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Larry Lessig's Last Free Culture Talk

Larry Lessig will be giving his last talk on the topic of "Free Culture" in about an hour. I had the pleasure of seeing Professor Lessig give this talk in September of 2006 as part of the Penn Reading Project and I think the ideas he presents are fascinating and have had a great impact on me. We've come a long way in some areas, such as in the slow death of over-restrictive DRM, but we're still a ways to go in other areas, such as the predatory litigation undertaken by the music and movie industries. As the blog post announcing the talk mentions, Professor Lessig will begin focusing on corruption in Washington, a topic I'm admittedly less interested in.

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Monday Morning YouTube Videos

Stumbled across two great videos this morning. What a great way to start off the week!

Gabe and Max's Internet Thing

via Marc Andreessen, who also posted this gem about rogue trader Jerome Kerviel.

Google Maps Street View Extreme™

via Paul Robinson

The Anti-37signals

This Official Google Docs Blog post title ("We can't stop adding features!") struck me as the complete opposite of the 37signals/Getting Real philosophy.

Now granted, I'm sure the title was tongue-in-cheek and caters to the general populace's "more features = better" mentality, AND the three features they added are actually quite useful (Save to PDF, better printing options, and vector shapes), but the title just struck me so much that I wanted to comment on it. Still, I think it's worth mentioning that I hope they can stop adding features, lest Google Office become too much like Microsoft Office.

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Tab Dump - Long Weekend Edition

Can't say I want to write anything too substantive on these links, but I do want to get them out there anyway because they're cluttering up my tab bar.

Monsters of the Programming World is a neat little poster anthropomorphizing common programming errors. I've been meaning to pick this up for our office.

Jeffrey Friedl has developed a Lightroom export plugin for Flickr. I haven't had a chance to test it out yet, as I've shamefully not uploaded any pictures to Flickr this year, but it should shave off a few clicks in my workflow if it works well enough.

Ken Rockwell on How To Afford Anything. The great thing about this article is that Ken isn't a personal finance guru, he's a photographer. This article isn't coming from a "I want to be rich" perspective but more from a "I want cool cameras" perspective, which appeals to me greater than the usual run-of-the-mill personal finance article.

Fraser Speirs on his photo editing workflow. Fraser uses Aperture, so his workflow is a bit more flexible than what is allowed (or rather suggested) by Lightroom. Still, some of his ideas carry across between any such application. I particularly enjoyed his rating process, something I currently do without much thought.

I'm working on listening to all of Fred Wilson's Top 10 Albums of the Year. Music recommendations from a VC, who would have thought? Fred's musical tastes are a bit off from mine and listening to his picks is an interesting experience. I haven't gotten through the entire list, but I did grab a copy of the Kings of Leon's Because of the Times, his number one pick. There are some songs I can't stand to listen to, and although the album as a whole isn't memorable, it is very catchy. That is, I can remember parts of songs but I can't identify which song it is or if it's the same part of another song. My biggest disappointment has to be the lyrical work. There's just not a whole lot going on there unfortunately.

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Custom iPhone Web Clip Icons

I was planning on writing about the Apple TV that I'm planning on buying soon, but instead I got caught up on iPhone Web Clips. Right after I installed the new iPhone update, I went to add my three favorite mobile sites, Twitter, Google Reader, and Facebook to my home screen. Suffice it to say that I was pretty disappointed when the three icons looked like white squares with some specks of dirt, thanks to their mobile-optimized design. I tried for about 10 minutes to come up with a way to write a page that will prepend the icon link to the mobile sites and give me custom icons, but nothing came out of that exercise.

Today, I came across a post by Paul Robinson linking to a solution to this by Matt McInerney. The solution is rather simple, and involves a few lines of Javascript to redirect visitors to the intended site after 2 seconds, enough time to hit the "+" button in MobileSafari and bookmark the page. I created pages for the three sites noted above, bookmarked them and then changed the redirect timeout to 0 seconds and voila, custom icons!

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Fresh Prince of MacBook Air

Apple announced their long-rumored ultraportable today, in the form of the MacBook Air, a machine that is described more by its physical specs than by its technical specs (both of which I won't repeat because they're are available elsewhere). Here are my thoughts:

  • My first impression was that the machine is damn sexy and I'd like to have one. That said, it is completely impractical for me. I don't travel nearly enough to justify the trade-offs that portability brings. I probably wouldn't spend my hard-earned dollars on it, but if I came across $2000 in Atlantic City one weekend, then perhaps I'd pick one up.
  • $1000 for the 64 GB solid state disk drive is both ludicrous (that it would cost so much to begin with) and reasonable (that it's actually a fair value for it) at the same time. It's definitely an early-adopter only option now, especially given that it costs almost as much as a new MacBook, but I'm glad Apple is at least giving buyers the option.
  • People will bitch about the non-user-replaceable battery this like they did when the iPhone came out. I think it'll turn out to not be as big a dealbreaker as it was made out to be and those who were going to buy one will and those who weren't won't.
  • Some of the new multi-touch gestures on the trackpad seem too gimmicky, although I thought the same thing about two-finger scroll and now I wonder how I lived without it. Three-finger back/forward could be useful but pinching to zoom and rotate seem very limited.

Verdict: Great machine. Not for me (yet, at least).

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Blu-Ray 1.0, 2.0, BD Live, BD Yuck

Consumerist is reporting that current Blu-Ray players won't correctly play future discs. The article goes on to talk about how current players only support certain profiles of discs, and that discs with newer profiles won't have all their features enabled for older players.

It's crap like this that makes me think that even though Blu-Ray may have beat/may be about to beat HD-DVD, it's a long ways away from getting full mainstream consumer adoption. I'm pretty technical, and even I don't understand all the nuances associated with the different profiles. When consumers are faced with making a choice, they'd just as often not make the choice for fear that if they do choose, they will choose incorrectly. I think this will happen to Blu-Ray and is just another reason why the next-gen format war will be won by the Internet. So why let this profiles garbage even happen? Consumerist reports:

When asked why current players were released to the market when in such a primitive state, manufacturers blamed the release of HD DVD and said it forced them to come to market too soon. "We should have waited another year to introduce Blu-ray to the public, but the format war changed the situation."

Of course, blame it on the other guys for making a mess of your own format. Why even worry have these profiles as "features"? I haven't seen anything like this plague the HD-DVD camp.

Regardless, we now have this mess on our hands. At least the early adopters can help spread the word of how great Blu-Ray is despite these small technical issues, right? Wrong. It seems like Blu-ray will be alienating those early adopters, instead of embracing them: 'Regarding current Blu-ray player owners, Blu-ray developers told BetaNews, "They knew what they were getting into."'

The high-def format war is far from over. Even after beating HD-DVD, Blu-ray faces an even greater foe: the consumer.

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Fixing Broken Windows

The "broken windows" theory comes from a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article on strategies to reduce vandalism.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

My theme for January (and possibly February as well) is to fix broken windows (or as GTD puts it, open loops). That is, to clean up all the half-finished miscellanea in my life. This ranges across everything from finishing books I've started to cleaning out that last box from my move six months ago to ongoing things such as not letting dishes, garbage, and laundry pile up for too long. Having broken windows not only draws energy, but also subconsciously let's you know that it's okay to not finish what you've started. Starting with a clean slate is a necessary condition for success in any new endeavors. In addition, the tiny successes brought by fixing broken windows create a positive feedback loop and it helps you complete even larger projects.

For the transition period, I think it's probably a better idea to save New Years' Resolutions until March. Take the first couple of months of the year to patch up anything left outstanding from the previous year(s) and start fresh, even if you are a few months late. I'd love to hear what other people think about this approach, so if you've had experience doing something like this, drop me a line in the comments or via email.

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Move South, Live Longer

At the risk of driving more old people to South Florida, I'm going to link to a New York Times article by Marginal Revolutionist Tyler Cowen. The article is about all sorts of things economists have learned in the past year, and the one Professor Mankiw pointed out and I find I'm able to relate to the most (as someone who has gone the other way) is the part about people who live in warmer climates tend to have a higher life expectancy:

Extreme cold brings cardiovascular stress as human bodies struggle to adjust to the temperature; many of the deaths in these periods come through heart attacks. Heat waves tend to kill people who were already weakened and would have died soon anyway; cold periods bring additional people to the verge of death.

When retired people move to a warmer state, their life expectancy rises dramatically. In fact, 8 to 15 percent of the increase in American life expectancy over the last 30 years comes from people moving to warmer climates.

(He also mentions that more people die in cold periods than in homicides, although I think that may not be true here in Philadelphia. ;-))

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Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Bloggers

First, me:
It's January 12 and I'm only 8 blog posts in (this would be number 9). Unfortunately, last week was a very busy week at work, as we delivered a new version of our software to one of our clients last night. Things weren't so bad at the beginning of the week, but the 12-15 hour days really took a toll on me as the week progressed and I just didn't have much energy to write anything when I got home (even on Twitter, my most recent update was posted last Sunday).

Second, Gizmodo:
One of their bloggers ran around turning TVs off with TV-B-Gone. He's been banned from CES but the blogosphere is up in arms because it reflects poorly on all bloggers and jeopardizes mainstream media's already tenuous perception of bloggers as not-really-journalists. John Biggs of Gizmodo rival CrunchGear (the blog that I stopped reading when they posted a story detailing how to go about stealing Leopard) has a rather insightful post on the whole issue and I think he sums it up nicely:

While I’m sure editors at Business Week rarely have to sprinkle out sawdust in the break room, they are looking to emulate our style if not our traffic. Unless they’re willing to accept the risk of an asshole move with the promise inspired ones, they’ll be sunk. And unless bloggers are ready to act their age and use their skills, energy, and position to help consumers and not piss of PR folks, they’re also sunk. We’re almost there, but each stunt like this pushes us back a notch.

Also, see TechMeme yesterday at around 4:15 for more of the conversation.

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