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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Future of News

I have been thinking about newspaper, journalism and technology a lot lately. Part of this is an outgrowth of Viewpass, a project I worked on last year that was intended to help newspaper publishers monetize their web content. Newspapers loved the idea and it got a lot of traction, but in late summer, the industry decided that its salvation lay with digital rights management (DRM) instead. Apparently they missed the part where DRM failed for software, movies and music. So far, the effort has brought much ridicule and few dollars.

Anyway, we are in the midst of a disruptive cycle in it is gathered, published and consumed. I think that most senior newspapermen are failing to grasp that most news is a commodity, and therefore very difficult to monetize.

I still read the NYT on paper, but most of my news is consumed online, via Twitter, or RSS reader. It amazes me when I see headlines in newsprint on breaking issues that are out of date, because everything changed after the paper went to press.

Newspapers failed to understand cycle of creative destruction that they have reported on so often. In that failure, they stood by as the Web took away a lot of their lucrative revenue base, starting with classifieds, because the web is a superior medium. Suffering from a bloated cost structure, the writing was on the wall. The collapse of housing and auto, which were the two largest advertisers, has just hastened the fall.

With smartphones, you can consume news anywhere....why would you wait for a piece of paper every morning.

Really the only thing newspapers still have going for them is the large format, which is great for ads. Oh wait.....Apple just drove a stake through that heart with the iPad.

Of course, the iPad is expensive. And, some people prefer newsprint to a screen. Great.....let's build a business model based on advertising to poor luddites.

I worry about the state of the newspapers, because a strong press is a fundamental element of a well functioning democracy. The number of journalists in Washington is plummeting as the number of lobbyists continues to grow.....not a good trend. Journalism is not going away, however, it is just morphing. So far, we seem to be moving back to the old days (say 100 years ago), where newspapers were mouthpieces for their owners, and yellow journalism with biased agendas was the norm. In a nation where we don't often stop to question or think for ourselves, that creates dangerous polarization.

Breaking news is a commodity and hard to build a business model around (except for financial news). You can build a model around analysis and local interest, however. But, newspapers are laying off journalists and relying on the wire services for news, so they are killing their competitive advantage. New publishers are springing up in the blogosphere and picking up the best journalists. Without the legacy costs of printing plants and their unionized (read expensive and inflexible) labor, the new online publishers have a shot at a successful business model.

Simultaneously, how we consume news is changing rapidly. Is the iPad the future? I don't know for certain. I, personally, probably won't be an early adopter because I have an iPhone and a laptop, and so I don't really have a dire need for a product that fits in between. The iPad does not fit in my pocket. If I am going to have to carry a bag, I might as well bring my laptop, which is more powerful.

Newspapers have one other competitive advantage....they have ad salesforces with good connections into local businesses. That is not enough to save them long term. Newspapers still have a powerful brand, but that is eroding daily. Can they make the necessary changes to adapt to the new world of news consumption before they collapse financially. Will the new breed of publishers provide as robust a defense of freedom?

There is a lot of flux going on. My guess is that a few existing publishing brands will make it to the other side, but most will not. Will advertising revenue be enough to support the new breed of news sites? The elite ones, especially with financial news, can charge subscriptions. I am thinking about the WSJ, Economist, and the NYT. For the rest, things are going to be lean. I stopped reading local newspapers a long time ago because they became crap. I would like to get some local news, but wading through the SF Chronicle, for example, is painful. Most of it is the AP wire feed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Last ride

I thought a lot about which ride I wanted to do on my last riding day, and the first day of 2010.

The Kohala Mountains route is an awesome ride and the one I would most like to do again. But, what would Lance do? Yeah, he would punish himself on Kaloko Drive. So I set out to do Kaloko again.

When I got to the market where I refilled my water last time, I experienced a is New Year's Day.....almost everything is closed. Uhmmm...what am I going to do for water. I started climbing up Hina Lani St, and ran across a couple of folks working on a construction project. They pointed me to a gas station not too far off my route that was open, and I topped up there. Unfortunately, I was not coming back the same way, so how to hydrate on the way home was still an issue. 2 bottles will be gone by the top.

I cranked up to the top of Hina Lani.....climbs are always easier the second time around. Then up the Belt Rd for a mile or so to the base of Kaloko. Last time, I did Kaloko at 85% effort, because I did not know what to expect. That turned out to be too hard, as I still cracked on the last section. This time, I just decided to peg it at threshold the whole way....f*ck it. I had to get back to home base to go to lunch with the family, so I would not have time to do the bonus 15% section at the top. I noticed that my forearms were actually tired (and sore afterwards) from pulling on the bars. It turns out that your upper body does actually do work when you are cycling.

Since I was worried about water for the way home, I was looking out for a spigot that looked like it would have decent water. About 4 miles up I saw a skanky looking spigot....hmmmmm, looks like Kamehameha's Revenge on tap. I found another one a half mile further up the road that looked clean enough. Marked it on the GPS so that I would not fly past it at 45mph on the way down.

Closing in on the top I had a pleasant surprise. I thought Kaloko had 8 switchbacks, and I had just turned number 5. Looking on the Garmin I realized that there are only 6 switchbacks.....sweet! Last one coming up! I charged up to the top, stopped for 20 seconds to feel good about myself (dry heaving is how I express that I feel good about myself), check my time and put my base layer back on for warmth, and charged back down to make it to lunch. 90 mins up from the Queen K last time, 85 mins this time (55 mins for just Kaloko).

I stopped at the spigot, which was just inside a gated driveway.....ooops, laser intruder detection system. Spotted and avoided. They like to set the dogs on intruders in the Hawaiian hinterlands, so best to be sneaky and not have to hurry on escorted by an angry mongrel. The water out of the spigot did not look so good, with a couple of little bits floating in my bottle. Hmmmm....dehydration by not drinking is a better option than dehydration by explosive diarrhea.

Fortunately, my route home had a gas station where I was able to buy water, which I put into the untainted bottle. I will say it go through a lot of water in Hawaii. I used a big bottle every 45 mins on climbs and when it was warm on the flats. Plan ahead for where you will get water. I also used electrolytes to help absorption and maintain adequate blood electrolyte levels. If you stay hydrated, when you get home you can have a fruity cocktail. If not, you are drinking water. If you get severely dehydrated on the Queen K, the sun will burn you to a crisp and you will just be a slight bump on the asphalt by sunset.

The descent down Kaloko would be fun on a bike that was less noodley. Very steep, good pavement, and big sweeping turns. Plan ahead on the brakes at the is hard to scrub off 45mph on an 8% downgrade. The first time I did it I brought arm warmers, because it is cooler at 5,000 feet. This time I skipped don't need them. It is still close to 70ยบ and you are back down at the Belt Rd in 10 minutes. The sweat is blasted dry in the first minute.

Yeah....up in 55 mins, down in 10. That is how steep it is. Plus, you don't really feel cold when you are wide-eyed with terror going around a corner on a noodle at 45mph.

Overall the riding in Hawaii has been amazing. The scale of things is just so much greater than in Marin. Madame Pele definitely beat me around, but my legs are probably better for it, and my mental approach to climbing is definitely better. Looking forward to next year.