March 2009 Archives

Blue Note

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As part of their Jazz Series, the Chicago Symphony Center last week celebrated the Blue Note jazz label's 70th Anniversary today.

Unfortunately, I wasn't be able to attend the concert, which is a shame. "Mozart Effect" or not, I've always found Jazz both mentally and emotionally appealing. This of course means I try, in part, to partake in live performances as much as possible. Living in Chicago, for Jazz especially, helps. But just over 4 years ago I was in New York City for a speaking engagement when I had one of those "only in New York City" moments. I wrote a stream of conciseness story about the experience, which while doesn't relate directly to the Blue Note label, does start off on a similar riff...The Fates Have It

Anti Anti-AIG

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There has been quite a to-do about AIG's payment of employee bonuses over the past week. Much of the to-do I would characterize as "angry mob" which has galvanized the U.S. House of Representatives into passing a bill requiring "repayment."

Nate Silver, over at FiveThirtyEight, has taken a more pragmatic avenue to the discussion, noting the legal and business questions that have arisen since the news gained "mainstream" traction.

Alas, so much of politics is gut and emotions, as this instance clearly demonstrate. So here's my "emotional" reaction to why forcing AIG employees to pay back their bonuses is wrong-headed:

Imagine you're an employee at a large corporation. Ok, maybe you already are an employee for a large organization, so let's say you're a software engineer for a large video game company.  You've worked hard to get to this point, a respected game programmer for an industry leader. You and a few compatriots are working on a genre defining, first-person shooter and as part of the project your department head has presented everyone with an incentives program. It's a mix packaged based on meeting your deadlines and sales performance. Your product launches and in its first year does well. In fact it does quite well; it's well received by "casual" and "professional" gamers alike, becoming one of the top selling games for the year. You and your co-workers within the department are congratulated by the company with not only your promised bonuses but with a new task: develop the killer sequel.

Energized by your success you all put extra effort into the sequel, late nights programming and long days of meetings. Even so you meet all of your deadlines and release a genre-bending sequel. The company goes all out in marketing the game, but the gaming market is flooded with knocks-off of your original game, saturating the market. Your company, feeling good about the overall video game market in an effort to retain everyone, "do right" and keep everyone focused, offers everyone bonuses at full value, despite the sequel missing its sales goals.

But then the video game market as a whole crashes, it gets so bad the company needs to sell part of itself, a majority stake in fact to get a needed cash infusion. The new owner, wishing not to scare anyone off, tells everyone not to worry. The company as a whole is fine, the market will pickup, everyone just needs to weather the down turn. Some changes, really just some very few changes are needed. Just some touch ups, a little reorganizing here and little cost-cutting there. All the promises a new management makes to keep people from bailing.

Rumor has it that the company considers asking for your bonuses back, cost cutting after all. But after a qucik review of all outstaniing obligations, the new owners make good on the previously agreed full bonus payout.

Then a new story breaks, your first-person shooter is blamed for a teenager getting shot. Then more reports of violence being linked to your game. Obviously you and your department are to blame for the increase of violence. An increase in teenage violence and you got a bonus?!

Soon you hear the company really is planning on rolling back your bonuses, a shareholder drive has been enacted to force the Board of Director to cut team members pay, to make up for the "lost funds". After all you really didn't deserve all of it. It fact if the company hadn't paid your bonuses they might not have gotten in trouble financially - never mind that the company was in red-ink by millions and team's bonus was only a few thousand dollars. You are to blame for failure of company. You are called out as scum, the worst of the worst the reason why the whole industry is in free fall.

How do you think you'd feel? What did you do wrong exactly?

iPhone 3.0

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Today Apple previewed their next major software update for the iPhone (and iPod Touch). Apple is touting "100 new features" for this summer, when the update is made available for existing users. But off the top of their list we get:

  • Search your iPhone
  • Cut, copy, and paste
  • Send photos, contacts, audio files, and location via MMS
  • Read and compose email and text messages in landscape

For each one of these features all I have to say "It is about time." Why? Well:

  • Expanded Search: Existing Search capabilities will be expanded, allowing customers to search within Mail, iPod and Notes or search across all key Apps from a single location.

    Honestly, I didn't even know that a search function existed already. And while a global search across "key Apps" isn't something I'm dying for, a decent search feature for the Mail App will be quite welcomed.

  • Cut, Copy and Paste: With this new version, dubbed 3.0, users will be able to cut, copy and paste text in and between iPhone Apps.

    Why the wait for something as basic as Cut, Copy and Paste? According to Apple they had an engineering challenge on their hands in dealing with the security implications of this. How can moving text around present a security issue? Well Cut, Copy and Paste basically works by writing some highlighted text into a memory buffer and then reading from that buffer. In theory an App could create a buffer overflow by writing more text than the memory buffer could handle, leading to either the iPhone or App crashing or to the potential unrestricted access of personal information residing elsewhere on the system. Hence the delay.

  • MMS Support: Soon the iPhone will support Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS).

  • MMS is the standard method for sending messages with photos or videos between cell phones over the phone network. It's texting with pictures basically. I have yet to hear why this hasn't been support since day one, and frankly, this has been the biggest issue to date I have with the iPhone.

    How the heck could Apple develop such a media-rich device and not support such an obvious feature is beyond me. Add to the fact that AT&T's web interface for accessing MMS messages (provided to those unlikely enough to have a phone that doesn't support MMS, you get a text message that says someone sent you a MMS message go login using this temporary username/password) is a joke and well, well...

  • Expanding Use of Landscape Mode Coming soon as well, the ability to read and compose email and text messages in landscape mode.

    Another one of those, well duh missing features that must come only after the fact of rushing to release a "killer cellphone." One of the iPhone's key features is the ability, if the App is designed for it, to switch between "portrait" and "landscape" modes. Many Apps lock you into one or the other, depending on how the developer wishes to use the screen "real estate", but others, Safari being the obvious, allow the user to choose based on what they are focusing on.

    I can't tell you how many times I've turned my iPhone while trying to read an email only to realized that, "oh, yeah the Mail App doesn't support landscape mode, how dumb."

What's not on the list? Flash support, which is fine with me. While YouTube and other websites offer content via a Flash player, the iPhone skips the player and supports H.264 video streams. YouTube and other Apps use this for delivering video to the iPhone. Which works fine for me. I suppose the only issue is for those websites that don't have an iPhone specific App but do have Flash content (video or animation of some sort) on their site, that could be accessed via Safari, that won't be seen.

And on the rumored coming soon list? Tethering, using the iPhone as a modem for a laptop, is coming. Apple is working on the software for the iPhone, no doubt software for Windows and Mac laptops as well. The real question is how will the cellphone providers deal with this option. Will AT&T, here in the States, keep their "unlimited" data plan in tact? Or will one have to "upgrade" their wireless plan, for an additional monthly fee? That's the real question.

Welcome Back

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After a little hiatus to work on the recent presidential campaign and a little time to contemplate what is next for, it is time to get back at it. So without further ado, I present the "Beta" version of "the next big thing" open to the public.

Why beta? Well, I have a lot of stuff to migrate over to from and pdw @ So you'll have to bear with me over 10 years of web content to migrate and, where necessary, update. Plus all new features such as this little post, which was submitted via Facebook. Yeah Web 2.0!

Fun, yes?

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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