Sunday, December 19, 2010


Since I’m really bad about getting Christmas cards and letters out (it has been many, many years), I thought I’d use my blog to publish what would have been my Christmas letter.  I can reach more people this way, anyway.


In many ways 2010 was much the same as the past several years, consumed mostly with my work responsibilities.  As many, but not all, of you may know, in late 2007 I got involved with a new business venture.  A friend of mine, Jared, contacted me to ask if I would be willing to create the cash register component of a Point-of-Sale system for a quick-service pizza restaurant being opened by a friend of his. Despite my hesitation to get involved in such projects in the past, I decided to undertake the challenge.  Soon we began to attract the attention of other franchisees in the chain, and before we knew it we were selling our product to others.  Since that time we officially organized Custom Register Solutions, of which I am part owner.  In 2010 we increased our size from 3 employees to a company with 15 people.  It has been quite a ride.  My brother Brent joined the company in June this year, helping to create the web site portion of our software.

In 2009 we were approached by some executives from the parent company of the same international pizza chain to see if our product could be adopted to some new and very specific needs.  It was pretty evident that we could, so since that time we’ve been working intimately with them.  We’re confident that we will be announced as their preferred POS vendor very soon (the only “iffy” part is when, not if).  Between the preparation for that upcoming announcement, the demand it will place on us when that happens, and our fast-paced development schedule in the company I have been working very long weeks for a little over 3 years now.  It is nice to be getting close to the realization of what was, at the time we started the project, an impossible dream.  We’re doing some very cool and innovative stuff, but I can’t talk about that just yet.

In spite of the many hours I spend working, I have still gotten involved in several other outside projects.  Everyone who knows me is well aware of my interest in audio, video, and photography, and I have always enjoyed working on any project that involved any or all of those three.  This year was no exception.  Early in the year I proposed the idea of a live Internet-streamed concert to an up-and-coming California-based artist named Sonnet who had become known in Utah for the soundtrack she provided for a popular television commercial, and she was gracious enough to accept.  Soon the project blossomed into an honest-to-goodness real music video as well, which my friend Dave would direct, and another friend Paul would shoot.  February through May included a lot of planning for those events, which took place the first through second weeks of June.  It was a very busy schedule, but it was also a lot of fun spending time with old and new friends as part of the crew.  Few of the final results have been posted on the Internet at this point , but I will be sure to let everyone know when they are.

I had the privilege of spending more time with family this year than most.  My youngest sister Christine graduated from BYU in Psychology in April, and my parents and sister Suzanne all flew to Provo to be there for that.  Christine was seriously dating her then-boyfriend Brennen at the time, and a week later they announced their engagement to be married in August.  Through the planning stages my mom came back to Provo to help Christine out for a few days.  The entire family came out for the wedding in August.  It was the first time that all of us had not just been together, but had the opportunity to go to the temple as a family as well.  It was definitely a memorable occasion which we are all grateful for.

After the craziness of the wedding wound down, it was back to work as usual for a couple weeks before I headed to Tucson for two weeks to help with the installation of our software in 13 store locations there.  It was hot and stormy the first week, and the second week it was hot and dry, but the condo we rented had no working air conditioning.  I spent many nights on the couch just trying to get comfortable enough to sleep, while working in the heat during the day.  I was glad to come home.

This year I also got to see one of my favorite musical acts, Celtic Woman, perform not once but twice.  They came to Salt Lake in May, and I took my friend Sarah as my date, and Dave and Paul tagged along as well.  Sarah spent several years in Ireland and enjoys Celtic music, so it was a treat for her to be able to go.  The girls in the group are pretty amazing.  I really enjoyed the concert, so when they went to Los Angeles at the end of August I decided to see them again.  This time I took Sonnet with me, who despite being ill that day had a good time.  It was also nice to see my new friend again and spend a couple days with her in her hometown.  We planned to work together to record a short Christmas album, but due to both of us having busy schedules that didn’t happen this year.  Maybe next year?

Other projects this year included shooting video for a handful of weddings, doing audio for an international dance/music festival in Sandy, UT, my annual trip taking pictures of fall leaves with my friend Dave, recording the commentary for a feature film, and being the regular sound guy for the Mountain Blue southern bluegrass A Cappella gospel group.  Mountain Blue kept me really busy in early December, with quite a number of performances in the first half of the month.  But I love anything involving audio, video, or photography, so any opportunity that comes is more than welcome.

I am spending my Christmas vacation at my parents’ home (as I always do) in Tulsa, OK this year, with nearly all of the rest of my family.  Only my sister Cheryl and her husband Blake and their kids won’t be there. Their family is getting big and it is becoming more difficult for them to all travel.  It’s sad that they won’t be there with the rest of us, but we understand why they can’t and they’ll be with us in spirit.  This year Christine will be bringing her new husband with her, so we’re excited to include a new family member in our festivities.  We’re very lucky that we have been able to have so much of our family together for Christmas for so many years.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, not just because I get to see my family, but also because it is the time of year when many people put their own desires aside and think of others, and because it is the time of year we dedicate to thinking about our Savior, Jesus Christ.  The spirit of the season is unique, and something I look forward to throughout the year.  It never lasts long enough.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 39 Days of Christmas

In case you missed it, here are the gifts for the 39 days of Christmas…

39 Fops a-fopping
38 Fishwives hawking
37 Coopers cooping
36 Bootblacks buffing
35 Buskers busking
34 Something something
33 Alchemists transmuting
32 Dutchmen plotting
31 Doctors leeching
30 Year average life span
29 Smiths a-forging
28 Coopers cooping
27 Eelers eeling
26 Anarchists bombing
25 Swamis foreseeing
24 Sideburns curling
23 Monks a-changing
22 Rats a-plaguing
21 Coxswains calling
20 Flautists fluting
19 Footmen bowing
18 Gungas dinning
17 Seventy six
16 Midwives birthing
15 Aliens alienating
14 Jacks a-ripping
13 Scriveners scrivening
And so on…

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Web, HTML5… It’s a Mess!!!

I sometimes get hassled for preferring to develop software to run on the computer desktop instead of as web sites.  Truth is, I don’t care if I get hassled about it.  I know how to develop for the web… part of my job involves creating web sites in PHP, and I think I do fairly well at it, but it doesn’t mean I like it.  And honestly I ought to be criticizing more people for putting so much emphasis on the web… not because it isn’t going to be the future, but mostly because they aren’t being more critical of the way things work on the Internet.

If you take a step back and think about the way that the web works, it’s really pretty silly.  We download a page with information.  We type information into a form on that page, then click a button to allow a computer somewhere else to process that information, and wait for an entirely new web page to be sent back to us.  It’s slow.  It requires that the same information be sent over and over again (everything on a page that hasn’t changed or doesn’t change).  It makes true interactivity slow and frustrating.  It’s silly.  We have these high powered devices we’re using to display static pages that have been created somewhere else. 

Imagine having a web page to do a simple addition operation: you enter 2+2.  You enter the data, click the calculate button, your browser sends that data off to some computer somewhere in a remote data center, it performs the calculation, and sends you an entirely new web page giving you not just the answer, but your original data, and every piece of the entire web page… You’ve just transferred a ton of data, wasted a ton of computing power, just to figure out the answer to a very simple problem.  Total silliness.  But it’s what we deal with every day, because that is the way that the web works.

Add to that the difficulty that web developers go through to make sure their web sites work on different browsers.  We create a page and it works perfectly in our browser of choice, then we try it in another browser only to find it doesn’t look (or work) right at all.  It’s very frustrating.  Again, it’s silly.  And it’s a very slow process.

Compare this with developing programs that run on the desktop (not in a browser).  They can be developed very quickly.  They run very quickly.  The development tools are mature and work very well.  They’re guaranteed to work the same on every computer they run on.  It’s SO much easier to make something work on the desktop than it is on the web.  We have access to advanced technologies that don’t work on the web.  Interactivity is amazing, performance is amazing, with things responding immediately when clicked. 

I know this makes me sound like a stick-in-the-mud to people who think that the web is the future of apps.  I’m not going to argue that things are moving in that direction, and that there are a lot of advantages to it.  My argument is that the way we’re doing things now is just… dumb, and that we’re making very little progress at fixing the problems.

HTML and the web in general were not designed to do the things that we’re doing with them.  HTML was written with the idea of serving informational pages… You view a page, you see a link to another page with more information on a particular topic, click it, and view the new page.  It was never designed with any kind of interactivity beyond that, and every attempt to make it work that way has been a hack.  Even things like logging into web sites and shopping carts are a total hack.  And despite the fact that we’re nearly two decades into using HTML, things haven’t really gotten that much better.  We’re still primarily serving new pages every time we change any data on a page instead of changing just the parts of the display that are affected by our data changes, waiting on a remote computer to do things that our own computers are perfectly capable of doing themselves. 

Not only that, but there just aren’t any great ways to define the structure of data entry, or how it interacts with the page or the web server that is saving and formatting it for us.  It has taken until HTML5, which still isn’t really implemented (and even then very poorly on virtually every browser) and it still isn’t done well.  Even if web developers choose to use HTML5 for their web sites, even the newest browsers still aren’t implementing most of it.  It’s ridiculous!  But more about that in a minute.

The development tools for creating web sites are still really bad too.  I have tried the “best of the best” of them and have given up on every one.  I have resorted to creating web sites in Notepad, because the supposedly “advanced” editors just get in the way more than they help.  I don’t understand why we keep putting up with this and aren’t pushing for something better.  A lot of it has to do with HTML not being designed for the way we use it, but even more-so is the fact that HTML has been very slow to evolve, and browser makers have done very poorly at implementing the changes that actually have been made.

Some web sites do make an attempt to improve the interactivity by only updating only small portions of a page when something changes through a technology known as AJAX.  You’ve seen it before on sites like facebook and where you click something and just one part of a page will change, but honestly few sites take this step because it’s difficult to implement properly.  And unless your browser settings are just right, it doesn’t work at all.

There are other problems too… like security.  You may have recently heard about Firesheep, a program that captures authentication information from other computers on a network and allows a hacker to visit popular web sites using your account without having your login information.  And most web developers don’t understand how to properly secure their sites to prevent outside access to their data.  Because it’s difficult.  These technologies are being asked to do things that they were never meant to do, and very few software developers understand the right way to do things, or even the importance of doing so.  Or they don’t care.

Most of these problems go away when you start developing software that runs directly on the desktop.  Most of the security issues go away.  The slow interactivity goes away.  The difficulty of updating the screen when data is entered goes away. 

Yes, I know that developing applications that run on the desktop does have its own set of drawbacks.  You have to write versions for each type of computer that might use the software.  The software has to be installed.  You have to install updates.  But in my mind the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks for many, many applications that are currently being developed for the web.  And these problems are being addressed anyway.

Eventually many the advantages of running software on the desktop will probably go away.  But we aren’t moving in that direction fast enough.  Developing for the web isn’t really any easier than it was 10 years ago.  Development tools have improved, but not much.  The technologies that power the web have gotten better, but not much.  And yet we as web developers continue to accept it, and some even criticize those that don’t condescend to using these bad technologies.


Last week I finally sat down to see what’s so great about this new HTML5 thing that’s getting a lot of press.  Frankly, I was sorely disappointed.

HTML5 doesn’t really add a lot of new capabilities to web sites.  It does add a few, some are kind of cool… graphics rendering and interactivity is one area where things are supposed to get a lot better.  There is the promise of a standard way to display video and audio (finally!!!! it has only taken nearly 20 years).  There are new ways to handle and validate data in forms.  But the changes basically stop there.  And honestly, most of these things aren’t even usable.

Each of the new features is either not implemented in a major browser, or isn’t implemented properly.  A few examples…

  • The new graphics features are only supported by IE9, Firefox 4, and Chrome.  Safari (which is what the iPhone, iPad, and Macs use) doesn’t.  And Chrome is the only one with a “current” version that even attempts it.
  • The new methods for displaying video are a mess.  Apple and Microsoft have elected to use one format for video, while Mozilla (FireFox) and Opera have elected to use something else entirely incompatible.  Google is taking a more neutral position with Chrome, supporting both.  But there isn’t a single video format supported by all of the browsers.  So you have to create two versions of every video, and provide two versions of every page that contains video to allow users to view it.
  • Audio is the same way.  The different browsers support different types of audio files.  No one format is supported by all browsers.
  • There is still no way to watch live video.  Only pre-recorded video and audio sources are supported.
  • The new features to format and validate form data are only supported by Opera and Chrome.  And Chrome’s implementation is horrible.  The other browsers don’t even try, even in their unreleased beta versions.  These features, which would be very useful and make web programming easier, are completely unusable to the 99+% of people not running Opera as their browser, and therefore are useless to developers.

You may have heard a lot of hype around HTML5 being a cure-all for some of the problems we deal with on the Internet (like Adobe Flash).  But based on what I have seen, it isn’t going to help anything because those creating browsers aren’t doing their job in implementing HTML5 properly.  It’s also very ironic that the most vocal of all of the HTML5 supporters, Steve Jobs, also has by far the worst HTML5 implementation of anyone.  Apple’s Safari browser is, without question, the least HTML5-compliant browser in use today.  It doesn’t even attempt to support the vast majority of the new features being added to HTML5, even in its latest version.  Not that the other browser creators are doing much better.


Ideally someday we’ll have a sort of hybrid of the two ways things are done now.  Store the software and data on remote computers, but download the necessary pieces to our local computer on demand, where things like interactivity and calculations can be handled locally.  If designed properly, most of the things we do now that require entirely new web pages be downloaded would be done entirely locally on our own computers, with only data changes being sent out remotely.  (Some might say this sounds like Java… but… ick, no.  What a terrible language.)  We would standardize on the tools for creating application user interfaces, and the way that the applications respond to user interaction.  We have sort of started on that path with technologies like DOM and AJAX, but they are too limited, too difficult to use, too inconsistent, and too slow to be able to develop meaningful applications that run primarily locally.  We’re still far too reliant on remote computers to do extremely basic tasks that have no place being run remotely.  I believe someday we’ll get there, but at the pace we’re moving now I’m not holding my breath… we’ll be lucky to see anything like that before 2020.

The Truth

The truth of it all is that even though I get criticized for preferring to develop desktop software most web developers deep down know that they’re using inferior technologies.  They know the pain of making stuff work across multiple browsers.  They know the pain of hand coding HTML and CSS to make sites look and work the way they should.  They also know that native applications work better than web sites too.  All one has to do is cite the iPhone as an example.  The first version of the iPhone couldn’t run native apps, and had to rely on the web to do anything other than what the included software could do.  Almost nobody took the time to create sites to run on the iPhone.  It wasn’t until the second version of the iPhone, with the ability to run Apps, came out that it started to really take off.  And everyone with an iPhone knows that running an App instead of going to a web site in Safari is a much better way to do things.  It’s much faster, cleaner, and easier.

It’s really a shame that web developers will criticize me for still preferring to work on native applications rather than the Internet.  Or is it more of a shame that most of them continue to believe that they’re working with state-of-the-art tools with state-of-the-art technologies, and not put more effort into trying to make things better on their end?  It’s also a shame that so many pieces of software that really should live on the desktop are being written (and being written poorly) for the web.  Each has a place, but because the internet is “cooler” than running programs on your computer, too many things that should be on the desktop are being pushed to the Internet, and are being done improperly.

In many ways things I was doing more than 20 years ago worked better on the computers I used then than things do today on the Internet.  Internet technologies have improved, but they are moving at a glacial pace.  And it both makes me laugh, and cry a little on the inside.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recent Product Mini-Reviews

I’ll refrain from publishing my long in-depth reviews of some of my technology acquisitions this time, but I’ll say just a little bit about a few toys I have picked up in the last couple of months.

iPod Touch (4th Generation)

I ordered the 4th Generation iPod Touch the day it was announced and it arrived about a week later, so I have had it for about 6 weeks now.  I still very much prefer my Zune HD for music (better, faster UI, an excellent music subscription option, and a lot more features like artist bios, photos, and automatic linking to similar artists and albums for music playback), but the iPod Touch is really the only game in town when it comes to apps so I try to keep up to date.

The new Retina Display is nice and sharp, but still suffers from color shifting off-axis as previous generation models did.  (The screen goes yellow or blue if you don’t view it straight on.)  The overall speed of the device is pretty good too.  I still believe that the “multitasking” added by iOS 4 is a gimmick, as it doesn’t really allow apps (other than a very select few categories) run in the background.  So much for true background Twitter updates, or instant messaging without annoying push notification alerts.  Steve Jobs' insistence that these things can’t be done without draining the battery is just flat wrong… plenty of other devices out there are doing it now.

As with the previous devices, the hardware is excellent.  Thin, and light.  But it still irks me that Apple insists on using a shiny back to the case, as it is incredibly easy to scratch.  Even being very careful with it mine has already gotten badly marred.  And the back cover doesn’t seem as durable as previous generations.  Mine is already dented, which never happened with either of my two previous Touches.

Having the front and rear cameras is nice, especially for FaceTime calls (which work well), but the low resolution of the rear camera makes it essentially useless for shooting photos.  If your intent is to video conference with other FaceTime users, this will work just fine.  If you want to shoot photos, you still need an actual camera.

In my opinion iOS is getting a little long in the tooth without a major update.  Sure the newer features are nice, but Apple is still making too little progress on making their operating system truly useful for productivity applications.  Annual upgrades are just incremental… they now need something bigger. 

I have had one pretty annoying issue with my Touch.  When I go into the App Store to download apps or update software I get an error message that it can’t connect to the App Store multiple times before it will finally let me in.  And then I get the same error again when I actually tell it to install updates or a new app, and it requires me to re-enter my password each time.  I have to go through the same process several times before it will actually work.  My iPad, running on the same network, doesn’t do that, and the Touch does it whether I’m at home, work, or connecting through my Verizon MiFi.  Definitely feels like a bug.

I still despise iTunes.  I believe it to be one of the worst pieces of software ever inflicted on the public.  It is so slow and bloated that it badly needs to be rewritten.  It’s unfortunate that the iPod Touch is so reliant on it for syncing content with a computer.

Sony PlayStation 3 Move Controller

I also recently picked up a Sony PlayStation 3 Move controller.  This is Sony’s attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Nintendo Wii with its own motion controller.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel like Sony did a very good job.  It feels even more like a gimmick than the Wii’s.

For $100, the controller came with the required EyeToy camera and Sports Champions game.  It’s a pretty obvious attempt to copy Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, not necessarily with the same games, but with the same basic idea.  Some of the games can be fun, others can be incredibly frustrating.  I won’t blame the controller for that, though.  Extra controllers are $50, or the optional Move Navigation Controller (like the Wii’s Nunchuck) are $30.  If you were to buy the starter bundle plus enough controllers for four people you’d be dropping a pretty good chunk of change ($370, not including the cost of the PS3 itself).

What I did have a problem with is the way that the controller works in practice.  At the start of each game (or in the case of Sports Champions, each mini game) you have to go through a 3-step calibration procedure.  It doesn’t take very long, but after playing a handful of games, having to repeat the procedure over and over does get pretty old.  In addition to that, part of the calibration procedure involves making you stand in a designated (and pretty small) area of the view of the camera.  And you have to stay there.  This also means that you aren’t free to move around as you play a game… Once you put yourself inside of the on-screen box during calibration, you have to plan to stay put throughout the game or it doesn’t work quite right.

Response on the controller was pretty good (as long as you resist the temptation to step away from the spot where you were standing during calibration), but not any better than the Wii Remote with the Plus add-on.  Definitely better than the Wiimote by itself, but no better than what you get with Wii Plus.  Motion sensing was accurate.

The cost of the controller is a little on the high side, but not terrible. With the limitations in Sony’s implementation of motion gaming I can’t really recommend the Move at all, though.  Especially if you already have a Wii.  The controller does give Wii-like capabilities to the PS3, but, at least to me, the advantage of high definition gaming doesn’t outweigh the frustrations that come with Sony’s implementation of motion gaming.  If you can play a game without moving around, and don’t mind going through a calibration procedure before each game, you’ll probably enjoy the Move.  But if you already have a Wii, this won’t add anything.

Apple TV (version 2)

Several days ago I picked up the new Apple TV as a way to attempt to stream some my TV shows and videos from my computer to my living room television.  I say “attempt” because I still haven’t gotten it to work.  I suffered through adding all of my video content to iTunes, but as of right now my Apple TV either won’t see my computer at all, or when it does, it will only stay connected for a couple minutes before dropping the connection.  So watching videos from iTunes is pretty much out of the question at the moment unless the video is less than 60 seconds long.  I also can’t get the iTunes Remote Speaker feature to connect to my Apple TV either, even though it will connect to my brother’s previous generation Apple TV.

The device does play Internet sourced content just fine.  With my recent Internet connection upgrade, I can actually stream high definition, a major upgrade from being stuck with SD previously.  The Apple TV only supports 720p resolution content, though, so 1080p video is played with half its original detail.  Streaming rented TV shows, YouTube videos, and NetFlix all seem to work fine, within the limitations of a user interface designed for a simple remote and television.  But since I can’t get it to connect to my iTunes reliably and I already have NetFlix and YouTube video capability elsewhere, the box is mostly useless to me.  Even if I could get it to stream from my computer properly I’m not sure I’d recommend this to someone unless they already had a huge investment in iTunes video.  I’ll say more on that in a second.

There is speculation we’ll see upgraded capabilities with new software on the Apple TV in the future.  The hardware seems to be capable of a lot more than what it is doing.  I hope we do see some upgrades, because for less than the Apple TV’s $99 price there are other boxes with greater flexibility out there, like the...

Roku HD Player

A couple months ago I found an amazing Internet deal for the Roku HD video player.  I have had the ability to stream NetFlix through my Xbox 360s, PS3, Wii, and Samsung Blu-ray players for some time, but the Roku adds a bunch more other video sources.  Installation was very easy… plug in power and HDMI, and it’s off and going.

It works just like it supposed to.  I have streamed not only NetFlix videos, but also podcasts from TWiT, Revision3, shows from NASA, PlayOn, HGTV, Amazon-on-Demand (works like the Apple TV to rent/buy TV shows and movies), and many other sources.  And they are adding new channels quite often.  While most "premium” content is only available for pay through Amazon, the amount of free content is becoming extensive, especially when you add optional private channels through the Roku web site.

The best part is the price.  The box starts at $60.  Since it does a lot more than the Apple TV, I’m going to have to recommend the Roku boxes over the ATV unless you absolutely must stream content from iTunes, in which case the Apple option is the only one you have. 

Amazon Kindle (3rd Generation)

Not being a huge reader myself, the Kindle doesn’t necessarily appeal to me in the way that it would a lot of people.  It has appealed to me as a gadget from the day it came out, but I couldn’t justify the $329, $299, $249, or even $189 for a gadget I wasn’t sure I’d use much.  But when Amazon announced the Wi-Fi only version for $139 two months ago, I decided at that price I could get one to play with it.

I’ve read a lot of varying reviews of the device over the 2.5 years of its existence.  Most people absolutely love it.  Then there are some Apple fans who love the iPad so much they have to put down the Kindle.  Owning both, I find myself leaning a lot more toward the first group.  Yes, you can read books on the iPad, but it’s too heavy to hold for reading for very long, and its reflective screen can be a problem.  In other words, the iPad is not a replacement for the Kindle.

I actually really, really like the Kindle.  It isn’t perfect, but it is very good.  It is very light, thin, and the electronic ink screen (not backlit; looks and reads just like paper) is very easy to read.  If you haven’t seen an e-ink screen, there just isn’t any way to accurately describe it.  It really does look like you’re looking at a sheet of paper.  Text is crisp, and there aren’t screen reflections to worry about.  The words appear right at the surface of the screen instead of behind the thickness of a pane of glass.  At first the flash-to-black-then-white of the screen when turning pages was a bit distracting, but after I got into my first book the screen flash totally disappeared from my mind and I didn’t notice it any longer.  e-ink screens aren’t great for everything, but they are perfect for reading.  The fact that the Kindle runs for about a month on a battery charge because of the type of screen it uses is pretty cool too.

Purchasing content is super easy, and very fast.  The Kindle store on the device isn’t quite as fast to use as purchasing directly on the Amazon web site from a computer, but it does work very well anyway.  There is a decent amount of free content as well.  But my favorite feature is the ability to preview the first chapter of a book before purchasing.  So it’s kind of like browsing the shelves at the book store before committing to a purchase.  Books download in a matter of seconds, and if they are purchased online from a computer they appear on the device without doing anything… they just show up.

The Kindle is very cool.  It just might turn me into more of a reader than I have been in the past.  But probably the biggest compliment I could give it is to share the opinion of a friend.  When I told her I was buying it she swore to me that it is something she would never be interested in because she likes the feel of the paper in a real book, and likes to collect books and show them off in her bookshelf.  She said she could never envision herself reading books on an electronic device.  Then after I got my Kindle I showed it to her, and she fell in love with it and has decided to get one of her own.  At $139 it’s a great deal, and now that Target carries them in their stores, it’s even easier to pick one up.

That’s All For Now!

Well, that’s about it for now.  I know I have picked up other toys recently, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I just finished (well, just started too… it didn’t take very long) a little program to take care of a problem I have had with my computer for a very long time.  I have a computer in my bedroom and occasionally in the middle of the night it will beep, twang, squeal, buzz, speak, or make some other noise that will wake me up.  Some nights I do remember to turn down the volume before I go to bed, but most nights I just forget.  So I created IdleVolume.


It’s just a little program that turns down the volume on the computer when it has been inactive for a period of time.  Similar to the way your screensaver kicks in or the computer turns off your monitor when you haven’t used the keyboard or mouse for a while.  But with sound.


It sits in your notification area waiting for you to do nothing.  Literally.  You set the amount of time that it waits, and also the volume level for when that period of time has elapsed.  Then it turns down your volume.  Then when you come back to your computer (or your cat walks by) and move the mouse or press a key on the keyboard it sets your volume back to where it was previously.  Easy peasy.

This is one of those “duh! why didn’t someone else think of that?” things that I wish someone else had taken care of years ago, but nobody has I guess.  So I did.  You can thank me later.

I wrote this program for me, but thought others might find it useful, so I’m making it available for free.  No charge.  Costs zero.  No advertising.  Without any catch, because it’s something everybody should have.  Just go to my company web site and download it.  And enjoy.  And tell your friends.

It requires a version of Windows newer than Vista (so it works with Vista, Server 2003, Server 2008, and 7), so XP and Mac users need not apply.  It won’t work.  And I don’t plan to write an XP or Mac version either, sorry!  Too much work for too little (“no benefit to me”) in return.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Religion Quiz

It seems that LDS Church members know religion in general better than most… and certainly seem to know Biblical stories and teachings better than other Christians…  Click the image to view it full-sized.  Or take the quiz yourself here.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

First Video of Sonnet

I posted this forever ago on my Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts, but forgot to include it here on the old blog.

This is the first released video of the week with Sonnet.  There are lots more to come… you’ll just have to be patient with me.  I still have a bit of editing to do.  And the videos will be released periodically as Sonnet feels it’s time to do so.

So here’s Sonnet’s “Without You” as performed at her acoustic house concert in June.

This was a lot of fun to work on.  We had quite a few technical problems (don’t get me started), but the good things far outweighed the bad.  Not only did I get to get out my audio and video toys, and play with new video editing software, I got to work with some great people.  Sonnet is so much more than just a gifted singer and talented writer… she’s an amazing person as well, and I’m really glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and get to know her.  And I’m really looking forward to the other projects she and I have in the works.  I always enjoy working on projects with Dave and Paul… both are extremely talented filmmakers, and lots of fun to be around.  The music video they’re putting together is going to be fantastic!  And Brad is amazing as well… always so willing to help out with my little projects, and just brilliant when it comes to all things musical and electronic.  He was such a lifesaver helping setup for the house concert, and directing the camera operators.  Thanks so much to everyone!

So there it is… the first public release of anything we did that week.  It was such a whirlwind (I literally got 12 hours of sleep between Monday and Friday), but in a good way.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat… but plan to spread things out over two more days if possible.

How it came to be…

So a few people have asked me how this all came about… a girl I had never met from California getting hooked up with a group of guys from Utah… well…

Let’s backup to early summer 2009.  I’m watching TV late at night and a commercial for Lagoon Park comes on.  And it’s got this cute, quirky, catchy song for its soundtrack.  The sort of song you’d never pick for a theme park, because it’s just this sweet sounding girl with rich but subtle harmony and a piano, to a slow beat—far from the stereotypical loud in-your-face sort of song one might associate with an amusement park.  But extremely intriguing nonetheless.  I really liked it, so I looked up who it was.  It took a little digging, but I finally found out that it was a girl from Los Angeles named Sonnet (yes, that really is her name), that managed to land a contract providing the song for the 2009 Lagoon/Coke ad campaign.  I found her website, saw that she was on Twitter, and followed her (that’s how you “friend” someone).  And she pretty much immediately responded by following me too.  Kewl!

Fast forward a few months.  Over time I had made a few comments to Sonnet on Twitter and she always wrote back, and was always very gracious.  We didn’t have what I’d call frequent communication, but it was steady.  At one point I mentioned to her that I did sound and that if she ever wanted to do a concert in Utah I’d be glad to provide my services, but nothing more came of that (I assumed as much… she really didn’t know me from Adam, and knew nothing about my ability as a sound engineer). At one point she did come to Utah and performed a couple concerts at Lagoon, and despite how hard I tried to get there, I arrived at the park too late and couldn’t get in.  So I missed the one opportunity I had to actually meet her and hear her perform.  That was a sad day.

Anyway, as Christmas approached one day she tweeted (that’s how you say that you posted something on Twitter) that she was looking for an idea for a Christmas present for family and friends.  I mentioned to her (since she was a singer) that she ought to record a song and give that to people.  There wasn’t really time before Christmas to do that, but it started a little bit of a dialog about working together on recording a song together someday.  Completely hypothetical, but it did begin to open up the possibility that someday something could maybe possibly happen if I rubbed my lucky rabbit’s foot during a full moon while the planets aligned just so.  Long shot, but not impossible.

Fast forward another couple months to February… another girl I was following on Twitter had been advertising to her followers that she was going to be doing a live streaming concert.  She started announcing it several weeks beforehand, making it seem like a really big deal.  This other artist was better known than Sonnet, had multiple CDs out, a recording contract with a major label, and had recently landed a nationally-broadcast TV commercial with a huge company in a very public advertising campaign, so for sure this was going to be something big, right?  So I made a point to tune in, only to be very disappointed.  Instead of being something professionally produced (you know, with at least a real microphone), it was her sitting on her bed, playing her guitar, being recorded by just the webcam and microphone in her laptop under really bad lighting.  You could barely hear her sing or play.  My first thought was, “What a waste!  She has lots of fans watching, has spent a lot of effort promoting this event, and this is what we’re getting?”  It was technology heartbreak for me.

At that point I had the idea that her disappointing production was probably due to the fact that she didn’t know the right person to pull off something better.  And I also thought, “I have the equipment, the know-how, and other resources to pull off something much better.”  The problem was, this other artist was too well known to even bother responding to anything on Twitter, so there wasn’t any way that she’d even consider taking the time working with some no-name from Utah.  And frankly, her music wasn’t something that I really got that excited about, so I didn’t even really want to pursue that anyway.

So the next day as I thinking about the disappointment of the previous evening, I thought, “who do I know that is good enough to justify spending the time, has enough of a following for there to be interest, and yet is not so well known that they’d consider working with me to produce a streamed concert?”  Of course Sonnet came to mind, so I sent her a casual message on Twitter asking if coming to Utah and doing a live, streaming Internet performance was something she’d be interested in doing.  She said it was, so we connected via IM and started talking about the possibility.  Nothing definitive, but it got the ball rolling nonetheless.

I don’t really know what she thought of the whole thing at that point--I’ve never asked, but she was game for the idea.  And before long we started making plans.  Eventually we connected via email and on the phone, then started regular video conferences planning things out.  Once we found a location, and a suitable timeframe within her schedule and mine, things finally started coming together.

Sonnet was totally on board with the ideas that I had for what the concert was going to be like.  I wanted to keep it small (for many technical as well as other reasons) but completely professionally produced, with real lighting, multiple cameras, moving cameras, nice piano, high end audio equipment, shot in high definition at a nice location, etc.  The idea of just a small concert in someone’s living room struck a chord with both of us.  I’m really glad that she and I have been on the same page through the entire process… it has made it that much more fun.

Somewhere along the line I asked Dave and Paul if they’d be interested in running cameras for me for the concert.  They’ve always been really good about helping me out with projects when I ask, so they agreed.  But I think at first they just thought it was one of my silly little just-for-fun things that I do when I’m bored of the rest of my life, so there wasn’t a lot of excitement coming from them initially.

After a couple more weeks, I was frankly a little frustrated that they weren’t more excited about the project… I wanted them to be excited about it.  And to see what I saw in Sonnet—a sweet, beautiful, extremely likeable and talented singer with a catchy sound—so I showed them a couple of her YouTube videos.  Fortunately, they got it right away.  They saw the same things I was seeing, and they finally started to show some enthusiasm. 

So as we started talking about plans for the concert, somehow the idea of shooting a music video while Sonnet was going in town came up.  I don’t remember who it was that had the idea, but after asking her if she would be interested, plans for the video started coming together.  A song was picked.  Then a different song picked.  Then back to the first song.  Ideas for the story started to come and be discussed.  Too many ideas, in fact.  Later, two days before Sonnet flew to Utah her image consultant called me and Dave and we had an emergency two hour phone conference to simplify and focus things drastically.  Yes, two days before she got here we were making major changes.  Talk about flying by the seat of your pants.  Anyway, we landed in a place we were all comfortable.  (Okay, Doug, enough with the plane metaphors!)

Anyway, thankfully we had a lot of other people jump in at the last second to help out.  A few days before we started shooting Sae Sae volunteered to help, and she did some amazing recruiting… she found people to help with lighting and moving equipment around (grips), hair, and makeup.  We owe a lot to her making things go as smoothly as they did!

Honestly, I can’t take much credit for the music video.  Dave and Paul really took the idea of the video and ran with it.  I really didn’t have that much to do with putting the video together.  Other than providing some of the equipment, while it was going on my main job was to make sure that Sonnet was where she needed to be when she needed to be there, and that she was being taken care of.  Sure, I’d step in to run a second camera, or move stuff around, but ultimately my biggest role for the video was really making sure that Sonnet was comfortable.

The Internet streamed concert was another story altogether.  Where I took a back seat during filming of the music video, I stepped in and took charge for the concert.  That was really my baby of the whole week.  Multi-camera videos are something that the others do rarely, but something I do with some degree of regularity.  Fortunately I have acquired all of the equipment to do so over the last several years, even designing, building, and writing software for quite a bit of it as well.  And I actually enjoy working with audio more than video, so this was going to be my only chance during the week to do what I enjoy most. 

I’ll save the many stories from the week when we actually shot everything for another post (and maybe some of the other people involved will post something on their own blogs… hint, hint?).  It really was quite an adventure, but in a good way.  So much fun, and definitely an experience I will never forget.  Frankly I can’t believe we pulled off what we did in so little time.  And that we survived the week of no sleep, super late nights, in the heat, on little food, without hating each other by the end (much to the contrary, actually—we’re all better friends), is kind of a miracle in and of itself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two little birds...

Two little birds, caught in my window. 
And I told them they don't need to worry.  
Gave 'em a board--
So they could climb out.
Climbing up seemed too difficult a feat.

They would try, they'd get it wrong, couldn't do it right
The more they'd try to climb, the more they'd fall again.
Then they would hesitate.

Birds, put your best feet on, sing me your favorite songs,
So go ahead, find your way out.
Fly up and away free, I hope you get your dreams,
Just go ahead, find your way out.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I don’t get it when…

People who design things don’t actually use them… and expect that others will want to use them.  Web sites are the worst.

Like today, I was on a comic web site… the comics are great… they have this really cool “Random Comic” link at the top of the page, and many of the comics are much longer than one page.  You read the comic and have to scroll back to the top of the page to hit the Random Comic (or any) link.  If you want me to read the comic and stay on the site, put the link at the bottom of the page so I don’t have to scroll back to the top to view another.  If the web designer had actually used the site, they would have realized that putting those links at the bottom of the page would have improved site usability 257%.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Looking for some assistance…

Next week, a very talented singer/songwriter named Sonnet (, is coming to Provo/Orem from Los Angeles to shoot a real music video and perform a house concert which will be broadcast over the Internet.  Sonnet is well known in Utah for her “You’re So Good For Me” song, which was featured as the music for the 2009 Lagoon Park advertising campaign.  If you were in Utah last summer, you most likely have heard the song.  Her other music is just as good.

My role in it all?  Well, I kind of organized the whole thing, and I’m providing the equipment to make it all happen.

sonnet_43This is going to be an affair that lasts for several days and is going to require a significant number of people to pull it off, so we’re looking for a few extra hands to help out.

Before you stop reading thinking, “I don’t have any technical skills, so I can’t be of any help” please do take the time to finish reading.  While we do require some technical skill for some tasks, most of those are already filled, and many of the remaining roles do not require any technical expertise. 

Music Video – Tues-Wed, June 8th & 9th

We’ll be shooting the music video for her new song “Seesaw” on Tuesday and Wednesday (June 8/9) at various locations in and near Utah valley.  We have technical crew more-or-less covered for these events, but we could use a few extra people for various other things that it takes to shoot a video: extras to appear in the background in a few scenes, people to hold reflectors and other lighting elements, someone to be in charge of music playback, people to move props and equipment, and maybe even run errands at various times both days.

Unfortunately this whole project is being done pro-bono so we can’t offer any sort of financial compensation.  You will, however, appear in the credits for the video, and food will be provided while we are shooting.

For the technically minded, we are doing something new and trendy: we are shooting the entire video on Canon digital SLR cameras, just like this season’s finale of House, and some feature films currently in production.  The video quality is amazing!  We’ll also be doing a significant amount of green-screen work.  This is the real deal here, folks – it’s going to be shot professionally, complete with special effects, and is going to look fantastic.

If you’ve ever wanted to be involved in the creation of a real music video, whether as an extra, or crew, this is a great opportunity.  And certainly something that can go on the resume of anyone wanting to do any video or film work.  We don’t require that you be available all day, but if you have a few hours to help out it, we would be very grateful.  We’ll have a schedule of events finalized by this weekend, which I will send to anyone who expresses any interest in helping.

House Concert – Thurs, June 10th

Rather than doing a big concert in a regular venue, we have elected to do a small, intimate concert.  House concerts are currently popping up everywhere, and are becoming quite popular, even for well-established artists, so that’s the directly we have elected to take.  Her concert will be next Thursday at 7pm in Orem.

Sonnet has invited about 30 guests, giving her the opportunity to actually interact with those who attend and talk about her music in an informal setting.  We will also be shooting and broadcasting that event over the Internet for any of her fans to view (at  The resulting video will be re-edited later and be uploaded to her web site and YouTube for all to see.

Even though it will be informal, from a technical point of view it will be very sophisticated: we’re going to be shooting on 6 cameras, have everything professionally lit, and audio will be first-rate.  It will have the feel of something small and intimate, but look and sound like a first-rate production.

We have most of the technical assistance we need (though we could use one additional camera operator), but are still looking for a little bit of additional help.  We need someone to welcome guests and make sure they are seated comfortably.  We need a few people to assist the camera operators by making sure that cables stay out of the way.  We need someone to help with the camera dolly.  We might need someone to help with controlling the lighting.  A few additional hands to move equipment in and out in the morning and evening would be very much helpful.  None of these are difficult tasks, but we’re a bit short on people-power.

Again, we can’t offer any financial compensation, but your name will appear in the credits, and you’ll get to attend a concert with excellent music, and meet the artist. 

Can you help?

If you’re at all interested, and are available any time Tuesday through Thursday next week, drop me an email at and let me know what interests you and when you’re available.  And if you know someone who is interested in this kind of thing and would be interested in being involved, please pass a link to this blog post along.

Thank you!!!

LOST Survey Results

Here we go… the results of my LOST survey.   With my own thoughts and feelings following at the end.


image  image








My Own Thoughts

Discussions about LOST could go on forever, and I certainly don’t want to get too detailed in my own thoughts, but I would like to say a few things, especially with regard to the way the series ended.

For the most part I enjoyed the series, but found myself frustrated by it probably as much as I enjoyed it.  My analytical mind doesn’t like to have questions go unanswered, and as anyone who watched the show knows, the writers enjoyed creating new questions more than they enjoyed providing answers to them.  And that internal battle was probably a hurdle that I never fully overcame, so I was never really able to full invest myself into the show. 

A lot of fans of the show would go back and re-watch episodes to try to pick up on small details that would be missed the first time through.  I, on the other hand, with the exception of the pilot and finale, only watched each episode one time.  I just couldn’t get into it enough to invest more time than I did.

But moving on to the story as a whole, I did enjoy the character development and the way the show would do flashbacks and give background to those characters.  It made it that much more believable when we would see characters do things that would have otherwise seemed unusual.

But, on to the finale…

Some may have been really surprised by the way the series ended.  I expected some sort of spiritual ending, just based on the fact that so many spiritual issues had been raised, especially in this last season, with the Jacob vs. the man in black representing good vs. evil so prominently just as one prime example.  So for the answer to “what’s going on here?” to be “this is an afterlife experience” wasn’t a huge shock for me.  I can’t say that I knew ahead of time that the sideways story wasn’t mortal life, but there was definitely something askew and it just did not feel like it was real.  So to have it revealed that it wasn’t was not a shock.  The rug may have been tugged, but it wasn’t ripped out from under me.

There were several aspects of the finale that I really liked.  I liked having many past characters return, and the many reunions that ensued as a result (and yes, I did get a little emotional with some).  I liked that Jack and Kate were finally together (I never liked her with Sawyer).  I liked that Claire wasn’t really crazy after all (she was one of my favorite characters, so I didn’t like that she was behaving so strangely earlier in the season).  I liked that they did get rid of the MIB.  I liked that Hurley had the opportunity to step up and take charge.  I like that they explained (at least to some degree) why this particular group of people was selected to be on the island. 

While it was enjoyable, I don’t think I will go back and watch the series again.  Six seasons of one hour episodes is a lot of content to try to take in again.  I don’t exactly have 121 hours to spare.  I know a lot of the things we wondered about in earlier seasons would make more sense in retrospect, but I’m not so attached to the show that I can make that commitment again.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


One of the great things about the advancement of technology is that things that were once hard to find become common.

One of the bad things about the advancement of technology is that things that were once common become hard to find.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST survey

If you’re a Lostie, please take a few minutes to fill out my 10-question survey about your feelings on the show.

Thank you!  I’ll post results in one week.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reach for the Cloud

If you’re familiar with the Mobile Me service offered by Apple, one of its features is the ability to store files on Apple-run servers directly from the Mac, making them accessible from anywhere at any time.  Few people know this, but Microsoft also provides similar a similar capability with to anyone with a Windows Live account with its free SkyDrive service, providing 25 GB of storage.  Mac users get the privilege of paying $99/year for this capability, but with 5GB less storage space. Suckers.

It takes a few steps to get it setup, but they really aren’t that hard with a little instruction.  Windows 7 may be required, but it might work on Windows Vista, I haven’t tried it.  (I’m not running Vista on any of my computers any longer, so I can’t test it.)  I know it doesn’t work on XP.
  1. First you need to sign up for the free SkyDrive service.  Go to and sign up.  If you already have a Windows Live account (such as Hotmail email), you just need to confirm that you want to activate the SkyDrive service.

  2. Next, go to this site and download the SkyDrive Simple Viewer software.  It’s totally free, and you only need to run it once to get some information about your Windows Live account.

  3. Extract SkyDrive Simple Viewer .zip file into a temporary folder.  For the sake of this discussion, extract it to C:\Temp\SDViewer.

  4. Click Start, type cmd, and press Enter.

  5. Type:

    CD /D C:\Temp\SDViewer
    (Windows Live email address) (space) (Windows Live password) >links.txt

    Example: dumpurls mypassword >links.txt

  6. This will create a file called links.txt in the C:\Temp\SDViewer folder containing the “secret” links to make the connection.  Copy this file somewhere and keep it.  Once you have this file, you can delete the C:\Temp\SDViewer folder. 

  7. Open your links.txt file.  Its contents will look something like this:

    These same links work on any computer; so feel free to copy this file and it them elsewhere.  Just don’t share them with anyone or they’ll have access to your files.

  8. Click the Start button, right-click “Computer” on the menu, and select “Map Network Drive...”

  9. Select the local drive letter you’d like to use, and copy one of the links from step 7 into the “Folder” field (select the appropriate link based on what type of files you are going to be saving).  Click Finish.
Voila!  The drive will open within a few seconds.  If you turn on the “Reconnect at Logon” option in step 9 it will automatically reconnect each time you logon to Windows.  Pretty cool stuff.

You now have a link in Windows Explorer to your SkyDrive “cloud” storage that can be used with any Windows program, and even shared between multiple computers.  And all for free, and without installing a single piece of software!

I even use it with the software I wrote and sell, FileBack PC, to backup important files automatically.  Slick.

Original idea came from Paul Thurrott on his blog.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

iPad Hands On

Okay, yeah, I did it.  I bought an iPad.  I have been at least a little critical of the device from the day it was first announced, and I felt like if I was going to be fair about it I really ought to take it for a spin for real before forming a final opinion.

I was able to get it without any difficulty.  My local Best Buy was one of the ones that was going to have them at launch.  Twenty minutes before the store opened, there was still no line to get one.  At a quarter to ten I got out of my truck and I was third in line.  The store had twenty of each model (16, 32, and 64GB), so there is actually still a fair chance that if someone wants one they might still be able to get it, at least at the Orem store.

So now that I have had it for 2 1/2 hours, and played with every aspect of the device, and downloaded and played with quite a few apps, I feel more qualified to comment on it.  Here are my impressions…


  • The device is both smaller and considerably heavier than you’d imagine it being.  The screen is 9.7” (diagonal), but it has a considerable bezel, leaving the impressions in pictures that it is bigger than it really is.  But it also weighs more.  It’s heavy enough that I wouldn’t want to hold it up to read books on it.
  • The oleophobic coating on the screen that is supposed to prevent fingerprints and smudges, doesn’t.
  • The back has a textured finish, unlike the iPod Touch, so it doesn’t scratch as easily, thankfully.
  • The screen is very good.  It uses an IPS LCD screen, and these are among the best out there.  The quality of the screen is A LOT better than that of the iPhone or iPod Touch, especially with regard to viewing angles.
  • Battery life should be the expected 10 hours.  After playing for two hours my battery level dropped by about 15%.
  • It absolutely requires a computer to set it up.  When you turn it on it shows the iTunes logo on screen until you register it with Apple via iTunes 9.1.
  • For the most part it operates pretty smoothly and quickly.  Scrolling and zooming are particularly smooth.
  • Since the iPod Touch doesn’t have a microphone, I wasn’t expecting one on the iPad, but it does have one.  I was able to make Skype calls on it just fine.
  • The speaker is fairly loud, but it’s monaural.  Disappointing considering the device’s considerable size and the amount of unused space inside the case.  Sound quality is also dull and lifeless.
  • It doesn’t charge while plugged into a computer.  It shows “Not charging” in the upper right on the three computers I tested it on, one of which is a Mac. You pretty much have to use the included USB power adapter to charge it.  My other AC-to-USB chargers don’t work with it.


  • It comes pretty bare-bones.  It doesn’t even have the iBooks app installed on it from the factory; it has to be downloaded and installed.
  • Even though there are supposedly about 1400 apps specifically for the iPad, a LOT of them are books, or wrappers around the web browser.  There are a fair number of useful and cool apps, but the iPad App Store actually feels a bit sparse.
  • Apps are CONSIDERABLY more expensive than they are for the iPhone.  Many apps that are $1.99 on the iPhone/Touch are $9.99 for their iPad versions, for example.
  • There are free apps, but I didn’t find that many that were interesting.  In some cases apps that are free on the iPhone aren’t free for the iPad.
  • Even though the device can run iPhone apps, chances are that you probably won’t want to.  They either run on a very small portion of the screen (same physical size as they would be on an iPhone) or blown up to 4x normal size (2x in each direction), and when they are blown up they look, well, horrible.
  • There are some very notable missing apps right now, namely Facebook and Hulu.
  • Most apps seem to be pretty polished, but I did experience a handful of app crashes, and a fair amount of pauses and multi-second freezing, even among the Apple-supplied apps that come with it.
  • The iBooks app is pretty cool, but there is basically no free content.  It comes with one free book (Winnie the Pooh), so you can get a feel for how it will work, but I didn’t want to spend $10-15 just to have the whole experience.  Page turns are quick enough that they aren’t distracting, and the fact that you can view two pages side-by-side in landscape mode is cool.  I’m still not sold on the idea of holding up a 1.5 pound device to read, or reading on a backlit screen, though.  Some people will be fine with reading on the iPad, many will not.
  • The Apple included apps are exactly what you expect them to be… versions of many of the same apps that ship with the iPod Touch, but optimized for a larger screen.  It did feel like some apps, like Mail and Calendar in particular could do more to take advantage of the bigger screen, but I can understand how Apple would be trying to keep things simple.  For the most part the experience with the apps is the same as it is on the iPhone, just bigger.
  • The web browser is nice, and snappy.  I do find that entering URLs and filling in web forms on the on-screen keyboard is annoying, though.  And the ongoing battle with Adobe over including Flash is a significant irritation.


  • Standard definition video looks okay, but not great.  If you’re planning on watching iTunes movies or TV shows, the HD versions are going to look a lot better.  And keep in mind that HD content takes up a lot more space than SD, so getting a higher capacity version of the iPad than you think you might need is probably a good idea.
  • The on-screen keyboard has had a couple buttons added to it compared to the iPhone/iPod Touch.  Not many, but it is nice to have command and period keys.  But I do wish that they had added the row of number keys.  
  • In Landscape mode the on-screen keyboard literally takes up half of the screen, and the buttons are actually too big.  They could have really made it a lot smaller, and it would have actually been much more usable, in addition to requiring less screen real estate in the process.
  • It’s disappointing that app icons are only shown 4 across on such a large screen.  The icons feel like they are way too far apart, and Apple could have greatly reduced the number of pages by just allowing even one or more two icons per row, and one or two more rows.
  • Though the device can play iTunes music, it’s really way too big to be used as a music player.
  • It’s also very disappointing that the device doesn’t allow third party applications to multi-task, especially with such a large screen.  Apple could have easily fit four iPhone apps on screen simultaneously, or allowed applications to run in the background.
  • Even though Apple is pushing this thing as a game platform, many games rely on the accelerometer, and this makes them very slow to respond to input.  If this is a serious game machine they should have at least included a directional pad.  Touch-screen and accelerometer just don’t cut it for a huge portion of potential games.
Overall, the hardware feels pretty polished.  Most of the limitations come from the software itself, or from the fact that you’re really buying into an ecosystem, not just a piece of hardware.

But the biggest down side of the device is cost.  And I’m not talking about up-front cost; the up-front price actually isn’t too bad for what you are getting.  It’s the high price of the apps, and the fact that you’re going to want to purchase iPad specific versions of your iPhone apps (since running the iPhone native apps is actually a pretty bad experience).  And if someone is planning on using the device to read books, magazines, or newspapers, keep in mind that you’re going to be buying them over again if you already have them, and with the $10-15 book price, or inexplicably high subscription costs, it isn’t what I would call a bargain.

Everywhere I turned on the device it felt like Apple or other content creators wanted more money to really have a complete iPad experience.  While this is understandable, it still limits the usefulness of the device if you aren’t willing to make a big investment into content specifically designed for it.

After playing with the iPad for a couple hours and going back and picking up my iPod Touch, the Touch is SO much smaller, lighter, and ultimately nearly as functional at a much lower price.  The iPod Touch is a MUCH better buy, and could replace an iPad, but not the other way around, mostly due to size and weight.

Bottom line: It’s essentially a big iPod Touch, but you’re probably going to want to re-purchase iPad versions of apps and HD versions of video for it, so it is just like starting over from scratch as if you don’t already have any content.  So plan on making a pretty significant financial investment if this is something you’re considering.

Monday, March 22, 2010

This is a bad thing…

Again, usually I try to avoid posting anything political on my blog, but sometimes I just can’t keep silent on important issues.

So the House just passed a healthcare bill.  But as-is, there are a lot of bad things that are going to happen as a result, and we aren’t hearing much about those.

Before I start, I’m not against reforming the healthcare industry.  It would be a wonderful thing if more people could afford proper health insurance.  I just think that the current approach is 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

First, insurance rates are going to go through the roof.  They simply have to as a result of simple economics.  The bill currently being considered requires insurance companies to continue coverage for people when they get sick, and offer coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.  Before long they’ll be require to grant insurance for everyone who asks.  The money that will have to be paid out by insurance companies is going to soar to unprecedented levels, and that money has to come from somewhere, so it is going to be passed on to those that are paying for insurance.  If you think your current health insurance is too expensive, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.  (Ideally it would be great for those people to have coverage, but with medical expenses being as high as they are, I can understand why insurance companies don’t offer coverage.)
In 2014, individuals will be required to have health insurance, or pay a fine.  This would be the first time in the history of the country that people have a required tax burden even if they have no income.  People won’t have the option to not purchase insurance without avoiding a fine, even if they don’t want it.  It’s essentially a tax for breathing; I can’t get behind that no matter what anyone says to me.  People ought to have a choice as to whether they purchase a product or not.

Also in 2014, businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to offer insurance to its employees or pay a $2,000 per employee fine for not doing so (do the math, that's $100,000).  This is where I have one of the biggest beefs with the current plan.

Most businesses are operating on extremely thin margins, if not in the red right now.  Yes, there are a few that are making great profits, but these are in the extreme minority.  If companies are required to purchase health insurance for their workers, their expenses are going to be a LOT higher (remember, insurance is already expensive, and insurance rates will have to go up to cover the new insured!), and in order to continue to operate one of three things have to happen: either they are going to have to raise prices of their products to offset their higher expenses, lay off workers in order to meet those new expenses, or lay off employees until they have less than 50. Jobs are already hard enough to come by without adding additional requirements and expenses to employers.

This is particularly devastating to companies that hire primarily minimum wage employees, like retail and fast food establishments.  If these companies are required to offer insurance to their minimum wage employees, we are going to see a huge jump in prices at retail.  A meal at Wendy’s won’t be $6, it will be $10 or more.  Prices on groceries, clothes, and other essentials will have to jump too.  But it affects the entire supply chain, not just the workers you meet across the counter.  Everything will have to be more expensive in order for employers to offer insurance.  As if businesses had excess funds now. (If they did, would we currently have 10% unemployment?)

In my job I work closely with fast food restaurant owners.  Most fall in the category of “50 or more employees” (if an owner has 2 or more locations they’ll qualify) but do not offer part-time employees insurance, yet they are barely meeting payroll and other expenses as it is.  If they are put into a situation where they’re having to offer insurance, they won’t be able to continue to operate as-is.  Either their prices will have to go way up, or they’ll have to close up shop.  Several of them have actually said to me that they’ll be forced to close down if they have to offer insurance.

Another side effect is that part-time jobs will become limited and hard to come by, and essentially none of what remains would be able to pay more than minimum wage.  While the bill makes provision to count part-time workers as half of a full-time worker as far as the “50 or more” provision goes, health insurance for part time employees costs the same as full-time employees (they’re not half a person).  Businesses would certainly elect to hire a single full-time employee rather than two part-time employees because their insurance costs would be half as much, only having to offer insurance to one individual instead of two.  (Including part-time employees in the count is essentially required in the plan, otherwise businesses would cut all employees back to part-time hours to avoid paying for insurance.)

But even worse than all of this is that obvious solutions to the fundamental underlying problem are being totally ignored:
  • No effort whatsoever is being put forth to try to lower medical expenses so that insurance can be more affordable.
  • There is no mention of limiting malpractice lawsuit awards.  Malpractice suits and insurance are two of the primary reasons that healthcare is so incredibly expensive.
  • Nothing is done to try to encourage people to be more responsible about their own personal care.  Quite the opposite, in fact… if people are more or less guaranteed healthcare, many will fall back on doctors and hospitals when they don’t need to.
  • Nothing is being done to encourage the use of less expensive generic drugs instead of expensive medications from the largest pharmaceutical companies, or for people to use natural remedies, which would provide huge savings.
  • Nothing is done to encourage more competition between companies that work in medicine.  It will actually be easier for those with monopolies in the system to maintain them.
  • No penalties are put in place for people who abuse their bodies through abuse of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs, or other self-damaging behaviors.  They’re granted the same level of care as someone who takes care of him/herself.
  • No effort is made to encourage increased use of less expensive procedures instead of the more costly ones.  For example, way too many CT scans and MRIs are being prescribed than are needed, driving insurance rates up artificially.
  • No effort is made to educate people about how to take care of themselves by eating healthily and exercising.
I’m really bothered by the fact that the attitude of this bill and the message sent to the American public is this: You can keep up your current bad habits, and now we’re going to place the burden of that risk on everyone else.  We really ought to be encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves rather than being a burden on everyone else.   Yes, I know that many people have conditions that they cannot full take care of themselves… I really do understand that and empathize with them.  But this broad approach of removing accountability from everyone is just going to cause more problems in the end than it solves. 

I do agree that something ought to be done about the current state of medicine in the U.S., but the bill currently being considered is certainly not the way to solve the problem.  It’s like putting using a band-aid on an amputated limb.  It would be far better to at least TRY to eliminate the underlying problems instead of trying to cover them up.  And considering that no government social program has ever lived up to its intended consequences, there is no way I can get behind this one, especially being as flawed as it is.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Love My Computer

So I have been using the same computer for 5 years now.  I built it back in 2005 when dual core processors first became available for PCs.  So it was getting really old, and it was really getting in the way of me being efficient and effective in my work.

I decided last summer that I was going to build a new one, but I knew that one of the key parts I was looking at was very shortly due for an update, so I held off.  Then a couple months ago my company offered to pay for my new machine.  Finally, on Feb. 28th the part I was waiting for (the CPU) became available, so I ordered the parts and built it.

So, a quick rundown on what’s inside.

  • Intel Core i7 930 Processor at 2.8 GHz
  • 12GB GSkill DDR3-10666 RAM (6 x 2GB)
  • Intel X25-M 160GB Solid State Disk
  • 2 x Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB (in RAID-0)
  • 1 x Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 Video
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT Video*
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8500 GT Video*
  • Windows 7 x64 Ultimate Edition

* Brought over from previous machine

Why 3 video cards?  I use 6 monitors, and each card drives two of them.

There are a few things that make this computer so awesome.  First, the 8 virtual cores (so it works sort of like 8 CPUs)…



Second, would be the amount of memory (12GB):


Third would be the Intel X25-M solid state disk (like a hard drive, but it uses flash memory instead of moving parts, so it is much faster):


What all of this means is:

  • The computer boots up in 14-16 seconds. (From Windows logo screen first appearing to all software being loaded and ready to use at the fully ready-to-use desktop.)
  • There is NO period of waiting for my 57 zillion startup applications to finish loading after a restart; they’re done loading before the desktop even appears.
  • Most software applications open virtually instantly:
    • Microsoft Office applications are totally finished loading in well under 1 second.
    • Photoshop CS3 loads in less than 2 seconds.
    • Premiere Pro CS3 loads in about 3 seconds.
    • Microsoft Outlook loads and is ready to use in less than 2 seconds.
    • Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, and Safari all load instantly.
    • Firefox loads in about 5 seconds.
    • My development environment (Delphi RAD Studio 2007) loads in about 15 seconds instead of 2 minutes.
    • The Zune software loads in about 3 seconds and is always snappy.
    • iTunes loads in about 1 minute instead of 5.
  • With this much memory, I can leave all of the software I use regularly running in the background; I never have to close anything if I don’t want to.
  • Web browsing is much more snappy, even without getting a faster Internet connection.
  • Editing standard definition video is actually very fast.
  • Editing high definition HDV video is not only possible, but it is easy.
  • When I’m programming and I pause to think, the development language I use only freezes for 2-3 seconds instead of 30-90 seconds. (I was literally losing hours of my time per week on this.)
  • Multitasking is seamless.  I can start a video render, minimize it, and not even feel the effect of it while using other applications.
  • Encoding DVDs into h.264 video happens at a rate of 140 frames per seconds (as opposed to 8 on my previous machine), so movies finish in about 40 minutes instead of 12 hours.
  • File transfers over my network run at 50 MB/sec instead of 7-8 MB/sec.

Total cost of hardware was just under $2,000.  My company covered $1500 of that.

This computer is just a pleasure to use.  I don’t have to wait for it to do anything. 

It hasn’t been without a few hiccups though…

  • My external MOTU 828mkII FireWire-based sound device (primarily designed for doing studio recordings) has some really buggy drivers.  Sound sometimes gets distorted.  This was a problem with the old computer, too.  It’s apparently universal, as others (both PC and Mac users) are having the same issue with this same device.  If it weren’t so expensive I’d trade it in.
  • Occasionally when I restart one of the video cards isn’t detected, so I have to restart again for it to come back.
  • I can’t get the fingerprint readers I use for developing my company’s Point-of-Sale software to work at all (no driver available).
  • It takes me days, if not weeks, to get all of my software re-installed.

But even with those small issues, I love this machine. 

And for anyone wondering why I didn’t get a Mac, I spec’d out a “roughly equivalent” machine (they don’t have an exact equivalent) and it would have been $7,173. While some areas would be better (CPU), it would still be lacking in a few areas, like memory and video performance.  Upgrading the video to something equivalent would add several hundred $ more.  If I were to switching to OS X, re-purchasing the software I use regularly from PC to Mac would have cost an additional $10,000+, and several most of the applications I use every day just aren’t even available at all for OS X.  Economically it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

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