Archive for May, 2008

Summer Shows

May 30, 2008

Watching the Lost season finale, I got excited by a couple new reality shows: Wipeout and I Survived a Japanese Game Show. The latter reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons and the former looks like a rip-off of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. They’re both right up my alley.

Still Missing

May 29, 2008

Jim’s comment on my screed about Netflix reminded me that I left an important requirement out. “All I know is that I want to be able to watch streaming video from the network sites on my television” doesn’t fully capture what I’m looking for in the perfect Web-enabled TV assistant box.

I also need to rip every one of my DVDs to disk and be able to watch them on my television. Whereas I believe Jim’s frustration stems from aesthetic or possibly browsing concerns, mine arises out of the total obliviousness to proper DVD handling and care that my three daughters exhibit. Every disc they touch is smudgy and scratched. If I could digitize the movies before they got to them, they could enjoy skip-free entertainment and I wouldn’t have to repeatedly buy new copies. (I’ve only done that twice and I hated to do it.)

Being able to stream from another computer or server would adequately cover this need. I have no problem attaching an external hard drive to one of my Macs to accomplish this. I believe that existing devices already address this issue, but again they lack the Web-level streaming that I’d like.

Movie Night Out

May 27, 2008

I stumbled this weekend across an intriguing Ask Metafilter post about backyard theaters. With the idea of community building on my mind, visions of neighborhood movie nights swirled in my mind. People love drive-ins and a well-considered slate of movies could really bring out the people.

In the ensuing thread, I found an awesome site for doing it right. It covers all the technical details as well as the logistical ones. For example, showing a movie to anyone interested in attending is considered a public viewing and would therefore require a public performance license. But showing a movie only to invited guests is a private viewing, like watching your DVD at home.

In addition to the possible community aspects, I could see using a backyard theater for poolside movie watching or the inevitable slumber party fun. I am really jazzed about the idea, but I’m going to wait to act on it because there’s so much other groundwork that is more pressing.

The Way Things Ought To Have Been

May 24, 2008

I was looking through my del.icio.us links when I came across this op-ed from Rudy Giuliani about health care reform. I miss ol’ Rudy. Damn you primary voters!!

Drive-By Obama Bashing

May 24, 2008

“Obama’s Growing Gaffe”: this isn’t a gaffe, but his turning an offhand remark about meeting with evil into a platform plank is going to come back to bite him. Common people get that dictators should not be met with as if they were just another world leader—or more conventionally, “you don’t negotiate with terrorists.” This is at the level of the Jeremiah Wright debacle though maybe without the appalling sound bites.

“Keepin’ It Unreal” and “Obama: Stealth Socialist?”: money quote from Steyn’s op-ed—”In print, Barack Obama comes as close as any major party nominee ever has to sounding like the kookiest college Marxist.” He never struck me as one who hid his desire to enshackle the economy. Money quote from the IBD op-ed: “One is Princeton professor Cornel West, a militant black and self-described socialist. Reportedly, West was reluctant to join the refined Obama’s presidential campaign until Obama took him aside and explained to him that he had to walk a rhetorical tightrope to reassure whites. West is now solidly on board his campaign as an adviser.” That is at best uncorroborated hearsay but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

“McCain Stakes His Turf” and “Obama’s ‘Distractions’?”: with the cult of personality built up around him, it’s unsurprising that he should consider himself above criticism and views with disdain a serious examination of his beliefs.

“Bad day for John McCain, Part II: anger management”: reading Obama’s original statement, I can’t believe how baldly dishonest it is. McCain had sponsored an alternate bill that phased in benefit increases based on years of service and didn’t vote on the Webb bill that occasioned Obama’s remarks. Obama said, “But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI Bill. I can’t believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue.” McCain wasn’t present for the vote: characterizing his absence as ‘opposi[ng] this GI Bill” is absurd and suggesting that McCain “opposes” the bill because it is too generous is patently false. The “partisan posturing” he lambastes is clearly a projection. McCain’s reply to Obama’s statement compares the two bills as working towards the same end but taking different routes. Obama then attacked McCain’s reply as “a lengthy personal, political attack” and an “endless diatribe and schoolyard taunt.” Anyone uncertain of Obama’s disdain for criticism need only read McCain’s statement and Obama’s reply.

[UPDATE (5/30/2008): “The Obama Gaffe Machine”: my aim in pointing out Obama’s missteps is that people who do not skewer Obama for them are hypocrites if they routinely pillory Bush for his gaffes.]

Armchair Architects

May 24, 2008

In case you haven’t heard, Twitter‘s been having some alarming downtime due to scaling issues. It’s become quite popular and continues to grow significantly in both traffic and users every month. As more and more people come to rely on its unique service, these outages have grown increasingly frustrating and that has lead to a minor cottage industry in the blogosphere: complaining about Twitter and ponying up solutions to help them out of this situation.

So here’s what they need to do: shut up and realize that, by and large, they’ve got no idea what problems the Twitter team is having and no credibility in offering advice. Oh, you thought I was going to join in the chorus. While I have some experience with scaling in working in online banking and then a popular hosted blogging engine, I won’t pretend to have any special insight into the problem. Unfortunately, many of my fellow bloggers don’t share my restraint.

Just to give you an idea of the scope of the problem, Dare Obasanjo’s entry details some of the complications that become obvious after more than a superficial rumination. Some might say that attacking this is easy, but they’re dead wrong. What’s even worse, the application that the Twitter developers originally built wasn’t what it has become.

Second guessing and judging based on insufficient (or absolutely no) evidence is practically the coin of the blogosphere. Twitter needs to fix their problems, but I guarantee that their team cares more about doing so than you ever will.

[UPDATE (5/30/2008): More details.]

The Long-Awaited Indiana Jones Movie

May 23, 2008

I just got back from a midnight showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Overall, I liked it. It is primarily action-oriented and Shia LeBoeuf wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. By the time the credits started rolling, I was decidedly ambivalent.

I get that Indiana Jones is larger-than-life, that he’s a swashbuckling professor/explorer. I think the first three movies did a great job of situating him squarely within our reality—though it varied slightly from movie to movie. This latest version borders on the preposterous a few too many times: Dr. Jones isn’t a superhero and the Amazon isn’t a fantasy land. Now I know that this isn’t supposed to be accurate or even possible, but previous installments were realistic except for (maybe even in spite of) their fantastic central premises: the Ark of the Covenant, an underground cult, and the Holy Grail.

And it didn’t have to be this way. Amazonian ants that carry people away? Come on. KGB agents seemingly swarming throughout America at will? Give me a break. Indiana surviving a nuclear bomb test by hiding in a refrigerator? Nuts. An ancient temple that reconfigures itself as if the monumental blocks were Legos? Puh-leez. Shia LeBouef swinging through vast swathes of jungle on vines? No way. But in each of those situations, Spielberg (or the writer) could have opted for a more realistic resolution. That he didn’t is perhaps a Spielberg touch.

The ending, which I will not detail here, was very rushed and very unsatisfying. I don’t know why they chose to do it that way. They were obviously shooting for spectacular, but fell short and ended up at puzzling. This issue doesn’t detract too much, however. I would recommend seeing it as it does follow in the tradition of the heretofore trilogy.

[UPDATE (6/18/2008): Matthew Baldwin just saw it and basically agrees, though he was much more amusing.]

Missed It By That Much

May 21, 2008

I’m a big fan of Netflix. One of the few reasons why I even bothered with dual booting via Boot Camp was so that I could “Watch Now.” So purchasing their new Netflix Player would seem like an easy decision. But it’s not.

This player is really just the opening salvo for what promises to be a protracted battle. The price is compelling, but there’s something missing. I can’t decide if it’s because it’s too tied in to Netflix or that it’s too limited in content—two sides of the same coin.

All I know is that I want to be able to watch streaming video from the network sites on my television. And I want to watch the Netflix instant video as well. At this point, the option that fits my requirements is the HTPC but I don’t want the expense, unsightliness, and noise of a full-fledged computer in my living room. The Netflix Player and the AppleTV are the perfect size and form, but they’re not powerful enough.

Unfortunately, I think I’m going to have to pass on the Netflix Player. Maybe version 2 will wow me.

TechFest 2008

May 17, 2008

Today was Go Daddy‘s first annual TechFest, which brought together all of Go Daddy’s IT staff from around the nation for a conference. It was a chance to meet the people you might have only ever dealt with via email, IM, or phone. It was held at F1 Race Factory, which we bought out for the whole day. Events took place in its set of meeting rooms as well as a massive air-conditioned tent set up in the parking lot.

The main suite of presentations dealt with the company as a whole: Bob Parsons’ candid (and hilarious) biographical sketch and reminiscences of the early days from employees that had been there 5, 9, and 10 years. It is simply astounding how far the company’s come from those salad days—it’s grown significantly in just the three years I’ve been there. For the first couple years of its existence, all the employees of Go Daddy worked in a house out in Cave Creek. The old-timers regaled us with tales of servers in the laundry room and concrete pillars erected in front of the garage for insurance reasons so that an errant car wouldn’t take out the entire development staff!

I gave a presentation on unit testing and test-driven development to approximately 37 people. (I say “approximately” because that was the attendance figure I had going into the presentation but I didn’t actually do a count during.) It was a version of the one I’d given in March to an internal team but all gussied up. By popular request (of those who didn’t attend the talk), here’s the slide deck. I can put it up because it’s entirely meaningless without me flapping my gums up there for an hour.

The set up surrounding the presentation was one disaster after another. I couldn’t find my VPN card so I couldn’t do a demo using a live connection. Then I made a screencast version of the demo, but the software I used for Windows could only export to a SWF. That meant that I had to open it up in a browser and use the context menu controls of the Flash plugin to navigate the video. My room was designed for 20-25 and didn’t have a built-in projector system, which further limited the available seating. I overcame each of these obstacles in turn because I allowed plenty of time to sweat out the details. I can’t emphasize enough the need to really explore your presentation environment before your talk; if I had relied on the previous night’s once-over, I would’ve chewed through valuable talk time fretting little hurdles as they arose.

I think the presentation went swimmingly! My boss came in for moral support but left rather quickly when he realized that I had it well under control. I was joking, I was animated, I was lively. I’m really happy with my decision to use rather spartan slides: it prevented me from just reading off them, eliminated reading ahead, and kept the audience guessing as to the images’ significance. Further, the audience asked technical, methodological, and insightful questions during the Q&A. That told me that they were engaged with the material, which is exactly what a presenter dreams of. And quite a few stayed 15-20 minutes past my allotted time to go into more detail!

The event closed with Merlin Mann’s presentation of Inbox Zero, which was amazing, and then the traditional overdoing of the prizes. I’ve been doing Inbox Zero for years but I found myself rapt due to his easygoing and quietly-hilarious style. It was worthwhile just to watch his presentation style; I think he made a big impact on the Go Daddy crowd.

Next year’s can’t come soon enough!

[The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Go Daddy Software, Inc.]

A Lost Train of Thought

May 17, 2008

I just finished watching the first hour of the season four finale of Lost. As is customary for me, I immediately open up the Lostpedia Theories for the episode. I came across this little bombshell:

The Black Rock was packed with explosives. The Kahana is now packed with explosives. These situations mirror each other. The Black Rock was actually looking for the island long ago and a saboteur planted explosives. This little Spy vs. Spy “game” between Ben and Charles Widmore is being played out over centuries.

I think the Black Rock has a lot of significance. I can’t wait to find out what it is!

[UPDATE: Another hilarious theory: “Moving the island is not a physical thing, but an emotional thing. Locke is clearly going to read sweet poetry to the island and the island will be moved.”]