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Tag Archives: microsoft

  • San Francisco’s Big Seismic Gamble
    The West Coast and the Big One is another one of my pet interests. Here’s another article on some information about how SF is (not) being prepared.

    Right now the code says a structure must be engineered to have a 90 percent chance of avoiding total collapse. But many experts believe that is not enough.

    “Ten percent of buildings will collapse,” said Lucy Jones, the former leader of natural hazards research at the United States Geological Survey who is leading a campaign to make building codes in California stronger. “I don’t understand why that’s acceptable.”

    The code also does not specify that a building be fit for occupancy after an earthquake. Many buildings might not collapse completely, but they could be damaged beyond repair. The interior walls, the plumbing, elevators — all could be wrecked or damaged.

    “When I tell people what the current building code gives them most people are shocked,” Dr. Jones said. “Enough buildings will be so badly damaged that people are going to find it too hard to live in L.A. or San Francisco.”

  • The Chinese Workers Who Assemble Designer Bags in Tuscany
    In order to slap a “Made In Italy” label on their bags, fashion houses are employing Chinese people in Italy to assemble their bags. Fortunately, the Chinese are getting rich from it.

    Just outside the city walls, in Prato’s Chinatown, well-to-do Chinese families were carrying their own wrapped parcels of sweets: mashed-taro buns, red-bean cakes. Suburbanites, coming into town to see relatives, drove BMWs, Audis, and Mercedeses. (In a telling remark, more than one Italian insisted to me that no Chinese person would be caught in a Fiat Panda, one of the Italian company’s most modest cars.) According to a 2015 study by a regional economic agency, Chinese residents contribute more than seven hundred million euros to Prato’s provincial economy, about eleven per cent of its total.

  • The Young and the Reckless
    Headline story in Wired about how a U of T student and a bunch of US co-conspirators operated in the XBox hacking scene.

    By 2009 the pair was using PartnerNet not only to play their modded versions of Halo 3 but also to swipe unreleased software that was still being tested. There was one Halo 3 map that Pokora snapped a picture of and then shared too liberally with friends; the screenshot wound up getting passed around among Halo fans. When Pokora and Clark next returned to PartnerNet to play Halo 3, they encountered a message on the game’s main screen that Bungie engineers had expressly left for them: “Winners Don’t Break Into PartnerNet.”

  • How to get rich quick in Silicon Valley
    A satirical article about the culture in Silicon Valley. I guess this would be more funny and illuminating if I wasn’t as close to the culture.

    Indeed, to overhear the baby-faced billionaire wannabes exchanging boastful inanities in public could be enraging. Their inevitable first question was: “What’s your space?” Not “How’s it going?” Not “Where are you from?” But: “What’s your space?”

    This was perhaps the most insufferable bit of tech jargon I heard. “What’s your space?” meant “What does your company do?” This was not quite the same as asking: “What do you do for a living?” because one’s company may well produce no living at all. A “space” had an aspirational quality a day job never would. If you were a writer, you would never say “I’m a writer”. You would say “I’m in the content space”, or, if you were more ambitious, “I’m in the media space”. But if you were really ambitious you would know that “media” was out and “platforms” were in, and that the measure – excuse me, the “metric” – that investors used to judge platform companies was attention, because this ephemeral thing, attention, could be sold to advertisers for cash. So if someone asked “What’s your space?” and you had a deeply unfashionable job like, say, writer, it behooved you to say “I deliver eyeballs like a fucking ninja”.

  • Body Con Job
    This is one of those articles that wouldn’t have made sense 3 years ago but now, seems to be quite plausible and true. It takes about an Instagram influencer who has a million followers, but is actually fake. She’s AI – not her commentary, but her looks. As in, she’s computer generated. Yet people really follow her, and not just for novelty’s sake. Then she got into a war with another AI and, people kept showing loyalty to her. I’m not quite sure whether this article is about AI being human or AI being accepted.

    When Miquela first appeared on Instagram two years ago, her features were less idealized. Her skin was pale, her hair less styled. Now she looks like every other Instagram influencer. She’ll rest her unsmiling face in her hands to convey nonchalance, or look away from the camera as though she’s been caught in the act. The effect is twisted: Miquela seems more real by mimicking the body language that renders models less so.

  • The Improbable Origins of Powerpoint
    Jump back many years and learn how Powerpoint started.

    In April 1987, Forethought introduced its new presentation program to the market very much as it had been conceived, but with a different name. Presenter was now PowerPoint 1.0—there are conflicting accounts of the name change—and it was a proverbial overnight success with Macintosh users. In the first month, Forethought booked $1 million in sales of PowerPoint, at a net profit of $400,000, which was about what the company had spent developing it. And just over three months after PowerPoint’s introduction, Microsoft purchased Forethought outright for $14 million in cash.

  • Don’t worry, self-driving cars are likely to be better at ethics than we are
    This article argues that the philosophical Trolley problem is just a theoretical argument, and that the real life implementation won’t need someone to code a rule about which path to take. Wishful or prescient thinking? Who knows.

    Say you’re standing there, watching the trolley car approach, pondering whether to throw the switch and divert it (and kill someone). Then you notice, peeking out from underneath a nearby pile of junk, an old, discarded flagpole, and realize you could put it on the track to slow or stop the trolley car entirely before it kills anyone. Your perceptiveness has reframed the decision at hand; you’re now answering a different moral question, weighing different options.

    In philosophy class, that kind of thing is ruled out. The trolley problem contains no such details to notice. The situation is transparent; we know exactly what the choices are and what the consequences of our decisions will be.

  • Worst Roommate Ever
    It is probably hyperbole but this story about a horrible & manipulative roommate is just that, an interesting story.

    Often, the first signs of trouble were easy to downplay: In many cases, roommates came home to find a chandelier removed, a bookshelf filled with unfamiliar books, a couch or potted plant shifted slightly this way or that. These incursions, almost imperceptible, seemed calculated to unsettle. Suspecting Bachman was entering her room while she was at work, Acevedo once placed an empty wine bottle behind her bedroom door, so anyone going in would knock it over; when she returned, she opened the door without thinking and then braced herself, but the bottle did not fall, having been moved several inches away.

  • Welcome to Powder Mountain – a utopian club for the millennial elite
    Not sure if this is a nouveau cult, elitist clique, scam or a real movement. Some of it reads as if it came out from the Onion though.

    He tells me he’s open to the suggestion that his community is elitist – “these criticisms, there’s a truth to them” – and insists that he strives to make authentic connections with people from all walks of life. For example, he says, earlier in the day he met a worker at the ski resort who was taking guests on a tour. “I literally could have said, ‘All right, have an awesome tour,’ and instead I was like, ‘So, you’re here all year?’ And he goes, ‘No, I’m actually from New Orleans.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’” Bisnow says he behaves the same way with servers in restaurants. “[When] you start to engage with these people you realise the humanity in everyone and how unbelievable they are.” Then he explains how he always sits in the front seat of Uber taxis, talking to dozens of drivers a week, hearing “the most remarkable stories”. He ends up hanging out “with a significant number” of his drivers. I ask how many Uber drivers he’s invited to Summit. He doesn’t say, but instead tells me an anecdote about a chef he invited to Summit after meeting him “at this dilapidated castle in England”.

  • Why Arsenal Star Per Mertesacker Is Happy to Leave Football
    A look at the emotional toil of a professional sports star. This is stuff that they never show as part of the “player story”.

    Then there’s the diarrhea he gets on the mornings of matches — looking back, he says it happened on more than 500 days of his life. Mertesacker looks down at his long fingers as he goes through the list. “I have to go to the bathroom right after getting up, right after breakfast, again after lunch and again at the stadium.” Everything he eats just passes right on through.

    For a while, all his body could handle was noodles with a bit of olive oil. He couldn’t eat any later than four hours before a game to ensure that his stomach was guaranteed to be totally empty when the nausea started. “As if everything that then happened, symbolically speaking, just made me want to puke.”

I was in need of a laptop and after looking around, decided on a Samsung Series9 Ultrabook. I had first seen it maybe a year ago, and liked it as it ran Windows, and was thiner/lighter than a MacBook Air. I ended up picking up the 13.3″ mid-2012 revision that runs Windows 8 with 256SSD and 4GB RAM on an i5. I was also looking at the 15″ i7 with 8GB RAM which was only $250 more, but after seeing it in store, decided it was too big for my purposes. The 13.3″ is quite a nice form factor – the screen is not too small and the footprint is not too big.

The hardware design is nice, everything is solid but light. I had heard bad comments about the keyboard, but I found it to be OK for actual typing. The one gripe I had is the placement of the Enter button, which isn’t as horizontal (like an underscore) that I’m used to; rather it’s like a mirrored lowercase R, so I end up hitting the key on the left of Enter whenever I want a line break. Although I tried a bunch of other ultrabooks and their chiclet keyboard layouts are the same.

This is my first computer with Windows 8, and unsurprisingly, I ignored the Metro theme and popped back into the desktop as soon as I booted up. I don’t really understand how the Metro theme works and it’s been a frustrating experience so far. I had to manually uninstall each app I don’t want (there were many preloaded) and I can’t figure out how to restart the machine short of logging off and then hitting restart!

  • Can Hospital Chains Improve the Medical Industry?
    A long but interesting article about how the medical industry can benefit from adopting practices form the food industries. It’s also interesting because they talk a lot about how the Cheesecake Factory works!

    I brought up the hibachi-steak recipe on the screen. There were instructions to season the steak, sauté the onions, grill some mushrooms, slice the meat, place it on the bed of onions, pile the mushrooms on top, garnish with parsley and sesame seeds, heap a stack of asparagus tempura next to it, shape a tower of mashed potatoes alongside, drop a pat of wasabi butter on top, and serve.

    Two things struck me. First, the instructions were precise about the ingredients and the objectives (the steak slices were to be a quarter of an inch thick, the presentation just so), but not about how to get there. The cook has to decide how much to salt and baste, how to sequence the onions and mushrooms and meat so they’re done at the same time, how to swivel from grill to countertop and back, sprinkling a pinch of salt here, flipping a burger there, sending word to the fry cook for the asparagus tempura, all the while keeping an eye on the steak. In producing complicated food, there might be recipes, but there was also a substantial amount of what’s called “tacit knowledge”—knowledge that has not been reduced to instructions.

  • Everywhere At Once: Chef Geoff Tracy’s Data-Driven Empire
    The last article was about how the medical industry can learn from the food industry, and this article is the reverse. How the food industry can improve by using a scientific approach.

    Did Elizabeth bring your Pinot Gris within three minutes of the time you ordered it? Were your appetizers delivered within seven minutes, entrées within ten, desserts within seven? Were these plates described at the table before they were set in front of you? Were napkins refolded when you went to the restroom? Was non-bottled water referred to as “ice water” (correct) or “water” (incorrect)?

    That couple sitting across from you picking at a plate of hummus might be catching a light bite before a movie, or they might be working secretly for Tracy. Once a month, he brings in anonymous reviewers from an agency in New York to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of each of his restaurants. One recent assessment noted ten small errors: A dessert recommendation was offered only when the customer asked, and the plate took ten minutes to arrive instead of seven; the sink in the women’s room needed cleaning; bottled water wasn’t offered. Still, the restaurant scored 93 out of 100 points.

  • Your Words Against Mine
    This is a Sports Illustrated article about…scrabble. Yes, just like chess, Scrabble is now a sport worthy of SI’s attention. Actually, this article was written in 1995, well before the Words with Friends craze and describes several of the eccentrics at the top of the Scrabble world.

    For at this level, Scrabble’s dirty little secret is that it is a word game in which words mean nothing. The dabbler comes to the board thinking definitions and word knowledge, and he gets swallowed up in showing that off; but the experts care for words only for their point value. The newest Scrabble dictionary expurgated some 100 offensive terms, but they’re all usable—no, welcomed—in tournaments. Black players don’t flinch when they see “nigger” or “darky”; women congratulate any smart play of sexual slang; and Joel Sherman, who is Jewish, didn’t blink when Gibson opened their second game with “yid,” because no one cares. “They’re nothing but scoring tools,” Sherman says. “One of my opponents used [a synonym for sexual intercourse] at the end of the game. He got 26 points. It was the right thing to do.” Understanding English isn’t even necessary; a group of top Thai players do quite well at major North American tournaments, and they barely speak the language.

  • Microsoft’s Lost Decade
    This is an unfair and one-sided article against Microsoft that cherry picks examples how it wasn’t as successful as it could be under Ballmer’s leadership. It almost smells vindicitive.
  • Teen Titan
    A New Yorker article on the man behind Justin Bieber, The Wanted, and Carly Rae Jepsen.

    Braun uses Bieber’s fame as a P.R. platform for his other clients as well. He makes it worth Bieber’s while: when Braun signed Carly Rae Jepsen, he gave Bieber a fifty-per-cent cut. Braun told him, “We’ll be partners. But you’re going to do your part, being a loudspeaker: put her on your tour, sing a song with her.” And Bieber obeyed. The homemade video of him horsing around to Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” got forty-eight million views and made the song catch fire. Last month, he tweeted to introduce the world to Braun’s newest client, Madison Beer, a thirteen-year-old singer who resembles a baby Megan Fox. Within minutes, her name was trending worldwide.

I’ve been reading so much that I had to break my last queue update into two posts! Here’s the rest:

  • What would the End of Football Look Like?
    An economist’s take on how society might reasonably change such that Football will fall from its dominant position as America’s favorite past time, much like boxing and horse racing has in the past. It’s very technical but understandable and believable.

    Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year. If ex-players start winning judgments, insurance companies might cease to insure colleges and high schools against football-related lawsuits. Coaches, team physicians, and referees would become increasingly nervous about their financial exposure in our litigious society. If you are coaching a high school football team, or refereeing a game as a volunteer, it is sobering to think that you could be hit with a $2 million lawsuit at any point in time. A lot of people will see it as easier to just stay away. More and more modern parents will keep their kids out of playing football, and there tends to be a “contagion effect” with such decisions; once some parents have second thoughts, many others follow suit. We have seen such domino effects with the risks of smoking or driving without seatbelts, two unsafe practices that were common in the 1960s but are much rarer today.

  • The Super Power of Franz List
    Franz List doesn’t get a lot of attention from casual music lovers, but his bicentennial is approaching and this article neatly explains why he is great.

    On one occasion, Chopin was so outraged at the freedom of Liszt’s playing of one of his nocturnes in a salon that he stormed over to the piano and played it himself. The next day Chopin was asked to play it again, and he said he would do so if they put out the lights. When the lamps were lit again afterward, it was Liszt who had played exactly as Chopin had done the evening before.

  • Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust
    Short summary: economic conditions warranted investment into clean tech, but then the economic conditions changed.
  • The Greatest Running Shoe Never Sold
    I approached this article as an exposé about how a big company is keeping a little man down, but it turns out that anti-social habits and greed caused the expected outcome.

    Three weeks later, Hann traveled to Portland, Ore., for a hastily scheduled meeting with Adidas. Executives there were encouraging, but they didn’t want a bidding war with Under Armour. That very afternoon, Under Armour sent an apologetic e-mail with the much-anticipated licensing agreement. (Hann doesn’t know whether this was somehow triggered by the Adidas trip.) It included a royalty rate of 1.5 percent for the first stage of sales, and 1 percent thereafter. Through his attorney, Hann countered with 5.75 percent and 4.25 percent. Hann’s lawyer says Under Armour took the soaring rates like a jab in the eye; Under Armour would not comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

  • Steve Ballmer Reboots
    Bill Gates usually gets the spotlight, but Steve Ballmer has been leading Microsoft for quite a long time. It’s not very often that he gets a feature, but here is one.

    If there’s anything unsettling about Ballmer, it’s his powers of fact retention. Maybe the third iced tea is kicking in, but at one point, Ballmer recites in descending order the exact market capitalization figures of all technology companies valued at more than $20 billion. Then he slices down to $10 billion. And then $5 billion. “Now, do you want to include Chinese companies?” he asks. He poses strategy questions about companies, hears your retort, then instantly counters with his own. About Microsoft, he’s quietly confident—as if he no longer has to convince you that Microsoft has a plan and is executing on it. While Ballmer has been CEO of Microsoft for 12 years, there’s a strong case to be made that his imprint on the company has only now become clearly visible.

Recently I noticed a strange, and irrational thing about spending money. Let’s say you want to go to the movies, it’ll probably cost you about $10 and that’s not really a big deal because $10 probably isn’t a lot of money to you. You get 2-3 hours of immediate enjoyment and maybe some more afterwards if the movie was influential or life-changing. So in terms of entertainment, $10 is not that much.

For $50-$60 you can buy a video game which will last you about 10-20 hours, although it may not have much life beyond that, but at least you can consume it at your own pace.

The weird thing happens when I come across XBLA games. They typically go for 400 or 800 MSP which translates $6.46 or $12.91 in Canadian dollars. Those aren’t large sums of money, and usually the games that interest me will give me > 5 hours of entertainment. But I find myself very hesitant to spend my MSP on these games. I can think of three reasons for this:

  • I’m still of the mindset that games are overpriced. Granted I don’t typically buy > $50 games, but usually wait until they are on sale for $10-$20. Or best yet, free.
  • The fact that these games are not charged in hard currency but MSP messes with my idea of the actual cost of the games.
  • The slight difficultly (i.e., restriction in supply) to actually get MSP is a barrier. If I run out, I have to go out to the store and buy points in 1400 or 2800 buckets.

What strikes me as odd is that I find XBLA much more convenient than regular games (because you don’t need to get up and switch discs!) so one would think that I would want to buy a bunch of fun XBLA games and just play those over and over.

Google announced its Google Chrome Operating System, targeted for netbooks and different than Android (their cell phone OS). I am 0% enthusiastic about this news, and I expect it to be a glorified shell with 1 window – Google Chrome.

I want my netbook OS to be sleek, compatible and flexible. This will potentially only satisfy the “sleek” requirement. But I need my netbook to work like a desktop the best it can – when I’m away from a desktop. That means, I don’t want to be fiddling with settings or configurations or running man. And if I need some software all of a sudden, I want to download it and have it work. Sorry, but for me that means 90% of the market, and that’s Microsoft Windows.

I’ve heard that Windows 7 has this funny limitation for netbooks – you can only run three applications at a time. On first glance, that is crazy restrictive (how many applications are running in your taskbar?), but if you define Application more concretely, I think it’s actually realistic.

In practice, I’ve been swapping between three things on my mini9: Firefox, Windows Explorer (although I expect this to decrease now that everything is setup) and my IM application. I’m using Miranda IM, which is similar to Pidgin in that you can use a variety of IM protocols, but with the key difference that I can fit more than 5 names on my contact list on my screen.

With my mini9, now I have 3 locations (mini9, desktop, work) which I regularly use IM on. I’ve already asked people to add two MSN Live Messenger accounts so I think asking them to add a third account (fourth if they still have my deprecated MSN account) is a bit overboard! This is where Jabber, and thus gTalk, beat Live Messenger for me. Jabber allows the same account to have multiple “resources” so I can be logged on in 4 or 5 places, and when someone messages me, it’ll hit me in all locations!

Without this feature, Live Messenger is almost dead to me. Most people are already using gTalk (in addition to Live Messenger), and a lot of the people I previously added on Live Messenger I wouldn’t chat with anyways – Facebook is a better replacement when keeping up with those people.

As I predicated in my previous post about netbooks, I got myself a netbook of the Dell Mini9 variety. The reason I chose the Dell one was because it was small (8.9″ screen), and cheap ($279 for the base model). I did pay a bit more to upgrade to a 8GB SSD and to add a webcam. Plus I have to do an aftermarket upgrade from 512MB to 2GB of RAM.

After waiting almost two weeks for delivery (I ordered it the day I booked my nyc flights), it finally arrived. Another cost savings was that it came preloaded with Ubuntu rather than Windows. But I very much would rather use XP for convenience. The first thing I did was attempt to install XP.

Even having researched and prepared everything, it still took me 3 whole evenings to get XP installed. The problem is that there’s no CD drive on the mini, and I don’t have an external CD drive lying around. So, I had to boot and install off a USB key. The second hitch was that the XP setup typically is from a CD (especially the TinyXP version I was trying to install) and the boot sectors aren’t compatible.

I eventually got it, but in the process downloaded a ton of boot images and LiveUSBs. I couldn’t get TinyXP installed but settled for a nLite<'/a>d version of XP. Now that everything is installed, the mini is pretty usable (I’m writing this on it now), it’s far from perfect though.

The Windows XP default wallpaper looks like it is computer generated, but it’s in fact a real picture (I’m sure there was some photoshop – the saturation looks pumped) taken in a real field. Here’s the backstory of the green field and blue skies. There’s also a picture of the field as it looks now, which is kind of like the fortunes of Microsoft.

I saw some links for Microsoft Songsmith a few weeks ago, but kind of glossed over them since I wasn’t at a good time to follow them. I finally caught up and boy they are pretty funny. Songsmith is a Microsoft Research project which listens to your singing and adds some fitting music. It’s like having a garage band on your laptop! If you don’t get it, watch this catchy commercial about Songsmith.

People have played around with Songsmith by taking the vocal tracks from various well known songs and running it through Songsmith. The results range from … awkward … to wildly hilarious. Here’s Billy Idol’s White Wedding:

I don’t know why there are so many songs from Rock Band, it’s either that Rock Band picked the classics, or they picked Rock Band songs since so many people know them now. Here’s Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger:

The most neat for me in the NXE, aside from the avatars (which aren’t really useful) is the ability to queue downloads on the LIVE marketplace. I can surf to whatever I want to download (usually free), like a trial or a demo, and download it. The next time my Xbox starts up, it automatically downloads my queued downloads. This is great if I’m surfing around and finding out about new things for my Xbox.

After living with this feature, I kind of miss it in other products. iTunes can easily use this feature, since it is already account centered. If I choose to buy a song in the iTunes store, why can’t I have it downloaded to all my machines that are authorized? Apple’s not leading the way here.

Our new Xbox360 arrived in the mail this week and it’s all setup – this is our first real HD device, and the included videos look really nice at 720p. The Xbox feels like a device that was for the most part designed well (using Apple of the gold standard), but there are some ridiculous design experiences. For example, when signing up for my gamertag, I have to “type” in all my information through the controller. That in itself is frustrating, but what’s absolutely infuriating is that if you accidentally press the wrong button on the controller, you’ll have to “type” everything again. The experience is also a lot like Vista’s UAC – are you SURE you want to quit? Really SURE??

The only Xbox game that I have is Fable, which isn’t even a 360 game! I played it for a bit, but the graphics look a bit backwards (since it’s in 480p and not properly widescreen). Instead, I’ve been playing Xbox Live Arcade games. My hard drive came preloaded with about 15 arcade games (mostly trial versions) and a couple of demos. I also downloaded a few arcade games and demos from Live. This has been really fun and I spend most of my time doing this, just trying out new games and seeing what the Xbox360 games are like (and worth buying). Although I’ve noticed that there are A LOT of on-the-rails shooters on XBLA. They should just make 1 engine and let you download different “themes” that represent each “game”.

The flip side to the online experience is that I feel like I’m in a mall all the time. There are a lot of ads, and I have to pay for everything. It almost makes me want to create a blog listing all the free (worthwhile) stuff on Live. Although, I think there are a few arcade games that I will be willing to spend money Microsoft points on in the future.

What has impressed me the most, and I didn’t really think about this before making the purchase, is the Xbox’s media extender capability. Through it, I have access to the media on my computer, such as music, photos, and videos. Now I can consume everything through my HDTV easily without having to run cables or buying a HTPC. Although, Media Center doesn’t seem to scale properly given the sheer enormity of my music and photography collections (and they really need an auto-rotate feature).

While deciding to get a TV, I also debated the question of whether to get a current-generation console. I have a Gamecube and played on it for a bit since we got our TV, but was turned off by the resolution/graphics, and because all the games I had were boring! That meant it was time to buy something new.

I immediately discounted the PS3. I didn’t need blue-ray and the system was too expensive (plus are there any exclusives to play? I am only tangentially interested in Little Big Planet). I decided against getting a Wii because everyone already has a Wii! Plus, I didn’t want to pay the controller tax ($70 x 3 + system?).

I started shopping around for an Xbox and it was a good time since Microsoft just announced a price cut on Arcade and Pro bundles. I just missed out on a sale at Futureshop for a Pro bundle w/ 20GB and Gears of War and DOA (the volleyball version) for $199. Normally the Pro bundle retails for $299, but Microsoft introduced a new Pro bundle with a 60GB drive recently so the old Pro bundle was being cleared out at the price point of the Arcade bundle. In the end, I managed to get the same bundle at $199 (but no free games) at Best Buy a couple of weeks later.

I was incredibly frustrated with Windows Movie Maker a week ago. I haven’t looked around for any better (free) video editing tools, so I’ve been using moviemk.exe to create my videos, such as my Big in Japan video. I was frustrated because I had been trying to put together four short videos into one longer one, put title and credit frames, and put transitions between each of the elements. I ran into a whole lot of difficulties.

First, Movie Maker couldn’t use any of my video files; it couldn’t read MPEG2, MPEG4 and not even WMV! I had to convert my movies down to MPEG1 in order for it to play video and sound. After I put the video together, the second problem was that I couldn’t keep the transitions between clips. It would “remember” the first transition and then ignore the subsequent transitions I used. I was able to solve this problem by…recreating the entire video on the Windows XP version of Movie Maker.

Finally, I tried to publish the video, but the exporter complained that some of the source files were missing — this was patently not true since I was able to test-play the video without issues. Apparently, Movie Maker was being flakey and would only export a single time before it raised an error. In any case, I finally solved my problems and created this video about cooking in Japan:

Bill Gates’ finally steps down from being the chairman of Microsoft this week. I don’t have anything to add on the technology outlook or implications, but thinking about him reminds me of the several times I was a stone’s throw away from him a couple of summer’s ago.

At Microsoft, it’s not rare to see him speaking or presenting, but there was definitely a sense of anticipation and excitement whenever we did get to hear him. I don’t have the same feeling here at IBM (although the most prominent person I’ve heard speak is Steve Mills, the head of the software group and reporting to our CEO Sam Palmisano), although it may have been the intern exuberance. I wonder if FTEs at Microsoft are like that? The most prominent event is the famous Bill Gates’ BBQ hosted at his house. When I was there, it was only open to people in their graduating year in order to limit numbers. Even then, there was a huge number of people.

The event was pretty crazy, and not just because of the numbers. We had to take coaches from around the campus to a local church to pass through a security check (metal detectors). The organizers were adamant that you could not bring anything metallic so I had to leave my wallet, watch, cellphone, camera, keys, in my office to pick up later! After passing through the metal detectors, we went on smaller shuttle buses, which had their underbelly examined by mirrors before departing to Bill Gates’ house.

The BBQ isn’t even IN his house. It was in his backyard on Lake Washington. Of course I wanted to see in his house after reading about it in The Road Ahead so I went in to “use the washroom”. Alas, there’s actually a conference center in the back so all I ended up going to was the washrooms that executives use (no bidet).

Bill Gates made his appearance about halfway through the evening, and everyone migrated towards him. There were your usual geek-guy-trying-to-be-smart type questions, but really, he’s just a normal executive guy. I was surprised that he didn’t have bodyguards (for ninja interns) or snipers on the roof (for XXX agents coming off the lake). I didn’t ask him any questions, nor did I really feel the need to, because even though we were invited to his house, we weren’t able to connect with him. What I got out of it was this memory that I was *that* close to him and was a Bill Gates Groupie for a night.

I bumped into a coworker on the walk in from the parking lot this morning and fortunately for me he mentioned that an Apple Product Manager would be at the lab today to give a sales pitch tech talk about Leopard. I was somehow oblivious to this, having not seen any of the posters around the lab nor seen the big advertisement on the intranet homepage. But I went down anyways just to see what the excitement was about.

The presenter basically walked through the major features of the 300+ new features in Leopard, and provided demos of the Wow factor UI features. Although I had installed it last week, I haven’t had time to play around with Leopard much. Actually the real reason is that I have no reason to use my laptop so it’s just sitting there with Leopard installed. So it was nice to see that you can actually use Spaces and Stacks, and that people do use RSS feeds in even though they didn’t design scalability into that feature.

What strikes me as funny with the whole Leopard thing is that Apple still tries so hard to poke fun at Microsoft. You’ve probably seen the usual stuff with Apple only selling one “Ultimate” version of Leopard, or the Windows blue screen as the representation of a Windows box on the network. But there’s also a lot of subtle low-blows too. Vista embellished their UI elements so that they take up more screen room, while Leopard has really slimmed down their windows to maximize screen space. The best one is how Vista ships with beautiful wallpaper from, well, vistas around the world. Well Leopard’s bigger and better and blew that away by using a space motif.

One of the reason’s I waited so long to get a new computer was in order to get Vista bundled free. Now that I’ve been playing around and setting things up, here are some observations and thoughts on Vista and my new computer:

  • Vista has this nice ability where you can shrink and create new partitions, however it doesn’t know to move system files around and so you can’t really shrink partitions much. Also it can’t move partitions which is irritating.
  • The Aero theme looks better than Luna, the XP theme (although I wouldn’t go to say it’s better than OS X). However, there are too many borders and toolbars on the windows so I need a larger monitor (or dual) to have enough real estate.
  • UAE (i.e., cancel or allow?) is just as annoying as the Apple commercials make it, but the only time it rears its ugly head too often is when you’re in the Control Panel.
  • Don’t try to install an old version of Alcohol 120%. It’s not Vista compatible and will blue screen Vista every time immediately after you log in.
  • Java doesn’t work with Firefox at all, and hangs Firefox every time it runs. You have to use IE7 if you need Java applet support (i.e., Facebook photo uploader). Basically Java always causes UAE to activate.
  • Some programs have random hangs or just don’t work. Usually the culprit is that UAE is acting like the Gestapo and silences the offending program when it tries to do something.
  • I have 8 USB ports, and they’re all used up for: mouse, keyboard, scanner, HD enclosure, media card reader (doesn’t even work in Vista…), cell phone cable, printer, iPod dock.
  • The uptime on my laptop is over 500 days, I’ve rebooted Vista some 50ish times in 5 days.
  • I can finally run banlist properly (with UAE disabled) and I installed Warcraft on emulated drives so I don’t have to swap disks or find no-cd cracks
  • Why aren’t there ANY good RSS readers for Windows? Is this why web-based readers are so popular? The best I’ve found is RSSOwl, but even that is sorely lacking. After some more searching, I’m using Feedreader (great name…).
  • A lot of the old hacks still work, I edited my registry to launch a text editor on any file using the context menu. Same thing that I did in XP and before.

Last week, Microsoft built a house of ice in the Yonge/Dundas square in order to promote their two flagship products, Microsoft Windows Vista and Office 2007. Having some time to kill on Saturday, and being a geeky geek, I braved the cold and visited the ice house.

Pauline in the Ice BedroomI did not think the cold would be a problem, because I expected it to be a short trip; I would go inside, take some photos and a walk around, and then leave. But they had setup a system where they would let in a group of people every half an hour, the purpose of which was to hold a draw every half an hour for a $1300 prize pack. Wowzers! That seemed like a good deal because there were probably less than 100 people every half hour, plus I was lucky enough to make it into the last group before they tore the house down, plus I need a new computer. Then they announced that it was a software package…which actually is pretty useless.

Me on the CanThe concept of the ice house was to show off how Vista can be used/integrated within the house. They had a computer in the office, a computer in the bedroom, a computer in the entertainment room, and a computer in the kitchen. They also had what I suppose was a fridge running Vista, but of course they screen on the door was showing static. The fridge was, aside from the computer equipment, the only other thing in the house that wasn’t carved from ice (you can barely make out the toilet I’m sitting on in the photo on the left); but it begs the question why one would need a refrigerator in an ice house? Does it keep things warm?

I realized that they wanted us to stay for half an hour in order for us to mingle around each of the computers and hear the trained staff talk about their new tools. I got suckered into the Word/Powerpoint talk in the office, but it was pretty boring. Look, you can make a slideshow of your pictures in Powerpoint! They were also showing off the Windows Media Center and Media Player in the living room, but I couldn’t figure out what products they were trying to show in the other rooms. I don’t think it helped that the staff were tired of freezing for the entire day, and that they were about to get off work.

The other interesting thing in the house was that they used LED lights for the overhead lights. They had a variety of colours and faded the lights between them, which was very annoying when I was trying to take pictures because everything became washed out in one shade or another. You may also have heard that Ubuntu setup a booth promoting Linux right beside the ice house. They were at it again on Saturday at 3PM, but I guess I went a little too late to see the 10′ penguin in action.

Did you know that you can’t book Westjet flights on Expedia even though they list them? I tried this a couple of days ago when I was looking for some plane tickets. I wanted an early morning flight, meaning something like 9am-ish. There were a bunch of cheap prices for flights at 7am-ish on Westjet and Air Canada, but Expedia had a flight for the same price at 8:45 on Westjet! Pretty weird that it wasn’t listed on the carrier’s page but whatever.

So I checked things over and booked that flight. Now I must have looked at it 5 times before I realized that the flight I booked was actually for 8:45 at night rather than the day. Oops! It turned out that because the results were ranked by price, there just happened to be an evening flight right after the early morning flight. Anyways, that kind of sucked because I booked it already and it was one of those can’t-change-anything flights. Plus, that’s basically a day lost in the schedule.

This problem wouldn’t have occured if Expedia was using 24-hour time; I thought the entire airline industry did this. It’s not good usability when you deviate from tradition. Also, it took me like 10 minutes to login to Expedia through my Passport account, but I digress.

Anyways, as luck would have it, when I was surfing around my profile, it showed that there was a problem with my booking so I gave them a call. A bored, and not very helpful support technician answered my call and basically said that Expedia can’t book Westjet flights, so my flight didn’t get booked and I had to book again. Lucky me!

I went over to the Westjet site and booked the early morning flight at a cheaper cost than I would have paid AND I got double the Air Miles (compared to the 0 I would have gotten through Expedia). So it ended up being a win-win situation except for the fact that I have to wake up an hour and a half earlier now.

So I just got back from Bill Gates@UW. They said that there would be metal detectors on site and you couldn’t bring anything with you (no bags, cameras, laptops, etc) but the entry process consisted of waiting an hour outside and then a swipe of your watcard. Oh and there were empty seats in the balcony (and I could only see a corner of the balcony), some big organizational issues there!

While waiting outside, I saw media from CTV, A Channel, and 570 news (analogous to 680 news in this area?). I also saw some shy girl turn down an interview, OMG a chance to be on TV! Actually I was in the background of a CTV interview which might make it on, but who knows.

Anyways, the talk itself was kind of dry but at least it wasn’t blatantly about getting people to join Microsoft. The demos that he did were neat, he showed a next generation photo browser, the music/pictures functionality of XBox 360 and Project Gotham Racing 3. PGR looked really nice, especially considering it was being played on a big screen. He also showed some interesting contraption that I guess is coming out of Microsoft Research that incorporates image recognition to store business cards and hand writing onto your cellphone.

Bill mentioned as an aside how in the future there might not be (TV) channels anymore. I guess he is thinking about how we can just search/buy content kind of like in iTunes 6. That’s big news if you are a content distributor since you basically have to change your business model.

Finally, the questions that were asked were pretty decent. There was one guy who asked what he thought of Apple moving to x86 but all the other questions weren’t that stupid. Oh yeah he showed a couple of videos too, one that he said was for recruiting but was really a Napolean Dynamite spot for Office. Oh well, at least it was funny.

Yesterday I went to a talk by Mike Lazaridis, co-CEO of RIM and chancellor of UW. The topic of the talk was supposedly the future of communications and while he alluded to the fact that he would at some point answer this question, the 300 or so people that were there learned a lot about how RIM’s work environment is top notch and how it would be a great place to work.

That’s the problem with the top brass, they can pretty much talk about anything and the drones below them will listen to whatever they say.

I was also luckly enough to get invited to a talk that Bill Gates is giving to 700 or so students next week (he works at a company that is slightly larger than RIM). While I was pretty lucky to receive the invite (I think it’s something like 100 engineers, the equivalent number from CS and then random people I don’t know about), I’m not really that excited to go. I’m sure he will use it as a platform to convince people to work at Microsoft or some other agenda that he has (engineering good, arts bad).

an article on wired talks about microsoft’s initiative for micropayments in games; basically letting gamers pay a couple of cents or bucks to buy better equipment or skills.

i think this is a great idea, because as i get older and have less time to invest in games, i’d rather trade money for time and buy my way to the same level as those stupid ass kids that play all the time and trash talk the shit out of you.

world of warcraft tried to make inroads into making games less addictive and time consuming, but i don’t think it really worked. i think micropayments would be a good idea, except i’m absolutely sure there will be 10,000 kids with tons of disposible income that will wreck the system.

this is like a mix of two worlds, a employee in toronto of the seattle-based
starbucks was fired for blogging about how crappy his job was. this is hot on the tails of friendster firing one of their employees for blogging. i remember the first high profile case where a microsoft employee was fired because he blogged and took pictures of a large g5 delivery to the microsoft campus. basically, it’s a fine line if you choose to blog about work; so should i blog about work? hrmm…

i wish textbooks had shown up on bit torrent when I was still in school. it would have saved me a lot of money and hassle!

what would the kid of various simpsons pairings look like? kinda like those date morph booths they have at playdium.

the story of the man on who spielberg’s the terminal was based on. remember, hollywood movies are fairy tales.

also, now that we know (read:rumors) that ken jennings is going to lose;
do you think they will release a jeopardy dvd with all 75 episodes of
his run? i mean, it’s just another form of reality tv, so if the simple life is on dvd then this should make it too right? cuz i haven’t caught any of them yet.

i don’t usually talk about geeky stuff on here aside from cool tech toys, but the new internet explorer vulnerability is pretty cool. for example, microsoft is now forwarding to my website (check the address bar after you click on the link). while it may not seem that useful to you, think about what would happen if the reverse was true. if the address bar said the url of your banking instituition and my page looked exactly like your bank’s page, i could steal your bank card # and password and whatever else before you realize something seemed wrong with their site. basically you’re not safe clicking any links at all! alternatively, you could just disable javascript, but that would break a lot of sites.