Friday, July 28, 2006

Internet phone service is bad and getting worse, according to a new survey released last week. That's interesting, since I have been using Vonage at home for quite a while now and my experience has been that it's improved significantly over time. These days its much better than the local "classic" wired telephone service. But apparently my VOIP experience might not be the norm, at least if you believe the people doing the testing:

Nearly one in five Internet phone calls are “unacceptable” in quality - with annoying woes ranging from echoes to clicking sounds. The problem is lines clogged with video, audio and other data that interfere with service, said the study by Brix Networks, which makes products that test the quality of so-called Voice Over Internet Protocol...

...Brix arrived at its conclusion after almost one million Internet phone tests were conducted by users at the company’s web site, testyourvoip.com. The tests, started in late 2004, immediately revealed quality problems and Brix continued with the tests through early this year, before compiling and releasing its results...

All I can say is I really like Vonage. Between the call quality I get (very good) and the extra features, not to mention the lower price relative to POTS service, there's no way I'd go back.

(story via the Boston Herald)



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Tech
Thursday, July 27, 2006 11:59:50 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Forget "Hello, World." More like "Look Out, World!" Greg's gonna learn how to program. Just enough to be dangerous, I am sure... I mentioned this more than a year ago, but have yet to take advantage of it. And at the time all the content was not yet available.

Microsoft has more than 10 hours of online video training geared toward beginners (that would be me) on how to program using Visual C# 2005 Express. Woah, cool.  Dubbed the Absolute Beginner's Video Series, it takes you from "Hello, world" to a RSS reader app. This is totally for me. Not only that, you can choose to stream the video or download it, and the project files are right there to download, as well. Nice - I can spend some airplane time learning how to program!

There's also a C# Windows Forms Controls video series and for those wanting VB.net instead of C#, the same series is also available for that language.

I'm glad to see this kind of content available - it's exactly what getting-old management types like me who wish they'd learned to program a modern language need.

The content of the C# and VB.net tutorials was provided by http://www.learnvisualstudio.net/, which has a whole slew of great looking content available for people wanting to learn programming, from absolute beginner to more advanced level programmers, as well as people in-between.



Add/Read: Comments [2]
Random Stuff | Tech
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 7:11:49 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Jay Rosen at PRESSthink has an idea, and one that is certainly quite interesting. In his post "Introducing NewAssignment.Net," Rosen describes his idea, which would meld the best of what the Internet mob has to offer with the typically-careful approach of professional Journalism, into a new hybrid-type of news gathering and creation process.

What can "networked journalism" do in the real world? What does news without the media look like? Check out Rosen's thought provoking and interesting post for that and more:

Alright, what is it?

In simplest terms, a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit called NewAssignment.Net.

The site uses open source methods to develop good assignments and help bring them to completion; it employs professional journalists to carry the project home and set high standards so the work holds up. There are accountability and reputation systems built in that should make the system reliable. The betting is that (some) people will donate to works they can see are going to be great because the open source methods allow for that glimpse ahead.

In this sense it’s not like donating to your local NPR station, because your local NPR station says, “thank you very much, our professionals will take it from here.” And they do that very well. New Assignment says: here’s the story so far. We’ve collected a lot of good information. Add your knowledge and make it better. Add money and make it happen. Work with us if you know things we don’t.

But I should add: NewAssignment.Net doesn’t exist yet. I’m starting with the idea.



Add/Read: Comments [0]
Random Stuff
Tuesday, July 25, 2006 4:25:24 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Sunday, July 23, 2006

ZuneEveryone and their brother has already written about Zune, Microsoft's planned new digital music player, service and whatever else comes of it (rumors and facts abound).

But have you seen the latest MS marketing virus? As in Zune viral marketing?

http://comingzune.com/

So, yeah... There ya go. Not sure the whole petting-rabbits thing is all that comfortable for me, but it's weird enough to get me to post this, so I guess it worked. Heh.

Oh, and if you are interested the background music is by Regina Spektor - visit her myspace if ya like.

Check out the Zune Insider blog (authored by - yes- a MS employee working on Zune):

"So what’s Zune? It’s Microsoft’s new, holistic approach to music and entertainment. And yes, this year, we’ll be releasing a device as part of the project. Under the Zune brand, we’re looking to build a community for connecting with folks, all to discover new music and entertainment."

The device (and service) better kick some serious butt - it will have to in order to beat the iPod, and let's face it... There's no goal worth Microsoft's time other than doing just that - in the long run. After all, iPods will eventually break (or get scratched into oblivion). What will you be buying when that happens?

Adding in WiFi to the portable device is cool, and so are some of the related ideas. One has to wonder about power consumption though - what will that look like? I especially like the "connected entertainment" ultimate goal - not just music, but video and other stuff, too.

This will truly be interesting to watch.



Add/Read: Comments [4]
Random Stuff | Tech
Sunday, July 23, 2006 10:13:50 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Friday, July 21, 2006

Honestly, I can't tell you how tired of the typical, average, mundane, same-old PowerPoint presentation I have become. 99 percent of the time, as soon as any given PowerPoint presentation starts, I can feel the bile and boredom start to slosh and boil in my gut - in part because I sit through so darn many presentations, but even more so because most presentations - well - they just suck.

There's nothing quite like a slide deck with all the bulleted words the presenter that will be coming right out of the speakers mouth, if your intent is to say to your audience, "Hey, you're an idiot, so let me read this to you." Who's the idiot, really? There's nothing more redundant than reading and listening to the same thing. Or even worse, a zillion words on the screen and the speaker is talking about something else entirely. You lost me at "Hello."

So more and more I feel like I'm wasting my time. "Read to me, speak at me, bore me with bullets ad nauseum." Please, don't.

Don't get me wrong - I know people don't do this on purpose, they're trying hard and - well - it's the way everyone else does it, right? I also know I'm being a bit harsh (in order to make a point, really). It's just that for most every presentation anymore it doesn't matter all that much what it's actually about, because it's so much like everyone else's. PowerPoint is PowerPoint is PowerPoint, and it's tiring.

If you sell a product, or an idea, or some thing, you don't want it to be just like everyone else's do you? Apply that rule to your presentation style - How do you differentiate yourself from the crowd?

We actually love the crowd, of course, because it's easy to stand out when everyone else is doing the same thing. But it's worth risking having to work harder at it if a few people will revisit their presentations and get out of the common PowerPoint traps.

Anyhow, I got to a point where I was also hating giving presentations with PowerPoint (which I do quite often), not because of the PowerPoint application itself, but because of the fact that all my presentations seemed to be basically the same, and all the templates out there seem to encourage it: Long bulleted lists, points to read aloud, graphs and charts and nasty nasty nasty clip-art. Seriously, using clip-art should be a felony. No, really. Seriously. Like as in prison.

So, a couple weeks ago I took a chance on a presentation I gave at a conference, and went all Lessig-ish with it. A couple words on each screen to punctuate the salient points, a plain white background with big, readable black letters centered on the screen, and the rest was all talk. No handouts (and believe me that was a real surprise for the attendees - but it's not like they walked out or rioted or anything). It took some concentrated effort to create the new presentation. Not rocket-science level effort, mind you - but extra work it was. Time well spent.

And - get this - it worked. The audience was engaged and the conversation (which is what it's all about - exchanging thoughts and ideas, as opposed to making a speech, right?) was interesting, for everyone including me. You could tell the format and style was something new for the audience, for sure, but the looks on people's faces were certainly fun to watch. And the thing is, they actually had looks on their faces. Gone was the blank gaze. Everyone in the room was looking at me as I spoke, and that means making a connection. They'd glance at the screen momentarily and then look back to me for the information, not the other way around. We actually looked in each others' eyes. Now, it's not that I have some kind of problem where I desperately need that kind of attention - it's just that it's clear as day that direct, personal communication is much noticeably more effective and meaningful.

The questions from the crowd at the session were good - They were thoughtful, and the audience was obviously tuned in. Not that my audiences aren't tuned in in general - quite the opposite. But in this presentation you could sense the difference - One could feel the connection and involvement noticeably more.

After the conference, we sent my spartan slides, along with the relatively detailed speaker notes printed on the page below each slide, in PDF form to anyone who attended and wanted it. Gotta provide those handouts at some point, you know... Unless it's caught on video or something.

One of the best and most effective presenters I know personally, Scott Hanselman (it's my week to link to Scott, heh), called it "Existential Presentation." I assume by that he means free, individual, unique, possibly even rebellious. I can see that. 

Personally, being the practical and somewhat-less-eloquent guy I am, I see it as a kind of resurrection of some form of miraculous goodness from the hell of a bloated and obese PowerPoint existence. Ah, existence. I get it, Scott!

Anyhow -- What do you think?

P.S.  Great resources for presenters and presentation authors (hey - you do write your own presentations, right???):

  • Presentation Zen Blog (which has been subscribed in my aggregator for quite some time)
  • Garr Reynolds presentation tips
  • Scott Hanselman's Tips for a Successful Microsoft Presentation (great stuff)

From the comments, Jim Holmes points out a couple more great ones:

and Shane Perran also has some excellent suggestions:

  • Steve Jobs - Simply brilliant when it comes to presentation. That goes for most of the Apple design/marketing team
  • www.guykawasaki.com - Guy Kawasaki - A one time Apple guy turned VC and absolute master of presentation
  • sethgodin.typepad.com - Seth Godin - Author of the ever popular Purple Cow and another master presenter and storyteller
  • www.alertbox.com - Jakob Neilson - While wildly hard-nosed about design, he knows content usability like no other - mostly web oriented, there is a lot of carry over

Those are all good ones, and most all those blogs I subscribe to (and the rest I just did, heh). Presentation is about content, style, design, personality, conversation... All important components.



Add/Read: Comments [2]
Random Stuff | Tech | Things that Suck
Friday, July 21, 2006 2:51:58 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Last week it was Toronto, and this week I am headed to Atlanta. I'll leave Portland in the early morning Wednesday and fly across the country and then back, once again. This time I decided to use a couple of those 500-mile class upgrade vouchers I've been earning and hoarding, since this is the last flight I have scheduled for at least the next few weeks (I have over 100,000 total miles accrued on my frequent flier account, including about 70,000 real, actual miles flown since February and 45 flight segments flown since the beginning of the year - sheez). I've been flying my body into a deep, dark pit of cramps and generalized pain. So, I figure I might as well try to make this trip a nice one, eh? Then when I get home and spend a couple or few weeks in my own bed maybe I'll eventually get back to "normal." Whatever that is, heh.

So... I'll be in the Columbus and Atlanta, Georgia areas Wednesday night plus all day Thursday and Friday. Then it's back home again. If I am lucky, my travel calendar will remain fairly close to what it looks like today and I won't have to fly again til sometime in August. Fingers crossed!

The travel can get in the way of fun. My friend Norm called me tonight to see if I could help shoot a big fireworks show (on a river barge) this Saturday but I had to say I'd better not unless he gets in a bad bind for crew members, since I don't get back home til late on Friday night. All this travel really takes a lot out of me, and I'd hate to only be partially effective while everyone else on the crew was out there working their butts off. At any rate, I do wish I could work this fireworks show - it will be a fun one, and with a good crew of people. Oh well - next time!

I think maybe United Airlines owes me something more than a few upgrade coupons and some miles that can only cash in on a limited set of flights/seats. What do you think airlines should do for their customers that travel a zillion miles a year on their flights?

At least they aren't charging to use pillows and blankets like Canada Air was on my last trip. Wow, talk about penny-pinching. It's not very attractive.



Add/Read: Comments [0]
Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Tuesday, July 18, 2006 8:59:46 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#