Monday, September 26, 2005

Free? What's The Catch?

Not much comes for free in this day and age. What doesn't cost anything out of pocket may seem free, but there is usually some kind of catch. I used to work for a telemarketing company that sold home air filters that is a prime example of this. We called people up and talked up these free gifts that we would give them such as a travel grill, weekend vacations to some lame places, $200 in grocery coupons and some other things. What they had to do to get this stuff was set up an appointment to have a salesman come to their home and give them a demo for this air filter (at least an hour long, but probably more), then fill out a feedback survey. I don't know about you, but a crappy free travel grill isn't worth a couple hours of my life talking to an air filter salesman. The whole thing seemed sneaky and underhanded to me. Needless to say, I didn't come back from my lunch break on my first day.

Not every catch is that bad though. In many cases they are pretty much ignored. For instance, plenty of people tolerate gobs of adds on their hotmail page in order to have a free email account. You just have to find a limit to what you are willing giving up and deal with in order to save a buck. My limit is probably a bit higher than most people, but I'm not above making a sacrifice every once in a while to save a couple dollars.

operatorI just ran across something that I think is probably worth the trade off. 1-800-FREE-411 is a directory assistance service recently introduced by Jingle Networks which is exactly like the 411 service that your cell phone company charges outrageous amounts for. I know US Cellular charges $1.25 per call on top of your normal minutes and some other carriers charge more than that. The catch here is before you get your info they play a 10 second advertisement, usually for something related to your number request. 411 is a pretty handy service to have, but I don't think it's worth a couple dollars per use. Probably not something US Cellular wants me telling to my customers, but when am I not looking out for my fellow man.

Link To CNet Story

Friday, September 16, 2005

Nintendo = Brilliant. Holy Crap.

I don't follow video games as much as I used to. Ever since I started DJing a few years back I really didn't have the time or money for it. Having just moved into a place with my best friend for the past 8 years, who just graduated with a bachelors in 3D game design, I have a feeling that I'm no longer going to be able to avoid the temptation. The big decision over here, as with many people, is which of the next gen. systems to get. If I had a choice, which I probably don't since I'm not paying, I would definitely wait for the Nintendo Revolution. I think that Nintendo is the only system that is really concentrating on new and innovative game play rather than just turbo crazy graphics and speed. Being a computer and gadget geek I have realized that with this kind of thing its really what's on the inside that counts. You can have a beautiful looking game, but if it isn't fun it's worthless.

The latest details about the Nintendo Revolution prove without a doubt that the system is going to live up to its name. At the Tokyo Game Show last week Nintendo president Satoru Iwata unveiled the long anticipated controller for the Revolution and I can guarantee you that no one saw something like this coming.

revolution controllerIts a one handed controller that's similar in style to any regular TV remote. Doesn't seem too game friendly, but when you put the pair of receivers on either side of your TV, the controller turns into a magic wand of gaming goodness, interpreting every move that your hand makes and incorporating it into the game. How cool is that. Where the other systems are designing their systems to be simple in order to work with the range of games, Nintendo is taking a wildly different and revolutionary system design and creating wildly different and revolutionary games around it. Brilliant. I can't wait to play Mario Party Revolution on this thing. After seeing what's been going on with the Nintendo DS, I'm really not as surprised as I should be about this. Keep at it Nintendo. You guys kick ass.

Here is the full story on 1UP with more details and pics. Check it out.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Next Face Of The World Wide Web

I'm assuming everyone who would be reading this knows what an IM is, and are familiar with a few protocols such as AOL IM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, Jabber, etc. Most of you have probably seen or used a multi-protocol IM program such as Trillian or my personal choice Gaim which combine all the protocols I mentioned into one program and then some. This is really nice because it saves you the trouble and resources of having to have multiple programs running at once. Gaim even puts your IM's in the same window and gives them tabs, similar to how Firefox or Opera arrange multiple web pages in one browser. Along with the fact that official IM clients are usually full of adds, pop-ups and other stuff you don't want, there is no reason not to use a nice open-source multi client like Gaim.

meebo logoMeebo is brand new and works much like one of these multi-clients and lets you sign on to AIM, Yahoo, MSN or ICQ, but it's got something different going on under the hood. Meebo is written in Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) making it entirely web browser based (no program to download). Browser based IM clients are nothing new and neither is JavaScript and XML. The way that the Ajax development technique allows JavaScript and XML to work together though is cutting edge and unlike anything that's been around before. Just go to the Meebo page, sign in to your IM account , start messing around and you will become aware of this right off the batt. The "alpha" status next to the name on the main page is pretty evident though, this being the very early stages of this "program" and type of development, so I don't expect you to drop your regular IM client in favor of Meebo.

Web programming languages and techniques are becoming more and more powerful in the advance toward Web 2.0. It is pretty accurately predicted by many that in the future your web browser will pretty much become your operating systems interface, with most programs stored on distant servers, transmitting usage data over super high speed connections to operate. The need for a user side computer is still going to be necessary, but its functions may largely start to change. I can't believe how fast computer technology and applications are evolving and changing. I'm very excited to see what's around the corner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Counting Down The Days

cingular sucks logoI was just expressing to a co-worker at US Cellular today how much Cingular pissed me off on a couple of occasions. The worst being when an employee flat out lied to me about an AOL instant messaging feature on a $200 phone I was buying.

I specifically said to the guy "are you sure that's how it works, because I heard from a friend that it worked [like this] instead and I don't want it if it does" (except I went into more detail in my question). He assured me it would do what I wanted and that what I heard was wrong. A couple days later, upon discovering it wasn't doing what I wanted with AOL IM, I asked a different associate about it, and she told me that it worked exactly the way my friend said that it would. The same guy was working that day and I told this woman "That's the guy that told me it didn't work like this." Then she asked him about it right in front of me and he confirmed -without even so much as looking at me out of the corner of his eye- that the AOL IM feature worked in the way that I said didn't want. I was turbo pissed and returned the phone in exchange for one of the free Nokia phones they were selling at the time, even though in hindsight I think I should have just left Cingular.

I've never had a problem with Cingular as a service or the other Nokia phones I've had with them (Nokia = God, in cellular form), but working in the cell phone market I hear from customers on almost a daily basis about how incredibly horrible Cingular's customer service is. Also because I work in the cell phone market I see customer service study lists occasionally, with Cingular pretty much always hanging out down at the bottom along with Sprint. Even though after the AT&T merger Cingular became the largest cellular company in America, if they don't shape up they are doomed to be crushed. If there is anything I have learned from working in this industry is that the vast majority of people hate cellular companies but see it as a necessary evil. I also realized that word of mouth and suggestions from friends is in most cases what decides for someone what company they will go to.

All this considered, its no wonder I ran across this bit of news today. It looks like this business ethic may sooner or later come back to bite them in the ass if they don't do something about it. After receiving 200 reports (20 still completely unanswered) about Cingular last year the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York officially terminated their membership. It's kind of a small step, but it may open some eyes of consumers in the market. It makes me feel better anyways. I unfortunately am still under contract with them until December 14th, but you better believe that I will be ditching them that very same day. I suggest you all think twice about falling for one of the crazy high tech phones they offer. You better hope that nothing goes wrong in the next two years of your contract, otherwise you will probably wish you hadn't.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Are You Kidding Me?

mr burnsGuess what Bill Gates & The U.S. Government have done this time. Microsoft has been granted a patent for the double-click. Thankfully it only applies to handheld computers that use the Microsoft PocketPC operating system. Full text of the patent reads:

"Time based hardware button for application launch"


A method and system are provided for extending the functionality of application buttons on a limited resource computing device. Alternative application functions are launched based on the length of time an application button is pressed. A default function for an application is launched if the button is pressed for a short, i.e., normal, period of time. An alternative function of the application is launched if the button is pressed for a long, (e.g., at least one second), period of time. Still another function can be launched if the application button is pressed multiple times within a short period of time, e.g., double click.

Now this stuff is getting way out of hand. The US patent system is in dire need of reform to deal with modern intellectual property and computer software developments. The guys over at WIPO need to get off their asses. It really doesn't surprise me that Microsoft is pulling this crap. This kind of stuff is a large part of the reason why I don't use Microsoft Windows on my PC. I strongly encourage support and use of Linux and Open Source Software and you should too.

The New York-based Public Patent Foundation, meanwhile, has filed a formal request with the US Patent and Trademark Office, asking that Microsoft's patent on this file system be revoked as such patents can impeded progress by preventing competitors from improving on them.

On a less infuriating note. Here is a recent story of a college kid who fought a lawsuit from Microsoft, won and left them humiliated after drawing tons of media attention in the process.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Press One For English. Para Espanol, Numero Dos

telephoneAt some time or another every one of us has had to call customer service for some reason. Usually its because you're having a problem and are kinda POed about it. The last thing that you want in this situation is to be on the phone for a half hour trying to get any help from a pre-recorded customer service menu.

I happen to think that in our modern and efficient world customer service almost doesn't exist any more. Go into Wal-Mart and ask a random employee to help you pick the best shampoo for your hair type, find a graphics card with a TV out, or explain the difference between 1% and 2% milk. They will have no idea what to do and will probably have an attitude because you interrupted them from their work. I have actually changed my shopping habits for reasons like this. I would gladly pay a little extra at a smaller specialty store if I can get help from a friendly person who is knowledgeable about what they do and wants to help you find what is the best for you, even if they may not have it. Using Wal-Mart as an example again, rather than having a knowledgeable staff to recommend products that are right for a customer, they have TV's every so often that are constantly playing commercials for products that they sell. Am I the only person who sees a problem with this? Commercials piss me off enough while I am watching TV, but do I really need to see them while I'm shopping? Most people just block this type of thing out and don't think twice about it, but I notice. That to me is the difference between being a consumer and being an individual. I don't want to live in a world out of THX-1138 (amazing film, btw).

Having to get help from a heartless machine when you are having problems is the culmination of this anti-service trend. Well some very nice hackers have done something to ease our customer service woes. This website called Find-A-Human is a list of large companies such as banks, cell phone carriers, insurance agencies, PC companies, retail & web stores, etc... with instructions on how to quickly bypass the automated help system and talk to a person when you call. I recenly read customer service ratings for cell phone companies and getting stuck talking to a machine was a main factor in the rating system (T-Mobile was #1 in service for the past 2 years). Hopefully with this list, you can actually get something done the next time you need help. I know I will be coming back to it at some point. Now whether that person will understand English or not, I'll leave for another post.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Another TV Ledgend Kicks The Bucket *tear*

bob denver
Rest In Peace Little Buddy

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Beautiful Vandalism

I'm all for urban artwork & graffiti, provided its done right. Having just moved from a nice little quasi-suburban town to a larger city I now see this stuff all over the place, and it's largely crap. I've even seen shitty tags on walls where a good artist will tag next to it "Your Work Sucks, Please Stop." Its especially annoying when you're walking down a block and you see the same shitty tag on every possible spot that it would fit on said block. All that aside though, I really enjoy seeing beautiful vandalism now and again. Especially when people find new and creative urban art methods, such as the stenciling trend that's been going on. I have actually been working on a few stencils and wheat paste posters, but I don't know when I will get around to doing anything with them. I'm kinda waiting on my own brilliant urban art idea to hit me before I get involved, kinda like this guy's.

crosswalk manThundercut is an urban artist in NYC who makes stickers that fit over the man on crosswalk lights, but don't actually cover up the LED's on the sign. He also experiments with using unconventional mediums such as gluing up pre-cut wood veneer tags & characters. He also has a good poloroid photography collection. Check out his website for a portfolio of his street art and photos. This stuff has been getting more and more creative and has been actually turning heads in the legitimate art world, who will probably try to capitalize and corrupt it at some point (if they haven't yet already). Underground street art won't die though. There are too many creative kids in the city's and too much empty canvas on the streets.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Not Your Grandpa's PDA

Wouldn't it be great if you never had to use paper ever again? Everything on dynamic screens that would be able to change content in a split second. Stacks of documents, books, magazines, pamphlets, photos reduced to the size of a memory chip. Well, I guess that kind of technology has been around for a while, but your going to need to get to the information when your not sitting in front of your computer right? PDA's are nice, but with the convenience lies a dilemma. Make it smaller and your reading on a 3 inch screen. Make it larger and its not much more convenient than hauling your PC around with you. Well very recently, Philips Polymer Vision has been showing off the early stages of their rollable mobile device display, the PV-QML5.

phoneThis is a 5 inch 320x240 display, when not in use, can be rolled up to a curvature radius of 7.5mm. It can display 4 levels of monochrome gray and has a 10:1 contrast ratio making it easy to read even in bright daylight conditions. Using technology developed by E Ink Corp. like the Sony Libre it is also capable of displaying detailed images as well as just text. Philips has said this technology will be going into production within the next two years.

A prototype called the "Readius" using one of these PV-QML5 displays will be shown at the Internationale Funkausstellung consumer electronics show in Berlin later this week.

The possibilities for this type of thing are crazy. What if it had a touch screen? Its an exciting time for technology, but sometimes I wish I was born 50 years later because most of this computer based technology is still in its extreme infancy. All I can do for now is spend all my money on crazy gadgets, in hopes of further funding the development of even more crazy gadgets. Its a vicious and never ending cycle. Who am I to fight it?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Guess How Microsoft Is Screwing Up This Time

bsodWith regular announcements of feature after feature being dropped from its next gen. OS "Vista", most recently the more secure unix-like file system, you have to wonder if they are maybe concentrating on other ventures besides their computer system project. Possibly the upcoming release of their XBox 360 video game console? Well the most recent developments suggest they aren't really doing much better in that department.

With 3 new major next gen. consoles being released in the next year, the word on the street is that the XBox 360 is going to be falling a bit short in the race for home entertainment glory. Not surprisingly out of the 3 systems the 360 is being released considerably sooner than the PS3 and Nintendo Revolution. Perhaps in an attempt to capitalize on the holiday buying spree, Microsoft is going to be rushing to release an inferior system instead of spending a bit more time to do it right.

I'm pretty sure that after hearing the latest word from the XBox 360 game developers Bill Gates has a pretty large palm print in the middle of his forehead. Turns out that before the system has even been released they are already running out of room on the DVD's that the system uses. The last thing you want to have when developing a system like this is to have your hardware capabilities exceed your media storage. That's supposed to be the easy part that you don't really have to worry about. I'm not sure about the Revolution, but I know that the PS3 will be using Sony's newly developed Blue Ray Discs which will hold 22 gigs. rather than the 8 gigs. of a Dual Layer DVD. Now the smart decision would have been to at least go with the HD DVD's that are coming out which will hold 15 gigs. (30 dual layer). Says Bill:

"The initial shipments of Xbox 360 will be based on today's DVD format. We are looking at whether future versions of Xbox 360 will incorporate an additional capability of an HD DVD player or something else."

Why does it not surprise me that people may have to shell out over a hundred dollars down the line to have a fully functional system. Well I guess we will just have to see about that. Until then I'm sticking to my opinion that Microsoft is making too many bad moves and biting off much more than they can chew. What the future holds for this former software pioneer will be very interesting to say the least.

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Name That Beverage

cokeYou know you have been in the middle of this argument before. Probably one of the most debated questions of our generation. A very pressing issue that simply can not be taken lightly, lest you would like to be behind the start of a modern day civil war. The culprit of so much controversy being the carbonated caramel colored beverage known by multiple aliases nation wide, insighting a strong and sometimes aggressive cult following of each. When invented in the late 1800's as a nerve tonic, stimulant & headache remedy, I doubt the chemist/physician John Pemberton could have foreseen the chaos his Coca-Cola drink would one day cause in the streets of America. In any case, whether you call it Pop, Coke, Cola, or simply Soda (like a normal person) you are destined to revisit to this quandary time and time again whenever challenged by someone who's "not from around here." With so much at stake it's not likely any opponents in the soft-drink terminology wars will be backing down. Just so you know where you stand, here is a map showing the regional layout of the most popular terminology across the U.S. separated by county. Also a website where you can cast your vote for where you are from.

Speaking of regional terminology, did you know people in Central Wisconsin call drinking fountains "bubblers"? Isn't that ridiculous? Freakin cheeseheads.