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Archive for January, 2008

A Kindle Program I Could Get Behind

John likes his Kindle. I love to read. I feel like I should be more excited about it, but I’m not.

I think the problem is that I’m emotionally attached to my library. I surround myself with my books. They remind me of what I’ve read, and even in some cases, who I was when I read them.

Unfortunately, while I’d love to flip through some of them more frequently, the physical form gets in the way. I know I would love to have all my books in electronic form, the same way that I have my CD library now on my iPod, or my DVD library on my AppleTV/Mac Mini.

I caught this article today about the Kindle, and I decided to put out there a plea for a program that Amazon could put on that would immediately convert me over:

Let me send you my books. Yes, my physical books. When I send you them, give me download access to the e-book form, for my Kindle. Let me trade you my paper for electrons, in high quality form.

Take my books, and either sell them through your marketplace, or donate them to libraries and schools. Spread them to others so they can enjoy them.

If I could get my existing library converted over to a form for the Kindle, I’d gladly give you my future purchases. I can rip a CD. I can even rip a DVD. But I can’t rip my books.

I’m guessing the royalties for the book publishers will be a problem. But likely not insurmountable. After all, there is some money on the table here, since the books can be converted into some small amount of dollars. And think of the marketing data you’d have on me once you knew in detail the hundreds of books I already own.

Just a thought.

LinkedIn As A Source of Record…

Very interesting article Friday on the former Miasolé CEO:

Short synopsis, from the article:

Dave Pearce, former CEO of Miasolé, has apparently joined a new company called Nuvosun, according to CNET.The company is trying to develop a film that will prevent moisture from penetrating — and degrading — thin-film solar panels, the story says.

OK, so that part may not be that interesting to you, unless you’ve been following the solar tech industry closely.  (Miasolé, pronounced MEE-AH-SO-LAY, is venture backed by Kleiner Perkins).  But check out this paragraph:

CNET said it contacted Pearce, but hadn’t heard back to confirm the details and cited a LinkedIn profile. Greentech Media also has been unable to contact Peace or to get others to confirm his new role.

However, one former employee confirmed that former Miasolé’s Pearce did have a LinkedIn profile, and the only LinkedIn profile for “Dave Pearce” that cites previous experience at Miasolé and Domain Technology — a thin-film hard-drive manufacturer where Pearce was previously CEO — lists him as president and CEO of Nuvosun.

I checked the original CNET article:

CNET News.com contacted Pearce, but have not heard back to confirm these details. However, we know for certain that Nuvosun is the name of the company. He’s listed as the CEO of Nuvosun on his LinkedIn profile.

That’s right – the information source that broke the news was a LinkedIn profile.

Now, I’ve seen this happen with friends and colleagues before – someone gets a promotion, a new job, or leaves a company.  They then update their LinkedIn profile long before the news has become public… and the LinkedIn Network Updates feed breaks the story for them.  (Note to audience – LinkedIn has a preference where you can turn off updates, which can be useful at times when you don’t want the story to break this way).

Still, this is the first time I can recall seeing a press story where the source of record that confirmed the story was LinkedIn.  In fact, it’s even the byline of the article:

A LinkedIn profile for Dave Pearce, former head of the Santa Clara, Calif., thin-film firm, lists him as CEO of NuvoSun.

Pretty cool, when you think about it.  I think this is going to become more and more common as LinkedIn becomes the preferred source of record for professional reputation, experience and education.

Memories: Apple ATG Summer Picnic, 1997

Thursday night, Carolyn & I went out with a number of close friends to celebrate her birthday.  Eric Cheng brought a very nice little present for us – a snapshot from the Apple Advanced Technology Group (ATG) Summer Picnic in 1997.

This snapshot is now the earliest known couple photo Carolyn & I have.  Friday, August 22, 1997.  At this point, we had been dating all of 12 days.

This is also, I believe, the very last Apple ATG Picnic, since this is also the year that Steve returned to Apple and officially disbanded ATG.

So a little nostalgia on the blog tonight.  Big thanks to Eric for the great picture.

The Secret to Reformatting a Western Digital WD 1TB My Book External Hard Drive

Little tidbit.

When you buy a Western Digital (WD) 1 TB My Book External Hard Drive, they usually come formatted for Windows using FAT32. Of course, if you are using it with a Mac, then you’ll want to reformat it using Mac OS Extended (HFS+).

The problem: When you try to reformat in Disk Utility, you’ll get a very cryptic error that says that there was an unknown error with the partition map.

The solution: If you go to the partition map and click the “Options…” button, you’ll be able to select which scheme to use for the boot records. It turns out, if the boot record scheme is set to “Master Boot Record”, you will not be able to format it as Mac OS Extended. Flipping it to GUID or Apple Partition Map will work.

Once you get to that magic dialog, it’s pretty clear what to do. Why Apple doesn’t communicate this error intelligibly when you attempt to format I don’t know.

In any case, there is an Apple Discussion Board thread that saved the day for me. I’m posting it here just in case it saves the day for someone else.

I’m now ready to try out Apple Time Machine for the first time…

Update (12/29/2008): It’s amazing, but this continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog.  Everyone seems to have this problem.  Interestingly, it’s not unique to Western Digital drives.  I find that I need to do this with Maxtor and Seagate Free Agent drives also.  I just did this with the new Seagate FreeAgent 1.5 TB external.  Works like a charm…

New LinkedIn Feature: Viewers Of This Profile Also Viewed

So, in case you are wondering, this feature was kind of tricky to name. :)

Steve Stegman has a post on the LinkedIn blog today announcing a new feature we’re testing, currently dubbed “Viewers of this profile also viewed…”

Steve does a good job explaining the feature. It’s located on the profile page, on the right side. (You have to be signed in, and if you are looking at your own profile, you have to click the link that says “View My Profile as others see it…”) In a nutshell, for this module LinkedIn is showing, in the aggregate, the other profiles that people are most likely to visit if they visited your profile. It sounds simple, but actually there is some significant complexity in cleaning out the data to get a good set of interesting profiles to browse.

I’ve clicked through over a dozen people in the past couple of days, and I continue to be surprised at how well it works. My results are excellent, but given my relatively public role at LinkedIn, I assumed my profile gets enough views to generate good aggregate results.

(In case you are curious, here are the 5 profiles you are most likely to visit if you visited mine, as of today)

Let’s see – Dan is our CEO, Jamie & Allen & I report to Reid, and Elliot is on my team. Definitely not hard to see the connections here. :)

As an example of a typical user, let’s look at my mother’s profile:

The first three are pretty obvious, but for some reason, Jonathan isn’t as popular as Elliot or Elizabeth?  Hmmm.  :)

If I click through to Daniel’s profile, I see the following:

Now that’s 5 for 5!  Brother, sister, mother, brother, wife.

I’m finding that following just this module, I can browse LinkedIn in a really fun, new way.  Some of the results are pretty surprising.  It adds just a bit of serendipity (dare I say it?) into browsing people.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a quick post about the “People You May Know” feature on LinkedIn. This new module is yet another interesting way to look at the ways people are related – this time informed by the millions of clicks that hit LinkedIn every day.

Kudos to Steve and the analytics team for this new, interesting view.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi (12.2 MegaPixel DSLR)

Canon launched today the latest successor to their successful line of digital SLR cameras, the Rebel XSi:

Gizmodo: Canon Expands Rebel Alliance With Live View 12-Megapixel EOS XSi

The rumors are true. Canon’s took power features from the high-end EOS models and creature comforts from the PowerShot line, and merged them into the 12.2-megapixel EOS Rebel XSi DSLR, with Live View LCD view-finding (previously only seen on EOS-1D Mark III), a 3″ LCD screen with 230,000 pixels, and the Digic III processor found in nearly every new Canon model. There will be two kits, body only for $800 and one with a starter 18-55mm lens for $900.

After over 6 years with point-and-shoot digital cameras, my friend Eric finally gave me the courage to jump to a full SLR a couple of years ago, and I haven’t looked back.  The pictures are so much clearer, the camera so much more responsive, I can visually see in my photo library the line between my pre & post DSLR days.  I can’t imagine going back – I’d rather just use my cell phone camera for quick shots.

I got the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, which was the 2nd generation.  The XTi moved the bar to 10MP, an updated processor, and some other features, but I could resist the minor upgrade.  The XSi seems pretty compelling, though.

I’ll have to ask Eric about it… :)

Yes, You Can Get 1080P out of a Mac Mini

As I posted last night, I’ve hooked my new Intel Core Duo Mac Mini to a Vizio 42″ 1080P LCD.

If you read the specs at Apple, it says the Mac Mini, with 64MB DRAM driving it’s Intel GMA 950 video, can support a 1920×1200 based resolution on a monitor.  I assumed that this meant it could drive any 1080P display, which is 1920×1080.

It turns out, there are a few hurdles that could get in the way of succeeding in getting a Mac Mini to drive a 1080P TV display.  Some of the hurdles are simple, but one was quite tricky.

Here is the solution, for all those intrepid Mac warriors out there:

  1. Getting the Max Resolution on the Vizio.  The Vizio display says on the box it only supports 1366×768 for computer display.  This turns out to be the onboard limitation for their VGA port.  If you use a DVI to HDMI cable, you can drive the full 1920×1080 through the HDMI port.  I used a 10ft DVI to HDMI gold plated cable from Fry’s.  (Price $19.99)
  2. How to Get Sound on the Vizio.  I bought a cheap 3.5mm Mini Plug to RCA Red/White 6 inch cable (Price: $2.79).  I then used a standard 12ft Red/White RCA Audio cable to plug connect the Mini to the Vizio TV.  The second HDMI port on the Vizio is paired with an auxiliary set of RCA Red/White jacks, seemingly designed for this situation where your HDMI does not actually carry audio.
  3. How to Get 1080P, not 1080i, out of the Mac Mini.  This is the tough one.  When you go to the Displays control panel on the Mac Mini (Leopard, Mac OS X 10.5), you are given lots of video choices.  However, the maximum resolution says 1920×1080 (interlaced) at 60Hz.  What gives?   I’m not sure, but it seems like a bug.  The secret is to enable the checkbox that says “Show displays in menu bar”.  If you do then, a displays icon appears in the menu bar.  Click it to get a drop down menu of all display resolutions.  Interestingly, there are now two 1920×1080 options, which are labeled identically.  Choose the other one!  You’ll now be driving full 1080P (confirmed by the Vizio).

I’ve searched the web, and this issue is tricky enough that lots of people complain about the lack of the ability to drive 1080P from the Mac Mini.  Most of the debates seem to argue that it depends on the TV.  I don’t buy it.  I think the issue is a bug in the Mac OS display detection in DVI/HDMI scenarios that is somehow hiding the 1080P option.  Either that, or the Mac Mini for some reason thinks that 1080P is too much for it for some other reason, and the drop-down menu is missing that filter to remove it from the list.

I’m not going to spend time on the why.  The point is, if you are looking for the how, you just got it.

BTW Leopard is a huge improvement for applications like this.  The improved network browsing and FrontRow application are incredibly well-timed.   It’s going much better than I expected.

Our Newest Family Member: The Mac Mini

Tonight begins our newest experiment in home computing & entertainment integration.

Yes, I’m proud to welcome a Mac Mini to our household.  This is the first full-fledged computer that we’ve purchased for primarily an entertainment purpose.  While we’ve loved our 160GB AppleTV (and believe me, when your 2-year old makes AppleTV one of their first words, that’s love), the limitations on storage and software have been, well, limiting.

So thus begins the Mac Mini experiment.  Upgraded with a 500GB external USB 2.0 drive, this computer will be plugged into our new Vizio LCD, via HDMI, for full 1080P resolution.   Apple Remote, Wireless Keyboard, Wireless Mouse.  The new FrontRow 2.0 has everything we love about AppleTV, plus we’ll now have ample storage for ripping all of our DVDs to MP4.  In addition, now that Jacob is 3, we’ll be able to start using the machine as a computer as well, using it for kiddie software and educational games.  We can even use it as a DVD player in a pinch.

I’ll have to say, the Mac OS X Leopard start-up sequence for registration is just stunning at 42″ at 1080P, with full stereo sound.  Really awe-inspiring.

We’ll see how it goes.  I don’t know why, but even after setting up literally dozens of Macs in my life, setting a new one is still such a rush.   Literally, it’s like I drank a six-pack of sugar-free Red Bull or something.

Jeff Zucker, Meet Michael Eisner

At least, I believe Michael is the last big studio exec to piss Steve off.  Don’t worry, Jeff.  At least he got a  big paycheck on the way out.

From Valleywag:

NBC CEO Jeff Zucker puckers up to Steve Jobs’s posterior

“We’ve said all along that we admire Apple, that we want to be in business with Apple,” NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said in the Financial Times this morning. Of course you have, Jeff. Except for maybe that time last fall when you told an audience at Syracuse University that “Apple has destroyed the music business … If we don’t take control on the video side, they’ll do the same [there].” What does Zucker’s pirouette mean?

Let’s hope Steve Jobs doesn’t hold a grudge… :)

Macworld 2008: Is the MacBook Air the 2008 G4 Cube?

Last week was a lot of fun for me because I got to make my annual pilgrimage to San Francisco for the annual Macworld show.  Unlike other Mac-faithful, I tend to shy away from the full force reality-distortion field.  Instead, I like to go on Friday, right as the show is wrapping up, for a quick two-hour walkthrough of the floor.  Usually the crowds are light, there are already clear “must see” booths highlighted online, and there is plenty of opportunity to actually talk to the vendors who have products you might be interested in.

Originally, I was planning to write a blog post about the MacBook Air, the obvious star of Macworld 2008.  Unfortunately, Crave beat me to it, and effectively wrote a post that summarizes at least 80% of my thoughts about it.

Crave:  The Macbook Air is the Cube 2.0

Here are a few quick, well-written snippets from the article:

When I saw the MacBook Air in person this week at Macworld Expo, I was having a hard time figuring out what about it seemed so familiar. Then I remembered. The G4 Cube. “Overpriced and underconfigured” were the words we used to describe it in our review in 2000, and many of the same complaints could be applied directly to the MacBook Air.

Where the Cube had no PCI slots or additional drive bays, no standard audio input or output jacks, and wouldn’t accept full-length graphics cards because of its diminutive size, the Air has no Ethernet port (!), no optical drive, no removable battery, and requires a micro-DVI connector for output to an external monitor. Both offer underwhelming technical specs–the G4’s hard drive was legendarily slow, while the Air’s 80GB drive is, hilariously, half the capacity of the largest iPod Classic. Even the price tag was the same: $1,799! And I think in the future, I’ll be able to update this post with one more important comparison: the Cube, although a stunning piece of industrial design, was a commercial flop, and I think the MacBook Air will be, too.

A little snarky, but this definitely reflects my immediate reaction.

When I saw the MacBook Air in person, I was actually a bit under-whelmed.  I think in order to appreciate it’s thinness, you have to see it next to other, fatter, MacBooks.  When you see 100 of them lined up together, it somehow devalues the uniqueness of it’s key design feature.  Actually, opened, they look a little rounded, almost reminiscent of the original iBooks, sans the day-glow colors.

I was almost convinced that this was a superior upgrade to the MacBook in every way.  It’s far more durable than it looks, and the new trackpad is incredibly fun to use.  I’m not going to miss the DVD drive, as I find that I rarely, if ever, use a DVD drive anymore.  I’ve ripped all my movies to MP4, and I usually install software over the network.  But the lack of an Ethernet port frightens me.  There are just too many hotels and locations where the wireless LAN isn’t really up-to-snuff.

Now that I’ve had some time to consider my reaction, I think the MacBook Air will do better than the G4 Cube did, largely because the feature set is much closer to what a real target market wants:

  • Primary machine for a traveling professional, with sophisticated home & work computing infrastructure
  • Second travel machine for someone with a desktop as their primary machine

I almost fit into both categories, so this is pretty close to what I need.  In fact, if it had an Ethernet port, I’d be ready to replace Carolyn’s MacBook immediately with one of these.

Apple has a tortured history, going back decades, with the fabled “third machine”.  Historically, Apple has always found success with a “consumer” line and a “professional” line, and every attempt to carve out a third line of machines has found swift failure.

I think the MacBook Air will do much better than the cube ever did, largely because the sub-notebook category has been historically small, but successful for other vendors.  I also think Apple is such a marquee  consumer brand now, they will pick up sales just for bragging rights, at least initially.  Here is a piece on Seeking Alpha that argues as much, defending the MacBook Air from detractors.

Still, no MacBook Air for me, at least, not yet.  Maybe someday.

eBay Rolls out Best Match

eBay has started rolling out Best Match in earnest on the core eBay.com site, and boy is it getting noticed.

First, here is the original post on eBay that announced the test of Best Match as the default sort in five major categories, dated January 16th. Just a few days ago, really.

I caught this blog post over the weekend from Randy Smythe, and realized that I had a few things to say about the launch of this test.

The first of which is congratulations to the eBay Finding team. The launch of this test represents an inevitable step towards the future of a search engine on the eBay.com site optimized for the best possible buyer experience. For all the back-seat driving and Monday morning quarterbacking that they receive, very few people understand the complexity of the problems that the eBay Finding team has to tackle.

The second thing I have to say here is get ready to drink from the firehose. This move is bigger than anything I can think of in the history of the eBay buyer experience, and it’s going to test eBay and the eBay community in new ways. There is no playbook for this type of change, there is no simple pattern match. There is going to be a lot of churn, a lot to learn, and lot of quick action & analysis needed to make this successful.

It might not seem obvious to outsiders how big a change this really is. But believe me, it’s huge. There is a $60 Billion economy that is all predicated on the way that hundreds of millions of buyers search through and find billions of items for sale on eBay. That’s roughly the Gross Domestic Product of the country of Vietnam.

To explain why this change is so dramatic, let me explain a bit of the background behind this change. Let’s start with how eBay search works today.

eBay search has a history of being extremely literal and transparent. Until changes were made in the last few years, eBay search would literally do only the following:

  1. Look at the keywords entered by the buyer
  2. Look at the title keywords of every listing on the site
  3. Return only the listings that had 100% of the keywords entered by the buyer
  4. Sort the listings by “time remaining”

When I worked on the eBay Finding team, it was always surprising to me how many active eBay users I would talk to, both buyers and sellers, who assumed there was “something more” to the way eBay returned items. In fact, I would sometimes ask potential product managers, interviewing at eBay, to describe how they thought the eBay search engine worked. I would get the correct answer less than 10% of the time.

This system had some clear and obvious benefits. It’s simplicity meant that it was transparent to sellers and buyers, at least, in theory. Sellers would, in theory, experiment over time to find the right keywords to use in their listings. Buyers would also experiment. Over time, assuming that eBay was a fairly efficient market, sellers would provide listings with keywords to match the keywords that buyers would use. Supply would meet demand.

Sorting by time remaining had some natural benefits too. For an auction that ending soon, the differences between zero bids, one bid, and more than one bid are stark. One bid guarantees a sale, two bids puts you on a fast path to an efficient price. There was inherent benefit for sellers and for eBay to see auctions that were ending soon get exposure to a disproportionate number of buyers.

So, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right? Well, the good news is, the search system was good enough to grow eBay to the giant it is today. The bad news is that it had some fairly obvious shortcomings that became unsustainable over time.

There were a few obvious ones that almost anyone who used eBay ran into. Inexperienced sellers, just casually listing, had no idea what keywords to put in their titles. Pitty the poor seller, trying to sell their $1500 PowerMac G5, if they instead called it a “PowerMac G-5″. Inexperienced buyers also had no idea that searching for “Apple Macintosh” would bring back radically different results than “Apple Mac”. eBay didn’t know how to match keywords to categories. A search for “DVDs” wouldn’t just take the buyer to the DVD category – it would literally return all listings that had “DVDs” in the title. eBay didn’t even understand plurals! “DVD” would bring back very different results than “DVDs”.

eBay started addressing these issues in earnest about five years ago. They slowly rolled out improvements like transliteration (plurals), as well as some experiments with “generic keywords” like DVDs.

Why slowly? Well, the problem is, tinkering with a multi-billion dollar economy is, to lack a better word, scary. It’s scary because you have millions of sellers who have already adapted to the old search engine. You have billions of dollars of purchasing at stake, which means a 1% blip in finding efficiency can mean the difference of tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the company. And last, but not least, it’s scary because it’s hard to objectively find a measure of success that everyone can agree on.

How do you measure the success of search? When a buyer does more searches, is that a good thing or a bad thing? If a buyer views more items, does that mean you’ve done a good job showing them relevant items, or a bad job because they have to click through a lot of items to find one they want?

This gets even more complicated when you take into account the financial relationship between eBay and its sellers. eBay gets paid basically two ways: fees paid up-front when listing the item, and fees paid when an item sells. As a result, sellers pay eBay an up-front amount assuming a certain amount of visibility for their item. eBay does not guarantee impressions, clicks, or sales, but over time, sellers get used to the rough economics of their activities on eBay. They learn which keywords, which categories, which items get them enough clicks and sales to make their business works. That’s how they decide when and where to pay eBay it’s fees.

In any case, those changes merely affected the results that were returned by eBay’s search engine when the buyer performed a search (Step 3). It didn’t affect the sort order, which determines which items are on the first page of a buyer’s search results.

Unfortunately, changing the sort order was just a matter of time. “Time Remaining” is a very good sort for auction items, but it is almost meaningless for fixed price items. Over time, as eBay grew, more and more items on eBay were fixed price. In fact, if you include eBay Stores, eBay has had vastly more fixed price items than auction items for some time. What’s more, all the Step 3 changes mentioned above added more items to the search results, making it even less likely that you’d get good results on your first page.

If you are familiar with internet search, then you know sorting your items to provide the best possible results on the first page is incredibly important. And a meaningless sort for a majority of your listings is just not going to be sustainable without sacrificing a significant amount of your buyer experience and sales.

So, this rollout of Best Match is a big deal. Best Match does not change the results that are returned by eBay for a given keyword, but it does change what appears on that first page. It is a new way to sort items. And that, by itself, is huge.

Not surprisingly, sellers have noticed. Randy’s blog post quotes a seller who has purportedly seen a 40% drop in sales. It’s certainly possible. Best Match will alter the amount of time that listings will have at the top of results. Some sellers might see no change in their activity. Most will see small changes. But there will be a few who see huge swings from their existing metrics.

Most interestingly, it is practically impossible to predict what the outcome will be for any particular seller. To be sure, eBay will guide Best Match to increase overall sales for the site. That means, more items will receive bids and be bought. The economic pie will be bigger for the eBay selling community. But there is no known way to effectively simulate what the outcome will be for any particular seller with their existing listings.

This is a fundamental challenge for eBay. eBay has stated they will focus on improving the buyer experience. eBay will also continue to manage the marketplace to a greater number of sales. However, that won’t change the fact that some sellers will do better under this new system, and others will do worse.

Don’t be surprised to see sellers start to dissect public patent applications for clues on how eBay Best Match works. This is their lifeblood, as much as Google PageRank is the lifeblood for content websites. There is huge economic value in “cracking the code”, and one thing is for sure, the eBay community is full of entrepreneurs who will try to harvest some of that value. Like Google PageRank, Best Match is designed to be opaque. As a result, eBay will make no guarantees about how it functions, and they will actively change it over time to improve it and to prevent abuse.

Also, don’t be surprised when sellers are, in the aggregate, upset about this change. This adds uncertainty to their business, and even though every other site out there is based on relevance sort, they hold eBay to a different standard, and for good reason.

The version of Best Match that eBay is rolling out now has gone through more testing than any new piece of functionality that eBay has ever released. They have gone through numerous versions of the technology, numerous experiments with different factors and systems, and elaborate economic experiments to ensure that it results in higher sales for the marketplace and happier eBay buyers.

And now the real test begins. The eBay Finding team will need to listen, learn & react more in 2008 than they ever have before. It will not be easy, for anyone. But then again, the most important changes never are.

Update (1/24/2008): It looks like this post was picked up in the internal Weekly Gazette inside of eBay. I am, of course, flattered to be highlighted. Of course, I am not an unbiased source, since it was on eBay Express that we first discovered the need to move away from “ending soonest” and “lowest price” sorts, and launched the very first, crude version of Best Match.

Four Days on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and Counting…

We have two key machines in my household – my PowerMac G5 and Carolyn’s MacBook.  Last weekend, we upgraded to Mac OS X Leopard, and so far, so good.

I haven’t put Time Machine through it’s paces yet – I’m waiting for the update that will enable network-attached storage.

So far, the biggest delta has been the built-in applications.  The new iChat has miraculously cured whatever packet authentication issue had cropped up that prevented me from accepting video chats.  Mail is substantially improved, and although I’m not using it’s new RSS reader, I do like the new interface refinements.  I’m noticing that it’s a bit slow rendering HTML email compared to 10.4, however.  For all the uproar, the new dock is just fine by me, although I find the little glowing balls don’t say “active” to me the way that the old arrows did.

To some extent, I can feel that this is the first OS where the PPC support is no longer primary.  Carolyn’s MacBook feels snappier after the update, my G5 feels a bit slower.

It’s always amazing to me how hard it is, before the upgrade, to provide a rational reason for the upgrade.  Then, once you do it, it’s amazing how quickly all the machines with the older systems feel… dated.

I’ve been on Leopard almost a week, and now my MacBook Pro at work with Tiger on it feels… old.

Thank goodness IT has given it’s blessing to Leopard installs around the office.  :)

Star Wars Trivia: Darth Talon

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that over the New Years holiday, I flipped through a copy of Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force.  Yes, I just admitted that.  No, I’m not sure why I did it.

In any case, I now know a few new things:

  1. There is an endless supply of almost meaningless detail about timelines, people, and battles that are sometimes self-contradictory and totally separate from the movies.
  2. There is a very cool Wikia site called “Wookiepedia” that has an almost endless supply of Star Wars information, and it’s free.
  3. There is a new comic book series called “Star Wars Legacy” that takes place 137 years after the Death Star was blown up, in a bleak future where the Republic & Jedi have fallen to a new order of the Sith.

As an interesting trivia item based on (3), I also discovered what I imagine it would look like if Darth Maul and Angelina Jolie had a baby: her name is Darth Talon.  Enjoy.

SimCity Is Now Open Source as Micropolis

Very cool to see that the original SimCity code has been updated and released under the name Micropolis.

There is coverage on Boing Boing:

 SimCity has just been released as free software under the GPL version 3 license (though the name has been changed to Micropolis for trademark reasons; it was the original working title). This was precipitated by the inclusion of SimCity on the One Laptop Per Child XO machines, but no reason the kids should have all the fun. Can’t wait to see the SimCity hacks that emerge now:


The “MicropolisCore” project includes the latest Micropolis (SimCity) source code, cleaned up and recast into C++ classes, integrated into Python, using the wonderful SWIG interface generator tool. It also includes a Cairo based TileEngine, and a cellular automata machine CellEngine, which are independent but can be plugged together, so the tile engine can display cellular automata cells as well as SimCity tiles, or any other application’s tiles.

There is more detailed coverage about the open source release on this blog.

Back in college, I spent a good chunk of my junior year coding up a fast sprite library for the Mac called “Pixie” which had hand-tuned blitters, layering, and other goodies that seem shockingly dated now in a world of graphics cards, modern rendering pipelines, and modern gaming engines.  Back then, getting 30 frame-per-second animation for about fifty 32×32 animated sprites was considered real bragging rights for a 68K-based Mac.  I can’t tell you how excited back then I would have been to download and play with this.

Check it out, if you are so inclined.

A Far-From-Anonymous Birthday

So, today is/was my birthday, and as usual I celebrated it with my close family.

What was interesting this year is that this may have been my first “Social Networking” birthday.

Normally, I’d expect to get 10-20 notes, email and cards, from the subset of close friends and family who decided to take the time to do something.  This year was different, however.  I think I got over 100 messages, at least.

While I’d love to say it’s because I’m getting more popular, I think that there is something else at work: the social networking effect.

Let’s say you have about 50 close friends.  If about 25% of them remember your birthday, then you get about 10-12 messages.

Social networking, however, has changed that.  Skype knows my birthday.  Geni knows my birthday.  Facebook knows my birthday.  Even InCircle knows my birthday! (LinkedIn does not know my birthday… yet.)

If these sites let people keep track of 100, 200, even 1000 friends, then even a 10% sampling from these groups can lead to over 100 messages.  What’s more, these sites and applications make it incredibly simple to send a note, post on a wall, etc.

The strange effect is this:  On the one hand, you get more messages than ever before.  On the other hand,  the notes from your really good friends are obscured somewhat by the avalanche of notes from more distant friends who now can more easily keep up on these things.

So, overall, I’m feeling pretty good today.  It was quite a few notes to go through, and my apologies to everyone if I didn’t respond to them all yet.  But there is a little part of me that misses the implicit intimacy of knowing who actually took extra time to remember my birthday, the old-fashioned way.

I guess that nostalgia is a sign that I am getting old.  :)

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