Friday, December 10, 2010

MB Air vs. iPad

I got an iPad on launch day, hoping to free my back from the tyranny of carrying my MB Pro.  My intention was for the iPad to be my conference machine.  At conferences, I typically only need a browser, Twitter and Evernote.  Simple enough.  The iPad can handle all these just fine.

But my first few gos were not that pleasing.  The virtual keyboard on the iPad is actually decent.  At first I carried an Apple bluetooth keyboard, but I found that it did not add enough value for the weight and bulk.

The size and battery life of the iPad are great.  I can wander around a conference without a bag, just the iPad in my hand.  No need to carry a plug.  Chances are, at most conferences, there won't be any available.  Big props to TechCrunch in this regard, for stringing hundreds of power strips and even good old ethernet--I love you guys for that.

There were two real problems that were holding me back from loving the iPad as a work machine (I love it at home for reading and the kids).

The first was the lack of multitasking.  Switching between apps was cumbersome, and it caused me to miss some notes I should have taken, or not get a witty tweet out (horror!).  Of course, this problem has finally been somewhat solved with iOS 4.2, and the iPad is now much better, though still not as slick as just clicking between windows.

The second was, and is, the crippled browser.  Mobile Safari is just not a great browser, and the lack of support for extensions means that I can't use 1Password or LastPass in the native browser.  Since I can't remember most of my passwords, that means I can't browse a lot of sites.  Also, many sites just don't seem to work that well in Mobile Safari, either because of Flash or other issues.  I have gotten used to extensions that shorten URLs, mail out links, etc., that make my life easier.  None of this works on the iPad.

A related issue is really Google's fault.  The consolidated account system they now use in Google Apps, so that my Google Apps account and my Gmail are linked, is really a pain in the ass.  It makes it harder to work across the accounts in a single browser, instead of easier.  So, on my laptop I just use Safari for Gmail and Chrome for Google Apps.  On the iPad, you are in one or the other, and fast switching, which is possible on the desktop browser, is not supported in the mobile version of Google Apps.  The Mail app is better in 4.2, but still does not quite integrate properly with Gmail.

So, I resolved to get an MB Air.  At first I was just going to pick up a used one during the summer.  But then I heard rumours about a new model on its way.  For some reason, people on Craigslist seem to be on crack when it comes to what they think their used gear is worth.  And so I waited, and waited, and waited.  And, finally, last month I got one.  The MB Air has basically the same specs as my MB Pro, but at half the size.  It is about twice the size of the iPad, but so much more useful.  The iPad's battery life was a huge plus for conferences, but the Air can go all day as well, especially if I can get wifi and don't have to use my MiFi.

The iPad has been relegated to home duty.  The kids love to read stories and watch videos on it.  I read the morning paper and catch up on RSS feeds.

Interestingly (well, maybe only to me), Twitter has been a casualty of the iPad demotion.  I love to read Twitter on Flipboard, so I wait until I grab my iPad to read it, instead of following throughout the day.

I almost got the 11" Air, which is more appropriately an iPad replacement.  But the screen on the 13" is more usable, and it gives me a lot more power for when I work remotely.  Still, that 11" is so small.  For users who do most of their stuff in the cloud but still need more than a netbook, it may be the perfect laptop.

Google CR-48 ChromeOS netbook review

So Santa dropped this box off yesterday.
At first I thought my wife had gone insane on Amazon, but it turns out that it was a present from Google.  Looking inside.....
Oh yes, CR-48 hotness.  There was a one page note with some basic instructions, but interestingly, everything was technical stuff about how to operate the netbook.  There were no instructions as to what I was supposed to do with it.  Was it a gift?  A loan?

Lots (probably thousands) of people received the same gift over the last couple of days.  Clearly Google is giving them out to early adopters, and looking for feedback and and some blog posts.  So, I will oblige.

The big deal here is obviously the ChromeOS.  The hardware is all going to change by the time this gets to a wide public release, but I will touch on it anyway.  The CR-48 has the same footprint as a 13" MacBook Air, but is about twice as thick as the thick part of the Air.  It is hard to get as excited about the CR-48 as I might be, because I did recently get the new MB Air, and it is abso-frickin-lutely amazing.

My setup experience was great, but some of that is due to the fact that I already use Chrome as my primary browser, and I have Chrome Sync set up to sync bookmarks and extensions across my machines.  So, when I fired up the machine for the first time and gave it my gmail login, about 10 seconds later, I was looking at exactly the same thing I would be if I were in the browser on any of my machines.  Kind of like the way Apple makes it dead simple to migrate settings, but much simpler because so much less is being migrated.  My 1Password did not make it over, but LastPass seems to work fine.  This is important because I don't store my passwords in the browser, where they are too easy to get too.

Bootup time is a few seconds.  And it is basically instant on when you open the lid from standby.

The ChromeOS is basically just the Chrome browser, with some apps tagged on.  How well this works for you depends on where you personally are in migrating your life to the web.  For myself, I am pretty far along that path.  I started the journey a couple of years ago because I wanted to start using multiple machines.  Now, I have an iMac at my desk, the MB Air for moving around, and an iPad just for the hell of it.  I also have a couple of older Windows laptops.  So, I try to use applications that work seamlessly across all of these devices (and my iPhone).

The apps I use most often do, and have cloud-based accessibility, making the ChromeOS a good option.  Here are what I use most day to day:
  • Gmail--I have a Google Apps account and it is my "system of record" for mail, contacts and calendar.  I don't use Google Docs much, though.
  • Seesmic for social networking--basically Facebook and Twitter
  • Evernote
  • Quicken 2007--here is one that does rely on the desktop.  Mint just does not have enough power to replace it, nor does Quicken Essentials.  WTF Intuit?  When are we going to see the next version of real Quicken?
Often I will use a desktop client to access the data in these apps--PostBox for mail, BusyCal for calendar, Seesmic, Evernote, Remember the Task for Remember the Milk, Jott--but that is to keep my browser tabs from being completely out of control.

Fortunately, LogMeIn works just fine in ChromeOS, so if I do really need the desktop, I can just remote in to it.  For Quicken, I do that anyway from my laptops.  Everything else that I use regularly can be dealt with in a browser just fine, except for MS Office apps.

If you can get away with just Google Docs, then it is hard to see how you need more than the ChromeOS.  In fact, as Microsoft improves the could versions of the Office suite, then this issue may go away.  Offline support is supposed to be coming back to Google Docs, probably specifically to support ChromeOS.

There are apps for the ChromeOS.  I tried a few.  The NY Times app looks exactly like the iPad app.  I would guess that will be true for many apps where they are going to leverage an HTML5 content structure into native wrappers for various platforms.  Other apps like Remember The Milk are just web pages masquerading as an app.

The only issue I have had so far is with the trackpad.  Some of this is hardware related.  The trackpad on the CR-48 is set a bit too far to the right, so the heel of my right palm hits it often.  This caused a ton of annoyance with the cursor position bouncing around, and made it very hard to write anything.  However, disabling the "tap to click" in settings has helped enormously.  The mouse may move around, but at least the cursor position does not change.  The trackpad is still wonky and jerky, so they need to spend some time with the drivers to sort that out.  Does not seem too hard.  I know that they were under pressure to get this out, and feel like this is truly a beta, as opposed to most of Google's betas, which seem more fully baked.

Other users have complained about flash bringing the CR-48 to a crawl, but I ran two simultaneous YouTube streams while typing some of this blog entry and it seemed fine.

I did see some oddness in a couple of emails where the attachments did not show correctly.  On another email, I successfully download a .docx attachment into a downloads folder, but I could not open it--it gave me an "Unknown file type" error.  This is odd given that Google Docs can deal with the docx format.  I could click on "view" instead of "download" to see it in html and then save it to Google Docs, which is what makes sense anyway in a browser-centric universe.

I don't know what the eventual selling price will be for ChromeOS netbooks.  Probably similar to the Linux netbooks today and slightly cheaper than netbooks with Windows Starter.  I am not a fan of Linux because, while it has gotten more user friendly, it is still not appropriate for the mass market.  The ChromeOS may well kill it in netbook applications.

With my MB Air, I am not going to use the CR-48 as much as I might.  It would make a great companion computer for a desktop.  Battery life seems impressive from an average sized battery, so the processor must not be having to work too hard.

Basically, if you already live a browser intensive lifestyle and use Chrome a lot, you will really not notice the ChromeOS, which is a good thing.  It will just feel like any other computer--just a whole lot cheaper.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

You ain't from 'round here, is ya boy?

I have been thinking more recently about how different the Bay Area is from the rest of the country.  I am thinking specifically in my professional context as a tech investor.  Of course there are plenty of more obvious differences.  Just look how we vote in elections--our choices are closer to what you would see in Cuba than Kansas.  Priuses (Prii?) infest the highway, even though they are far from the most cost effective way to save the environment.  Ford F150s are few and far between.

I was at an investor conference near Santa Rosa on Thursday, and out of 200 people, only 5 raised their hands when asked "do you tweet?"  In Mountain View, no one would even bother asking the question anymore.  And the conference did not even post a hashtag--shock horror!  And yet the average education level and wealth of the audience was well in excess of what you would typically find in Silicon Valley.  To be fair, they were also generally older, but they were active investors in technology companies.  I checked in to the venue on Foursquare, and I was the only one to check in.

This funny post by Alexia Tsotsis brought it home for me with the video below.....

We live in a little tech bubble in the Bay Area, and I think it has adverse consequences for startup investing, because we assume that all people are like us, when, in fact, they are not.  There is a big, bad market out there made up of luddites, rednecks, yokels and others.  For most consumer-focused ideas, if you cannot win them over, you don't have a huge idea.

Foursquare is mega, dude!  And yet, only 4% of the people in a recent Pew survey use check-ins, and only 1% on any given day.  Facebook is mega...Foursquare is hip.  There is an important difference when it comes to the power to monetize.

I see a lot of companies have a very successful beta, and strong early adoption, but then they run out of steam.  This is where luck plays a strong role.  Timing can be everything.  If you are early on a trend, whether it be social networks, blogging, online music, are doomed.  It might seem like it is a great idea because all your friends like it, but what does your mother think about your offering?  How will it play in Peoria?  Is the solution cool for its own sake, or does it solve a problem real people have?

Do you know any real people?

If you live in Silicon Valley, you probably don't.  Fortunately, you don't have to drive far to find them.  Head out to Rio Vista or Stockton to the east, Salinas to the south, or Santa Rosa to the north.  Here you will find plenty of "salt of the Earth" types, as well as some scum of the Earth mixed among them for good measure.

I was at the Under The Radar conference in Mountain View on Friday.  It was a welcome respite--back in The Bubble where geeks reign.  There were several startups, including Fanminder (in which I am an investor) promoting solutions that involved text messaging.  That seemed to fall flat with the audience.

Why would you bother with SMS?  In that room, you wouldn't, because 100% of the audience had a smartphone.  In the real world, a little over 20% of people have a smartphone, but almost everyone has a phone of some sort that can SMS.  It seems foolish to ignore 80% of the audience because they are unhip.   Of course, smarthphones sales are growing quickly, and, according to Neilsen, half of people surveyed indicated that their next phone will be a smartphone.  That still means that featurephones will be a big chunk of the total market for years to come.

I am perfectly representative of the Bay Area geek culture.  I got my first smartphone, a Blackberry, in 2002, I think.  For years before that I carried a phone in one pocket and a large PDA in the other (hence my preference for cargo pants in those days).  I carry an iPhone4 today, and it is my fourth iPhone.  My junk box has four Blackberries in it of various vintages, and a Nokia E61 (remember Symbian?).

I check in to the places I go about half the time, even though I get absolutely nothing in return except smug points.  I am the mayor of a dozen places, only one of which knows my name.   I tweet, even though most of my followers are Canadian online pharmacies and Russian prostitutes.  I blog, even though no one reads my drivel.

There are a lot of startups right now with products targeting me and my ilk.  The bad news is that they might get quickly to 50,000 users, and then they hit the real world.  Will it play in Stockton?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

MacBook Air hotness

I broke down (it did not take much) and got a new 13" MacBook Air.  It specs out almost identically to my year old 15" MB Pro, but at half the size.  The clincher was that they had the extra hot version in stock at the store--processor bump and 4GB of RAM with the 256GB SSD.  It will be replacing both my MB Pro and my iPad.

It is amazing how much lighter the Air is in my bag.  Technically I probably save less than 3 pounds between the laptop and the power supply, but it feels like a lot.  I am going to need to get a smaller bag, I guess, but now I seem to have tons of room.

I am using a Rapha backpack, which I highly recommend.  Lots of storage in a slim profile.  It is designed for commuting by bike, but I find that the slimness works equally well when wading through a thicket of people at a conference.  I don't need to carry much.  Laptop, charger, cards, checkbook, moleskin notebook and pen (having an analog backup is a good idea, and some people take offense when you pull out a laptop during a meeting), energy bar, iPhone charger, Clipper card, MiFi, Tylenol.  I still have room for all the paper crap they give out at conferences, and to stash a lightweight jacket and inflatable lumbar pillow.

It boots up in about 15 seconds, 3x as fast as my MB Pro.  The screen is smaller, but with the same number of pixels, so I don't really lose any screen real estate.  That is important, as I work in multiple windows.

The MB Pro is now unloved.  I have the last generation that had easy to swap hard drives.  I am thinking about throwing an SSD in it, but they are still so expensive at retail, so I will probably just sell it.  Between my iMac and the Air, it no longer has a place.  When I got it, it was my only machine, and it served well for that.  I got an iMac for more processor intensive activities and to have massive screen real estate (27" main screen plus a 20" next door--that is 5.6 million pixels).  Now the laptop is only for when I am on the move, and the MB Air is plenty powerful, and super portable.  In fact, it would be my choice as my only machine if I had to pick one.  The only place it starts to choke is on multiple video streams, and I really never need to do that.

More later on iPad vs. Air.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Startup Hangover

Wow, feeling hungover today after 3 days of TechCrunch Disrupt.  Not alcohol hungover, but energy hungover.  Being in a hall full of startups (more than a 100) creates an enormous amount of energy.  I came home each night tired, but unable to fall asleep as I thought through some of the interesting companies, and mulled over interesting strategic options for them.

Being on the floor of TechCrunch is like being at the Circus Maximus.  All of these entrepreneurs have a sincere conviction that they are going to win, but the sad truth is that most will not.  Luckily, the consequences of failure in Silicon Valley are a bit less severe than in ancient Rome.  After their companies die, they will be back.  To paraphrase from Gladiator, "I will have my success, in this life or the next!".

I want my next hit of entrepreneurial energy.  I will get some at the Mobile Apps conference next week.  In two weeks, I will start my 10 day program at Singularity University--that will be really energizing/exhausting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Security--random thoughts

My Hotmail account was hacked last week.  Very embarassing--I have never had an account hacked before because I use decent passwords and I avoid viruses by not clicking through on strange links and using a Mac.  The hackers sent out a link to an online pharmacy, though I suspect the linked page is also use to spread malware.  I was able to send out a follow up email within 2 hours to let people know to delete the email, and, fortunately, I don't have a lot of addresses in my hotmail addressbook.  My aunt had it even worse--I saw 4 or 5 emails from her account, and she struggled to regain control of it and is now just going to shut it down.

It got me thinking about security, both virtual and physical.

On the virtual side, the long held belief is that a strong password will keep you safe.  That is apparently not true, as I just learned.  But the reason why is a bit annoying.  Hackers use "dictionary" attacks on popular web services, where they just bang on an account trying thousands (hundreds of thousands, actually) of combinations.

The most sophisticated tools (eg. L0phtcrack), easily available online, can crack 25% of passwords in seconds, and can try 17 BILLION combinations an hour.  An 8 character password with a combination of letters, numbers and special characters (eg. asterisk, dash, underscore) has only about 100 billion different combinations.  So, if someone really wants to crack your account, they just need a few hours.  Presumably, the hackers just spend a few seconds to get the easy accounts.  The password length I had been using, a mere 6 digits, had only 45 million combinations.  I do use longer passwords on my more important accounts, but Hotmail is mostly for spam anyway, so I never upgraded the password.

The real problem here is obvious, but few ever mention it.  Why do Hotmail and other services allow hackers to bang on the door thousands of times?  If you blow a password 10 times in a row, your account should be locked.  Then a simple, easily remembered password would be perfectly adequate.

The problem here, and I suspect why the web services do not enforce this, is that if hackers are banging on Hotmail all the time, thousands of users will be locked out every day, generating an enormous amount of traffic to customer support.  Very sensititive systems such as SaaS ERP do enforce a limited number of tries, but they have a small number of users and an enormous reputation problem if they are cracked.

So, perhaps the solution is multifactor authentication.  Not the physical token systems that you see some corporate users carrying around, but merely a second layer of security.  You could have a password that gets you to the second layer, which would require you to pick out a face or picture from a matrix of options.  The human brain is particularly good at remembering faces.  Because you can only present 15 or so options, it is really not adding that many combinations, but it would definitely help, and the fact that it eludes keylogging software is a definite bonus.

[UPDATE 9/20: Google just released two factor authentication for Google Apps accounts.  It uses a smartphone app to generate an authentication code that is the second step of the process (replacing a dedicated fob such as used by Verisign systems).  I am feeling rather pleased with myself for being one day ahead, for once, instead of the reverse.]

So, "strong" passwords present the illusion of security, but in reality are just a slightly higher fence.  That works for random attackers, but not an attacker that might be targeting you.

Many physical security measures work on the same principal--you don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your friend.  But if someone is targeting you specifically, you are in trouble.  This is where things like airport security often fall down.  They annoy the casual traveler in the name of protection, but fail to deter the dedicated attacker.

The auto theft statistics for 2009 show almost a 25% drop in theft from 2008--a big decrease.  But they also show a drop in the recovery rate.  Basically, the casual thief is deterred, but the pros are still doing fine.

The most effective part of a home security system is the sign out front.  Casual thieves move on to your neighbor.  If you are targeted by pros, then you had better installed something a bit heavier duty than ADT.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Google Priority Inbox--the end of Serendipity?

First off, I am in the Google ghetto, as apparently the only person for whom Google has yet to turn on the Priority Inbox feature.  I even pay for a premium account, and still I am not cool enough.

People in the tech industry, whether entrepreneurs, investors, business development or whatnot, suffer famously from email overload.  I use a tiered system of email accounts to deal with it and prioritize emails.

It is hard enough to get noticed as an outsider when you send an email, but it is possible with a pithy subject line and succinct opening paragraph.  Now, you are at the mercy of the machine.  Is there going to be an SEO business for emails to try and find your way into the priority inbox?  For many harried execs, an email in the non-priority queue might as well be in the spam folder.

Is this the end of the serendipitous connection?  Does that matter?  Are we now doomed to insularity?

It certainly means that having a warm introduction to a targeted contact is more critical than ever.  It also means that the conference business is going to see a rebound, because you need to find your targets in person, not digitally.

Review--Speedplay Pedals

I decided to try Speedplay Zero pedals a few months ago, because I moved my cleats back a touch on my Specialized shoes and could not duplicate the position on my Sidis.  Sidi apparently has not gotten the memo that we are all moving our cleats closer to the arch of our foot--your calves are not that strong, so why engage them so much?  I also find that my left foot is finicky and inconsistent about the lateral angle it likes to pedal at.  My heels are closer to the cranks, but my left foot is more so, and it seems sometimes like I am pushing against the limits of float on the Shimano Dura Ace pedals I normally use.  Finally, I am retarded when trying to get into my pedals at the start of a race.  I can be relied upon to fuss around for a few seconds trying to get in while everyone else takes off.

Oh, and Spartacus uses Speedplays.....'nuff said.

Speedplays are renowned for their adjustability, and having a 2-sided pedal makes it easier to get into.  They are a bit lighter and allegedly more aero, but I really did not care about that.

So I bought some.  Turns out that I still could not get the cleats mounted far enough back.  No problem--some hunting and $40 and I found the extended base plate that gives a ton of fore-aft adjustment.  Oh, and another $40 for some angled wedges.  That makes the total investment a bit pricey.  I purchased the Stainless axle version of the Speedplay Zeros, as they are much cheaper than the Ti, and stiffer and more durable.

I have been using the Speedplays on my carbon bike, which I have ridden most of the time recently, but I am still putting in days on my Ti bike with the Shimano pedals.

I definitely like the new cleat just feels very natural.  Remember that you have to bring your saddle height down if you move your cleats back.

On the bike, I like the Speedplays a lot.  Engagement is a bit easier, though not foolproof.  I still manage to miss sometimes, and when you do, the consequences are more catastrophic that with the Shimanos because your shoe flies off the pedal.  The feel is a bit odd, because there is no resistance to the float.  At least with the Zeros you can set the limits of the float, but there is a bit of an ice rink feel, though I quickly adjusted to that.

The Speedplay design is different in that it is the reverse of most pedals--the retention mechanism is on the shoe, not the pedal.  Effectively the pedal is the cleat.

The cleats are a pain.  I have already had them come loose twice and slide laterally.  If you tighten them too much, then they don't work properly because you create too much friction for the ring that is the retention mechanism.  I tightened them to the torque spec but even with the threadlock on the screws they don't appear to want to stay in place.  So, I finally just overtightened them and accepted slightly balkier function.

You need to keep debris out of the cleats, and the cleats are metal, so they are slippery to walk on.  That means you really need cleat covers, which are a pain.

The Shimano cleats, by comparison, are just easy to deal with, and you can walk for miles on them.

For the riding I do, which involves a lot of walking around in coffee shops, I think the Shimano pedals work better.  If racing performance is a priority or you have fit issues, the Speedplays get the nod.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Top 10 Reasons I should make the Rapha Gentlemen's Ride team

The Rapha Gentlemen's Race is coming up in 5 weeks.  Competition is hot for a place on the six man team.  Here are the top 12 reasons why I should make the squad.

12.  Gun Show.  It's sketchy in the PDX.

11.  This time, you won't have to push me 5 minutes into the race......I hope.

10.  I will channel the Badger, and smite our enemies.

9.  I spend so much time in my Pain Cave, I decorated it with Ikea furniture.   Mmmmm, comfy.

8. Man beer.

7.  I look good in pink.

6. I am great to draft off of, unless I have had a burrito.

5.  I spent my kids' college fund at Studio Velo.

4.  I wore out my Big Ring.

3.  I am the only one who knows where we are going.

2.  Rapha Whore.

And the #1 reason why I deserve to be on the team......I will not have to stop for refreshments during the ride.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tech Review - A week with the iPhone 4

So I went to the Apple store at 630am on launch day to see what the situation would be.  It turns out that even in suburban Corte Madera, the situation was bad--hundreds of people lined up.  I had not pre-purchased an iPhone 4 because, despite my love for my 3Gs, I just was not sure I wanted to commit to a new iPhone and another 2 years with AT&T.

Although, for as much guff as AT&T gets for its poor network, I have not had a remarkably better experience with Verizon.  I use a Verizon MiFi data card, and it can almost always get a signal, but the speed is not impressive, and it drops out from time to time.

So I decided that a new phone was not worth waiting all day, and went off to do other things.  On my way home at 330pm, I stopped by again to see what the situation was.  The line for walk-up purchases had dropped from about 200 people to perhaps 60, so I thought what the hell, I will queue up for a bit.

After about 30 mins, the Apple store employees counted up the people lined up and compared it to their inventory of phones.  I was to get the 2nd to last phone in stock, assuming I stayed in line.  Hmm...they hooked me.  But now the problem was that our line, though short, was not moving.  I took 3 steps in 40 minutes.  They were focusing on moving the line of people who had pre-purchased phones, which makes sense.  I was further alarmed when I found out that the people just getting into the store in our line had been in line since 8am, 6 hours previous.

Hmmm.  The right move would have been to leave and come back the next day at 8am to try and get a phone that had not been picked up by someone who pre-registered, but they had me hooked with the guarantee of a phone.  The experience of being in line was not so miserable, so I made the classic error of factoring in the sunk costs of my time so far in line and stayed.  The Apple Store employees brought us water, parasols, and even an iPhone cake!  The people in line were pleasant.

So after 3 hours I finally got my new phone hotness.  I had read by this time about the reception issues, but I always use a case anyway.  Of course, I had failed to anticipate a major failure on Apple's part.  If you can sell a flimsy piece of rubber for $29, why wouldn't you stock more of them?  Seems like cranking out millions of them would not have been that hard relative to the miracle of manufacturing so many complex phones for the launch.  And to exacerbate it, they are badly backordered online, and no one else has cases available.  This is a byproduct of Apple's renowned secrecy, because case manufacturers are not sure of the exact dimensions until the launch (they only get cardboard mockups).

Anyway, I finally got my digital hotness home.  I love the seamless experience of an Apple phone transfer.  Plug it in to iTunes, wait 45 mins for 32GB of stuff to transfer, and you are done.  So what do I think?  So far, I am not impressed.  It is a better phone than the 3Gs, but it is not a significant upgrade and it has some flaws.

It is faster, but not noticeably so.  If you have a 3G, you might be more impressed.  I really don't like the feel of the phone in my hand.  It weighs the same and is smaller in every dimension than a 3Gs, but it feels awkward in the hand and pocket because of its sharp edges.  Perhaps the case will sort this out.  It is also symmetrical, so you can't grab it and know without looking at it which side the screen is on.  The 3Gs has a nice organic shape that is more comfortable in the hand.

I prefer the old OS's double press shortcut to your phone favorites, which now brings up the multitasking menu.  You should be able to set this function, but I have not yet found a way to do it.

The screen is nice, but I really did not struggle with the old screen and I reserve most of my reading for when I am in front of a much larger screen.

Facetime is an interesting feature, but not one that I will use.  Perhaps if I traveled more.  Sound quality on the phone is alleged to be better, but I have not done any real testing.  I tend to use a bluetooth headset, and that reliably makes you sound underwater on any phone.  I also have not done any real scientific comparison of photos and videos on the new phone.  With a lens that is as small as a cameraphone's, you just will not get good pictures.  Period.  Even so, sucking less is a nice upgrade.  If I know I will be taking photos, I bring my Canon S90.

Now, I could always return the phone (you have up to 30 days), but I don't hate it.  I will keep it and stay with AT&T.  Android phones occasionally tempt me, but their media management is piss poor compared to the iPhone.  I will pay extra for a seamless experience, and iPhone/iTunes provides that.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

They're not on dope, they're on rocketships.

[Update 5/20: Well, according to Floyd Landis, they are on dope.]

Your faithful cycling correspondent here again, the Ayatollah of Geek & Rolla!  I made the arduous journey to the wilds of Santa Cruz yesterday to watch the Tour of Calfornia go over what has become one of its signature climbs--Bonny Doon.

The climb itself is about 7.5 miles and climbs from the beach to 2,000 feet.  The bottom is really hard, with a long stretch (about a mile) of 10%+.  Then it just climbs steadily for the last 4.5 miles.

I got the chance to do 2 trips up the climb before the pros arrived, which was an experience in itself.  The fans packed along the side of the road were cheering for everyone riding up the climb.  I was already tired from riding around Pescadero earlier in the day, so when I hit the 10% section, the legs started to scream.  But when dozens of people are ringing cowbells at you and cheering, you don't think about how you feel.  You just get out of the saddle and hammer, because this will not happen again.  

Absorb the "Pro" moment.  Cowbells, drunken fans, absurd costumes.  Deep in the pain cave.  Totally epic.  For extra Pro credit, instead of falling off the bike at the top of the steep part, slam it into the big ring.

Sporadic cowbells for the next few miles, and then at the 1km to go sign, it got loud again.  Big Ring.  Thankfully it is not that steep, and I could fake it over the top.
Uhhm...the gorilla was clearly not impressed by my speed over the top.  Presumably he got a bit more pumped for the pros.

I did not get photos of the crowded part of the climb, around mile 3 where it is steepest, but you probably saw it on tv.  Because they closed the road while I was riding down after my second ascent, I watched at mile 4, where it is only about a 4% grade.  I chose my spot because a resident had dragged their tv out to the street, so we could watch the live coverage while we waited.

They were hauling ass, even though at this point, Levi had decided not to push 100%.  Looks to me like they are rolling in the low 20s.

Here comes the chase.  You don't often see guys going uphill in the full aero position like the guy on the front here.  I do it, of course, but mostly because I am too tired to hold myself up anymore.

Ah, finally.  Here are some chaps I can appreciate.  The "autobus" rolls by at a pace that seems more human.  Chatting, smiling...looks like a party bus.

Local boy Scott Zwizanski of Bissell came by between the chase group and the peloton, looking exhausted but focused.  When I have ridden with Scott he never seemed to leave zone 2, so it is nice to see him suffering like a dog--I taught him that trick.  One guy who did not look to be having fun was Andy Schleck, who looked like he had swallowed a live badger when he trudged by behind the peloton--he should have been hanging out in the party bus.  

Monday, May 3, 2010

Zero to the numbers

I recently signed up for, which is a very cool website that tracks your bike rides and allows you to compare them...both with your other rides and with other riders.  It has a cool feature where it takes your GPS data and automatically computes your times and power outputs for various segments, like climbs.

So, I just uploaded more than a year of files from my Garmin, and I can see very easily how I have improved, and how I stack up against other local riders who are on the system.  Of course, right now while there are not yet a lot of other riders on Strava, I look great.  I am the King of the Mountain for the Marshall Wall!  Suck on that, beyotches!

What is very cool, and super easy to do relative to other websites like TrainingPeaks, is to map your progress.  Take the Hwy 1 climb from the Pelican, for example.....
It is clear that all the miles I have been riding seem to be helping with fitness.  This would be more scientific if I pushed all out on this climb every time, but it usually comes at the end of a long ride.  I tend not to slack on it, though.

We can see that my wattage has steadily improved and my times have plummeted.  Interestingly, the top 2 entries show the power of weight.  They may also show that I am not getting aerobically any better, but more on that later.  In August 2009, I was probably 4kg heavier than I am now.  There is an old saw in the pro peloton that 1kg is 30 seconds over a 30 min climb.  The 2 entries show the same average heart rate and power, but 40 seconds faster over the climb.  That is exactly what you would expect based on 10 seconds per 10 mins of climbing.  Looking at this makes it really tempting to become a weight weenie.

So, I am not getting any fitter?  Well, looking at another climb shows that all is going well on that front.  There is no way to go easy up Panoramic from Stinson, and I tend to always do it at threshold.
On this climb, we see a nice progression.  Not sure why I avoided it for almost a year...actually, I know hurts.  The latest time is a bit weird in that the power is the same, my weight should be the same, and yet I was almost a minute faster.  One explanation is that the most recent effort was on my Time, which is stiffer, lighter, and most importantly, has a slightly more conservative power meter.  The power for Apr 15 is (under)estimated by Strava...I was riding the Corvid prototype that day.  

By the way, the little dots on the elevation profile are the relative positions of me and the KOM leader.  You can track how you did against your previous efforts or others' efforts to see what strategy gets you up to the top fastest--start slow and accelerate?  go ugly early?  steady?  spin or mash?  stand up often or stay seated?  

For me, Ulrich-style is the way to go.  Steady, seated, patient.  Ulrich was the Terminator of the peloton. He felt no pain, no remorse, no fear.  He would keep hunting you forever.  Of course, he was doped up to the eyeballs, but minor details.

So where do I stack up on Panoramic?
A distant second at the moment.  I don't know who Jordan Kobert is, but I am guessing that he has no torso....just 2 huge frickin' legs with hands at the top to steer.

There is still some weirdness to the data.  Take the climb from Fairfax to Pine Mountain, for example, which I used to use as a 20 min test.
Seems like the 2nd and 3rd fastest times had a lot higher power, and should have been fastest on a climb where wind is not really a factor.  Here again, it might be the power meter.  The fast time was on the Time with the SRM, and the other 2 times were on the IF with the Quarq.  But either way, I was hammering for all 3 ascents and am a bit surprised by the times.  I need to hit this one again hard in the near future on the Time and take it sub 15 mins.  The KOM right now is 14:10.

Okay....all geeked out and my head hurts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wifi at conferences

In the Bay Area, at least, we take wifi for granted.  It is everywhere, almost.  When I go to a conference, I just expect it to work.  This expectation is a triumph of hope over experience, because it almost never does.

Last week's Startup Lessons Learned conference was the latest example.  It was held at the Westin Market Street in SF, where they ought to have a decent tech crew.  Apparently, they were not prepared to have the number of devices trying to connect vastly outnumber the number of attendees.  Welcome to the brave new world!  I tried to connect 3 devices--iPhone (because AT&T sucks), iPad and laptop.

So, we brought the network to a crawl.  To make matters worse, it would not actually let my iPad or iPhone log onto the network, because their authentication page does not support Mobile Safari.  Ahem!  Did you read the memo, guys?  iPhones are a bit popular.  I hear they sold a few iPads too in SF.  To make matters worse, it is common for attendees to watch the livestream of the conference while they are sitting in the audience, so they are sucking bandwidth and air.

I have been going to tech conferences for years, and the wifi has always been a challenge.  At TechCrunch40 3 years ago, it compeletely fell apart.  The next year, it was not much better, so they worked all night to drag ethernet cables to most of the seats.  This last one, they finally got it right--and it cost them a lot of money to do so.  But, there is now apparently a vendor who knows what they are doing.

At the Future of Money conference today, the wifi, provided by, is solid.  The crowd here is not as bandwidth intensive as the more geeky conferences, but so far connections are stable, fast, and easy.  There is a 20MB symmetric pipe for the conference, with no encryption or authentication required.

It seems like this is a problem that should have gone away a long time ago.  I personally solved it by carrying a Verizon MiFi, which is a credit card sized device that connects to the 3G cellular data network and creates a mini wifi hotspot.

Conferences should be willing to pay the extra tax to get the network right, because having people twitter and blog during the conference is a value add to the organizers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I can't get left!

I was thinking about roundabouts (rotaries on the Continent) and why we don't have them in the US.

Roundabouts are unquestionably more efficient at moving traffic than stop signs, and generally more efficient than stop lights for most intersections. It does not make sense to stop when you are the only car at an intersection, and yet that is what we do in America. Almost everywhere else, especially where gas is expensive, they use roundabouts, even for very small intersections. I have seen roundabouts in the UK on an old narrow lane. The roundabout's center was barely larger than a Bott dot.

The reason I am now so sensitive to this is that I travel more miles on my bicycle each week than I do in my car. Coming to a stop and then getting up to speed again is a huge waste of energy. In your car, it just makes your right foot a bit tired and your pocketbook lighter (and the sky browner). On a bike, you have a literal seat of the pants feel for energy usage. It takes a little bit of effort to squeeze the brakes and come to a stop, and a lot of effort to get going again. If you feel your rims after coming to a stop, they are warm, because the energy of your forward motion has been converted to waste heat. The same thing happens in your car. So, you warm the planet coming to a stop, and then warm it some more burning fuel to get going again.

So why do we have so many stop signs, and almost no roundabouts? I think I have seen only a handful of roundabouts in the US. Three are in Beaver Creek after a recent roadway redesign. US drivers seem confused by them. That is not surprising...more than half of US drivers manage to be below average drivers. The standards for getting a driving license here are lower than in other developed countries.

I would have thought that in newer housing developments, they would put in roundabouts because they are more attractive, greener (literally and figuratively) and seem Euro and sophisticated. And I would be wrong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tech - Twitter is crushing dreams

Twitter has been on a tear this week, upsetting the whole real-time web ecosystem.

First, they launch their own Blackberry client. Then they buy Tweetie, a leading iPhone and Android client. That seriously upsets the apple cart of all the other third party clients (Twitterific, Seesmic, etc.).

Tonight, the news leaks about their new advertising product. One day after Bill Gross of IdeaLab tells us about TweetUp, which basically does the same thing. Or it did. Now it is DBA (dead before arrival).

Many entrepreneurs have had a rough week, as there are a lot of little FNACs (Feature Not A Company) around Twitter. People used to worry about Microsoft competing with them, then Twitter is the dream killer.

Mind you, I think Twitter is making the right moves to control their destiny and avoid disintermediation. If you are an FNAC, your only sensible strategy is to be purchased, and Atebits (the company behind Tweetie) knew this.

Cycling - The Hell of the North Bay

Paris - Roubaix took all the attention yesterday....rightfully so--it was an awesome race. It showed again why I love the Classics. 92km to go, in the Trouée d'Arenberg, and the eventual top 5 were "present and correct", to quote Paul Sherwen, in the top 5 positions of the lead group (I am conveniently ignoring the breakaway, which was already doomed).

But there was another Hell of the North going on yesterday--The Spring Hill Road Race, held west of Petaluma. And it at least featured weather worth of a Classic. It was 48º and raining steadily the whole morning. The night before I was planning to skip it, but in a burst of enthusiasm, I thought I should go ahead and experience a little bit of what a northern European spring race is like (minus the cobbles).

I was not even sure how to dress for such conditions. On a training ride, I would dress up in the nearest coffee shop until the rain stopped.

First, I oiled myself up like Pippo Pozzato with "warming oil" on my legs and back.

Then I wore a Rapha wool long sleeve undershirt, my jersey, and a Rapha rain jacket. I wore bibs and my Capo windstopper knee warmers on the bottom, along with shoe covers. I thought about wearing my Gore waterproof overshorts to keep from getting swamp ass, but thought I might be too warm.

I raced in the 35+ Cat 3/4 class--basically the slow old (but not really old) men. It is always fun to see the road jewelry in this class. These are guys with real jobs, and real credit cards, and they spend to go fast. I might have been the only guy on a metal bike, and there were lots of deep carbon wheels.

I had a short warmup because I was running late, and did not really get warm, but it was enough to keep from going into shock as we hit the first little hill right after the start. I let myself slide back through the pack of about 75 riders on the first couple of climbs because I wanted to warm up slowly. After two crashes in the first few miles, I decided that maybe I should be up front, and I spent the next lap and a half in the first 5 riders, doing a lot of work along the way.

There was a brief moment, about halfway into the first of the two 22mi laps, where I had finally warmed up and felt sort of comfortable. That was to be short lived, as the rain and road spray soaked through my shorts and knee warmers. Hmmm....should have worn the waterproof baggies. Or maybe more oil.

Conditions were sketchy, with slight flooding in some areas of the road. I decided that 75 people was too crowded and spent the next 45 mins working hard to blow the group apart. Lots of little accelerations and I cranked it up the climbs as we came through the start/finish again. The start/finish area is a great place to do damage to a pack on a miserable day. Faced with their warm car so nearby, many riders will abandon.

The efforts tired me out, but it kept me warm and safe, and cut the group to a manageable 20 riders. But, I was too tired to respond to what turned out to be the winning move with half a lap to go--dumb. No one else seemed to want to work at that point, and we watched the leaders slowly wander up the road. Frustrating.

I guess that is why I will never be a good racer. I want to ride hard. A lot of the guys just wanted to hide and then contest the sprint--though, to be fair, many probably just wanted to survive for a pack finish. At one point, with only 3 miles to go, I slowed to what felt like a crawl, and still no one would come around to break the wind. I sat up, hands off the bars, and just coasted for a bit. Then I waved my arm to invite someone to do some work. Saving all that energy, they got to sprint for 7th place. Approaching the line, my legs just would not answer the call for more power, and I was glad to be done. I think I got around 12th place, but it was hard to tell as different classes got mixed up at the end.

Three different guys came up to me afterwards to compliment me on how much work I had done, and ask me where I had placed. Hmmmm.....lots of work, no podium. Clearly I am not doing this right.

Being so cold made it feel like my legs were not working, but looking at the data, I actually did a lot of work. The cold just muddled the sensations. 320 watts normalized power means I basically ran at lactate threshold for over 2 hours. Of course, that is an average measure. The killer was all the little accelerations. I spent over 20 mins above 400 watts, and 34 mins between 300 and 400 watts. That is a lot of matches being burned, though obviously not at the right times.

It took over an hour for feeling to return to my toes...excuse me while I go check to make sure I still have 10 of them.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cycling - The Hell of the North

Paris Roubaix. It is the Queen of the Classics. Set the Tivo for Versus at 3pm PDT on Sunday.

What makes this race so special? There are no hills, so you don't see the classic climbing duels that most Americans associate with epic cycling.

It rarely finishes in a bunch sprint that is so exciting to watch.

But what it has is everything else, and in massive, painful quantities. Wind, rain, mud. Oh, and Pavé. And not just any old cobbles. Nasty old cobbles. Cobbles that make the pavé of Belgium look tame.

The closest analogue I can come up with to explain Roubaix to a non-cyclist is this--imagine the Super Bowl, but you are playing without pads......against the 1970s Raiders.

This video shows it all. This is the Saxo Bank team doing a recon run a couple of days ago.

Note how much the bikes (and cars, for that matter) are bouncing around. The tires have so little pressure in them for comfort that they are hitting the rim on bigger cobbles. Watch the chain bounce around. All that bouncing is also going straight into their butts and hands.

They face 60km of cobbles on Sunday.

Here is a look from the handlebars at the fearsome Trouée d'Arenberg.

....and when the pros do it

These sections are so difficult, dangerous and critical to the race selection that the peloton is basically sprinting on the approach, with everyone fighting to be at the front. Hmmmm.....that sounds like a good idea.....let's wring ourselves out at 35mph to get to the front, so we can wring ourselves out for 1.5mi over vicious cobbles. Then, a brief respite, and we do it again.

That is why there are no fluke winners of Paris Roubaix. The roll call of champions is cluttered with the hard men of cycling--Boonen, Cancellara, Museeuw, Merckx, DeVlaeminck, Moser, Kelly, Hinault, Coppi.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tech - iPad Review

I went down to the Apple store on 4/3 to get an iPad. I was not going to buy one because with a desktop and laptop, I really don't need one. But, curiousity got the better of me, and I wanted to see for myself whether this could be the Next Big Thing (John Doerr seems to think so).

Is this really "the computer for the rest of us"? No. But it is an amazing device, and will be quite useful once version 4 of the iPhone OS is released later this year.

  • Onscreen keyboard is surprisingly easy to type on. I was using a bluetooth keyboard, but decided I don't need it.
  • Small and light.
  • Great battery life.
  • The iPad-specific apps are awesome.

  • Power users will be frustrated.
  • No multitasking means a lot of switching in and out of apps--to email an article, for example.
  • Mobile Safari is still somewhat crippled.
I am going to use it for meetings and conferences where I am not going to be cranking out long docs or spreadsheets, but rather checking email, taking notes, and doing some simple web browsing. I have a Verizon MiFi card that creates a wifi hotspot off the 3G data network, so I can connect wherever I am. A MacBook Air might work better with only a small weight penalty, but the battery life is too short.

I consider myself a laptop "power user", so I am really not the target market for the iPad. Who is?
So far, my kids are all over the iPad, especially my 4.5 yr old. She loves to type on it and interact with the Cat in the Hat app. My 2 yr old likes watching videos, which he can do just fine on an iPhone.

I can see that there is a whole class of people who have a desktop computer for most of what they do, and would like a lightweight option for when they are moving around. Next test....what do my mother and mother-in-law think of it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cycling - What does being Godlike look like?

I remember after the "Twitter Time Trial" in Hawaii that Lance put on, there was a shot of his SRM computer showing his average speed, which was impressive at over 35mph (though he had a tailwind). But, he demured when it came to show his power output--booo!

Thankfully, Fabian Cancellara is not as bashful. After winning the Ronde van Flanderen yesterday, he kindly shared his ride data with Markus Neuert (@CycleFilm), who kindly shared it with the world.

So, for 259km over about 6:26 of racing.......
Max.Speed:80km/h - Max.Cad:147 - Max.HR:190 - Max.Power:1450W - Tot.Calories: 6459
Avg.Speed:40km/h - Avg.Cad:73 - Avg.HR:143 - Avg.Power:285W

That is why they call the man "Spartacus". 285W average is mind boggling when you consider all the easy riding in the early part of the race, and the coasting downhill. The average cadence of 73 indicates a fair amount of coasting. An average speed of 25mph for over 160 miles. According to Boonen, at the end he was doing over 30mph and still losing ground to Cancellara. I can maintain that kind of speed for about 300m, they did it for over 10km, with 250km already in their legs. 6459 kilojoules of work

The best sprinters can uncork up to 1600 watts for a short burst at the end. Spartacus hit 1450 watts in dropping Tom Boonen up the Muur, and probably held that level for around 30 seconds. Apparently he did not even mean to attack, he just decided to go a bit harder. "Ooops, I am sorry, did I just crush your dreams with my little acceleration." Boonen is a legitimate Hero in the cobbled classics, and Spartacus outclassed him on the Muur (Boonen cramped up, which did not help). Skip to about 2 mins into this video.

This is why I love the Classics--there are no accidental winners. No lucky breakaway that gives a domestique a chance to grab glory (well, almost never). The Classics are won by the most fearsome of the peloton's elite. Everyone knew Spartacus' gameplan. Only Boonen could answer to the first attack on the Paterberg, and on the Muur it became an anaerobic victory lap.

It is appropriate that there is a chapel on top of the Muur (or Kapelmuur, as it is also known), because it is one of the cathedrals of cycling. Heros are anointed here by the rabid crowd and steep cobbles. I could go on about cycling's cathedral's, but I think I will make that another post.

On a side note, Lance did pretty well to get 27th place. He was always up amongst the leaders, which I was glad to see after his lackluster performances earlier this season.

Bravo, Spartacus! I look forward to Paris-Roubaix this weekend.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Is the future of news here?

Further to my post a while ago on the future of news, today it arrived. I went down to the Apple store and picked up an iPad. The store was crowded, but they still had the 32GB and 64GB in stock. I went before 3pm, because at 3pm they were going to put back into stock machines that had been reserved but not picked up, but this did not matter.

Anyway, I have been playing with it, and in particular I wanted to see the Wall Street Journal app. The video above gives you a good sense of it. I find it very slick. It looks like a paper, but with the convenience of an electronic device in terms of navigation, emailing and saving articles. You can download into the device up to 7 days of the whole paper (hmm...what else to call it) for reading if you are offline. It works well in portrait or landscape mode.

The ads are unobtrusive for now, and the ads themselves are much more interesting because they can be interactive. It will be interesting to see how these monetize for the WSJ. Of course, since they are charging $18/mo, that will help the business model.

[Update: The app is slow to get going. Once you open it, you have to wait for 10-15 seconds while it loads the latest edition before you can do anything. That should be fixed.]

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Estate Sale

While thinking about my previous post/rant regarding West Marin, I remembered a sign that I found particularly funny, though not specifically a West Marin problem.

As I was rolling through Lagunitas, there was a sandwich board-style sign for an estate sale. No, I did not get a picture....I was working my ass off in a paceline and if I had stopped to take a picture, I would never have caught back up. Anyway, the sign itself is not at issue.

The question is, what is an "estate sale". Well, denotatively it is the sale of a dead person's belongings. Boy, that sounds like fun.

Connotatively, it has been usurped to describe the common garage sale. People think of estate as in a manor, not a legal construct, and apparently like to think they live in one. In this use, if you see a sign for an estate sale, apparently George Lucas is clearing out the garage, because he is the only guy I know of who has a proper estate in Marin. The rest of us are mere country squires in our little houses. So if we are having a true estate sale, we will not be able to attend.

What is in West Marin's water?

I ride my bike a lot, and I usually choose to ride out in West Marin, in the bucolic countryside. Sometimes I am out by myself, sometimes in a small group, and occasionally in a large group of up to 30 riders. It seems like every ride, I have a negative encounter with an aggressive motorist, angry about sharing the road with cyclists.

What makes these hippies so unhappy? If you have chosen to live in West Marin, you have checked out of the fast lane. You are not in your pickup rushing to a board meeting. The CEO has not summoned you to the office for a critical strategy session. If you have to wait a minute until the road straightens out so you can pass safely, the world will keep spinning. And yet, I often see untempered aggression.

In Marin County, West Marin is the poor stepchild. All the tax base is within 2 miles of 101. Go west, and you are looking at subsidized living.

Bolinas is particularly irksome. Those people are downright hostile to visitors, and yet they have no obvious means of support other than tourism, agriculture (probably more accurately herbiculture) and welfare. The Bovine Bakery, which does serious business with cyclists and other tourists, delights in not having an espresso machine. "We only make real coffee", they say. What would Europeans, who have been drinking it a lot longer than we have, think about that.

During the Tour of Marin, where we had a rolling CHP escort, I actually saw a slackjawed yokel throw a Big Gulp at the riders. He was immediately pulled over...that guy is not just hostile, he is an idiot.

When I have ridden in other rural areas, people are just not like that. When you move to West Marin, you have to accept that there are going to be some inconveniences. When I lived in Oxford, UK, I faced a similar situation. In the summer, the streets were infested with tourists, mostly Japanese. The sidewalks were literally jammed with various tour groups moving like slow schools of fish. And they would not get out of your way as you tried to move through them. Did I start throwing sodas at them or pushing them into the street? No. I am a civilized person. I walked in the street to get around them, or waited impatiently when I had no other option.

So, what makes people in West Marin so unfriendly? If they are so put upon by cyclists, tourists and other money spending inconveniences, why don't they move to Iowa?

End of rant.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Review - Bose SoundDock

My not so cheap iPod speaker solution crapped out last week. Feeling spendy, I trotted down to the Apple store and picked up a Bose SoundDock Portable. I got the portable one so I can put it on my shoulder and roller skate down the bike path to P Funk, old school.

This is my first Bose product. I thought about a Wave Radio for a long time, but never pulled the trigger because I am just not enough of an audiophile. I have 3700 songs in my iTunes library, but I rarely listen to music. I don't spend enough time making interesting playlists, but when I put it on shuffle, the algorithm seems partial to my Mandarin lessons.

What finally pushed me to make the purchase was Pandora. F* the iTunes playlists. Dinner party with Mexican food? Cool....that will be the Mariachi channel. Chilling? Flamenco channel. Holiday time? Yeah, there's a channel for that. Polka time? Of course.

I have an old iPod Touch that is the perfect companion to the Bose. The price was steep at $400, but the sound quality is remarkable. My old $100 solution really struggled with any volume, but the Bose pumps it out loud and clear. This weekend I pulled the plug and brought it outside for a BBQ. It played for 4 hours before I turned the music off, so battery life is fine.

The remote is designed for iTunes, and probably works well with it....I have really only used the Bose for Pandora at a couple of parties. It would also do well for NPR in the morning via their iPhone app.....but I can't listen to NPR anymore after seeing this -

I have not heard music out of some of the other high end speaker products, so I don't have a frame of reference, but for its size, the Bose's audio was clear and impressive. The price may hurt, but you will not be disappointed with the sound.

The iPhone will be free of AT&T at last

News today in the WSJ ( that a CDMA iPhone is in the works for the end of the year. That means Sprint or Verizon, or possibly both. Verizon has the stronger network, but it will probably be down to who is willing to stump up the $600 up front price that AT&T currently pays.

Apple's business model is a bit unusual in that it gives away the blades to sell the razor. iTunes barely makes profit, but it moves iPods. The App Store probably does make decent profit, but again, it is primarily a way to move hardware. The wireless carriers are the other way around. AT&T pays buys iPhones from Apple for $600, sells them for $199, but makes it up over time with outrageously priced data plans.

As an iPhone lover who has long suffered on AT&T's woefully inadequate data network, I welcome a new carrier to share some of the load. The iPhone has singlehandedly propelled AT&T into the smartphone lead, for which they reward us by failing to invest enough in infrastructure.

I would actually like to stay with AT&T, because I am emotionally attached to GSM (like the metric system, it makes me feel all international). But will a new carrier for the iPhone make my AT&T experience better? Probably not.

I don't expect current iPhone owners to bolt for a new carrier because of the costs in doing so. You have to pay the early termination fee (ETF) to AT&T, and sign up for a new contract--and Verizon's ETF is now $250. It might happen slowly as people roll off their AT&T contracts and want the latest iPhone. It will somewhat depend on how much of an upgrade this summer's iPhone is. If it is super digital hotness, lots of people will do an early upgrade option (they all upgraded last year to the 3Gs) and bam!, there is that ETF again. If the new model is a snoozer, then perhaps next summer people will make the jump to a new carrier for the 2011 iPhone.

Many just won't bother. I like the fact that GSM lets me be on the phone and using the data channel at the same time. I know that Verizon is working on a 4G network, LTE (Long Term Evolution, I think), that will not be compatible and therefore require a new phone. Many current iPhone users are geeks, and these things will matter to them as well. Unfortunately, they are also the heavy data users.

New iPhone buyers probably consume far less data, on average, than existing owners. Sure, there will be some people whose business required Verizon who will move up from their Blackberries, but I am talking big picture here.

So, unless AT&T continues to invest to upgrade their data infrastructure, a Verizon iPhone won't ease the congestion on AT&T. But, if AT&T fears that their growth will be stunted by a Verizon iPhone, they are going to scale back their network investment to protect their quarterly profits. AT&T still thinks like a demented monopolist.

Want proof? Go into an AT&T store and buy an iPhone. Now go do the same thing in an Apple store. AT&T has decades more experience in retail than Apple. What have they learned? Apparently, nothing.

But AT&T will still manage to sell more iPhones....even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, and the data use on their network will continue to grow.

Of course, I have a Verizon MiFi as a backup....when AT&T craps out, I fire up the MiFi and ride on Verizon's data network.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Review - Water Conditioning System

So after thinking about getting a water conditioning system for over a year, I finally had one installed a month ago. This is not a very interesting topic, but I am guessing that someone out there is thinking about it, and via the magic of Google, might find my experience interesting.

What is a "water conditioning" system? Well, it is just a softening system combined with a filtration system. I had mine put in by Ben Franklin Plumbing after getting bids from specialists that were absurdly high.

My water was not particularly bad....the hardness and chlorine levels were moderate, not severe. But, my daughter has had weird eczema for a long time, and several pediatricians thought that the water conditioning might help. Our water did not taste bad, and overall it just seemed like, well, water to me.

It took a whole day to do the install. The equipment is not attractive, but it went in our "waste area" by the garage, where the air conditioning compressors are. For the first week, I wondered what I had done. Our water tasted funky, taps got clogged with little carbon particles, and our water had lots of little bubbles. The plumber said to hang on....a week of weirdness is normal while the system settles in.

Sure enough, after a week, our water tasted great....slightly more neutral than before. I notice that I use less soap, and we use less detergent. My daughter's eczema is getting better. It actually feels a bit weird...the water has a slightly slimy feel to it because it does not immediately strip the oils from your skin.

So, it basically works as advertised. Worth $6k? I think so, over the long term.

btw...the filters don't remove fluoride, which would be a hassle.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Dumb Teaching the Blind

Last week I had the privilege of delivering a lecture at the School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. The class, organized by colleague Alan Mutter, is about the evolving business of journalism.

The students are current or aspiring journalists, and the class is designed to give them some grounding in the current flux that is the journalism landscape. I felt like an agent of doom as I described my thoughts on the current state of the business side of journalism (see my earlier post).

Even worse, I had to give these students an overview of what it actually takes to start a journalism "business". When you are out to save the world by exposing evil, you really don't want to think about incorporation, payroll, Excel models etc. But these things all matter.

A great chef has talents well beyond cooking. If you can't raise money, save money, hire well, fire quickly, market yourself, stay true to vision but pivot tactically on a dime etc. you are doomed.

The challenge for journalism startups (and many other small businesses) is that they don't have to resources to outsource the unsavory bits of running a small business. It takes a long time to get the kind of traction with an audience that will allow monetization of one's efforts.

The costs of publishing and distributing content are approximately zero these days, and social networks can make marketing very inexpensive. However, that has also dramatically increased the noise through which you are trying to push your signal. Got a blog on environmental issues in Berkeley? That is noise to me, but signal to someone else. Breaking through all the noise to find enough people to listen to your signal is a big challenge. And, until you have 10,000+ regular readers, you probably can't make enough to eat. If you want to rely on advertising, better get above 50,000 monthly uniques.

So, I spent some time showing the journalists of tomorrow (and today) all the shit work that it will take to make their dream happen. To their credit, eyes remained mostly unglazed and nobody fell asleep. Questions were intelligent.

These folks really want to make a run at making a living reporting on what they are interested in. I hope they make it. A free press is a requirement of a free society, and having successful professional journalists is critical. By professional, I mean that they check their facts and generally are not idiots, like many bloggers out there. There will always be bias in journalism, and more so in the new model, but hopefully it will be mostly intelligent bias.

If we degenerate into a society that listens only to idiots like Rush Limbaugh and whoever his lefty equivalent is, then our days in ascendancy are over. Thinking is hard work, but someone has to do it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Di2 review

Review--Shimano Dura-Ace Di2

Di2 is cycling crack.  Do not touch it.  Do not take a Di2 equipped bike for a test ride.  This will just cost you either your self esteem or $5k.

The problem is, once you have tried Di2, your current really expensive gruppo suddenly becomes wholly inadequate.  Once you see what Di2 costs, your really expensive gruppo seems very reasonably priced; but, of course it is, because it is wholly inadequate.

Let's just stick to the sexy bits, shall we, and talk about the shifting.  The shifters look mostly like standard DA7900, disguising the fact that you are rolling with the cycling equivalent of hi def porn.  The most obvious giveaways are the large bulge on top of the front derailleur and the battery below the bottle cage.  The shift buttons require about 7mm of throw (even shorter than Red), about 1/3 of normal shifters, and then the magic happens.

Electrons pulse along the handlebar, down the downtube, and into the electronic brain incorporated into the top of the front derailleur.  The brain perks up and says "well, what have we here?".  "Oh, you want to go up a cog, eh?  Well, that is not what Cav would do, but I guess I can accommodate you, unworthy flesh sack.  Oh, look at that, you're cross chaining again because of your feeble wattage.  Why don't you just admit defeat and and go to the small ring?  In the meantime, let me trim the front derailleur for you, lardass."

And while this seems like a long conversation, it only takes a microsecond and the derailleurs start moving.  Rear shifts feel on par with DA7900.  The lever throw is a lot shorter, so the whole shift process is a bit quicker.  But once the derailleur is moving, the speed of the shift in the rear is really a matter of the ramps on the cogs, so the shift itself feels the same.  Up front, the shifts feel crisper.  The shift up to the big ring is especially satisfying.  The brain applies just the right amount of pressure, depending on where the rear derailleur is, with a slight overshift and then adjustment back, so that you get a fast shift.  I never noticed the shift effort on the front derailleur with my mechanical setups until I started riding Di2.  After shifting with a light touch of one finger, mechanical shifting feels like a lot of work and not very precise.  Yes, I know that is precious, but I no longer care what luddites think.

Is there any downside, other than cost?  Functionally, the only downside is a 60g weight penalty--spit twice before a big climb and you are even there.  The battery will last a month for mere mortals.  HTC Columbia and other Pro Tour teams are going almost entirely Di2 this year on their bikes, so it has passed the pro peleton sniff test.  So far, my only complaint is that the shift buttons are tougher to find with heavy gloves on than a big paddle (and Red is especially good in this regard).  Some people complaint about not being able to do multiple shifts in one throw, but I can hit the shifter 3 times in rapid succession just as quickly and get a more precise result than a long throw on a mechanical shifter.  Front derailleur adjustment needs to be carefully set to avoid throwing the chain, but that is true of mechanical setups as well.  Apart from the very few frames designed for Di2, you have to run the cables with Shimano-supplied tape that is fairly elegant.  But, you end up with your downtube shift bosses just hanging out there naked in the wind, with nothing to do.  Maybe I will mount some old downtube shift levers on them.

After speccing it on my "race bike", I then declined to race with it for fear I would go down and scuff a $900 derailleur (to be fair, also because crit courses are generally so bumpy that I chose to ride the softer Ti bike).  But, last weekend I finally took it out for some laps in anger, and it performed perfectly....much better shift precision than my Red-equipped bike when in serious oxygen deficit.  Of course, the circuit was mostly left hand turns, so the derailleurs were safe.

But wait, you say.  All this fancy gimmickry is unnecessary.  My bike shifts just fine with mechanical shifting.  Oh yeah?  Does your bike's front derailleur sound like a Star Wars laser cannon when it makes a shift?  No?  Wholly inadequate. Of course, there is always the risk with Di2 that your bike will become self aware and try to destroy you.  That would never happen with Record.

The future is here, my friends.  I, for one, welcome new my electronic master.  The SRM tells me how hard to pedal, Di2 does all the shifting.  The Garmin tells me when to turn.  I am now just a happy passenger, a feeble sack of flesh along for the ride.  If you are going to go through the effort and expense to spec out high end ride, Di2 should be a consideration.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

1st Race of the Season

I did a criterium on Sunday...that is a short, fast twisty road course. This one was basically around an office park near Napa.

The first race of the year is always a crapshoot. Sure, I know that I have good general fitness because I have been riding a lot, but race fitness is very different. Plus, you have the chaos of a rusty pack jostling for space and doing stupid things.

I raced in the Category 4 (idiots) and Masters Category 4/5 (old idiots). I prefer to race in the masters groups (35+), because these are guys with families and jobs, and they generally are far more sensible than what you get in the open Cat 4 races.

Sure enough, there were 3 crashes in the Cat 4 race, which was first. I got a great start and was in the first 10 riders when the first crash happened on only our second lap of about 12. Somebody ahead of me overcooked it in a corner and took out a couple of other riders. Looked like someone broke their collarbone.

Towards the end of the race, I just went to the front and led the group around. Not the way to win a race, but the best way to avoid crashing as things get tense in the last laps. With one lap to go I could not hold on anymore and finished towards the back. Defeated, but upright.

The masters race was more fun. Lots of road jewelry for this one. It seemed like I was the only one without deep carbon wheels. Everyone was better behaved and there were no crashes. I tried to get away off the front at the end, but probably left it for too late in the race. So, like the earlier race, I led the group around for 2 laps, but hung on to sprint it out for the finish on the final lap. I finished around 15th. The lung I coughed up finished just behind me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Things I use (almost) every day

With a new year, the fashion among tech bloggers is to list the things they find indispensable. I love to be fashionable, so here list of technology that I love and depend on.

Canon Powershot S90

This is the point and shoot that the pros carry. It is not particularly svelte, but it takes very good photos, almost on part with entry level DSLRs. Low light performance, a weakness of smaller cameras, is particularly good. It does this by combining an excellent lens (f2.0 for you photo geeks) and very sensitive CMOS with the camera brain of a DSLR. It is not cheap at around $430, but memories aren't cheap either. Originally, I was going to get a new point and shoot and a new DSLR (probably a Canon D7). Now I am not so sure I need the DSLR, except to do great video.

Vibram Five Finger Shoes

These put me squarely into the freaky camp, but they are amazing and I will withstand the withering stares secure in the knowledge that I know something that you don't......millions of years of evolution did a better job than 30 years of Nike. It turns out that humans are the fastest land animal over great distances (why did they omit that in school?). Cheetah? Nope. Horse? again, not over a long distance (look at the Leadville 100 results, where runners routinely finish ahead of horses). We are persistence hunters....we basically chased antelope for miles until they dropped with exhaustion, and then finished them off with a pointy stick.

I have had them less than a month, but here is what I have found. On the treadmill, I get less knee and back pain than with my very expensive Nikes that were fit to me by a specialist. Everywhere else, I get funny looks and a lot of questions. Perhaps I should just print a FAQ card to hand out.


I like taking keeping my notes in a digital format. It makes them much easier to archive and search. I used to use Microsoft's OneNote, which I still think has the best design for notetaking. But, I forsook Windows a long time ago (3 years now), and Evernote is good enough to take its place. Evernote is not quite as good as OneNote in terms of organizing folders and subtopics, but it is better in every other way. A key feature is the synchronization across clients via my web account. I can take notes on my iPhone and they sync up to the laptop, desktop and web. I can access notes similarly while I am on the go. Since I tend to forget or confuse details, it is nice to have the digital archive in my pocket. Best of all, it is free. I pay for the premium version, but only to support the company. The free version is very powerful and more than enough for my needs.

I still carry a small Moleskin notebook for meetings with non-techies. It feels akward in a meeting to be banging out notes on a laptop.


Over the course of 2009, I sunk deeper into the clutches of the Google. I started the year with a gmail account that I used for spammy stuff. Now I use it as my personal server for mail, contacts and calendar on my own domain via Google Apps. It syncs to my iPhone via iPhone just thinks it is an Exchange server.

Over the holidays, I started using Picasa because my iPhoto data store had been upgraded by my Mac Mini's iPhoto 2009 into a format that could not be read by the older iPhoto on my laptop. Apple, take note. You did not sell me an upgrade, you just drove me to a competitor.

The whole Google suite of products is a lot cheaper than MobileMe, and works better for me.

I am starting to use Google Chrome as well for browsing. Faster and not the memory and processor hog that Firefox is. Not quite ready for primetime, but I bet by the end of the year I will not be using Firefox at all. I started writing this post in Firefox, but I got tired of the beachball and flipped over to beachball.

[UPDATE: FF3.6 is dramatically better, so I have stopped using Chrome for now, but I think I will be back in a few versions.]

And, I am using Google Docs for simple spreadsheets and documents where collaboration is important.


I have played with the Droid and Nexus One, and, for now, I am sticking with my iPhone. The Nexus One is tempting, but I want to wait until Android has more apps available, and T-Mobile's network gets better. T-Mo's 3G coverage is pretty limited at the moment, and they don't have coverage in some of the hinterlands that I ride through. Also, a Nexus One inspired gold rush could crush their network as the iPhone did to AT&T. I like the Verizon network, but the Droid is not a compelling device.

I have a Verizon MiFi card, so I can always patch on the Verizon data network if I am in SF and my iPhone is unable to connect.

Motorola BT 715HS headset

I have some fancy bluetooth headsets.....the Motorola H15, a Jawbone, but the one I generally carry is the 715. It's noise canceling is not as good as the Jawbone, but I find that the Jawbone and H15 cancel out my voice half the time. The 715 is $50 and has a rugged design, so you can just toss it in your pocket. If I am going to be in an airport or someplace noisy, I will bring my Jawbone along, otherwise, the 715 does a fine job and takes more abuse.


Dead simple file sharing across devices, including my iPhone.

RSS and Twitter

I consume a lot of news, and filtering can be a challenge. I switched from NetNewsWire to Gruml for a desktop RSS reader because it works better with Google. On my iPhone I am still playing with different options, but will probably settle on Mobile RSS. Twitter is great once you stop following your friends who think people care about what they had for lunch. The addition of lists has made it much easier to filter to what you want to hear about.


I rely on password and form filling software when I browse the web. Roboform is my favorite, but not available for the Mac, even after all these years (WTF, guys?). So I moved to 1Password, which is a decent substitute. Recently, LastPass has appeared with similar functionality. I have tried it and it is fine, but not interesting enough to make a switch. I keep my 1Password repository sync'd across machines with DropBox.


This extension for synching bookmarks and passwords just got more useful now that it supports Chrome. I use 2 different machines, with 2 different the bookmarks are all synchronized across them.

Is that 10? I guess it depends on how you count the Google stuff. That is enough for now, and I will update this post as I think of more.