Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Recipe: Sloppy Joes

This is one of my “comfort food” faves. This version is a bit of work compared to just using a supermarket spice pack but it’s good.

2 TBS olive oil
]1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, diced (or about 1 TBS of Tabasco Green Jalapeño Sauce)
1 bell pepper, 1” dice (optional)
6 cloves crushed garlic
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup tomato sauce
3 TBS tomato paste
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 TBS chili powder
1 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 TBS brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Onion rolls or other buns

Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, celery, jalapeño, and bell pepper. Cook until soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high and add the ground beef to the skillet. Cook meat until browned (about 10 to 12 minutes). Pour off excess fat. Season with salt and pepper.

Lower heat back to medium and add the tomato sauce, paste, ketchup, Tabasco, mustard, vinegar, sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, stirring, until the liquid is reduced and the mixture is thick (15 to 30 minutes).

Season with salt and pepper and serve on onion rolls or other types of buns.

Adapted from Epicurious, January 1999.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Links for 12-28-2009

  • Making Money by Giving Stuff Away - Community - ComputerworldUK - Problems are that 1. People are already depending on these supplementary income sources and 2. Not every activity lends itself well to this.
  • Body By Victoria - Secure Computing: Sec-C - Very detailed look at photo manipulation of a model shoot.
  • ASCII by Jason Scott / Metafuckers - My feelings on this type of thing are more complex--to write about when I have the time.
  • Vacation Robo-Post: Introducing the Cincies: What Were TV’s Most Interesting Failures? - Tuned In - - "A Cincy is different from a brilliant-but-cancelled show. It's not just a great TV show that the mass audience didn't recognize. It's also a show that, on some level, failed to live up to its creative potential, but that deserves to be honored for trying. It's a show that took a worthwhile chance and somehow didn't quite make it, maybe because of its difficult premise, maybe because of its creators' limitations, maybe because of network interference. (Another example: Swingtown, CBS's '70s wife-swapping drama, which might have worked better had it been made for pay cable.) It might be a show that has been canceled; or it might be a show that's still on the air and could theoretically still meet its potential someday. A Cincy is a show that took a chance that was worth taking."

Recipe: Three Gingerbreads

Gingerbread, with or without (preferably homemade) whipped cream is a favorite Christmas treat of mine; I avoid glazes. Here are three recipes that I favor. The recipes that use buttermilk can substitute regular milk soured with lemon juice at a rate of 3/4 tsp of lemon juice per 1/4 cup (4 TBS) of milk.

The first is adapted from The Silver Palette cookbook. I make it using Plantation Blackstrap Molasses from Whole Foods so this is a dark assertive gingerbread. You could also make it with something lighter.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground ginger

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan.

Sift dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add egg, sugar, and molasses. Mix well.

Pour boiling water and oil over mixture. Stir thoroughly until smooth.

Pour batter into pan. Set in middle of oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until top springs back when touched, the edges have pulled away slightly from the edges of the pan, and an inserted cake tester comes out dry.

Cool in the pan on a rack.

This next recipe from Laurie Colwin of Gourmet makes use of cane syrup from the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill of Abbeville, Louisiana which is similar to what the British call black treacle. (She got the recipe from a British Penguin book, The Farmhouse Kitchen by Mary Norwak.) It makes a very cake-like gingerbread and is, in fact, baked in a pie dish.

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 heaping tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup dried currants or raisins

6 TBS butter, melted

1/2 cup cane syrup

1 egg

4 TBS buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a round 8-inch or 9-inch round pie plate with parchment paper (or grease and flour).

Melt the butter and the cane syrup together over low heat.

Lightly beat egg with the buttermilk.

Mix together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and currants or raisins.

Add eggs and syrup micture and mix well.

Bake 10 minutes in the 375 degree oven, turn down to 325 degrees, and bake 25 to 35 degrees more. A few crumbs stick to a tester when the gingerbread is done.

This last recipe, adapted from Great Dinners from Life, is the least traditional. It uses maple syrup instead of molasses or cane syrup.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 cup pure maple syrup (darker grades will have a stronger flavor)

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch baking pan.

Combine the sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices together in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the liquid ingredients and the egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until they are well-blended.

Add the batter to the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake spring back when lightly touched and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Links for 12-18-2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

De-Duping a PC

Over the years, my Documents directory has accreted a lot of duplicate files. What's usually happened is that I've retired a secondary computer, such as a laptop, and stuck its data files in a directory on main computer. The issue is that there's usually a fair bit of overlap in the files.

But there are also a lot that were created on and remained on the laptop. So I can't just just blow everything away. On the other hand, it takes work to actually merge everything neatly, so it's easier to just stuff everything in the attic--so to speak--rather than figure out what to keep and what to toss.

But things were reaching a breaking point for me. I was up to something like five to-go-through-someday directories that were getting backed up and generally making it harder to find things.

So I finally decided to do something about it.

It turns out that there are some programs out there which can go through a directory or set of directories and find duplicates. The one I chose is called clonespy. After running through the process and eliminating about 11GB of files, here are some thoughts and cautions.
  • Make sure that you have a good backup (and one that won't be overwritten by any automated backup processes). It is very easy to cause serious damage here and, as a practical matter, you're going to have to let the software do a lot of its work in an automated way. (In my case, we were talking about tens of thousands of files.)
  • You should be sure to exclude (or plan to copy back) any directories that require all their files to remain in place even if they are duplicates. A typical example is your local copy of a hosted Web site.
  • In retrospect, I should have played around more with program settings or date stamps or other means of making sure that duplicates were preferentially removed from my archived directories rather than elsewhere in my Documents folder. (In other words, to the degree that you have an existing folder hierarchy, you don't want to pull files out of there.)
  • You will probably be left with archive directories with a whole bunch of empty or near-empty folders. There is no straightforward way to tell Windows to "just give me all the files in this directory tree and forget about the folders." There is a neat workaround though. Do a search at the top-level forward for * and you'll get all the files in the hierarchy returned. Just select them, copy them, and paste them into a ToBeFiled folder or something along those lines. [UPDATE: Upon further examination, I'm not sure this completely works--not quite sure what was going on.]
  • Bottom line: I'd have done things a bit differently that would have avoided some back-end cleanup but it's worth doing if your files are getting out of control.

Celebrating the IBM 1401

Nice video celebrating the IBM 1401 via Timothy Sipples who writes:
The IBM 1401 was so wildly popular that IBM provided optional 1401 emulation on the System/360 mainframes that were announced in 1964. Although it's hard to be certain, it is conceivable (and likely) that, somewhere, there are still programs originally written for the IBM 1401 that are running on today's System z mainframe, nearly 50 years on. Perhaps they've been modified and updated along the way, as business rules and other business needs evolved, but they were born many decades ago.
What an amazing journey.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Links for 12-16-2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Links for 12-14-2009

  • December 11th - National Backup Awareness Day - "Do as much backing up as possible, while being careful not to destroy your precious data in the process. Have an offsite backup. Print out your blog on paper if it's any good. In fact, print out as much stuff as you can. Your backup strategy should be like a squirrel's: bury stuff in as many places as possible (well, except sensitive information, which is a whole other story in itself)."
  • The Unintended Consequences of SPAM - "Finn Brunton, a research fellow at New York University, jumped into spam with two feet and wrote a doctoral dissertation about it entitled Spam in Action: Social Technology and the History of Unintended Consequences. For example, creating new ways of distributing spam, and countering spam can produce unintended innovations. Finn was interviewed about his work a few days ago on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and the full interview is available for downloading as a podcast. Interesting stuff."
  • Rough Type: Nicholas Carr's Blog: AWS: the new Chicago Edison - The concept of spot pricing for compute cycles has been floated previously going back to P2P computing days. But much easier to implement within 1 company than as a marketplace.
  • Revisiting Old-School Text Adventures as a Jaded Modern Gamer | - As a longtime player of text adventure games, this is pretty funny.
  • The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs : A not-so-brief chat with Randall Stephenson of AT&T - Ah, this is a good one."That’s how good we are here at Apple — we’re so good that even you and your team of Bell System frigtards can’t stop us. You know what it’s like being your business partner? It’s like trying to swim the English Channel with a boat anchor tied to my legs. And yes, in case you’re not following me, in that analogy, you, my friend, are the fucking boat anchor."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Me on CNET Reporters Roundtable about Chrome OS

Links for 12-11-2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Links for 12-06-2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Links for 12-04-2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Links for 12-03-2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Links for 12-01-2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Links for 11-30-09

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Links for 11-19-2009

  • Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization « Clay Shirky - "The local bookstore creates all kinds of value for its community, whether its hosting community bulletin boards, putting rocking chairs in the kids section, hosting book readings, or putting benches out in front of the store. Local writers, harried parents, couples on dates, all get value from a store’s existence as a inviting physical location, value separate from its existence as a transactional warehouse for books... Online bookselling improves on many of the core functions of a bookstore, not just price and breadth of available books, but ways of searching for books, and of getting recommendations and context. On the other hand, the functions least readily replicated on the internet — providing real space in a physical location occupied by living, breathing people — have always been treated as side effects, value created by the stores and captured by the community, but not priced directly into the transactions."
  • The Economics of Pinball « Cheap Talk - Fascinating look at the end of pinball.
  • Beowulf Page 1 - Fascinating piece on Beowulf translations.
  • Why Wine Ratings Are Badly Flawed - - Wine ratings are apparently repeatable only within a range of about +/- 4 points.
  • psu_sharp.pdf (application/pdf Object) - Good overview of sharpening in Lightroom.
  • 5 things missing in VMware's new virtual desktop app, View 4

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Installing DOS in a Virtual Machine

One of my recent home projects has been to decommission some old systems that didn’t really need dedicated boxes any longer. Aiding in this effort is virtualization. Thus, I moved what used to be a dedicated Linux installation to a Virtual Box VM; it’s mostly for development use so it’s fine just sitting on my main Windows desktop.

Installing DOS in a VM proved a bit more problematic.

(Why DOS?!? You cry. Mostly just for fooling around with for old times sake—running some old games and such. Not something I particularly wanted to have an ancient PC taking up space for as I did previously.)

The first step was to find DOS. I had diskettes of various versions hanging around including DR-DOS but no easy way to use them to create a VM as my desktop doesn’t have a floppy drive. As it turns out, the best solution appears to be FreeDOS. I downloaded an ISO image, mounted it as a CD, and fired up Virtual Box.

Things went pretty smoothly except for one thing: I couldn’t get sound to work. Recent versions of Virtual Box do let you set audio to Sound Blaster 16, the de facto standard for sound output in the DOS world for many years. I also put what appeared to be the required incantations in the DOS startup files—a messy mix of DMA and IRQ settings and related arcana with which I was far too familiar from past years. But no sound—not even native PC speaker sounds (which are what I really cared about). And no sound meant not much use for games.

VMware Workstation to the rescue. I downloaded a trial copy, created a FreeDOS VM, and sound worked fine out of the box.

One caveat: After FreeDOS sets up your partitions, the system needs to reboot. However, now that there’s a primary partition, the system will try to boot from hard disk (rather than the CD) and fail. At this point, you need to go to the Boot menu in BIOS and change the boot order so that the CD boots before the hard drive. This is a bit tricky because, when the VM boots, it moves past the point where you can press F2 to enter BIOS very quickly. So you have to be fast. (Alternatively, you can edit the .VMX file to increase the delay.) After the installation completes, you then will need to switch things back.

VMware Workstation is for-charge software. However, I assume that once you have the VM set-up, you can run it using the free VMware Player. You may also be able to use VMware Server, the free version of VMware’s former GSX Server, although I have not tried either.

Finally, to move software on to the VM, I found the easiest thing to do was to create an ISO image of any files I wanted. I can then mount the ISO and copy its contents to the "C:\" drive (i.e. the VM's primary partition). FreeDOS provides packet drivers and various other networking pieces but I didn't feel especially motivated to spend the time to try to get this stuff working.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My 100ish Best American Films - Updated

In 1998, the American Film Institute put on a 100 Best American Movies show. I’ve long been interested in movies—I was publicity director for my university’s film group--so I put together my own list at the time. It wasn’t markedly different from the AFI’s list but did generally incorporate more comedies and removed some films that were arguably more important than objectively excellent.


In the years since I’ve occasionally discussed the list with friends. New deserving films have come onto the scene. I’ve also taken a fresh look at some films I included on my list or excluded from it and tweaked my opinion in a couple of cases.

This new list is based on all that. It also cheats. Although I did prune a few movies that were probably near the bottom of my best-of rankings, I came to the conclusion that sticking to a strict 100 movies list would result in two things happening: Eliminating some older films that, while still enjoyable, require a certain historical perspective to fully appreciate and eliminating some newer films that I very much like today but may or may not stand the test of time.

I didn’t go nuts but there are maybe ten or so extra films. Much of the commentary from my earlier list still applies; I didn’t go hog-wild adding a lot of separate films on a similar theme or in a similar style (think Woody Allen or Pixar). In addition, while I haven’t included anything just because it’s supposed to be “great film-making,” I haven’t necessarily included movies that I like but would have trouble justifying as “best” or “ground-breaking” in some respect. (Thus, a number of favorite science fiction films are excluded.) This isn’t a films-for-a-desert-island list although the two would have a fair bit of overlap.

At some point perhaps I’ll add some commentary to these choices but, for now, here’s the list.

  • 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
  • ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
  • ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)
  • AMADEUS (1984)
  • ANNIE HALL (1977)
  • AVIATOR, THE (2004)
  • BIG CHILL, THE (1983)
  • BLADE RUNNER (1982)
  • BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)
  • BRAZIL (1985)
  • BULL DURHAM (1988)
  • CASABLANCA (1942)
  • CHINATOWN (1974)
  • CITIZEN KANE (1941)
  • CABARET (1972)
  • DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
  • DUCK SOUP (1933) [but it could just as easily be NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)]
  • ED WOOD (1994)
  • FANTASIA (1940)
  • FARGO (1996)
  • GIANT (1956)
  • GOODFELLAS (1990)
  • GRADUATE, THE (1967)
  • GUNGA DIN (1939)
  • HIGH NOON (1952)
  • HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
  • KING KONG (1933)
  • LIFE OF BRIAN (1979)
  • LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2001/2/3)
  • MARY POPPINS (1964)
  • M*A*S*H (1970)
  • MATRIX, THE (1999)
  • MY FAIR LADY (1964)
  • NETWORK (1976)
  • PAPER CHASE, THE (1973)
  • PATTON (1970)
  • PINOCCHIO (1940)
  • PLAYER, THE (1992)
  • PRODUCERS, THE (1968)
  • PSYCHO (1960)
  • PULP FICTION (1994)
  • REBECCA (1940)
  • SIDEWAYS (2004)
  • SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)
  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
  • SOUND OF MUSIC, THE (1965)
  • STAR WARS (1977) and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE (1980)
  • STING, THE (1973)
  • TAXI DRIVER (1976)
  • THIN MAN, THE (1934)
  • THIRD MAN, THE (1949)
  • WALL-E (2008) – or just about any other Pixar film of your choice
  • WIZARD OF OZ, THE (1939)


Recipe: Garlic-Almond Dip for Crudities

I served this at happy hour on a recent hiking weekend and it was a big hit. It’s also a staple of my summer barbecues. I tend to just serve this easy-to-prepare dip with strips of red pepper (or a mix of red, yellow, and orange for more of a multi-color effect) but you can use a wide variety of fresh vegetables.


2 cups of Mayonnaise (If store-bought, a 15 fluid oz. jar is just right)

3 cloves garlic, peeled

5 TBS trimmed white bread or bread crumbs, lightly toasted

1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1/2 cup Almonds

2 TBS fresh Parsley

Crudities (i.e. sliced pinkie-sized carrot pieces, cauliflower flowerettes, 1/4 in. strips of peppers, small red and white radishes, young scallions, and any other fresh vegetable which seems appropriate)

Clean and slice assorted crudities.

Add garlic, bread crumbs, pepper, almonds, and parsley to a blender or food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.

Scoop mayonnaise into a bowl and stir in the chopped ingredients until well-blended.

How I Backup my Digital Photos

In “Backup Your Photos Online & Preserve Memories Forever,” Amit Agarwal succinctly lays out the options for backing up your photos with a focus on online services. He concludes that “For most users, the best option for preserving digital photographs is often "online backup" because it doesn’t require you to burn DVDs (which are unreliable anyway), you don’t have to invest in any new hardware and your photos are likely to last forever as long as you pay the yearly bills.”

I agree in part and disagree in part.

I agree about the value of online services in general. I view backup services and photo sharing sites to be complementary rather than alternatives.

I use Mozy—Carbonite is another good alternative—to backup all my data files, including my digital photos. Both have a fixed annual fee of about $60 with no bandwidth charges.

I also have a Flickr Pro membership. I don’t really consider Flickr a backup mechanism though. I can only upload processed JPEG images. And, although I could theoretically upload every frame I shoot, in practice that would get in the way of using Flickr as a photo sharing site. (SmugMug has a service called SmugVault that you can use for RAW images and other types of files but then you’re getting into Amazon S3 bandwidth and storage charges which can get pricey for large volumes.)

Yes, at the end of the day Flickr provides me with a totally independent backup of reasonable fidelity copies of the majority of my most valued photos. But this is a side effect that I certainly hope I will never have to depend on as opposed to a systematic backup.

I don't consider an online backup to be sufficient though. I also recommend keeping a local backup. I like to keep an uncompressed file-by-file backup. In my case, a program called SyncBack synchronizes a network drive to my user directory every night. A USB drive will also work as would image backups. I do things the way I do for a couple of reasons: 1.) Data files in the backup are readily available to other computers on my network and 2.) In the event of a problem with my main computer, I don’t need to restore backups and so forth; the data files are right there ready to be accessed by another system.

In general, my philosophy is that I want to make backups using two different mechanisms and I want one of those mechanisms to give me an offsite backup. Backing up to both a local drive and an online service--using different software--is a good way to accomplish this objective.

One final suggestion for the less technically savvy who shoot a more modest quantity of photos than I do. (This is what I have my dad doing.) If you’re not going to have a good backup process, consider just leaving the photos on the memory card given that a 2GB card costing maybe $10 can store 400 or so JPEGs. Note that even if you do have rigorous backup, you shouldn’t erase any important pictures until your processes have had a chance to actually make a backup.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Links for 11-11-2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Specs on my Latest DIY PC

The sunroom I added earlier this year got a 42-inch plasma panel for the wall. Part of the panel’s purpose is to serve as a giant digital picture frame; the TV has a built-in SD card slot. My Wii and Xbox consoles are also connected.

But I wanted to add a PC—not so much to be a home theater PC in the usual meaning of the word but to display videos from a browser. In addition, in spite of options within the TV itself and in the attached Xbox to display photos, they all have some drawbacks for walking through a slideshow manually. I find Irfanview on a PC to be the best option.

My starting point was a micro-ATX MSI 785GM-E65 motherboard with an Athlon II X4 processor. The price on this combo was right given that AMD gave it to me after a recent analyst event. (Mobo+CPU is under $200 in any case.) However, it was also a good fit; the integrated graphics seem to be plenty fast for my purposes and it comes with an HDMI out. In fact, I was also given a discrete graphics board but chose not to install it and let the system run a bit cooler and quieter.

I added 2 GB of DDR3 DRAM; I can always bump that later if I want to but I don’t intend to do a lot of multi-tasking or run resource-intensive applications. The disk is a 10K RPM Raptor, another freebie from a friend of mine. It’s only 75GB but I’ll typically keep media content on a network drive.

There’s no internal optical drive. This wasn’t so much a design decision as a reflection of the fact that I have an external USB Blu-Ray drive that I got with my HP dv2 laptop—so I figured I’d start out just plugging that in as needed.

I’m running a beta of 32-bit Windows 7, again pretty much a no brainer. (Yes, I suppose I could have installed Linux and perhaps I will when the beta expires but it was simpler to get started with Windows and see how I end up using the system.)

In the end, I really only had two decisions to make.

The first was the control device--the Logitech DiNovo Mini that I described in an earlier post. It’s an unobtrusive handheld keyboard and trackpad combination. For tasks that are tiresome to tackle by thumb typing, I establish a remote connection using another PC. Logitech also makes a larger version if you’d rather have a full-sized keyboard.

Finally, I settled on an Antec NSK2480 case for micro-ATX boards. It’s stylish which may or may not matter to you depending upon where it’s housed. It also takes full-height PCI boards without adapters or other tricks. It seems well put together and fairly quiet. This case was a bit bigger than would have been my preference, given that I didn’t need space for either drives or PCI cards. But reviewers dinged a couple of smaller cases that I looked at for either noise or heat buildup so I stuck with the larger size.

Links for 11-09-2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Quick Takes: Logitech DiNovo Mini

When I connected up a PC to a wall-mounted television in a sunroom that I had built earlier this year, I knew that I needed something to control it with.

Using a configuration that required a separate mouse wasn’t a good option as I didn’t have a hard surface near where I would normally view from. The Lenovo ThinkPad UltraNav keyboard would have been an interesting option but there isn’t a wireless version. Remote control from another computer was and is another possibility but I also wanted something that I could just directly control the computer with. (And I know there are some iPhone applications but I didn’t yet have an iPhone at the time.)

What I settled on was the Logitech diNovo Mini. This 6-inch by 3.5-inch handheld keyboard and pad isn't perfect but it’s a pretty good option for a home theatre PC so long as you don’t intend to do lots of typing. It’s a lot more functional as a keyboard than a typical remote control is but you’re not going to want to compose long emails and the like.

What I like:

  • It’s small and stylish with a smoked plastic flip-down lid. It won’t look out of place sitting on a coffee table.
  • It has a mode for directly controlling Windows Media Center
  • The integrated pointer control works well
  • The thumb pad works pretty well for entering URLs and other relatively short strings or blocks of text

What I don’t like:

  • It’s relatively pricey with a list price of $150
  • As I noted, it’s basically a thumb keyboard, albeit a relatively large one, so you’re not going to be banging away like on a regular keyboard
  • Right click and dragging operations are more awkward than they would ideally be

Bottom line: If you can live without having a “real” keyboard and just want something unobtrusive to easily pull up YouTube and Hulu videos and the like, it’s a good, if premium, choice.

Here's another more detailed review of the DiNovo Mini. I concur with most of his comments, especially with respect to mouse operations.

Links for 11-05-2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Fixing Virtual Meetings?

Although the signal-to-noise ratio is regrettably poor, every now and then I get a random PR email that piques my interest. So it was with one titled “Workplace Story Idea-Study Shows Professionals Lack Virtual Meeting Skills / Avoiding 5 Common Pitfalls.”

It caught my eye because I’m seeing more and more attempts to run virtual events of various types. And, in my experience, even the best ones have problems.

In any case, the email in question was followed by a copy of the book The Hamster Revolution for Meetings by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey, and Tim Burress. It’s written in what for my taste is an overly cutesy style but it’s a thin book and a quick read that I got through in a short evening.

It gets into a number of common-sense recommendations for meetings: have an agenda, stay on course, schedule meetings for  less than a full hour, and so forth. However, a lot of the book deals specifically with virtual meetings. On the one hand, the authors make some good suggestions such as:

Technical glitches slow the flow.

Tip: If it's an important web conference, shut down and restart your computer before it starts. Arrive 20 minutes early and encourage participants to get there 10 minutes early. Do a sound, mute, and visual check with a colleague. Create a virtual meeting cheat sheet that lists all web and teleconference features such as "mute all" and customer service line. A free "tech glitch cheat sheet" can be downloaded at:

(I believe this is called documenting around a bug.)

I also think they’re spot on about some of the problems associated with virtual meetings and events (even if some of  the suggestions related to this problem reflect the aforementioned cuteness).

Virtual distance makes relationships go cold.

Tip: Remote meetings make it harder to build warm productive relationships with colleagues. Adorn your presentation with photos of presenters and participants so people connect faces with names. Use the chat function to ask quick, fun questions of the team at the meeting's start to break the ice and get acquainted. For example: "Type the name of your favorite movie into the chat box."

However, much of the authors’ focus seems to be on making virtual meeting a more immersive experience. For example:

Participants email during your webinar.

Tip: Jazz up your visuals to distract them. Use web conferencing tools like Webex and Go to Meeting to turn graphics on instantly. Pepper your presentation with a parade of charts, slides, and competitor's websites to keep them engaged--and invite them to email comments at the end.

People tune out of web conference and chat on Facebook instead.

Tip: Transform your meeting into a social networking event by asking participants to use your web conferencing tool's chat function to comment in real time. You'll get great ideas, instant feedback, and lively, entertaining banter.

Web meeting fatigue is setting in.

Tip: Take a 5-minute surf break! Invite everyone to take visit a relevant, humorous, motivating, or topical business-appropriate website that you've bookmarked ahead of time. Examples include NASA's astronomy picture of the day site, motivational quote sites, or a site that features a fun quiz or survey.

Now, there may indeed be meetings in which it’s important to keep participants engaged as fully as possible. Perhaps it’s a brainstorming session for a new product launch. (Although, this is a case—as we recommend when we do consulting days with clients—where it really makes sense to do face-to-face if at all possible. There are also more advanced telepresence systems such as HP Halo that go way beyond web conferencing.

However, given that the book describes these as “common webinar pitfalls,” the insistence on maintaining single-tasking engagement seems misdirected. Sure, the occasional poll and the use of chat can help keep the session from being a pure one-way broadcast. But I have yet to see mechanisms to make web conferencing a truly interactive medium. And, given that even attendees at a real, live conference are multi-tasking more often than not, trying to force virtual interactions to be even more focused seems misguided.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Links for 11-03-2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Links for 10-29-2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Links for 10-22-2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Photo Manipulation

CNET's Stephen Shankland writes:

Every time Photoshop gets something like this, some folks--not without some reason in my opinion--get concerned that we can't trust the veracity of the images we see. But let's be clear: although the ease and sophistication of editing is increasing, photo manipulation has been going on for more than a century. And the way I see it, the profusion of digital cameras and ease of posting photos online probably means reality is being documented in unretouched form more comprehensively than ever.
I guess I largely agree although I was a bit shocked at the amount of manipulation that apparently happens in nature photography according to a recent article in Outside Magazine.

It's fair to say that the amount of "casual" manipulation will probably continue to increase. By this I mean the post-processing of fine art photography and other pictures that primarily serve an aesthetic purpose. Or the routine elimination of telephone poles and other distractions in snapshots posted to twitter.

A lot of photographers will decry this trend and I sympathize up to a point. Especially because there's rarely a hard line between art and documentary. But it's probably inevitable--at least outside of organizations that have strict editorial policies.

To their credit, news organizations have generally maintained strict policies and aren't especially tolerant even of what some might dismiss as minor retouching. Which is as it should be. One day you're removing an awkwardly positioned fence post. The next you're making the subject of a news photograph look more handsome or more haggard.

Stephen's other point on the increased documentation of reality is doubtless true. Indeed, there's now a game based on the concept.

Furthermore, with photographs from a variety of sources so widely distributed, we've already seen a variety of cases where readers have spotted alterations as likely would not have happened in an earlier age.

The general conclusion I draw is that, while photography has always been a selective reality, the arbitrary photograph will increasingly be "optimized" to a degree that would have taken, at a minimum, considerable effort in the past. At the same time, many sources and many eyeballs will tend to both capture and confirm reality when it matters most.

Links for 10-21-2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Links for 09-11-2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

Links for 08-07-2009

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Links for 08-04-2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Links for 08-03-2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Links for 07-29-2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Links for 07-23-2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Links for 07-22-2009

  • PUNKADIDDLE: Hugos 2009 - A rant about the Hugos shortlist. I don't read nearly as much SF as I used to. I think there's truth to the assertion that fandom as a whole tends to favor the predictable--just look at the endless padded series out there. OTOH, I confess to often being lukewarm on more "literary" works favored by many professional critics and writers.
  • Amazon is not Big Brother - Telegraph - Amazon did a dumb thing (which they've acknowledged) but this piece has the outrage about right.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hands-on with an HP dv2 Notebook

A few weeks ago, AMD sent me an HP dv2 notebook, the first system to use their “Yukon” mobile processor. The dv2’s basic concept can be summed up as ultraportable experience at a value price point—it starts at $700. Put another way, it aims to avoid some of the compromises associated with netbooks while getting within at least sight of netbook price points.

So how does it do? Read on. This won’t be a full review but after playing around with the system for a few weeks, I think I have a pretty good feel for its capabilities.

Let me start by saying that my overall experience is quite positive. It’s small. It’s light. The touchpad doesn’t drive me crazy like many do. (My pointer tastes are a bit idiosyncratic. I favor trackpoints on notebooks and trackballs on desktops.) And the processor has been fast enough for what I’ve thrown at it.

This last point is worth digging into a bit deeper given that it’s pretty central to the dv2’s concept. I didn’t do formal benchmark comparisons, but I did open up a CPU meter on Vista’s sidebar and cranked up multimedia applications to see if things would stutter or otherwise go unresponsive on me.

I started music playing using AMD’s Fusion Media Explorer. Then I opened Firefox to Hulu and started some video playing. To round out the experience, I fired up another browser Window and went off Web surfing sites with the usual mix of Flash and other multimedia.

All this drove the CPU pretty hard as indicated by the CPU meter but both the music and the video continued to play smoothly and the system always felt responsive. I’ve no doubt that heavy-duty image or video processing would bog down the system but it seems to have plenty of performance for the sort of Web usage and general productivity work that I tend to use an ultraportable for while out of the office.

The 12-inch screen and almost full-sized keyboard were easy enough to view and type on although my personal preference is something just slightly larger. (My other notebook is a 13-inch Lenovo ThinkPad x200; the x200 is also on the order of 50 percent more expensive than the dv2.)

One thing that may bother some people is that the dv2 doesn’t have an internal optical drive. The external USB Blu-ray drive that I received with the notebook works well, but it’s one more thing to carry and and is a bit awkward if you’re balancing everything on your lap. Personally I’m largely indifferent to whether an ultraportable has an internal optical drive or not—I generally don’t travel with one—but I know it’s a sticking point for some.

As for aesthetics, it’s black and silver and shiny. To be honest, my tastes lean more towards the muted finishes of my ThinkPad that, among other things, doesn’t attract fingerprints to nearly the same degree. But it’s hard to criticize such sleekness too much.

Bottom line? If you want a budget ultraportable that’s closer to the look, feel, and experience of full-featured notebooks than it is to even a 10-inch netbook then the dv2 looks to be a pretty good choice.

Links for 07-21-2009

  • Internet Evolution - Andrew Keen - It's Time to Bust the Beta Cult - "But I’m worried about the increasing centrality of the beta product and the beta ideal in the digital economy. Beta is a creditable practice -- as long it exists in parallel with the more adult world of finished products. But when it becomes the thing-in-itself, when there are no finished products, when everything is in perpetual flux, then the Internet economy has a serious problem."
  • Tech Tips - The Digital Journalist - "In the realm of compact digital cameras, there is no question that the high end of the market is looking for better image quality than current cameras provide, especially at high ISOs. But I'll bet that the eventual solution to that request is going to be larger image sensors with high resolution rather than small sensors with reduced resolution. Time will tell!"
  • - Get all your tweets in PDF form.
  • Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard » Blog Archive » Where’s Twitter’s past, and what’s it’s future? - "Blogs privilege the “now.” New stuff always goes on top. But they also create a durable record of “then” — as I have learned in spending the last couple of years digging through the back catalog of blogging. One of the great contributions of blogging software is to organize the past for anyone who writes frequently online. Before blogs, with each new addition to a website we had to think, where does this go, and how will I find it later? Blog tools, as personal content management systems, ended that era."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Links for 07-20-2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Links for 06-04-2009

Mad Ave Blues

Very funny and well worth watching. It's well done technically and whoever put this together obviously knows the business. My only criticism is that this very good nine minute video could have been a truly excellent five minute one with some tightening up and fewer choruses.