Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Chevy Volt

I've been turned off American cars for some time after driving 2 Ford's, owning one, and driving more rental American cars than I can remember. My mom and dad's '83 Thunderbird had all kinds of 'issues' including drive-train problems and a shorting electrical system. The Tempo I owned wouldn't start in cold weather and had an annoying interior rattling that three trips to the dealer didn't fix. Oh, I almost forgot, the second time I took it to the dealership I got the car back with the driver's side electric window no longer working. Ever since then I've driven Hondas and Toyotas.

That could change.

Why the Volt? How does 100mpg and the ability to charge the battery at home sound like? How about the fact that it can go 40 miles on a single charge. And did I mention that it runs entirely off its battery? Its gas engine functions solely as a generator to recharge the battery. All those 10 minute trips to the store will only cost you the electricity it took to charge the battery. In Quebec, with all of its hydro-electric power, that won't be much at all. I'm betting it's going to be a lot cheaper than gas in most parts of the world.

You can read more about it here.

A different president

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Me Meme


From Marc:
  1. Take a picture of yourself right now.
  2. Don’t change your clothes, don’t fix your hair…just take a picture.
  3. Post that picture with NO editing.
  4. Post these instructions with your picture.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Apple Macintosh in 1984



OK, while I'm not an Apple fanboy I do admire style. Especially when style and function converge. As mentioned in previous posts I'm a long-time PC user - since 1984 coincidentally enough (you'll see why). Actually, I should have said I'm an ex-longtime PC user. I only use a Mac now. Granted I run Vista under VMWare Fusion so I can run MS Project, Rational RequisitePro, Rational Software Modeler, Clearcase and other software engineering tools but those will move to OS X eventually - I'm pretty certain even though IBM hasn't admitted it.

Lately I've been wondering. OK, first disclosure - I am a geek. Hell, I was secretary and president of the computer club in high school over two years. What I'm wondering about though is why did we (the club) buy an IBM PC in '84? We spent $5,000 of funds we raised to purchase a PC with an 8088 processor, monochrome screen, tape drive for data storage, and 68K of RAM. I can remember buying the magazine Computers & Electronics and reading about the Apple II. I'd dream about buying one. But instead we bought a PC? I'd have to blame our computer science teacher Mr. Briante. He made the suggestion / decision (what is it with adults anyway - why can't they butt out of kids lives occasionally? ;-). If I remember correctly it's not like we had a choice. Even though we raised the money :-( In all fairness he was a really good teacher!

Now that I'm an Apple fanboy user I've realized not only how great the Mac is in terms of usability but also how much fun the original Mac would have been to program compared to the monochrome monster that was the IBM PC. First I'd like to introduce you to the '1984' Apple ad for the Macintosh. To really get this you you have to know a bit about George Orwell's book '1984'.



Now take a look at Steve Jobs' first presentation of the Macintosh to the public. For those of you who have functional memories of way back then try to remember the technology we worked with every day. The mainframes. PCs. WordStar anyone? We didn't have PCs in our homes - none of us did. For the younger crowd, $5,000 in 1984 translates to about 10,000 inflation-adjusted dollars.



This machine actually had a speech synthesizer! I'm amazed just looking back on it. What do you think?

Monday, July 14, 2008

MyPhone 3G




No I am not a fad-following-popular-technology-buying-groupie-apple-fanboy. Yes, I did just get an iPhone 3G and boy I am impressed (if unsurprised)! Above is a screen capture of my phone. Just the fact that you can do a screen capture of anything on your phone with two buttons (Home+Sleep) is very cool (think user manuals for the new enterprise apps companies will be building for internal use). Having been a BlackBerry user for the past three years (and also been a user of the first gen BB years ago) I can say that RIM definitely has something to worry about - sorry Perry. It's not just the sexy design although intelligent design ;-) does have something to do with it. It's the whole enchilada. Physical design combined with the graphical user interface, combined with features, combined with a cornucopia of applications - some of them actually useful!

Having decided that my desktop/laptop platform of choice will be the Mac for the foreseeable future, the iPhone makes a lot of sense. It allows me to keep my contacts and calendar synchronized 'over the air' via a 'push' mechanism. By 'over the air' I mean I do not need to use a USB tether to keep my contacts and calendars synch'd as I did on my iPod touch.
Aside: Being a business owner I have no intention of investing in an e-mail platform. Currently I am a very satisfied user of Google Apps Premiere edition. I pay $50/user/year and have our company domain associated with a Google mail account. Document sharing is included.

Push means that every time I update a contact on my phone it gets sent to my laptop and visa versa. No manual or timed synchronization required!

I am a business technology professional and have had my share of heartache implementing badly conceived commercial software. It has been too long since the first PC was released with MS DOS 1.0 (which I was a happy user of at the time). I expect better from the industry. Microsoft and a lot of other software and hardware companies have had enough time to figure usability out! Apple's products work the way they're supposed to and are far more intuitive than most other vendors' products. That's why I use a Mac and that's why I bought an iPhone. I don't have the time, patience, or willingness to struggle with products to get them to do what I and pretty much the majority of users out there want them to do. I'll take what works thank you very much. I will continue to help my customers struggle with the software/hardware they've chosen - whether it's deserving of their patronage or not - after all that's their prerogative and frankly sometimes there's nothing else out there that does the job better.

I am happy to say that at least on one front, personal productivity tools, there are a number of products available today that are delivering the kind of user experience we all desire. And if business leaders are smart they'll leverage iPhones and iPod Touches to deliver highly user-friendly and efficient applications to factory workers and mobile employees as front-ends to more complex enterprise systems such as ERP, CRM, and business analytics among others.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hmmm...



From the June 16th edition of the economist.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The New York Times Website is Way Cool!



I don't know if I've just been sleeping and missed someone writing about this but the New York Times has a very, very cool website. First of all, as mentioned in this article, the Times displays very well across different browsers and mobile devices because they hand code the HTML! When almost everyone uses high-level editors like Dreamweaver this is quite a commitment to quality given the extra time they must spend coding.

But what really blew me away today was something that happened as I was reading the Times today. This article was discussing how a US General's planned posting in Pakistan (to lead the fight against Al Qaeda) was cancelled due to his being "excoriated in the Pakistani news media for one of his previous jobs: commander of the United States prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba." Excoriated? What the heck does that mean. So, planning to look up the word in my Mac's built-in dictionary I double click on it and...holy cow! A New York Times web page opens in a new browser window with the dictionary definition. Wait a second - I must have clicked something else - it couldn't have been just a double-click! So I tried again. It opened again. Then I started to look for some sign that this was actually a hidden url - couldn't see it - now I haven't opened up the source code - don't have time and personally don't care how it's implemented (JavaScript or maybe via XUL). Then I double-clicked 'Pakistani' in the above sentence and another page opens, this time with both a dictionary definition and a encyclopedic entry. Guys, you have out-done yourselves. I am truly blown away.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how technology should work. Wow! Way Cool!

By the way, I was using Firefox Beta 5 on OS X Leopard.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The fear of hunger



An article in the Economist makes some alarming claims about the current food shortage in poor and developing countries:
“World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable and politically risky period,” says Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. To prove it, food riots have erupted in countries all along the equator. In Haiti, protesters chanting “We're hungry” forced the prime minister to resign; 24 people were killed in riots in Cameroon; Egypt's president ordered the army to start baking bread; the Philippines made hoarding rice punishable by life imprisonment. “It's an explosive situation and threatens political stability,” worries Jean-Louis Billon, president of Côte d'Ivoire's chamber of commerce.
It looks like long-term concerns may be addressable but then again maybe not. It is certain that short-term food shortages cannot be fixed.

What will be the outcome of this shortage on the many already unstable political regimes of the third world? What of the lives of those who will not be able to buy enough to nourish their families?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Harvard Neuroscientist's experience with 'mass conciousness'



This is one of the most moving presentations I have seen by a scientist. Part of it is probably due to her talking about her own personal experience. The only other time I can remember being moved to tears (by a scientist) was in watching an interview with Robert Oppenheimer who, after witnessing the first atomic test, quotes, “…now I am become Death [Shiva], the destroyer of worlds,” and then wipes tears from his eyes.

Jill’s presentation was significantly more uplifting.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Great presentations in 4 steps



PowerPoint is the leading cause of death in companies today.

Male. Female. Young. Old. Makes no difference.

You can make a difference!

Watch this slide show to find out how!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Economic Downturn



There's a saying that 'when America sneezes the world catches a cold'...or something of that sort. The question today with the rise of The East and the strengthening of the European Union is whether or not it still matters (that much) when the U.S. experiences a slowdown? This cartoon says it best.



from The Economist.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Microsoft Office Pricing



I predict that Microsoft will give away or charge under $100 to corporate users of their Office application by YE 2009. Perhaps it will be a downgraded version. Maybe they'll release the full-blown one. I don't know.

As Mac/OS X and Linux increase their market share (inevitable looking at worldwide numbers), Microsoft will be compelled to use their office application to tie users to their ecosystem.

Don't forget they have their success riding on users sticking with Windows. Why? Think of their development platform, .Net, which only runs on Windows. What about SQL Server, Windows Server, Dynamics, Silverlight, Sharepoint, Exchange etc. The reason these are more compelling than competitor products in that they are tightly tied to one another. Office and XP/Vista are the glue. It won't work on anything else. So as other operating systems become more compelling, free/open like Linux or just plain better like OS X and OpenOffice is free and collaboration is getting better and better (and free) on the Internet - who would pay $488 CAN for an office license?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

MacWorld Expo 2008 Keynote Address



Every year, the grand master of all that is Mac, or 'i' - I'm not sure anymore - gets up on stage on January 15th and announces everything that Apple has in store (pun) for the coming year. It's pretty exciting for Mac fanatics (of which I am not one...not at all).

You can find a blow-by-blow account of his Keynote here.

OK, I'm impressed - mostly. Good apps for my iPod Touch - e-mail, google maps, stock ticker, notes - why are these great? Notes will sync with my Mac. E-mail will download e-mails from my accounts and give me a better-than-Web interface in which to compose + will display PDFs, Word, and Excel files. Google Maps is very useful - I use it (in pain) on my Blackberry to find stores, my kids' friends' addresses etc. - frequently enough. But they're charging $20 (come on guys!). Probably to keep iPhone users happy who pay more more more for the phone + $100/month for the service. True that I'm restricted to locations with Wi-Fi only buuut I'll accept that as I'm paying $1,200 less per year...after year...after year.

But here's what I was expecting. Apple TV now offers movies at HD quality with Dolby 5.1. They will sell like there's no tomorrow. At least 50% of Mac owners will buy one and many, many PC owners - those who have iPods and iTunes will buy. You can watch a rental on your Apple TV, sync with your MacBook and iPod and keep watching from where you left off. On any device. Brilliance in usability. Apple makes technology work the way it's supposed to. Amazing.

Finally there's the MacBook Air. Brand new product - not a re-hash of an old one. It's a wedge shape going from .76" to .16". That is amazingly thin! It is so thin Intel had to redesign the physical aspects of their Core 2 Duo to fit the machine's form-factor. I'm impressed. At first blush, though, I don't like the black keyboard. No Ethernet port (802.11n [54Mbps Wi-Fi] though) or optical drive but for ultra-portables that standard fare and acceptable. 3bls, 13.3" display, 5 hours with wireless antenna turned on, 80GB HD, multi-touch trackpad (that will get more and more, uh, traction as time goes on) all @$1,800. Really cool. It's pricey but well in-line with competing PC-based laptops. There is a however here. They are targeting a much smaller market with this laptop. It costs more, closer to the price of a MacBook Pro but has a slower processor, lower memory expansion capability, slower hard drive, 'slower' video card. It makes sense for execs but I think they missed by leaving out the Ethernet port (even if you can buy a usb-Ethernet adapter it will be slower).

That aside, this is what I admire Apple for - they deliver real innovation into the public's hands and they boost their profit margins significantly as they're doing it. Great company!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Literature and Media


Atonement

When my wife asked me what I thought of the book I said, "really good book with an unsatisfying ending". The plot was interesting and well-executed although not the typical kind of book I would read. If I were to sum up the story without recounting it I would have to say it is about the consequences (positive and negative) of the kind of rash actions we all commit. The author takes us to outcomes that would not normally take place but that are believable nonetheless, especially in a country so recently free of war and yet on its way to another. As for the unsatisfying ending? Any of us who have lived long enough are well acquainted with unsatisfying endings. Sometimes it's nice to escape this reality when indulging in a piece of fiction.

Syriana

After having recently watched Rescue Dawn which had an unsatisfying beginning, middle and ending and Letters from Iwo Jima which was a beautifully done movie but quite depressing - worth it nonetheless - Syriana was refreshing. An intelligent set of plots that interweave throughout the film, coming to a satisfying though not particularly cheerful climax. It leaves you with no regrets however and, as my wife put it, it tackles some tough issues (the kind where too many directors would resort to demonizing to bring the point home) in a very mature, complex way. The world is complex and as much as we'd like to simplify it down to one full of angels and demons the truth is we all have a little of both in us.

On the non-fiction side I've been listening to a couple of audiobooks:

  • Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Caharam, highly recommended business read on managerial/organizational effectiveness. The authors read large portions of the books themselves. Both read and listened to - you'll need to do both if you want to review their recommendations. I find this double-whammy most effective with books where I want to make use of the content.

  • The Six Sigma Way by Peter S Pande. Excellent overview of Six Sigma. Both read and listened to. Abridged.

  • The Eight Habit by Stephen Covey. If you liked The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People you'll like this one. As Stephen has matured so has his viewpoint deepened. He reads the entire book himself.

  • Managing in the Next Society by Peter Drucker. Very interesting read. He has some unique perspectives of what the new millennium holds in store for us in terms of businesses and careers.
  •