Eduard "Trololo" Khil address to the people of the world!

Wow, this thing is really taking on a life of its own. Kudos to Эдуард Анатольевич for being a good sport about it all…

Echoes

For Jimmy, for Danny, for Jonathan, and for everyone else who remembers…

A courtyard spring day
The sun warm
The ocean breeze cool
The people oblivious
Strange and distant, they do not belong
Interlopers trapped in the now
They cannot hear the past

Friends scattered
The courtyard greets me silently
And silently
The music echoes
In memory eternal

Your tax dollars at work

Based on what I just witnessed fifteen minutes ago, this is what it takes to respond to an injury-accident involving two vehicles and one injured person in Westlake Village:

  1. Four patrol cars
  2. One unmarked car (a solid black Crown Vic…who are they kidding?)
  3. Two motorcycles
  4. One Sheriff’s Dept. SUV
  5. One Fire Dept. paramedic truck
  6. One Fire Dept. fire engine
  7. One ambulance

They Chose China

http://www.nfb.ca/film/they_chose_china

Just watched this film on the National Film Board of Canada site. Amazing story of the American POWs who refused repatriation at the end of the Korean War.  Highly recommended.

A few words about Google Buzz, posting, and me

If, like me, you've been spending time playing with Google's new social media platform, you've probably seen a few posts about the "right" or "wrong" way to use Buzz, what you should or shouldn't post, how to get unfollowed, etc.  It seems that lots of people have their own ideas about what Buzz is and how it should be used; the complication is that not everyone shares those ideas.

This is as it should be. As a new platform, Buzz will be defined by its users. The norms of interaction and the acceptable ways of using the platform will be--are, in fact, now being--defined by the early adopters and the heaviest users. That's why I find the notion of trying to dictate some kind of Buzz etiquette to be misguided--laughable, even. You can't dictate this stuff. It's organic, and it grows from the ways in which people are even now using the platform, pushing its limits, and defining its problems. 

Take @-replies (or @-mentions), for example. The whole notion of an @-reply originated in the early days of Twitter, when users themselves began to use the convention of an @ symbol in front of a username as a way to reply, since the platform itself gave them no way of doing so. It became so widespread that it was eventually adopted officially by Twitter. The lack of a truly workable equivalent on Buzz is not necessarily a deficiency. It may well be that a better method will eventually emerge over time as users wrangle with the issue, or when Google engineers bow to pressure and simply provide a button or a dropdown. But simply because it works one way on one system does not mean it has to work the same way on another. My point is this: we're in the early days of an exciting new product. This stuff is going to get worked out. Relax.

On a related topic, I should mention something about how I intend to use Buzz, my philosophy about posting in general, and my feelings about following and unfollowing people. For me, Buzz is the perfect aggregator, pulling in my content from various places on the Web, and doing a fine job of presenting it all in one place where someone can see it all at once. That's my hope, anyway. To that end, I think it's perfectly legitimate to pull in blog posts and my shared Google Reader items along with my native Buzz posts. You may disagree, and that's a legitimate area of disagreement. But I'm not going to change to suit anybody else.

As for posting, if you take a look at my profile or read my About Me page, you'll see that I have a fairly eclectic range of interests. You can expect my posts to run the gamut of those interests. One post might be about Buzz, the next one about some oddball Eastern Bloc car, and the third about health care or the Orthodox Church. You may or may not agree with what I write, and that's fine. I will be honest about who I am, but once again I'm not going to change to suit anybody else. I hope not to offend anyone (unless, of course, they _need_ offending) but it is worth noting that none of us has the right to not be offended. However, we _do_ all have the right to take our respective balls and go home. I follow a wide variety of people with differing backgrounds and interests, because I hate a one-note chorus. I follow with deliberate care, and unfollow very reluctantly. If you feel the same way, I think (and hope) that you'll enjoy reading what I post.

There is one sure way to get me to unfollow or block someone, though, whether here, on Buzz, or on Twitter, and that is for them to be persistently obnoxious--in short, to violate Wheaton's Law. Life is too short to waste time with the obstreperous. Enough said.

And that, dear friends, is my philosophy about Buzz, posting, life, the universe, and everything. Thanks for listening.

When hell freezes over, revisited

Forgive me, but this is just too good not to post.

I got a message last night through my contact page. Here it is (minus any identifying information):

Hello Larry:

My name is (redacted) and I'm the owner of (redacted) and we are trying to expand i-Names the way they were originally envisioned. By providing you a way to make telephone calls, send postal mail and even e-mail using just an i-Name. 

In monitoring the XRI community throughout the web, I came across a post which you stated you would not be renewing your i-Name. Which was a response to a previous post of yours in which you declared i-Names dead! 

I would encourage you not to give up on i-Names just yet. As a member of XRI-TC along with Drummond Reed, I can state that we are working hard on the next version of the XRI and XRD standards. To that end I would be happy to pay your renewal fee and invite you to use (redacted)'s maximum plan free of charge for one year for =larryanderson.

Just send me an email and I will set your account up. We are very responsive and are looking to improve our offerings to provide the best possible service.

Best Regards,

=(redacted)

Well, that's very interesting, and God bless them for trying, but I won't be taking this person up on the offer. I simply have no faith that the technology they're trying to resuscitate will ever amount to anything, and quite apart from the money it's an unwelcome distraction in my life. Been there, done that, ain't going back. You can thank Victor Grey and Fen Labalme for that.

The delicious part is this: normally, a functioning I-name will redirect to a contact page when you go to http://xri.net/=username. In this case, the I-name with which the message was signed redirects to a parked-domain page. 

And I'm supposed to be filled with confidence that this group is going to bring I-names back from the dead?

Thanks, but no.

When Hell freezes over

Like the title says, I'll be renewing this I-name when hell freezes over. I've gone into the reasons why elsewhere, but here's how I concluded my remarks:

…In the matter of identity, trust is everything. The entire point of a technology built on the concept of identity is that it can be trusted. When the oldest and largest purveyor of that technology effectively ceases to operate in any normal fashion, that trust has been irrevocably shattered…

I, for one, have decided to stop trying. I own several domain names, I have a blog, I have a tumblelog, I have accounts on Twitter and Facebook and the like. It's hard for me to see what significant benefit I'm going to derive from continuing to pursue this matter, particularly when my domains are all less expensive and much more useful. I don't mind supporting new technologies that might be beneficial down the road, but there's a limit, and that limit has now been reached.

I-names are dead.

Read the whole thing.

Thoughts on the iPad

Now that we've seen Apple's new product, we no longer have to call it the Rumored Apple Tablet--it's the iPad. And the arguments about it are already flying.

Some of this is predictable. There are Apple fanboys, and Apple haters, and people who don't really care what kind of computer they use, and everything in between. As for me, I'm an Apple enthusiast. I genuinely like the way Apple designs their products, I appreciate the synergy between hardware and OS that is generally achievable only when one company controls both, and when I look at the alternatives I frankly can't imagine that my next computer will be anything but an Apple product. I object to being called a fanboy, though, because I don't think that I am. I use a lot of open-source software on my Macs, and am a huge fan of many Google products in preference to the equivalent offerings from Apple. But in general, my first choice will usually be a Mac.

So, as a Mac enthusiast, what is my take on the newly introduced iPad?

Disclaimer

Before starting, it needs to be said that I'm basically going to be talking out of my butt here. I haven't seen one in the flesh or handled one, so I have no real-world experience to base my comments on. This, however, makes me no different than 99% of the bloggers and journalists out there, and it isn't stopping _them_, so I see no reason for it to stop me either. :-)  Also, writing this post is a way for me to clarify my own thinking, so this is going to be long. You have been warned.

Who's it for?

It seems to me that Apple is targeting a very specific audience--the casual user who mainly uses a computer to surf the web, look at photos and videos, check e-mail, play games, listen to music, and maybe read an e-book. This is not a business machine. If you do video editing, run Photoshop, or need to use specific professional software applications, this probably isn't for you. If you just don't like Apple products, this isn't for you. If you object to closed systems, this isn't for you. As Merlin Mann said on today's TWiT video stream, "If you’re Stallman, and you want to own the BIOS, this isn’t for you." Fair enough.

Fortunately for Apple, I suspect that the audience they've targeted is a pretty substantial one.  I'd count myself as one of them; when I think about what I do with technology, it mostly involves going online, writing blog posts, checking email, reading RSS feeds, occasionally downloading music or e-books, and posting to Twitter. 

Pricing

Here's where it gets interesting. The pricing as announced for the iPad starts as low as $499, and tops out at $829 for the model with all the bells and whistles. 

Compare this with the arsenal of technology that I use currently. It includes a MacBook Pro (bought refurbished, $1349), a previous-generation iMac (bought new, custom build, $1776), an iPod Mini (bought refurbished, $199), and a first-generation Kindle (bought new, $349). Not counting my mobile phone, that's four items that cost a total of $3673\. Not all of these things are ideal for the way I use them. I love my MacBook Pro, but after a while its aluminum body _does_ get a tad warm (CPU is currently at 66 degrees Celsius right now, according to iStat Menus). Most of the time, I'm sitting on my sofa, and as the laptop heats up I'm forced to perch it on an armrest or something similar. It's also a waste of a fine machine, to be honest; you don't need all that horsepower to go online and surf the web. I love the Kindle, but it's a single-purpose machine, and as a first-generation model it suffers from all the design missteps that Amazon let slip through. And it's damnably expensive for a single-purpose machine.

Worst-case (i.e., most expensive) scenario, that's $829 vs. $3673\.  Even $499 model would handle the overwhelming majority of my computing needs just fine, thank you.  Hmmm…

Pros & Cons

This is not to say that it would replace them _perfectly._ The iPad has a more attractive design and user interface than my Kindle, yes--but it's also significantly larger. One of the things I love about the Kindle is its size and portability--not much larger than a trade paperback. I'm not sure I'd want to schlep the iPad everywhere I take my Kindle. Another thing I love about the Kindle is its built-in, always free wireless connectivity. The AT&T plans are good, but not _that_ good.  I'm also curious as to whether the iBooks store will allow you to download the first chapter of a book as a preview, the way the Kindle store does. This is one of the great things about the Kindle, and Apple really needs to step up to the plate here and do something similar. There's also the question of how many titles are available for the iPad, although the support for ePub means that the number is likely to be large. In fact, ePub support is something that just might convince me to break with the Kindle. An open format means I don't have to worry about my e-books becoming unreadable a few years down the road. Of course, Apple may well add some sort of DRM to its ePub files. This isn't clear yet.

In terms of typing, I'm not sure I'd want to pound out a lengthy blog post like this one on the iPad's virtual keyboard, even if it has predictive text. I'd want the optional docking keyboard, which adds to the price. 

However, for those times that I didn't need the keyboard, I wouldn't have to take it. In fact, I would argue that the docking keyboard is a huge selling point: there when you need it, not when you don't. And the notion of replacing my laptop with a portable device that comes with 3G wireless connectivity out of the box is hugely seductive. 

That seductiveness comes with a price. It's another $129 on top of the price for the Wi-Fi version. The $29.99 unlimited data plan from AT&T is a great deal, but it's one more thing to pay. I already have DSL at home and Verizon Wireless giving me EVDO on my phone; I don't need another thirty bucks a month going out, particularly when Verizon's going to hit me up for another thirty for a data plan when my phone becomes eligible for replacement later this year and I replace it with a Droid or Nexus One. There's a point at which there's such a thing as enough connectivity, you know?

The iPad is also missing a few things that one expects to find in a computer, such as an optical drive and USB ports. Is this really a problem? I don't think so. It will dock with a Mac or PC, like an iPod or iPhone, so you can charge it and transfer files that way. Storage is becoming less and less of an issue, at least for me, since I store most everything in the cloud anyway. As long as I have access to Google Docs, it's all good. The missing keyboard is available as an add-on.

Finally, this is an Apple product. A closed, Jobsian system. You'll do things the way Uncle Steve thinks they should be done, or you won't do them at all. Got that?

Well, OK. The thing of it is, Uncle Steve knows what he's doing most of the time, and Steve's Way produces beautiful and functional products. But if that drives you nuts, you don't want one. Move along now, there's nothing to see here…

The Competition

Frankly, there is no competition for this thing right now. Nobody else has anything remotely close to it. Conventional laptops don't handle the multimedia experience nearly as well, based on what I've read from people whose opinion I trust, and the Kindle is a one-trick pony. The Kindle DX, priced the same as the iPad, is now probably DOA. Amazon needs to figure out quickly what it hopes to achieve with e-books, because if battery life and readability are decent on the iPad, Apple is going to eat their lunch. 

Here's the deal: being first in the market is no guarantee of being the ultimate victor. Microsoft has been trying with "Tablet PCs" for years now. Remember the Eiger Labs MPMan, the Diamond Rio, or the Creative Nomad Jukebox? Neither does anybody else. Apple introduced the iPod, and the world of digital music changed forever. As much as I have loved my Kindle, if the iPad is as good as it looks on video, I can foresee a time when all that is left of the Amazon Kindle is the software you can run on the iPad. 

Would Larry buy one?

Thinking hard about it, the answer is…a qualified yes. Qualified in the sense that I want to see one in real life before committing myself, but yes. Not to replace a phone; it's clearly not an iPhone or Droid. Not to replace my desktop computer; ideally, it's an adjunct to a full-featured computer, not a replacement for one. But I can definitely see replacing my laptop with an iPad. It simply does what I need it to do, and it does it less expensively--and, in some ways, better--than even the lowest-priced MacBook. I could also see replacing the desktop with a laptop, and the iPad taking the place formerly occupied by my MacBook Pro. Just want something to read a book on while going to Starbucks or while eating lunch at Carl's Jr.? Take the iPad. Feel like writing a blog post? Dock it with the keyboard. And as something to take along on vacation, I would definitely choose the iPad. What about living with it as my only computer? Harder to say. It wouldn't be my first choice, but if I had to, then yes, I probably could.

But which iPad to choose? The 3G-enabled versions are tempting. But there's that additional data plan to pay for, and as an AT&T DSL customer, I already have free access to their wi-fi hotspots. As long as I can find a McDonald's or a Starbucks, I'm good to go, and if I wanted to get a Verizon Mi-Fi card, it would work with that as well.  And, of course, I have wi-fi at home already. In terms of storage, 16 GB should be plenty. I just don't need a lot of onboard storage. So for me, the $499 version would do just fine.

Conclusion

Look, if you hate Apple, hate Steve Jobs, or just don't like the hype, nothing is going to convince you of the merits of the iPad. But it looks to me like this is the start of something big. People keep saying there's no proven demand for a tablet, but when Apple introduced the Macintosh, nobody was asking for a GUI either. When the iPod came out, nobody was screaming for an MP3 player. But Apple came out with one, and it took over the market. I think there is at least a possibility that something similar is happening here. It can't be proven either way, but with Steve Jobs' track record of four game-changing products (Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone), my money's on Apple. 

Either way, the picture will start to become clearer in 60 days. Your move, Mr. Jobs…

How not to sell a car

Followers of my Twitter stream know that my wife and I bought a new car over the weekend. Our local Honda dealer, Vista Honda, was the very soul of helpfulness and the antithesis of the stereotypical dealer experience. Full marks to Ruben, Ramiro, and Stephanie for their help. This post is not about them.

The day before we bought the car, we traveled to a neighboring community to look at a competitor whose cars offered increased content at a reduced price. This post is very much about them. 

I was fairly sure we'd end up with a Honda anyway, but before laying out twenty large on a new car, it only makes sense to consider the alternatives. To that end, I wanted my wife (who would be the primary driver of the new car) to try one out, just to see if it might suit her equally well, and therefore save us a pile of cash. So we walked onto the lot, and were greeted by an old-style car salesman. "Oh, great," I thought to myself. "This isn't going to end well." We selected a couple of cars, test drove them, and left without making any commitments, because it was fairly clear that my wife was not as pleased by the cars we drove as she was with the Hondas we'd been considering. I might add that the salesman kept up a stream of bad jokes and negative comments about the competition throughout our time there, which did not help. Of course, in order to do a test drive, they made a copy of my wife's driver's license and took down our phone number. Fortunately, I was prescient enough to give them not our home or cell numbers, but my Google Voice number. 

The salesman called me a couple hours after we left. I let it go to voicemail (I should mention here that I always let sales calls go to voicemail as a matter of course).

The next day, he called me as I was driving home from church. Again, I didn't pick up.

An hour later, he called me again. I started to get seriously irritated at this point, and once again let it go to voicemail.

Then, three hours later, as my wife and I were seriously discussing a possible purchase at the Honda dealer, he called again. At this point, I started to get so irritated that even if I wanted to buy the brand of car he was selling, I'd go somewhere else. If his dealership was the last one on Earth, I'd take up horseback riding. A few hours later, my wife was driving home in her brand new Honda.

The calls resumed the following day, while I was at work. I decided, "enough is enough," and went into my Google Voice settings and first set all calls from that dealership to go to the spam folder, which means he'd hear a ring, then get my outgoing message, but my phone wouldn't ring and I wouldn't be notified of the call. Later, I had second thoughts, said "the hell with it," and blocked all calls from that number, which means that callers from that number would hear a message saying my number had been disconnected (have I mentioned how much I love Google Voice?).

This probably just confused him, because if you count the calls marked as "Unknown Caller" that were likely from him, he called a dozen times that day.

Now, I don't know about you, but if I called someone sixteen times and didn't get a return call, I'd figure they didn't want to talk to me, had no intention of doing so, and weren't going to buy a car from me. Call me crazy, but that's how it would look to me.

Not to him. Apparently, he went to the trouble of looking up our home number (we're in the book, although I'll be fixing that) and left a message on my home machine. This was infuriating. I never give out my home number any more; if I wanted to be called at that number, I'd have given it to him. I picked up the phone, dialed the dealership number, and someone else picked up. I left explicit instructions for the salesman to STOP CALLING ME! and hung up. So far, there's been no further contact.

You might be wondering why I didn't just call the guy at the outset. The reason is simple: I didn't feel that should be necessary. I didn't owe him anything. As much as I love cars, most of the ones on the market today are just overgrown appliances to me. When I go shopping for a refrigerator or a washing machine, I don't call the guy at Sears to let him know that gee, he was real helpful and everything but we liked the Whirlpool better and he shouldn't take it personally and we wish him all the best in the future. He's not my mother, my wife, or my boss. He's a freaking salesman, for cryin' out loud. 

Contrast this with the modus operandi of the dealership from whom we ultimately bought a car: each visit to the dealership was followed by a single phone call, thanking us for our visit and offering to answer any further questions we might have. When you are a modern dealership, with quality vehicles for sale, it isn't necessary to harass and annoy potential customers.

Unfortunately, that's a lesson that the other guys will probably never learn.

The scourge of Foursquare

The screenshot above (no longer available, sadly--Larry) perfectly illustrates what I dislike about Foursquare. Somewhere along the way, the idea developed that we not only need to broadcast our every thought (à la Twitter), but also tell the world where we are at every moment of the day, regardless of whether the people to whom we're broadcasting want to hear it or not.

Personally, I find the idea of telling the world my location constantly a little creepy. I figure there's no reason to make life easier for psychos and stalkers, but that's just me. Unfortunately, Foursquare fills up my Twitter stream with cutesy messages that someone I follow on Twitter is now the "mayor" of something. For some reason, the "cute" aspect makes it particularly disagreeable. When I was more active on Jaiku, it was somewhat interesting being able to see a person's location, but the appeal wore off quickly. Making it an annoying, gushing statement with an exclamation! point on the end (and that I have no choice about seeing) doesn't make it any better. There are better ways it could be done; Foursquare's chief competitor, Gowalla, makes it a simple statement (like this) which is much less hyperactive, and consequently less irritating.

I've thought about unfollowing anyone on Twitter who insists on filling up their stream with this dreck, but the chief offender among those whom I follow is someone from whom I get useful information on a fairly regular basis, and I'd hate to lose that. What I really need is some kind of tool that would let me filter out the automated Foursquare spam and focus on the informative posts. If anyone wants to write a program like that, I'll gladly volunteer to do your beta testing.