a bus and see the screen constantly springing back and forth relative to the keyboard.

Out of box tasks.
* The battery profile is set to normal, not longer battery. Apple assumes you hate the environment.
* The screen color looks off out of box. You have to fiddle with color profiles to get the same vivid profile you see in Apple Stores, however, once that is done, the screen looks pretty good.

Personal Technology: Reviews

I just bought a MacBook. I also just watched a video about a social scientist marshaling the evidence that us humans do a lousy job of predicting what makes us happy. So while I suspect my MacBook will be useful and make for a happier commute, does my history of buying personal technology bode well for me?

iPod Video: This device completely replaced my pocket computer. The user interface and the iTunes software fixed everything that was wrong with the Palm Tungsten which I’d used a lot of MP3s previously. Used daily, this device was worth the price premium paid for it over what I know Apple paid for the 60GB hard drive.

Conclusion. Paid a lot, worth every penny. I hope the money went to the engineers and designers.
Dell Latitude D800 Laptop. It runs fantastically hot and is heavy as sin. The windows operating system can’t be trusted to reliably sleep or hybernate, so there is a heavy startup to pay when trying to stop or start using the thing. I used it a lot for software development, especially remote desktop session, for which it excelled at.
Conclusion. I didn’t buy this one, I got it from work. Social science says when you get things–and don’t a choice in the matter–you will adjust by creating “artificial happiness”. This dell made me happiest when I was using it for getting a narrow task done (connecting to a corporate network), outside of that, the designers didn’t really put much thought into it. The realization that I could do something about this laptops short comings (like buy my own), probably exacerbated my unhappiness with it. Moral of story, if you have a mediocre device, don’t, don’t, don’t read PC Magazine about the latest devices.

Caesar IV. I’m at play session #3. I like these kind of games, my son not so much. The graphics are beautiful. The controls camera are still unpredictable, but I have that problem in most 3-D games.

Conclusion. I thought it would be a good game and for the most part I was right. But I had the advantage of playing Pharaoh and Children of the Nile, two games by the same company with the same sort of theme.

World of Warcraft. My son loves this game. I only like to play it in two player mode. Since my son is rotating through playing each combination of race and class possible and I just don’t play enough, we both are stuck questing from level 1 to 10 over and over.

What I find most disappointing in WoW is the clunky back story. Blizzard’s writing guidelines make long awkward sentences mandatory. Also, the questing system doesn’t really lend itself to the unfolding of a story. In this respect, a mechanically clunkier game–Pirates of the Caribbean beats WoW.

Home brew PC. I suppose I should go component by component and decide if each part made me happy as I thought it would.

Nokia some number or other. It had a fold open keyboard. The smart phone feature was a dud. I sorely misjudged this device.

T-Mobile SDA. This was a mixed bag. I have successfully read books on this phone, used it for pictures that I didn’t immediately throw away, played a game or two on it. However, because it fell so far short of it’s promise, I was disappointed that it was only a modest improvement over the last smart phone I owned.

The T-Mobile SDA can’t play music or video worth $#!+ because of the lame @$$ Windows Media player (really Microsoft, you should buy iTunes from Apple and put it on the Windows Mobile phones and shoot all Windows Media Player developers, or demote them to rewriting notepad.) Likewise, the T-Mobile SDA can’t browse the internet due to a combination of all phone companies making internet over a phone uneconomical and MS not having the sense to write a small form factor web browser. Pocket IE is unusable crap. Maybe MS could see about getting Safari for Windows Mobile? Don’t get me wrong, on my desktop I never use Safari– I’m a firefox guy. I just don’t think a desktop browser on a phone will make anyone happy.

Conclusion. High hopes got in the way of happiness.

SynchMaster 226BW 22 inch widescreen monitor. This did make me happier. The screen has enough real estate that I actually use windows. For the first decade of using windows, 99% of the time I always maximized windows, so the OS might as well have been a single screen task switcher. A widescreen is a poormans dual monitor system. So far my only annoyance is that I can’t be too high or too low, else the screen looks wrong. Well, my old CRT wasn’t without design flaws either, which I’m sure I’ve blogged about elsewhere.

Conclusion. Buying a LCD widescreen monitor was a good idea.

Citizen Eco Drive Watch. I love my Citizen Eco Drive watch. It runs on sunlight and has this spinning wheel that I can use a low tech time “book mark” The fact that it has *fewer* features than the typical watch turned out to be a good thing. I bought it because I want a watch that looked good, thinking that someday I’d buy a slide rule Chronometer or the Palm OS watch.

Conclusion. My feature poor, but good looking watch has made me happier than I expected.

Alphasmart Dana. This is hard to evaluate, because I only use it when I’m in a burst of writing– particularly writing away from my apartment. I didn’t over underestimate how much I write (just look at the length of this post), but I did over estimate how much writing I did that is suitable for the Dana– specifically long document writing. [Also, unexpectedly, file loss due to battery power management was a bigger head ache than I expected] If I do resume writing, I know I won’t use my desktop or MacBook, I’ll use a Dana. To write, you have to focus and an internet enable device doesn’t allow for that.

Final conclusion. The key to being happy about buying tech is to have low expectations and focus on things that have an extremely high chance of being used a lot.

The Coffee Maker: A Critique

My Krupp’s espresso coffee maker has been working for about 15 years.  After ragnarök, all that will be left in my apartment will be cockroaches drinking coffee from my Krupp’s espresso machine.

Electricity. Someone somewhere did a review of environmentally friendly coffee machines.  Outside of the cold coffee and cold coffee devices, coffee machines mostly use the same amount of energy– they all need to boil water.  Coffee machines do fail in the area of knowing when to turn themselves off.  A coffee machine should know it should be off in five minutes no matter what, preferably off as soon as the water reservoir is empty and certainly not be allowed to be on all night.  A coffee machine should not let itself be turned on without any water at all in the reservoir.  Both of these catastrophic wastes of electricity have happened to me before with this machine.

And my drip coffee machines at the office that has a hot plate could use some intelligence, too.  They should be off when the coffee pot is empty and no hot plate should keep coffee warm more than one or two hours.  In the future, I prognosticate, coffee machines without the sensors and programmable controllers will become false economy. 

Coffee Waste.  The energy savings from cleverly designed water boilers is nothing compared to the amount of energy the entire economy saves by reducing the amount of wasted coffee.  Getting the ratios of coffee to water should be something that happens by default, not something that happens after reading the instructions.  For example, a 10 cup pot coffee usually comes with a bag of coffee that recommends x scoops per y cups of coffee.  Again, leaving out the programmable controls and sensors, we tend to waste coffee by making too much, making coffee too weak and pitching it, making too strong coffee, diluting it and having to reheat it again.

Cardamom.  Another thing, my coffee machine can’t deal with ground cardamom mixed with the grounds. Some of the best coffee to be had is ground coffee with ground cardamom pods.  The cardamom jams the metal bin’s holes and causes steam to start escaping from the wrong end of the espresso machine. This also has the interesting implication that cardamom coffee can turn my espresso machine into a water pressure bomb, if I can tighten the lid tight enough.

Social Web Site Review: Facebook

Facebook is kind of like a blog for people who don’t blog. It has a big social resume section, something analogous to a blogroll. It also has something analogous to wordpress plug-ins. You can create a consolidated RSS Feed for all the events being generated by your friends on Facebook.

I think where Facebook is the weakest is in the way you can’t project multiple personas. I don’t want to list in the same resume my personal life and my work life. In my personal life I might be trying to date, but I wouldn’t want that to distract people who are trying to figure out who I am as a programmer.