always explain the why

This is a simple rule, but I think it’s a valuable one in several if not all spheres of life — business and family for sure. I think it will make me a better parent.

Necktie overload

I realized tonight that I have way too many ties.

I’ve had this mostly broken tie rotator in my closet for the past year or so (it used to work before that). When I’ve wanted to find a tie to wear, I’ve had to manually rotate the belt to circulate the ties. I decided to take action and remove this broken piece of technology today. So I ripped it off the hanger rod in my closet and that’s when I realized just how many ties I have.

How many? I’d say the count is easily above 50, maybe approaching 75. I’m not sure where these things came from, but somewhere along the way I picked up a bunch of ties. Yes, it is ridiculous. Want a tie?

problem solved with… a corded telephone

Sometimes you have a problem that only gets solved with some very old, very non-flashy technology. We have a Panasonic multi-line, multi-handset telephone system in the main house with probably 5-6 handsets. We also have a room that’s designated as the library and has the main computer (the same one that I recently bought a new dell widescreen LCD for). Problem was this: very often, when someone was working on that computer, they would want to make or answer a phone call (examples: look up restaurant review and phone number, call to make a reservation; look up store hours, call to confirm availability of some product; working at the desk and the phone rings). So as you might guess, cordless phones are useless in this scenario — you’ve got to go hunt around for one and when you have as many people at home as we have, forget about it. No amount of training or exhortation will EVER get anyone to put anything where it belongs, much less the cordless telephones. That’s why they are cordless!!! So that they can be taken into far corners of the house and hidden so no one else can find them or use them!!!

So I always thought it would be a good idea to get a two-line corded phone for that desk but never got around to it until last weekend. (As a side note, amazon and most other online stores don’t make it at all easy to find corded telephones. Consumerreports.com hardly has any reviews of them. Likewise for other product review sites. So I was a gadget-purchaser-fish out of water. Not much to help me buy the right phone.) Last weekend I bought two single line, compact corded telephones with caller id from Target:

I’m getting high praise around the house as EVERYONE has been using these phones. Sometimes, the solution to a problem, even for the earliest of early adopters, is old technology.

Ticketmaster is terrible

I’m on the phone with Ticketmaster right now. What a terrible company. Ugh.

So here’s the story, quickly: Shonali bought 4 tickets to an upcoming showing of the musical “Wicked” for a friend (b/c the tickets were being pre-sold to Amex gold card holders and Shonali has one and her friend doesn’t). But after buying the tickets Shonali realized her friend had mixed up the dates and actually needed tickets for the following week. Shonali asked me to take care of it. I called Ticketmaster. I waited for a long time, frustrating in this day and age for any sort of customer service. I spoke to someone who said, “Your tickets have been mailed and you need them in-hand before I can help you.” OK, fine, it’s like a paper ticket. I get it, I’ll wait.

So I got the tickets earlier this week and I called back today. Again, I have to wait a long time before I’m connected to someone. The gal on the phone is flippant, unsympathetic, and unhelpful. From her, after going around and around a few times (I could have sworn she was chewing bubble gum, filing her nails and rolling her eyes while I talked to her), I find out that there is no such thing as an exchange and that I need to mail the tickets back for a refund and buy completely new tickets if I want to.

Why didn’t someone tell me that 6 days ago when I first called when I could have gotten better tickets for the following week?

I have to say that I’ve always disliked Ticketmaster, their service fees are outrageously high and they’ve never seemed worth it (in this case, their service fees accounted for about 15% of what I paid — $10 per ticket!). They don’t serve much of a function, at least not to me as a consumer. And to then see them do what very little they do (acting as a middleman for ticket sales) so poorly, well, it’s really frustrating. I don’t know anything about their business or their stranglehold over their customers, but I do know that there are countless companies today that could do what they do better than them — how long before Ticketmaster gets toppled?

Google SMS: my latest show-and-tell

I pretty consistently have some technology product/service that I think is cool that I evangelize and show off to anyone and everyone that I meet. A couple of weeks ago, it was Google Earth. Five years ago (give or take) it was my home WiFi network, back in 1996 when I was living in Washington D.C. and working for American Management Systems it was my Palm III organizer (back in the US Robotics days, before 3com and everything else that has followed). For a while recently it was Lookout (and Google Desktop and X1, but mostly Lookout since it’s what I use the most).

The thing I’ve been show-and-telling most recently is Google SMS. I use SMS a fair bit, the most when I’m out of the country or when Shonali is out of the country — so I’m pretty good with text entry using T9 and I love everything about the user interface on my Nokia cell phone (including how it learns proper nouns in my ‘vocabulary’ that weren’t built into its dictionary — I should write about my love of my Nokia 6610 another time). So I’ve known about Google SMS for a while, but I only recently started using it. It’s great. No more 411 and it does a whole lot more. I was in San Jose on Wednesday of this week and on my way to a meeting, I decided I needed some coffee — I punched in the zipcode for where I was (I had it because I had just checked into my hotel and it was on the receipt) and ‘starbucks’ and I instantly got a list of all the nearby locations. I was parked at a Starbucks within about 2 minutes. Likewise, I’ve used it to get restaurant numbers, movie showtimes, and more. It just works. Now it certainly has it’s limitations. There’s no interactivity and the response time between input and output isn’t that great (again, not Google’s fault — it’s just about the way SMS works). This just means I have to know exactly what I’m looking for. Text entry can also be difficult for some people, so those people will continue to use 411’s voice-based technology. Also, for someone whose not done any serious sms’ing, I’d imagine the menus might seem esoteric for a query response sequence.

I’ve also briefly tried Google’s richer XHTML based portal for mobile devices (mobile.google.com, I think) and it improves on a lot. Again, like their SMS product, the results of this product are extremely well suited to the target device (which translates to “it just works!” in terms of user reaction). You can iterate more with your queries on this device, though the Cingular Edge Treo 650 that I tried it on was still laggier than I had hoped. I could search Google Local for a restaurant or a restaurant category and not only get a phone number and address, but I got a map (that I could zoom in and out of) and the ability to get driving directions. Similarly, I could look up movie times and more. I didn’t have enough time to use it in real life, but I could tell that there was quite a bit of promise behind the concept.

Google SMS is great, if you can get the hang of using SMS, I predict it will be invaluable to you.

Just getting to ‘e’ for ebay

I have had about 200MB and 45,000 e-mail messages marked as SPAM sitting up on our company mail servers from the past couple of months. While most of them are actually SPAM, some could be actual messages that never made it through so I’m sitting down today to go through the painstaking process of filtering out the good messages and deleting the rest. Luckily, our SPAM filters are relatively good and I’m mostly deleting messages. I just hit ‘e’ and boy do a lot of spammers masquerade their SPAM messages as ebay emails!

switched to cable modem

About 2 weeks ago, I switched from DSL to cable modem and my connection is much, much faster now. It mostly just makes a difference when I’m pulling down large files. I’m not sure why I couldn’t get more out of my DSL connection… I think it might have had something to do with my distance from my nearest CO (central office). I know that I wasn’t eligible for SBC-Yahoo’s premium service for this reason.

iTunes everywhere

So I’ve been thinking about this ever since I bought a new wide screen Dell Ultrasharp LCD monitor and integrated speaker for the PC downstairs: wouldn’t it be cool if the 100 or so CDs that I have ripped to my iMac upstairs were available everywhere in the house? The only thing preventing it was the fact that iTunes’s built-in sharing feature would only permit sharing between computers on the same subnet. So I actually spent the time to reconfigure the two routers that provide network connectivity between the apartment upstairs and the house downstairs so now they’re on the same subnet and voila… iTunes everywhere. It’s pretty cool… The stereo for the speakers on the patio and by the pool are immediately below the apartment (which is where the iMac is) so nowadays when we are out by the pool, I just drag one of the laptops down there and wirelessly share music from the iMac upstairs to iTunes on the laptop downstairs. What we used to do was sync some music to the iPod Shuffle and then hook that up to the stereo downstairs.

Now I’m thinking about getting some appliances — like the Roku Soundbridge — that will eliminate the need for a laptop or a PC in between. I wonder if the iTunes SDK could enable a plug-in for Beyond Media for iTunes? I would LOVE that.

Google web accelerator causes IMAIL web-based e-mail to fail

I discovered something interesting… I occasionally check e-mail on my company e-mail address through IMAIL’s web-based e-mail client. Recently, from the computer downstairs at my house it hasn’t worked and today I figured out why. I have the Google Web Accelerator installed on this computer and somehow it prevents IMAIL’s web-based e-mail client from working correctly. Is there anything out there that fixes this problem in Google’s web accelerator? Is it a known bug (or is there a similar class of bugs that’s known)?

No high-res data for Monroe, LA in Google Earth

I was hyping Google Earth to my brother-in-law and sister last night as I drove them back from the airport and when we got home I pulled it up and punched in the address for their new home in Monroe, Louisiana. No high-res data! I wonder how Google Earth determines which areas they store high-res data for and which ones they don’t — seems logical that they would use something like population density. I would have thought that they’d simply have the entire United States covered. However they determine that, I don’t like hyping something only to fall flat on my face when I go to demo. Curse you Google Earth!! 🙂

If anyone’s curious about why they are moving to Monroe, it’s because my brother-in-law has recently taken a job with CenturyTel.