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Archive for May 2011

Welcome to Macintosh – 20 years later

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Lisa and the Mac

I haven’t touched an Apple Macintosh in more than 20 years.  I’m no stranger to the Mac (or even the Lisa).  I laid my hands on the Apple Lisa in college.  At a price tag of about $10,000 with its 5MB hard drive no real person could afford this computer.  At the time, a PC cost about $3,000.  But, the Lisa, what a wonder.  What we saw was the graphical user interface.  This was the first time people saw a mouse, and icons, and all the rest of what we take for grated now.  I remember, watching people play with the Lisa for the first time, they would throw the clock icon into the trash icon just to see what would happen.  Computers with pictures?  Icons?

Then there was the Mac – a computer for the Rest Of Us.  There was the Mac, the Fat Mac, the Mac Plus, the Mac SE, the Mac II, and all the rest.  At that time, if I remember correctly, a Mac for the Rest of Us was about $2,500.

At the time, the Mac was still more costly than a PC.  People would say, why should I get a Mac when I can get a PC for 30% less?  They didn’t get it.  If you got it, you got it.  And if you didn’t get it, no one could explain it to you.  I remember a PC person telling me, when they found out I had a Mac, “Oh, you’re not smart enough to use a PC – you have a Mac.”.  Ok, DMA’s, IRQ’s, jumpers.  Why should anyone have to mess with any of this stuff if all they wan to do is add a CD-ROM drive, or hard drive, or sound card, or video card?

Can only technicians have computers?  If so, what would they do with them?  Compute?  Crunch numbers?  Is there more that can be accomplished if computers were put in the hands of photographers, artists, musicians, and other non technical people?  It was a paradigm shift beyond technology for the sake and end purpose of technology and traditional computing as understood in the context of corporate computing migrated to the desktop.  Apple saw potential that IBM could not see.

NeXT

Then there was the NeXT Cube.  I had one and it was a beautiful piece of design and software engineering.  This was the second entrepreneurial adventure of Steve Jobs – after he got fired from Apple.  At $6,000 for the NeXT Cube it wasn’t quite for the Rest of Us.  But only for Some of Us.  The NeXT was too expensive, very few applications, and targeted primarily to the educational market.  Long live the Cube.

So, skip about 20 years and my hiatus from Apple by using nothing but Windows.  In most of the business world of Fortune 500 companies all you will find is a sea of  commodity PC’s (servers and desktops) and very few Mac’s.  It’s mostly about cost, standardization, and simply the momentum of PC’s in the business world.

Welcome to Macintosh

So, for no real reason, I thought I would get a Mac.  Macintosh, where have you been in the past 20 years?

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Written by frrl

May 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm

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Let the music rain from the cloud

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What do you do if you’re Amazon and you have to dent Apple’s iTunes juggernaut and its upcoming launch of its cloud music service? Compete on price—early and often.

That’s what Amazon is doing in spades today. Its 99 cent one-day offer for Lady Gaga’s new album is exactly what it should be doing if it’s going to grab some of Apple’s market share. And guess what? You fork over 99 cents. You get Lady Gaga’s album, which I had no intention of buying until it was 99 cents. And you get 20GB of Amazon’s cloud storage

Meanwhile, you may stick around despite a few server glitches. You may even stick with Amazon’s Cloud Player and buy more storage in the future.

Peter Fader, marketing at professor at Wharton, lays out Amazon’s challenge in a http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/ article:

“Amazon isn’t part of your daily life. Consumers touch Google, Microsoft and Apple all the time. They are only reaching out to Amazon when buying something. Amazon wants to be a part of people’s lives multiple times a day.”

With Amazon’s Kindle, likely tablets, streaming video and cloud music the company is grabbing everyday users. If Lady Gaga and a 99 cent album is what it takes to acquire customers Amazon will take that loss leading bet all day.

Yes, that’s right. Amazon wants to be part of your everyday life. So, I took a chance.

I was already an Amazon Cloud Drive user. You get 5GB of storage for free.

So, I took them up on their offer – $0.99 for the new Lady Gaga Album: Born This Way. What’s $0.99? And that is not for one song – that’s $0.99 for the entire album.

I place my order and I get a note from Amazon saying they upgraded my Amazon Cloud Drive from 5 GB of storage to 20 GB of storage for one year. My choice to renew this upgraded storage in a year.

When you buy the music at Amazon you can choose to have them store it for you and you listen to it on-line with Amazon Cloud Player.  Or, download it to your local PC, Mac, or MP3 player.  Since we are “always connected” I left it on the cloud.

What about my Apple iPod Touch?  Can I stream my MP3 music to my iPod?  Amazon does not have a dedicated Cloud Player application for the iPod Touch or iPhone.  BUT you can fire up the Safari browser on the iPod Touch and point it to Amazon’s Cloud Player on the web.  Respond “continue” to the message that says your browser is not compatible with Cloud player.  Then start listening on the iPod Touch.

So, Amazon wants to be part of my (and your) digital life..

  1. I have Amazon Cloud Drive (20 GB) with all sorts of media on it. (Worried?  AxCrypt)
  2. I have Amazon-purchased music  and can upload more MP3’s that I purchased from other places.
  3. $0.99 for the Lady Gaga Album – all the songs
  4. During May, Amazon has 1,500 albums for $5.00 each
  5. “Play the Cloud” on almost any internet connected device (including iPod Touch and iPhone)
  6. Amazon keeps all my Kindle books, bookmarks, and notes – which I can read anywhere.

Part of my digital life?  Nice start.  I’m there.  (Until something better comes along)

Read the full article from the Wharton School on the competition among Amazon, Google, and Apple
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2768

Written by frrl

May 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

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Can College Teach you Disco Sticks?

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I used to walk down the street like I was a star. I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be – and then to fight so hard for it that the lie becomes the truth.  — Lady Gaga

A few days ago I had a conversation with a guy that told me about his son.  His son was going to college to finish up his Ph.D  in music.  I was thinking about what a person with a Ph.D in music would do.  He told me that his son played a couple of instruments and composed music.  A typical path for a person with a Ph.D. in music would be academia.  In an academic environment his son could help other people get their Ph.D. in music.  And so the cycle would continue.

Last night Lady Gaga was a guest on the David Letterman Show.  Dave asked her if she finished high school.  She said she finished high school but didn’t finish college.  Dave asked her if she would consider going back to college.  She said, No.

Singer/Songwriter Gaga said that in her line of work she didn’t know how they could teach you how to ride Disco Sticks.  Dave agreed, “No, they really can’t.”  That was followed by laughter and applause.

Lady Gaga has won 5 Grammy Awards and sold 15 million albums.

If I told you the name of the man’s son who will soon have his Ph.D. and composes music you wouldn’t know his name.

Isn’t it curious.  Given these two paths – music Ph.D and rock star, it makes you wonder what music really is.  What is the path to mastery of “music”?  What is the demonstration of mastery?  Maybe music is something you can only experience – nothing you can think about in the context of academics – perhaps that is music in its diminished state.  If we think we understand music and how it rouses the emotions and how it works then why can’t we produce the greatest music on-demand?

That we can’t produce the next hit on-demand shows there is little understanding of music – even at the level of academics.  It takes people like Gaga, Jimi Hendrix, Angus Young, and the rest to create music – of near religious experience – that people want to hear, buy, and pay big money to attend concerts where it is performed live in the presence of tens of thousands of people.

The path to music by Gaga and the rest is far away from conceptual thought and rational analysis as embodied by academia and academics on their way to earning a Ph.D. in music.  Makes you wonder if a Ph.D in music is simply a demonstration of an inability or incapacity.  Rock stars don’t need Ph.D’s in music to create music that can sell 15 million albums.

“Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.”  I suppose that must be true.

Resources

Often imitated; never duplicated

https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/national-public-radio-npr-does-lady-gaga/
https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/larry-king-does-lady-gaga/

Quotable Gaga – https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/quotable-lady-gaga/

Written by frrl

May 25, 2011 at 3:24 am

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Doing Hard Time in the Workplace

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Obvious but not at the level of consciousness

Many things are obvious.  But some things are not obvious until someone points them out to you.  That is the curious thing about “obvious”.  Things that are obvious may not be at the forefront of your consciousness.  If obvious things do not operate at the level of consciousness to the extent that they influence judgement and behaviour then obvious things can be the most overlooked aspect of decision-making.  Even though, when someone tells you, you say, “I knew that all along”.  Sure you did.  But did it matter?  If obvious things do not operate at the level of consciousness and you do not consider them in making judgments, then you become oblivious to the obvious – the obvious which is right in front of you all along if you could recognize it.

Word games?  No.

I recently read a posting by Seth Godin (link and quote below).  In that posting he made a distinction between people who “work long” versus people who “work hard”.  This distinction is a way that people differentiate themselves in the workplace.  And this differentiation makes all the difference in the world in terms of career advancement.

The Long Work

What characterises the long work is that it is work of repetition.  An example of “work as repetition” that immediately occurs to most people is factory work.  In you ever saw the series “How it’s made” on the science channel then you can see many examples of this.  Put 24 bags of potato chips in a box; seal the box; stack the box.  Repeat – 8 hours a day; 5 days a week; 52 weeks a year.  My favorite episode is when they showed a lady who, by hand, but the eyes on peeps.  Another episode showed a lady that put eyes on chocolate bunnies.  (Two eyes only, please – don’t frighten the children).  How about a punch press operator?  Slide the sheet of steel into the press; apply 500 tons of pressure; produce a fully formed fender for a Detroit automobile.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Work as repetition – the long work – is generally work that is well understood.  The process that the work encodes  is predictable and the outcome is well described.  You simply do the same thing over and over with very little variation.  There is no mystery about it.  You simply “show up” and do the work with very little thought.

The Hard Work

What characterises hard work is the opposite of long work.  Hard work is the work where the process is not wel understood, there are lots of unknown or unpredictable variables, and the outcome may be easily recognizable in the future but the consequences of not achieving the outcome can have dire consequences.  In some cases, the outcome of the work may be discernible only over a long period of time as you continuously invest time and money.  An example would be corporate executives who make investment decisions in new products or services to meet a projected corporate growth targets in the context of consumers and markets whose demands fluctuate and the unknowns of competitors response strategies.  Other examples would be political decision-making and social policy.  Read related postings on Wicked Problems and Physics Envy (links below)

Why it matters and how it operates in the workplace

I recently spoke to a person who told me his wife was about to retire.  This person’s wife was vice president of a Fortune 100 financial services company.  He also told me that his wife had worked for this company for the past 25 years after getting an MBA when she was in her late 20’s.  In response to a comment by me about his wife’s long tenure at this single company he said, “Doesn’t everyone who works for a company this long eventually end up as a Vice President?”

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Written by frrl

May 23, 2011 at 2:42 am

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Why is it so hard to embarrass people these days?

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I’d Rather Not Be on Relief

I’d rather not be on the rolls of relief,
Or work on the W. P. A.,
We’d rather work for the farmer
If the farmer could raise the pay;
Then the farmer could plant more cotton
And he’d get more money for spuds,
Instead of wearing patches,
We’d dress up in new duds.

Voices from the Dust Bowl
1938

Caught this in the news.

One Mr. Fick won $2 million in the lottery.  But still uses food stamps at the tax payers expense.

According to Mr. Fick

“If you’re going to … try to make me feel bad, you aren’t going to do it. It ain’t going to happen,” he said.

What happened to people who were embarrassed to be “on relief” or on “assistance”? 

In Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath written during the Dust Bowl era the Joad family would rather have a job than take relief.  It was below the dignity of the family to be on relief; they kept searching for a job all the way to California.

These days it seems that some people’s highest ambition is to get on some part of the American welfare system perhaps forgetting that it is simply a transfer of wealth from their (unwilling) neighbors to them mediated by the government.  Their conscience does not seem to bother them.

If you want to know why we have so many laws it’s because of people like this and their judgement.  Legislating “good behavior” is not the way to go.  I think what we see here is a failure to socialize people into a community.  “Every man for himself”, Mr. Fick wants to say.

It’s a sort of “guiltlessness” that Martha Stout Ph.D wrote about:

This condition of missing conscience is called by other names, too, most often “sociopathy,” or the somewhat more familiar term psychopathy.  Guiltlessness was in fact the first personality disorder to be recognized by psychiatry, and terms that have been used at times over the past century include manie sans délire, psychopathic inferiority, moral insanity, and moral imbecility.

Maybe that’s a little harsh.

Read about those who lack a conscience (1 in 25 people according to Stout)   –  The Sociopath Next Door

Check out some stories about Mr. Fick

http://www.lotterypost.com/news/231681
http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_localdtw/20110518/ts_yblog_localdtw/2m-michigan-lottery-winner-defends-use-of-food-stamps

Written by frrl

May 19, 2011 at 9:30 pm

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Hawking: Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark

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I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. – Stephen Hawking

I came across this interview with Steven Hawking (read it).

Over the past year I read about a dozen books written by physicists about various aspects of dark matter, the nature of reality, quantum reality, and so on.  I also read The Grand Design by Hawking and wrote a review of the book (read it).

What struck me about The Grand Design is its polemic against religion.  Of all the other books I read this year with similar topics none of them really mentioned anything about god or about religion.  My general observation has been that when physicists are promoting a book and are asked a question about god they generally avoid the question or say that god is not in the domain of physics or science.

But not Hawking.  The Grand Design is as much about religion as it is about Physics.  There is an unrelenting criticism of religion as the primary inhibitor of man’s progress in understanding the workings of the Universe.  And of course there is no need of god as the “first mover unmoved” (Aristotle (more) )

Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.  – Stephen Hawking

If it’s not crystal clear in the interview cited above, it is clear in The Grand Design:

1.  God was not needed for the creation of the Universe
2.  Miracles do not happen and there is no active role for God
3.  Man has no free will.  Free will is an illusion.

For the chief malady of man is restless curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose.  –Blaise Pascal

Pascal’s Wager – the gambit on the existence of god

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Written by frrl

May 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Review of the Amazon Kindle: Hummus, Goat Cheese, and Kindle

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Read part 1 of the Amazon Kindle review here.  Tools and links to ebook libraries here.

When I was at the grocery store I grabbed a container of Hummus.  There was a young woman stocking the shelves near me.  When she saw me grab the Hummus she said to me, “How can you eat that stuff?”.  I told her that if she didn’t like it she didn’t eat enough of it and that Hummus could  be an acquired taste.  Kinda like Starbucks coffee.  Some say it tastes bitter.  But after you drink enough Starbucks and eat enough Hummus you might come to like them both – even if you hate them on the first try.  Goat cheese anyone?

That’s kinda like the Amazon Kindle.  I “hate this thing” but yet I can’t put it down.  Without the touch screen, “cursor-ing around” on what is essentially a character-cell display using the tiny keys reminds me of the late 1970’s when you would cursor-around on a forms based DOS PC display.  I did finally master text highlighting, making marginal notes, and making bookmarks on the Kindle – although the technique seems archaic without a touch screen.

The “like” parts of the “I hate this thing” are: the portability, the battery life, and the wireless access.

The Kindle is very portable.  It’s hard not to pick it up and just use it.  When you switch it on it starts instantly and picks up where you were last reading.  I used to think that I could just use my laptop – a 14 inch  ThinkPad – and read all the books I want.  But, even though the laptop is small and portable it is simply not as quick and as portable as the Kindle.  When the Kindle is sitting there on the table I just can’t not pick it up and start using it.

The battery life is amazing.  I did some research on the e-ink technology (electrophoretic) that Kindle uses.  It turns out that once the e-ink is set no power is required maintain the display.  If you turn the wireless off (no need of this while you are reading) it would seem that the only power needed would be for the CPU to scan the keyset and other input ports.  Power seems to be needed for the display only when you flip to the page.  The Kindle will “flash” in inverse color (B/W) to set the pixels in the display and then that seems to be it for the display.  I have been using the Kindle for about a week and perhaps put 20 miles (hours) of reading on it.  The battery shows about 95% capacity.  (Technical spoiler alert: Battery draw – 2.4 mA Kindle idling compared to 76 mA for a typical LED – see links below)

Getting books for the Kindle could not be easier.  I really get a kick out of e-mailing stuff to the Kindle.  You can obtain books from many sources and once you get them simply e-mail them to the Kindle.  These e-mail messages really go to Amazon for conversion.  After conversion they are stored at Amazon until you turn on your Kindle wireless.  Once the Wi-fi is established your books will be automatically delivered to the Kindle.  Or course, you can shop the Amazon store directly from the Kindle and books are delivered as soon as you purchase them.  I have only “purchased” free books so far from the Kindle store.  Tuns out that “Buy” is pre-selected when you ask for book details.  Impulse buyers beware.

There is some interesting experimental stuff in the Kindle: a MP3 player, text-to-speech, and a web browser.

Buying Information for Mobile Book Readers

Like Hummus or goat cheese you may not think you like it until you tried it – and tried it long enough.  If you are looking for a mobile book reader I would suggest you do your research.  At $139 for the Kindle from Amazon with free shipping and no tax it’s almost a throw-away – unlike a full tablet.

So far the best site that I found for information and research on mobile book readers is –

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Written by frrl

May 15, 2011 at 3:13 am

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