June 1, 2014

Who’s Social Now?

Filed under: Business, Consumer, Jewish Organizations, Parenting, Social Media — marcstober @ 2:41 pm

So this was an interesting tweet:

There are times when I wish the religious organizations I’ve been involved with would take some marketing lessons from the retail world. But, sometimes, we should value what we’re doing better: community and social stuff. I mean, the Jewish world is in the business of giving people a way to find community and social on Friday night as we have been for thousands for years. Businesses trying to add community and social features to their website are WAY behind at what community really means.

Indeed, I came across this tweet because I was ordering labels for kids going to summer camp. I am going to let the nonprofit Jewish summer camp meet some our family’s needs for community and social. Try as they might, the e-commerce company trying to be social seems a little forced. But they probably make good labels.

March 22, 2013

Google Reader Takeout Reader

Filed under: Consumer, Information Politics, Software Blog — marcstober @ 7:24 am

Enough inkelectrons have been spilled over the Google Reader sunset. I simply offer a simple tool to take your Google Reader data from Google Takeout and convert it into a nicely formatted list of links to browse and re-bookmark/subscribe in your new favorite service (or save as a backup, even if you’ve found a new feed reading service).

Using it is as simple as unzipping your takeout file and dropping a file into the same folder.

  1. Unzip your takeout file.
  2. Download the file (right-click and “Save Link As…”) below and drop it in the Reader directory you just created (the one that has the JSON and XML files from Google).
  3. Double-click on the reader.html file in that directory.

This only displays part of your Google Reader Takeout data. Do not delete any other files!!!

No warranties, express or implied. None of the data in your takeout file is uploaded to me (although I may track usage of this tool).

February 4, 2013

A confession about that GoDaddy ad

Filed under: Consumer — marcstober @ 9:44 am

I’m coming out of the closet. I’m straight. I like women.

I say this because the reaction to the GoDaddy Super Bowl ad makes it seem like this is something to be ashamed of.

The same parts of blogo-twitter-space that would gush about Anne Hathaway’s latest movie, Project Runway, or the dresses on the red carpet suddenly declare that the idea that hot female celebrities would actually appeal to certain proclivities of the straight male is somehow shameful.

It’s like the emperor has no clothes; the only thing I find really explicit about GoDaddy’s ad is that they’re the only ones who actually say that sexy sells.

Ordinarily I’d be offended by sexism in a professional technology context, like a trade magazine or conference. I’ll retract this article if you show me that GoDaddy actually expects its male and female network engineers to look and act like the characters in the ad! But this is the Super Bowl, with cheerleaders and Beyonce, and they’re selling a commodity product to a mass market. Come on.

In fact, the thing about the ad that attracts me as a customer means they’re a financially secure enough company to run a Super Bowl ad. I’ve been burned by going with a darling of social media when they went out of business, taking my website down with them.

November 7, 2012

The Right to Tinker and Make Stuff

Filed under: Consumer, Politics, Software Blog, Uncategorized — marcstober @ 9:16 am

I’m amazed by the overwhelming 85% support for Question 1, “Right to Repair,” in Massachusetts.

Here’s a summary of the question (from boston.com):

Should auto makers be required to give owners access to the same diagnostic and repair information that dealers and authorized repair facilities have?

I suppose people will vote yes on this because they expect it will hit them in the pocketbook when they get their car serviced. But it’s also a vindication that people don’t think it’s wrong, and shouldn’t be illegal, to do what you want with stuff you’ve bought. I thought maybe I was crazy or at least living in a tech bubble from hearing that our elected leaders favor things like SOPA or TPP. Years ago I wrote to Barney Frank on the issue, and he strongly disagreed with me. And what to make of Chris Dodd’s new job?

Now, here are some more referendums I’d like to see pass:

  • People should have the right to jailbreak their devices. (This is now legal for iPhones–but not iPads nor other devices–because of a bureaucratic exception, not by right in the law.)
  • People should have the right to copy DVD’s to their iPad (without paying extra for a “digital copy,” like I did with the last DVD I bought).
  • People should have the right to keep, permanently, a book they’ve bought on their Kindle; it’s not a rental.
  • People should have the right to bring a book home with them from an overseas trip. It should be clear in the law this isn’t the same as a mass counterfeiting operation.
  • People should have the right to put their dancing baby video on the Internet without licensing the music on the radio in the background.
  • Girl Scouts should have the right to sing Happy Birthday at camp, without relying on the forebearance of those who could sue them.
  • People should have the right to create their own prayerbook with their church/synagogue’s liturgy, and not be told not to share it.

By the way, I don’t jailbreak my iPhone, and I take my car to the dealer for service. But I like to have that choice.

July 8, 2012

Seeking Upside: Why I Care About Intellectual Property (and a Recent Court Decision)

Filed under: Business, Consumer, Economics, Information Politics, Politics, Software Blog — marcstober @ 9:54 am

I’ve long been a fan of open-source software. First of all, because you don’t have to pay for it, and who isn’t a fan of free? Second, even compared to closed-source free software, I prefer open, because I can rely on it. I might never look at the source code, but knowing that one can gives me some assurance that there isn’t anything bad (spyware, viruses) hiding and that I can continue using the software even if the original author stops providing upgrades or takes his business in a different direction.

Like a lot of other people in the technology industry, I aslo tend to see free software as something more than that, as a moral good, and intellectual property (IP) rights like a dangerous weapon that needs to be controlled. (With apologies to the NRA: “Patents and copyrights don’t kill innovation, patent and copyright holders do.”)

And after a lot of reflection on the matter, I’ve figured out why I feel this way: I have no personal upside. I don’t make money from IP rights. And on the downside, and I can lose money when others decide to exercise their IP rights. That doesn’t seem fair.

Here’s a thought experiment: If, like a songwriter represented by ASCAP, I got regular royalty checks for each line of code still in production that I’d written at some job years ago, would I feel differently? Or if I was guaranteed an on-screen credit and chance at an Oscar like a union technician in a Hollywood movie?

But I’m not complaining. I have a good job and make a decent living. If I stop working for my current employer, they own that work I’ve done, and that seems fair; I was reasonably paid for providing a service. But, while I’m not making money from licensing IP, I still have the downside of costs and risk of licensing it from others.

And writing software is, in my opinion, providing a service. Software has a pretty short half-life, and whether you hire developers to write software to use or to sell, you need to keep developers on the payroll to be valued as a software shop. No one is making money selling two-year-old software, at least not without ongoing investment in upgrades and support.

Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago came to basically the same conclusion recently:

Advances in software and other industries cost much less, he said, and the companies benefit tremendously from being first in the market with gadgets — a benefit they would still get if there were no software patents. “It’s not clear that we really need patents in most industries,” he said. “Also, devices like smartphones have thousands of component features, and they all receive legal protection. You just have this proliferation of patents,” Posner said. “It’s a problem.”

via Judge Posner: U.S. patent system out of sync – chicagotribune.com.

It was wonderful to see our legal system take this view, which I’d usually associate with underdog advocates who can’t actually afford a day in court.

I’m not against all forms of intellectual property or its strict enforcement. I don’t support piracy or counterfeiting; that’s legally and morally wrong and I think it’s unfortunate that the cause of online freedom sometimes gets mixed up in defending it. Nevertheless, I see IP as a modern policy construct, not in the same category as the biblical “thou shalt not steal.” A purpose of IP is to encourage investment in innovation by providing investors with a better return, and laws should be calibrated so they’re fair to all.

Perhaps I need to find a way to own some IP that can generate some returns. Then again, perhaps creating IP, not owning it, is more fun.

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December 23, 2010

Some quick and easy gift ideas for geeks or my Christmas wishlist – Disorganized thoughts

Filed under: Consumer, Personal Blog, Software Blog — marcstober @ 10:23 am

There are a lot of cool gifts here but this suggestion for a free gift has to be one of the most thoughtful ever (for someone like me who starts a bunch of things that take him off on tangents!):

Free: ask them what they want to achieve over the next month/3 months/year, and ask if a daily/weekly/monthly call would help them out – if it would, call/visit them at regular intervals and ask them to show you what they have done. Some extra encouragement and motivation is often far more valuable than any product could be, if they are trying to turn a side project into a business.

via Some quick and easy gift ideas for geeks or my Christmas wishlist – Disorganized thoughts.

August 2, 2010

Our New (Digital) Piano

Filed under: Consumer, Personal Blog — marcstober @ 7:32 pm

I got an early birthday present today in the form of a new Yamaha DGX-640 “Portable Grand” keyboard.

Photo by Hannah Stober

There are a couple reasons I chose this model. I wanted something that would get played and sound good. The nice thing about a digital piano like this is that it’s designed to imitate a full-sized Yamaha grand piano that never goes out of tune. Of course it doesn’t sound or feel exactly the same, but neither does an older upright piano that doesn’t stay in tune and can’t be moved.

Secondly, I really just wanted a keyboard! I am a little ashamed to say this as there seems to be this idea that children should be classically trained on an acoustic piano, but if sometimes I could play jazz on a jazz organ, rock music on a vintage synthesizer, or even Bach on a church organ, that just means we’d play it more and have more fun and that’s what it all about. There were some models (YDP-181) that imitated an acoustic a little better in the same price range (but with less features), and professionally-oriented models (CP-5) that did everything better for a lot more money and a higher learning curve (maybe if I get better, someday…).

After all, while my daughter getting old enough for piano lessons was a justification, the reason we got this was because I wanted it! I took piano lessons from 1st or 2nd through 9th grade and kept practicing throughout high school, and only gave it up when I couldn’t take the piano with me on the plane to college. So, I’ve been wanting to get back to it for a while. And while there is a single button to get back to Grand Piano mode if she needs that to practice, if playing in a different voice gets her to practice more, is that wrong?

Maybe I’ll post some YouTube video but first I need to practice!

June 23, 2010

How Becoming a Chevrolet Owner is Changing My Design Ethic

Filed under: Business, Cars, Consumer, Design, Economics — marcstober @ 7:50 am

I feel there is a very different design ethic now that I have the GM car.

I saw that Chevrolet is doing a program to sponsor training for first responders to learn how to extricate people from their upcoming electric car with the Jaws of Life, etc.

There are two ways to look at it. Toyota finds ways to be Lean about everything, and it makes a lot of money, and makes GM look old and stupid.

On the other hand, GM over-engineers things. And so the Volt comes out years behind the Prius, for maybe more money. But for all that extra time they will actually have a car that is a lot more efficient. They are probably losing money because they do things like training for rescue personnel that might not contribute to the bottom line (but if you’re the one in a wreck, it’s good they did)!

Similarly, with our car, the way the radio is all integrated with everything from the driver’s side door to the OnStar system, it’s like – this is not the simplest, leanest way to do it. It has to be more complex and require exponentially more engineering to get right. But the end result is a car that might successfully argue against the “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid) principle. Which is really interesting to me, since I engineer complicated things professionally.

March 24, 2008

Review of my new Samsung SCH-i760

Filed under: Consumer, Software Blog — marcstober @ 6:16 pm

There are a few stereotypical use cases for mobile phones and similar wireless devices. The younger generation needs to text their friends. The older generation needs a phone only for emergencies. And, of course, the professional needs their “crackberry” to check office e-mail. I think a lot of people have a need for mobile communications without falling into one of these categories. I’ve always had a pretty basic cell phone and I finally decide to buy myself a Samsung SCH-i760 Windows Mobile smartphone from Verizon Wireless. I see my needs being somewhere in between the texting teenager and the e-mailing executive. I do need to keep in touch with work, at least by phone for emergencies, but simple e-mail isn’t a killer app for me. (By “killer app” I mean “application,” some restaurant recently used the term to refer to their appetizers.) Somewhat like the teenager, having a more advance mobile data device is largely a personal investment, although with somewhat different uses. The killer app for me is probably going to be online search, maps, and note-taking and web browsing.

The device does a little bit of everything. It has all the functions of a traditional PDA, with a stylus and capability to sync with a computer via a cable. There’s also a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, without which typing messages, for me, would be a non-starter. The unique feature of this model is a separate telephone keypad with physical buttons; with the keyboard closed, you can use these to dial the phone; and with the keyboard open, you can use these when you need to enter numbers as well.

The phone supports Wifi, for faster/cheaper data when that’s available. There are a few options for e-mail. First, I was able to get to my company’s Outlook Web Access interface, it’s clunky yet might be the best solution for the times I need this. I was also able to sync with my office using the built-in mobile Outlook application, but I disabled this as it isn’t really what I wanted, and it seemed to keep initiating a data session, which, even though I’m on an unlimited data plan, definitely wasn’t what I wanted. Verizon also includes their own wireless sync system that I haven’t tried.

This is where not fitting into one of the stereotypically use cases presents a challenge. Want office e-mail pushed to your device, Blackberry-style? Fine. Want to be able to get access to all your information, personal or business, as you need it, combined in one place? Not so easy. I need to be able to keep my family and work calendars somewhat separate, but may need to access both of them. Similarly for e-mail, tasks, and contacts. So, I’ll probably keep doing a lot of the via mobile web browsing until I come up with a better solution; I’ll probably look at OggSync as I seem to be it’s target use case. I’d also love to find a program that gives me a “prettier” view of Outlook Web Access on a small without requiring my company to do anything differently on its server, or storing message on my phone.

Finally, why not an iPhone? I could have done that, I suppose. For various reasons I chose to stick with Verizon, and Windows Mobile is something I still wanted to try out. Maybe next time.

August 27, 2007

Is a gallon of paint worth $54? And other notes on painting the office

Filed under: Consumer, House Blog — marcstober @ 7:32 am

Over the past week or so I’ve been spending my evenings and weekends prepping and painting our home office, a task that involved a lot of prep work, a new high-tech paint, and being mistaken for a pro.

The office is a unique little room, separated from the living room by French doors with lots of windows. A lot of houses in the area built around the same time have a “sun room” that projects out of the house, with windows on three sides, and maybe not heated well, but this room is a little different because it’s a regular room, not projecting out. Whatever the original purpose was, we use it a lot like the first-floor home offices present in a lot of better homes built within the last ten years, for paying bills, holding papers and computers, and we are even hoping it can be a place for grandmothers to stay once the baby comes. It’s one of those “old is new” things we really like about this house.

Another thing we like about the house is that, except in the bathroom and kitchen, it has its original plaster walls and ceilings. On the first floor the walls are textured. But, like any active octogenarian, it has some wrinkles, or more precisely cracks, and this room also had some water stains on the ceiling from what must have been a leak in the roof. Actually, the walls are in very good shape for their age, while the house has settled such the nothing is level the old plaster coming loose from the lathe is really cosmetic and worth saving both for its character and because replacing it with drywall would just be unneccessary. So, this is not really just a painting project but a mini-renovation and redecorating project to get the room in better shape, including patching the walls. Patching plaster is something I’m not very good at, though I get a little better every time. The basic plan is to widen cracks and remove the crumbly bits (down the lath in a couple areas) and fill with setting-type joint compound (“setting” in that it doesn’t dry per se but hardens from within after mixed with water, like concrete or, well, plaster), then sand smooth or until I can’t stand the dust even with a dust mask. Actually, next time I may try web going over the partly-cured plaster with a wet sponge, a technique I gave up on once in my last house before I knew to use the setting-type compound. I will say that I’ve gotten the mixing of the compound down, about 4 parts powder to one part water, which is a prerequisite skill as well. Fortunately the texture on the walls is rather random so it hides the patch work, rather than highlight it as some textured finished would, and this room was a good one to get practice on.

The leak in the roof scares me but it seems to be old, we haven’t see any evidence of an active leak and from what we know the house got a new roof a few years ago. The best home improvement advice I read once was to first try the simplest and least expensive thing that will work, which in this case meant painting over the stains with an oil-based primer. Then paint the ceiling. I love the look of a fresh, white, velvety-soft-looking ceiling.

It’s a small room and we wanted a deep color that would “pop” the room off of the living room, making it feel like a separate, cozy area and work well with the reddish gumwood molding and French door. We chose a pumpkin-like orange called “buttered yam” (second choice was “pumpkin pie”) and the color really feels like comfort food; it reminds me of being in my grandparents’ den (orange naugahyde sofabed and manufactured wood paneling on the walls, circa 1970). Our last experience with dramatic color was not good: red paint that didn’t cover and dripped off the walls like ketchup (Cheryl said like blood), and people though we’d attempted some decorative painting technique. This time I was prepared to use a special primer and as many coats as it takes. At first I’d dismissed Benjamin Moore’s new Aura line of paint as overpriced, but then I did the math: I’d need a least two $36 gallons (paint plus tinted primer) of regular paint, maybe I could get by with one $54 gallon of Aura for less? It might actually save money. I’ve found Benjamin Moore paints better than Home Depot’s Behr paints that I used to buy, and the fact that in this house there’s a store five minutes away with better service makes it the obvious choice in terms of getting things done. They paint salesman gave me the advice that, contrary to usual good painting practice, I should let the paint dry after cutting in the edges when using this paint. This worked well, and really shows the best part of the Aura paint which is the synergy between fewer coats and a fast drying time, allowing recoat in as little as an hour. We did need two coats but no more, resulting in four “batches” of painting and drying (cut in, dry, roll, dry, cut in second coat, dry, roll second coat) within about six hours. With other paint it would have taken at least ten hours (three coats with four-hour drying times) which means I would have been in painting mode all weekend and less time for the rest of family life; this is the biggest difference, plus I didn’t need that second gallon so I saved money, too.

Because of the woodwork, I also did a lot of masking with this job, using that plastic film with masking tape along one edge. In rooms where I’ve painted moldings, too, I’ve sometimes tried to “freehand” the edges, because all the masking takes more time than the painting and isn’t always perfect anyways, but in this case I resigned myself to spending more time prepping than painting and the results turned out pretty well.

Finally, I put a couple coats of Holloway House floor polish, as-seen-on-TV, on the floor. It’s not a substitute for refinishing, but at least it doesn’t just look neglected.

The best part of the whole experience? Going in to National Lumber in jeans, a t-shirt, and boots, the cashier at National Lumber asked me if I had an account, like I was a contractor. At least it looks like I know what I’m doing. 🙂

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