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Child of the Corn



Child of the Corn

Originally uploaded by Martin Gordon.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the corn maze outside of Boston we went to when I visited over fall break a week and a half ago.

Very creepy and very fitting for Halloween IMHO.

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10 Days!

It's been 10 days since I posted. Last weekend was fall break so me and my roommate, Adam, drove up to Boston for the weekend. Boston is a pain to navigate, and the recently released Google Maps for Palm OS was a real time saver — when I got cell phone service. It's astonishing how such Cingular doesn't provide adequate service in such a large metropolitan area. I get great service anywhere else I've been but Boston seems to be a black hole of Cingular coverage.

A bunch of things just bunched up on this short week, including a reaction paper to Fred Brooks' The Mythical Man-Month (which coincided almost perfectly with 37signals' release of a free online version of their software development book, Getting Real). and a bunch of group meetings. I've been re-inspired by Marc Canter's post on "the amount of automation, modernization and catch-up that the health and medical professions require," as it relates to one of my group projects related to his conclusion (which I won't disclose publicly in case we decide to take it further than just a pedagogical exercise).

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ScobleShow Review

I'm just about done watching every episode of Robert Scoble's ScobleShow put out so far. As someone who hasn't touched his DSLR in a very long time, my favorite (and most inspiring) episodes are the Photowalking with Thomas Hawk series of videos.

The best part of his show is that it works. I've subscribed to Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection and checked out Zoomr (though I'm still partial to Flickr). And while I haven't checked out all of the companies he's featured, I have checked out a few of them (Become.com [video] and Cuts [video]). And while I probably would have checked those sites out if Robert would have linked to them on his blog instead, they are a lot more memorable if I can put a face to the site I might just look at a handful of times. In other words, the stickiness factor of video is much higher than that of text.

My concerns about video podcasts apply to the medium in general, not just Robert's show, but I think it's worthwhile to mention them here:

One of my big concerns with video podcasts, and particularly ones so full of content, is the inability to comment effectively. While I can easily quote a section of one of Robert's blog posts, it's currently impossible to similarly comment on a particular snippet of video without making people download the entire show and manually search for the part I'm commenting on. Perhaps Cuts (a video-editing app featured on the ScobleShow) could help with this.

Another factor affecting the amount I comment is that the iTunes -> web browser link isn't quite there. I know that Ze Frank and Rocketboom have active communities, for example, but they're non-existent to me because of the effort it takes (yes, I'm lazy) to go from a given video in iTunes to that video's comments. Contrast this to the simplicity of the NetNewsWire -> web browser link, where I can just push the right arrow and have the post load up for me in the background.

Finally, I feel that Robert's videos are a bit too long. The product demo episodes have been short enough and require video so I'll watch those straight through. The interview episodes tend to be a lot longer and keep my attention for less time. My main concern with those is that they often don't convey any visual information - I can keep them playing behind a bunch of windows and not miss anything by just listening to the audio.

All that said, Robert's show does give us some great behind-the-scenes content as well as also providing footage for those of us not in the Bay Area with which to refine our mental images. Unless I fall too far behind (which doesn't look likely given my ever-decreasing count of unlistened podcasts), I don't see myself unsubscribing any time soon.

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DigitalLife 06

I attended the DigitalLife show this past Saturday. I got a chance to see some interesting little toys, get some hands-on time with the PS3 and got a chance to hang with Robert Heron, Patrick Norton and Jim Lauderback of dl.tv/PCMag. Here are some of my impressions:

  • The new Treo 680 is a nice (but incremental) improvement over the 650. It definitely does not reflect the two year gap between the 650 and the 680. It loses the antenna, but keeps the awful VGA camera and same processor.
  • Dell was everywhere. I didn't see many non-Dell/Alienware machine on the floor.
  • The 20" Dell notebook is a hoss. I can't imagine anyone buying it and actually taking it anywhere. If it would actually fit on an airplane tray table, I can see the table just snapping off under the sheer weight of this machine. Even for LAN parties, I think a Shuttle box and separate display might be easier to manage, and would be a whole lot more upgradeable.
  • While I didn't get to hold the controller, I did see the Wii on display. The system is about the size I expected, but the controller looks a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Elebits was the game on display, and while it didn't look particularly fun, it did do a good job of showing off the Wiimote.
  • The PS3 controller is a nice incremental improvement over the PS2 controller. I like the way R2/L2 were converted to semi-trigger buttons and the slightlly smaller grip felt a bit better.
  • Sonic on the PS3, although 70% complete, was pretty buggy. Lots of clipping issues were apparent and the 360 version (85% complete) felt a lot faster. The graphics on the PS3 were great, although they didn't seem that much better than the 360.

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In Search Results We Trust

Robert writes about how Windows Live search has gotten a lot better. He then wonders if it'll do them any good.

Now, the problem is, if Microsoft matches Google, who will switch away from Google? I won’t. The trust I’ve built since the late 1990s of searching Google many times a day without a problem is going to be a very hard thing to beat. To get me to switch Microsoft will have to be better than Google.

How about you? Does Microsoft (or Yahoo or Ask) have any hope of getting you to switch your default search engine?

I have to agree with him. Any time I use a search that's not Google, I'm left with the lingering thought, "Is there something missing here that Google would find?" I trust Google's search results completely. I'm not quite there yet with any other service. And I don't think I ever will be. First of all, I'm probably not going to search my default search engine, but if I did, I'd most likely go through a trust-earning period where I'd double-check all my searches in Google. It would probably be way too much overhead to be worthwhile. I'm right back to Google.

Heck, when I directed one of my Yahoo-favoring friends to do a web search, I told him to "just use Google" without even waiting to see if what we were looking for was in the page results.

Something as simple as the name has a profound effect on search engine choice. "Just google it" sounds right. "Just live.com it", "just yahoo it", or "just ask.com it" sound awkward.

So will just being better than Google get me to switch? Probably not, since I'll have no way of knowing.

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Reality Outside The Echo Chamber

We briefly discussed the Google/YouTube deal in two of my classes (MGMT 230: Entrepreneurship and FNCE 250: Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation) this past week. In both classes, either I overheard or someone asked the professor, "What's YouTube?"

Now, I don't necessarily expect the average person walking down the street to know what YouTube is, but the people in my classes aren't particular average. For one, we're at the best undergrad business school in the country. Second of all, these are classes focused on entrepreneurship and VC, so I hope that the people in these classes have an interest in the subject. Yet there are some people in this very specific group who had no idea what YouTube is.

I'm still not sure if I've lost faith in my fellow classmates or gained faith in the power of the echo chamber.

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Penn Unveils Ruckus Music Service, Alienates Mac/Linux Users

I just got an email from our Undergraduate Assembly chair announcing that Ruckus will be available to all Penn students for free (read: factored into tuition):

The Undergraduate Assembly, working with GAPSA, College Houses and Academic
Services, the Residential Advisory Board, and Information Systems and Computing
proudly provide a FREE, legal, music downloading service to all Penn students.

http://www.upenn.edu/computing/music/index.html

The Ruckus music library contains over 1.5 million tracks of music!

Ruckus offers:

* Unlimited downloads of music to your computer
* Downloads that are legal, virus free and sypware free
* New releases added every Wednesday
* Albums download in under a minute
* Online community, allowing you to trade playlists, share
recommendations and connect with friends
* Hundreds of movie titles and many current and classic television
series for an extra fee
* For more information about Ruckus at Penn, read the FAQ
-NOTE: Does not upload songs to iPod-

For what it's worth, here is the Daily Pennsylvanian article on it and the University FAQ page.

I do have to say that this is a huge disappointment. While I don't necessarily condone piracy and I do understand the University's need to cover their asses, they could have tried something a little more out of the box. Penn alum, Larry Lessig, spoke here for New Student Orientation. Why not work something out with Creative Commons? I'm sure the Podsafe Music Network wouldn't mind the exposure if they were willing to work out a deal. eMusic offers DRM-free (and hence cross-platform) music. What about a straight subsidy for a subscription based on the student's choice? I'll take $100/year from the iTunes Store over a worthless subscription to Ruckus. Now, I'm not discounting the evils of Apple's closed system, but if you want everyone to use your service, make it work on the devices everyone already used (I know this is impossible in the current state of things).

This is just stupid, stupid, stupid. Despite being pretty OS-agnostic, the University is now indirectly adopting Windows as the default OS choice. Imagine campus sales rep: "Well, the Mac would be ideal for your photography/filmography major, but you won't have access to the music service you're forced to buy into." And what about the 80%+ marketshare (probably a lot higher in college) the iPod holds? How do you explain to Joe English Major that his iPod can't play the music he's listening to on his PC? Even Microsoft's own Zune music player won't play PlaysForSure music from other services.

Is this new music service going to make music piracy disappear on campus? Absolutely not. Mac and Linux users gain nothing from the service and will continue to acquire music by the same means they used to. Windows users with iPods are in the same boat. They'll continue to pirate music or buy it from iTunes so it'll play on the iPod. Those that are able to might try it out, but it's not going to replace conventional means. Meanwhile, I'll be subsidizing this little experiment while listening to my free podcasts and live recordings.

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Monday Links

Some from last week:

A map of soda/pop/coke popularity by county. Some interesting little pockets of "soda" in the mid-West and I didn't know most of Florida preferred Coke, but with only 120k respondents across the U.S., maybe it's not too accurate.

A McDonald's billboard features a sundial. Too bad it's McDonald's because the ad is pretty cool. Total calories consumed before 1pm according to the ad: over 3000.

Pacman for Excel. For some reason I have had this page open for a few days and have yet to download it. Weird.

The Wiimote retail box unveiled. Nintendo's Apple-like design approach has extended to the Wiimote box, which looks a lot like the new iPod nano enclosure.

Interesting coincidences while watching the 6 Star Wars movies simultaneously. Some are a bit of stretch and I doubt that any of them were planned.

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