Saturday, 31 January 2009

Good or bad, we live and work in an increasingly binary world.

More and more I notice our collective bipolar mentality. Everything is completely one extreme or another, with no time or thought put into the idea that there might be something much more realistic and reasonable in-between. It's black or it's white. You're conservative or you're liberal. It's all the way on or it's shut completely off. It's awesomely great or it's despairingly terrible.

What happened to the various shades and levels of gray, moderation and good? Perhaps this is a result of our increasingly computer-centric boolean society, where everything at it's core can be distilled down to one's and zero's, on and off, yes or no - with nothing in-between. But the organic world has never worked that way, and I think maybe we're seeing the signs that people have forgotten to look for the compromise.

One case in point, among many: A blog article today at TechCrunch reports that management at a large company, Nielson, has decided to remove the Reply-All button from all instances of outlook. Apparently some executive committee decided this would reduce waste and increase productivity. Certainly they must be right: It's a technology problem, right? Whoever the person was that thought of the reply-all concept originally couldn't possibly have been thinking about the consequences of including this feature. They must have been misguided, unknowing and wrong.

Or were they?

To take such drastic action as to completely remove the reply-all button from Outlook seems - well - misguided, unknowing and wrong. It takes a people problem, assumes (incorrectly) that it's a technology problem, and in the end creates a new - and potentially larger - business problem.

Don't get me wrong. I hate rampant reply-all email threads as much as anyone, maybe even more so. I especially dislike the passive-aggressive, nasty, insolent and rude behavior that people often use (often, ironically, in a reply-all email) to try to tell people how much they dislike email spam. If I'm copied on a business topic thread that I don't feel the need to review and would especially like to avoid, I don't like it. But I really hate it when people include me on their angry extension of the thread where they insult the original sender and complain. At least the original thread had a business purpose.

As a senior manager, several times I've replied-to-all to say "This thread is closed, please restrict the distribution of future info those those who are needed." In every case, the goal was to get people to stop and think. It almost always worked.

Now, I can see where accidental reply-all's and excess email would business and technology people to look for a way to just make it stop. I'm not saying there's not a problem to be solved - quite the contrary. But reply-all also provides a legitimate and useful piece of business functionality, one that makes people more efficient and in many cases ensures all the right people are in the loop.

The real problem here is people-related: There's a time and a place for using reply-all, and when people get lazy or don't think things through, the situation can become spammy, annoying and time-consuming. When it's useful it's very useful. When its misused it's a real pain.

Given that fact, taking the all-or-nothing, binary technology approach and removing the functionality entirely seems to be a poor method for dealing with is - at it's root - a people behavior problem.

In fact, for years there have been other options available. One example is the Reply to All Monitor (pay software, try code RA26BA50 for a possible 50% price reduction). There are other apps out there, as well. If you don't want to buy software, you can also program some VBA code to modify Outlook's behavior and prompt the user before they can send ("Are you sure you want to reply-all?"). Plus, there are a variety of ways to configure all your Outlook instances to use a plugin or your own VBA code. Of course, if you're removing the reply-all button from all the Outlook instances at a company, you probably already know this.

Imagine: Someone else might have had this problem and found a smart way to solve it. I guess the thing that really bothers me is what looks and feels like a reactive decision, likely made by people without complete information. Do you really want to completely disable all reply-all's, or is the true intent and desire to try to get people to think before they send, while allowing reply-all in cases where it makes sense?

Anyhow, I think you get the point. You can't really solve people problems with technology. Instead we should use technology to try to support people in behaving in the way we need then to. But in the end, it's all about the person's behavior, not the computer's.

Or you could say, "Buttons don't reply-to-all, people reply-to-all."



Add/Read: Comments [5]
Tech | Things that Suck
Saturday, 31 January 2009 13:20:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Monday, 26 January 2009

Although there's not a specific release date or price available yet, AT&T has posted some information on their web site that points to the future release of their new, in-home 3G cell station, which I mentioned here a couple weeks ago.

Engadget has some details about the device from the AT&T web site (details since removed from att,com, copied below), and images (like the one above) have started to show up on AT&T's site, as well. The pictures show two manufacturer names: Cisco on the case and Scientific Atlanta on the model/serial number label.

I'm looking forward to this, as I technically live outside the usable AT&T service area and can only occasionally/barely get a wireless signal at my home.

What is an AT&T 3G MicroCell™?

AT&T 3G MicroCell acts like a mini cellular tower in your home or small business environment. It connects to AT&T's network via your existing broadband internet service (such as DSL or cable) and is designed to support up to 10 3G capable wireless phones in a home or small business setting. With AT&T 3G MicroCell, you receive improved cellular signal performance for both voice calls and cellular data applications, like picture messaging and surfing the web for up to 4 simultaneous users.

Device Features:

  • Enhanced coverage indoors - supports both voice and data up to 5000 square feet.
  • Available unlimited minute plans - Individual or Family Plan.
  • 3G handset compatible - works with any AT&T 3G Phone.
  • Up to 4 simultaneous voice or data users supported.
  • Device is secure - cannot be accessed by unauthorized users, easy and secure online management of device settings
  • Seamless call hand-over - start calls on your 3G MicroCell and continue uninterrupted even if you leave the building.

Device Requirements:

  • 3G wireless phone/device
  • Broadband service over DSL or cable
  • Computer with internet access for online registration

Additional Information:

  • Installing your device near a window is strongly recommended to ensure access to Global Positioning System (GPS). A GPS link is needed to verify the device location during the initial startup.
  • The 3G MicroCell device is portable. The device may be moved, provided the new location is within the AT&T authorized service area and properly registered online.


Add/Read: Comments [5]
Mobile | Tech
Monday, 26 January 2009 18:40:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Friday, 09 January 2009

Microsoft has turned loose its Windows 7 Beta release to the public, and you can download it now. The beta times-out in the fall (it is a test version, after all), and is apparently limited to 2.5 million installs (product keys). You can learn more about the Windows 7 Beta release in our interview with Microsoft's Stephen Rose on RunAs Radio.

As of 11:45 a.m. Pacific time, the "profile.microsoft.com" servers responsible for the first phase of getting the new software were - not surprisingly - too busy. Try again later. We might see things improve in a few minutes (Update: no change after the advertised time, just to many excited people), since the official release time is actually noon Pacific time (GMT -8). But it would be unusual for TechNet to post the page without the software being rolled out.

TechNet Plus subscribers (only) should download the software here.

You can use a program like ImgBurn (cool little app) to put the ISO image on your writable blank DVD.

I already have my downloaded copy and key, so time to install it on my HP laptop machine now that I have some spare time available for the next hour or so.



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Geek Out | Tech | Windows
Friday, 09 January 2009 11:48:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Wednesday, 07 January 2009

The CES Keynote is over, so now you can listen to our exclusive Windows 7 interview with Microsoft Sr. Community Manager for Windows Client IT Pros, Stephen Rose, available at these links:

RunAs Radio Web Site | Download MP3 file | Download WMA file

Alongside a core message of stepping up expectations in technology despite the economy, Microsoft announced this evening that it's releasing its Windows 7 Beta (build 7000) to the public for open testing and feedback. Last week Richard Campbell and I interviewed Microsoft's Stephen Rose for today's episode of RunAs Radio to discuss today's beta release, which was officially announced by Steve Ballmer during his keynote at CES tonight.

The general public gets it to download it this weekend, while MSDN and TechNet customers can get it now (product keys through the standard methods). Our interview with Stephen Rose contains some details about the how's and when's of getting the beta software for different people, as well as what one can expect from Windows 7.

It's good to see Microsoft adopting an open-beta model, where anyone who wants to can participate in the feedback process. It's going to be quite the undertaking to manage so many downloads and users, but I imagine it will be very much worth it in the end.

Of course, running a beta OS (which I tend to do regularly) isn't for the timid nor faint of heart. But for those who are comfortable, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the new version and what it has to offer when you check it out. Note that both 32- and 64-bit editions are available and the beta expires/times-out in the fall of this year.

Links for more information about and access to the Windows 7 Beta:



Add/Read: Comments [0]
Geek Out | Tech | Windows
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 18:56:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  

Unfortunately, I'm not one of the customers that AT&T has apparently been reaching out to in their testing of in-home micro wireless stations. I wish I was, since I live in the sticks and barely get service at all on my AT&T wireless phone. This is exactly what I need: A broadband-connected device that gives you local 3G coverage in your home.

Ars Technica reports that AT&T has described the device this way:

"AT&T's new product is a small, security-enabled cellular base station that easily connects to your home DSL or Cable Internet, providing a reliable wireless signal for any 3G phone in every room of your house. The device allows you to have unlimited, nationwide Anytime Minutes for incoming or outgoing calls."

If anyone from AT&T happens to be reading, I'd be ecstatic to try the device out and provide detailed feedback. Feel free to contact me, my email and phone number are over in the sidebar. I'm just sayin' ... :-)



Add/Read: Comments [3]
Mobile | Tech
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 15:49:31 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  

SD cards have become a de facto standard format for media in most devices, with a couple holdouts (namely Sony, which predictably uses a proprietary format). As such, the format has grown and there's been quite a bit of innovation effort focused in the SD arena.

A couple of announcements made this week at the CES show in Las Vegas are worth paying attention to. In one announcement, we learn that the SD format will support massively larger storage. In the other announcement, a popular WiFi-enabled SD card gains some nifty new video-handling features.

SDXC means on-card storage increase to a theoretical 2 terabytes

The SD Association announced a new standard (links to PDF file) that will soon have us leveraging massively larger storage capabilities (with much higher purchase prices, one would have to assume - we will have to see what the economies of scale bring us):

"The new SDXC specification provides up to 2 terabytes storage capacity and accelerates SD interface read/write speeds to 104 megabytes per second this year, with a road map to 300 megabytes per second."

That's some serious storage and speed. Photographers and HD videographers can soon rejoice. Just don't lose your little 2-terabyte card. Of course, it's likely that new devices will be needed to support the new standard. The SD Association says the SDHC, Embedded SD and SDIO specifications will also benefit from the new SD interface speeds. I'd be very (and pleasantly) surprised if we can take advantage of the larger storage capabilities in existing devices.

New Eye-Fi SD cards will allow direct HD uploads to YouTube

Eye-Fi already has a great thing going with their SD cards that use WiFi to transfer digital images, and now they're previewing a new card technology that will allow you to directly transfer your HD video content straight from the card to YouTube via WiFi. Now that's cool. I really want one of those for use in my Kodak Zi6 HD camera, and I'd use it in my full-sized HD camera, too. The power-requirement questions rattling around in my head will have to be answered at a later date, and I hope it will handle video as well as still images on the same card. Unfortunately they're not available yet, and no date was set for release. But I, for one, will definitely be watching for this.



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Mobile | Tech
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 14:29:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  

Ever wonder how they put that amazing magical yellow line on the line of scrimmage and at the first-down point on the college and NFL football games we watch on TV? It's a terrific technology and has in many ways made watching football very different since it was adopted several years ago.

Well, for those of use who have wondered exactly how they do it, here's a video via FANDOME that explains in some technical detail how the magic TV line on the football field works:


Very cool stuff.



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Geek Out | Tech
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 13:41:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
This is pretty cool. Not completely new, but interesting for the future.

LG will (eventually) be shipping a wrist-wearable cell phone that they just showed at the CES show in Las Vegas. I'm just pointing it out because this might just be the first watch I'd be willing to actually wear. Maybe. I'll probably hold out for a little thinner and smaller. Regardless, it's pretty cool.

There's an Engadget video of it at: http://www.viddler.com/explore/engadget/videos/116/

Would you want to wear a phone on your wrist? Useful or just geeky? I can hear the wrist-cancer complaints coming already...

(via Engadget)

Update - More links:

IntoMobile coverage - with lots of pics



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Geek Out | Mobile | Tech
Wednesday, 07 January 2009 12:16:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Tuesday, 06 January 2009

I've written here several times in the past about Pandora, the slick Internet music app that streams music it determines you'll like based on a starting point you give it (like a specific artist, for example). You can refine the channel by voting up or down, song by song. Based on your votes and the "genetic" makeup of the music you rate, it determines what other music to put into the channel. The greatest aspect of using Pandora is discovering some truly great music and artists, many of which I never heard of before Pandora. It changed my music world.

Not too long ago, Pandora for the iPhone was released, and it was the number-one free iPhone app for 2008, and for good reason. It works well on WiFi or 3G networks and provides the majority of the functionality you get on the full-blown web app.

Well, today Pandora released v2 of their iPhone app, and they've added even more to it. Gleaned from the release notes, here are the new features:

  • Tap the album art to see a progress bar, create a station from the current song or artist, or to email the station to a friend
  • View the "back side" of the album art to read artist bios
  • Rotates to a landscape layout to see recently played songs (coverflow-style)
  • Play samples of each of your bookmarked songs
  • Create a station based on genre

It's a cool update. I just wish I could close it and have it play in the background while I do other thing son my iPhone. I mean, come on Apple - It's the number-one app, make an exception, please! Anyhow, I don't know if I will use it more (it was already pretty great), but it adds some smart new functionality that's appreciated. You can find it here (links to iTunes App Store) or just get it for free via the App Store icon on your iPhone or iPod Touch.

A few photos to show you what I'm talking about:


Artist bio


'Create New Station' options


Sending to a friend without leaving the app


Coverflow-like view of past-played songs



Add/Read: Comments [2]
Apple | Mobile | Tech
Tuesday, 06 January 2009 20:01:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Sunday, 04 January 2009

Mark Minasi is a true character, and always a fun guy to have a conversation with. While in Las Vegas at the Connections conference Richard Campbell and I had a couple fun discussions with Mark, including one on the concept of Cloud Computing, and in the context of Microsoft's recent Azure announcement.

Mark's take on the whole cloud-computing thing is an interesting one. You can listen to our conversation with him via the RunAs Radio show link (Site|MP3).

While you're at it, you might also be interested in our other interview discussion with Mark that we did in Vegas, in which we covered (sort of, and among many other random things) Windows 7 (Site|MP3). It's a little crazy and chaotic, but was also a lot of fun.

Enjoy.



Add/Read: Comments [0]
RunAs Radio | Tech
Sunday, 04 January 2009 12:17:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Saturday, 27 December 2008

Update: Thanks to the visiting crews from Clark Public Utilities in Washington for coming over to our side of the river and helping the CRPUD crews out with this huge outage during the holiday season. The power was restored in our area Saturday night, almost exactly 72 hours after it went out.

Yesterday evening I hooked up a new generator, freshly purchased from Lowe's in Longview, Washington because the electricity has been out at my house since about 6:00 p.m. on the 24th. In my neck of the woods (which, by the way, is a fairly literal description), we have two utilities: electrical and telephone service. Internet is via a wireless broadband service and an antenna on my roof that points to a mountain over in Washington. I don't get standard phone service, since I use a VoIP-over-Internet provider. So, when the electricity goes out I'm basically shut down here.

After nearly three days without power I now have a magical gas-powered, electricity-generating box humming away outside and a few awesome orange extension cords running under the big outer garage door, then under the door between the inside of the garage and the house. I've hooked up a small space heater, a fluorescent bulb, my refrigerator and even the Internet equipment (priorities, heh) and now I’m up and running!

This morning I was even able to make coffee. It amazing what a difference that can make when your house is sitting at 47 degrees. I'm going to have to toss out most of the food in my refrigerator and probably the stuff in my freezer, too. There' still little to no running water (I have an electric well and the natural pressure is just a very slow flow at best), but the combination of fireplace and generator/space heater can put the temperature to the upper 50's or better with some effort. It's freezing outside, and it was as cold as around 22 degrees a couple nights ago, so some heat is good to have. Most importantly the pipes won't freeze when the temperature drops.

We've had a big storm here over the past week or so, at least by Northwest Oregon standards, and especially in the City of Portland. We have just over three feet of wet snow on the ground here at home in the woods north of Portland. Broken tree branches and fallen trees litter the area, falling across roads and of course on top of power lines. The other night while outside I could hear trees breaking left and right, and branches falling. Lots of people in the area are without power. On Christmas Eve a couple brothers who are friends of mine made the four-wheel-drive trek from Portland to my place in the blizzard and found utility workers asking us to wait to drive over the fallen lines until they cut the power, and burning wires in the roadway. Those Columbia River PUD guys, out in the cold instead of home with their families, racing from broken line to broken line for more than 48 hours before going home... Those guys are pretty darned great. Tough job. I've seen this much ice and snow at my place only one time before in the six years I've lived here, but the impact has not been this significant and the power has never been out for three straight days. I know they've had extra crews from surrounding towns and counties working 24/7 on getting service restored, and the weather just keeps complicating things.

Now that I've experienced the pains of a slightly drafty house in the cold weather, I'll need to work to find the draft sources and try to fix them up a bit. Trying to heat a house with a slight draft is not exactly fun. It'll help with the energy efficiency of the house anyhow, so it's worth it. To try to keep the heat in the downstairs area rather than trying to heat the whole house, I hung a thick blanket in the stairwell on the recommendation of a neighbor. That was a great idea. It's chilly up there (but not frozen), and respectably warmer downstairs as a result.

Oh, and my outside dog is now an inside dog, at least part time. He's thrilled, like a king is his castle, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how well behaved (and non-messy (in the gross kind of way)) he's been.

There's the added difficulty of three feet of very wet, heavy snow on the roof of the house. At least one of my gutters is pulling away partially with the heavy icicles, so that will need to be fixed. So far the roof is okay, and I'm hopeful the snow on there will melt some before more comes. One of my neighbors was shoveling the wet, heavy snow off his roof on Christmas Eve because he discovered his double-wide home was actually separating along the roof peak where the two halves join together. Luckily, the roof on my site-built home was specially engineered due to a county redesign mandate when they reviewed the builder’s original plans, so it's engineered to handle some massive amount of snow specifically because of the likelihood of this type of storm. They had to re-order roof trusses at the last minute that were designed to hold a lot more weight. I’m directing some thoughts of thanks at whichever person it was in the county engineer's office that caught the design flaw and forced the builder to do that structural upgrade.

At any rate, the utility company says they hope to get a crew working on our area today and to get this large region back online soon. I hope they're able to. It's been an adventure for sure, but I'm definitely ready for the electricity to come back on.



Add/Read: Comments [6]
Random Stuff
Saturday, 27 December 2008 10:21:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Got the kids all set for Santa's arrival? You can help them track the jolly ol' elf's progress via NORAD's Santa tracking service on Christmas Eve.

There's also a Google Earth feed that you can use to track Santa's progress in 3D - Way cool for all the younger geeks among us! They also have cameras positioned around the world to allow us to see Santa's progress on Christmas Eve!



Add/Read: Comments [2]
Geek Out | Random Stuff
Tuesday, 23 December 2008 23:30:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Sunday, 21 December 2008

I'm stuck at home during this incredible and unusual snow storm. I quite literally cannot drive my four-wheel-drive truck out of my driveway due to the wet and icy layer under the two feet of snow that's accumulated, melted slightly, and then refrozen over the past week. Unfortunately, when the storm is at its worse, my iPhone has lost it's connection to AT&T's network. "No service" has become its full-time status. I've tried both enabling 3G (which we don't have out here) and restricting it to EDGE only, and it simply will not connect. Until recently I would at least get a signal if I set it down it in the right spot.

When the power goes out at the house, I need to be able to make at least one phone call (to the power department). In a storm out here, power outages are a fact of life. I've been unable to call the PUD this week because I had no cell service on the iPhone. And the power went out for 7 hours the other day.

Today I got fed up with the inability to place a call and waded through the sea of snow to my truck (which is stuck), rifled through my center console, and found my old Blackberry 8800 and the battery. It's been in there and unused for over a year. I popped the SIM card out of the iPhone and slid it into the Blackberry, then popped the battery in. Even after sitting for a year the battery had a half-full charge (wow) and the Blackberry powered up and within a few second acquired the AT&T network. Text messages started to flow in - success! Of course, the data connection was refused, but the GSM phone service works fine for text and voice service. It makes Snowmageddon a little more tolerable.

I've grown more and more frustrated with my iPhone's network performance over the past month. I plan to take it in and see if it's the individual phone, or a network change, or if it's more of a design thing, but I'm not holding my breath. Luckily the iPhone still works on WiFi without the SIM card (which actually makes it an "i" rather than an "iPhone" I suppose, heh), and that's good because I rely on it for a number of truly invaluable network-capable applications.

Anyone else done comparisons, or had network performance issues with their iPhone 3G after some time has passed? I've done complete restores of the phone to make sure the phone was clean software-wise, same issues. Any experience you have will be appreciated.



Add/Read: Comments [5]
Apple | Tech | Things that Suck
Sunday, 21 December 2008 19:13:13 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Saturday, 13 December 2008

I know, it's not in any way tech-related but when it snows for the first time each year, I just have to write about it. It always snows and sticks where I live before it does in the city of Portland. We got a couple inches of snow overnight.

The snow started last night at around 8pm and that's what I woke up to. The power went out three times last night, but each time came right back on. It's been snowing off and on all day and the forecast is for more tonight and into tomorrow. This first snow is wet and heavy, so I kind of hope it melts off some before today is over, so my neighbors and I don't end up snowed in due to a frozen layer of slush under the next snowfall, like happened a few years ago.



Add/Read: Comments [3]
Random Stuff
Saturday, 13 December 2008 15:00:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
 Friday, 12 December 2008

Try explaining to someone that you're thinking of flying a route into the State of Washington from Oregon that will take you close to Rainier. It's not quite as simple as it sounds...


"Where are you?"

"I'm near Rainier."

"Ummmm..."



Add/Read: Comments [2]
Humor | Random Stuff
Friday, 12 December 2008 22:41:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#