Saturday, June 30, 2007

playing with an iphone...

So I'm sure everyone is wondering what I think of the iphone. I made it over the the apple store to play with one this morning and I really do have to say "wow!" It's pretty amazing, especially as the first shot at a phone apple has made. The web browser is incredible as it's the real safari engine so you see the full web pages and you can pinch with your fingers to zoom in on areas. No more Metra train schedules showing up as garbled text in opera. I found the touchscreen to be pretty simple to use and navigating around the phone was fairly simple. The navigation through lists was a breeze and certainly better than with a 5-way, wheel, etc.

Now for the bad things and what will continue to keep me from buying one... The on-screen keyboard was impossible to use. I tried typing a few URLs and unless I explicitly took one finger, brought it slowly down on one key icon, verified it was the letter I wanted, and then slowly released it, I wouldn't get the key I was hoping for. I tried again and again and just couldn't get it down. Maybe it's something you can learn with time, but it was just not working for me at all.

Strike number two is the network. It's a 2.5G device that runs on Edge on ATT/Cingular. First off, Cingular has HSDPA now nationwide which is faster than DSL speeds right to your phone over the normal cell network. Once you've tried this, you can't go back :) Also, because it runs full Safari, it has to download the full content of all of the pages - not like opera mini which uses a proxy server to cut down on graphic sizes, etc. Browsing the web on here would be even slower than on my Moto Ming at 2.5G. Also, I don't get ATT/Cingular coverage where I live.

And strike three has to be lack of video capture support. You can take nice still pictures with the 2MP camera, but no video. And that's also a dealbreaker for me.

Finally, two other oddities that would make me think twice are the lack of a removable battery (I guess you can't take the thing camping) and lack of MMS support. I guess you can just email photos, but sometimes I really want to send it to someone's phone right now.

We'll see what apple can do for their next round. But for this one, it's a really amazing first try, and the software is just amazing. But they left out a few things that for me are just required in a phone in the year 2007 - typing, fast data, and video capture.

Oh, and fyi, the Schaumburg store didn't sell out last night. They expect to still have stock through the weekend.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

store profiling...

I used to think that the grocery store coupons that print out when you check out at the store were amazingly well profiled. I'd get coupons for different brands of soy milk or for gardenburger items or organic cereals, etc. Today I got a coupon for hot dogs. And no, not Tofu Pups, Oscar Meyer hot dogs. I don't get it :)


Saturday, June 23, 2007

fast trains...

I just found out in wikipedia that the train I took last week between Paris and Amsterdam was going 300 km/h (186 MPH). That's pretty darn fast! If we had trains like that around here, a train ride from Chicago to Boston would only take 5.3 hours (instead of 23), or Boston to NYC would be 1.1 hours (instead of 3.5). Take that Acela! :)



So Paris was incredible. It's definitely my new favorite city! I got to see so much and do so much in the four days I was there, so I'm just going to give you the highlights here...

1) Being able to text my friend Lyci and say "meet me in front of notre dame for dinner" is an awesome thing to be able to say :) It's just amazing how much history and how much beautiful architecture is there every way you turn.
2) Vegan food is everywhere! They had some of the best vegan restaurants I've ever been to, which really surprised me for a country where viande (meat) used to mean 'food'.
3) Public transportation. There are metro stations *everywhere* and it's really fast and efficient. It's one of those places where you have to open the doors yourself if you want to get in or out, and you can even open the doors before the train has stopped!
4) Hunting down scenes from Amelie! I made it to the photo booth in Gare de l'Est, the carousel and hill in Montmartre, The Two Windmills, and a few of the metro stations in the movie. So much fun! This was totally a highlight of my trip as that's probably my favorite movie of all time. Sadly, The Two Windmills is no longer a quiet little cafe, but a loud, super-crowded place filled with Amelie posters.
5) Disneyland Paris. Most of you know that I can't get near a Disney park without going inside! I made it over in the evening one day and rode the Space Mountain that goes upside down twice and uses linear induction motors to get up to speed! And I had a chance to get on all the other big rides too. Very fun!
6) The final highlight was the Louvre and how amazingly big it is. Despite what people say, I really liked the I.M. Pei pyramid in front, and it certainly made getting from one wing to the other quite easy!

All in all, a wonderful trip! I must get back there sometime soon!


Friday, June 22, 2007


Photos from Europe are up! Look for a post tonight or tomorrow about the Paris part of my journey!


Friday, June 15, 2007

the trip so far...

It's been a busy and fun few days over here in the netherlands! I took an overnight flight out here Tuesday night with another colleague from Motorola. It was a nice flight (especially with a free upgrade to business!) and I got some sleep in which set me on the right time for Amsterdam.

A quick train ride into the city later, we wandered around the streets a bit and found a nice little sidewalk cafe with japanese food for lunch. Then back on the train to Delft for the ACM Multimedia program committee meeting. I must say that I totally love the public transportation system out here. It's just totally amazing. Trains every few minutes between major cities and trams/streetcars/buses *everywhere* even is small towns like Delft. Quite incredible. But you definitely have to watch out for the bikers...which are everywhere and are not afraid to ring their little bells at you and give you the evil eye if you're in their way :)

The program committee meeting went well and we were able to get the number of papers that they needed. We were just under 20% accept, so that looks good. Overall quality was not as high as I would have liked, but we had some great discussions and a fun time. A bunch of people I've worked with in the past were here including people from Yahoo!, Trevor's old group at MIT, and colleagues from UIUC. It was fun to see everyone and talk about the field and where it is going.

Tonight, I hopped on the train again and headed down to Rotterdam for dinner and to wander around. Yes it's true that the second you walk out of the train station, everyone around you lights up a joint and smokes it while walking down the street. How bizarre! Anyway, I came across an awesome organic cafe that had a hummus bagel *with cashews*. Now I don't understand why no one in the states has thought about this as it was one of the best tastes I could imagine! And the cashews came as a total surprise to me as I only had a vague idea of what I was ordering since I was by myself and the menu was in Dutch :)

So tomorrow I head down to Paris for a few days. I'm meeting up with an old college friend who just happens to be there on Sunday which will be awesome. Also on the agenda is spending lots of time in the Louvre, a visit to Notre Dame, Montmartre (just because it was in Amelie), and of course the Eiffel Tower. Then just some general relaxing, reading, coffee drinking, and not opening my computer for four days! I should be back online Wednesday night!

Good night from Delft, where it's still sort of light outside at 10:25pm!


Saturday, June 09, 2007

a day at Printer's Row

Today was day one of the annual Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. It's always one of my favorite weekends of the year as there are always lots of super-discounted books as well as great talks by authors. This year was extra-special as the students I tutor at 826CHI released their first book, a guidebook of sorts to Chicago! 20 or so of them read from the book today and we had a big cake and punch reception for them (elaine, if you read this, I can't hear 'cake and punch' without cracking up now!).

After the reading, I wandered around and got some great deals on a few books. Not as good as most years, but I still picked up three books today which should keep me busy through my trip to Europe and possibly afterwards. On the reading list are The Republican War on Science, Angela's Ashes, and A Sunday Afternoon Hotdog Meal (the 826CHI book).


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

watching the debate...

I watched the republican debate tonight to see how the other side talks and it just pissed me off. Some things that I heard (not exact quotes, but as close as I could get taking some notes)...

we didn't lose the war, we just messed up after we won
it was definitely not a mistake to go to war in iraq
we've got a big fence, if they get over my fence, I'm signing them up for the olympics
there was no crime involved (in the Libby case) and he should be pardoned
we should use preemptive nuclear weapons on iran
was the earth created in 6 days, 6,000 years ago - i don't know, I wasn't there
nuclear power is the key to solving the energy problem
ending 'don't ask don't tell' in the military is a major change that we can't make in the middle of the war because it jeopardizes the whole military
"is there anyone who believes gays and lesbians should be able to serve in the military, speak up now" ... silence from all 10 candidates
bilingual countries don't work

Grr. And these people are WINNING according to the latest poll! WTF is up with this country!!!! All of this really revolves around Al Gore's points on honesty and his "Assault on Reason" talk. Seriously how could you believe these things with any sense of reason. Was the earth created in 6 days 6,000 years ago. The answer is NO, no matter how you put it and who you ask! If our presidential candidates don't believe in science so much to believe that, we're in trouble on everything else!


wireless running

I just got my new Motorola s9 stereo bluetooth headset today and man is it amazing. I went for a nice 5k run with no wires getting in the way and some really amazing sound. I'm really looking forward to running with these for the rest of the summer! They sync right up with my Ming and play really clear sound from Real Player on the phone. So amazing! /motoad ;)


Monday, June 04, 2007

laptop power consumption

So for some work-related stuff I have a watt meter at home right now. But of course I'm curious and have been plugging into a million things at home to see how much power they take. My TV runs about about 94 watts which seems pretty high to me. But the most interesting stats came out of playing with my laptop in different modes...

Standby mode - 2.7 watts
Running but with the display off - 20 watts
Running/display on/fully charged - 30 watts
High CPU load - 40 watts
Running/display on/charging - 80 watts

It's amazing to me that the display (15") is 50% of the power of running the laptop. I always knew displays were a killer, but wow, that surprised me. FYI, dimming the display saves about 5 watts. Also surprising was the power load during standby. I first noticed this a few years ago when I went away for 4 days and had just left my laptop on standby on the table (fully charged when I left). When I returned, the battery was almost dead. What exactly is the mac doing when it's asleep that draws so much power??


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Barack and RIAA...say it ain't so...

Really? Barack took money from the RIAA? so sad (so did Hillary)


living with ambient devices (frequent, social, and free feeds)

So anyone who has been to my house in the past few months has noticed some odd little devices hanging around. I've been playing with the Chumby and more recently the Ambient Devices Orb. And it's been interesting to see how these devices are useful, annoying, or just irrelevant in various ways with different information sources powering them.

As a little bit of background, the Chumby is a wifi enabled flash player. That means that you can write little flash widgets, load them on, and have them cycle through showing you information at a glance each time you walk past. They've done a good job of handing them out to people in different Silicon Valley companies and there's a Netflix widget that shows you your queue, suggestions, and new releases, a flickr widget that shows you photos from friends and family, slashdot stories, recipies, etc. You can pick the widgets you want and it'll cycle all day long. I even made a little zonetag widget to watch photos from friends and family or from a certain location.

The ambient orb is a color changing lamp, fairly similar to what I used for my thesis. But it uses the paging network to update it with weather forecasts, stock trends, buddy info (if a certain person is signed onto AIM), and a few other things if you pay them money. It's pretty small and can sit anywhere which is really nice. thoughts. It seems like these displays are best for things that change fairly often. Having the weather display on the ambient orb hasn't really done much for me. Tomorrow is likely to be just like today and the orb has been on the yellowish red for 80 degrees for the past week. Just seems like a waste of a physical device in my house. The chumby on the other hand always has something new every few hours..especially on the flickr or slashdot channels. Besides offering fresh content, I'd also say that it's the social aspects that are more interesting to me. That may be because I work on a Social Media research lab ;) but I'd guess that most people would be more interested in ambient information about people they know than knowing the weather or stock market. And back to point 1, social information will probably change faster than the weather! Finally, I'd say that at least for me, I can't see paying a monthly fee to get a custom RSS feed on my device. For the Ambient devices, you need to pay to get buddy list info or cell phone minutes used etc. I just can't see paying for something that's just one single piece of information. The Chumby model works much better for me.

Anyway, if you have one of these things, I'd love to hear your feedback on it...