Monday, March 28, 2005

I got a new television!

Saturday night I stayed up till about 4am playing with my Pocket PC phone. Now I can watch TV shows on it when I'm on the go. Sweeeeet!

Key tools:


BetaPlayer (down at the moment - here's a download link to a mirrored file)

I'll leave the problem of actually getting your TV into digital file format up to you.

While not necessarily legal, the Internet is full of interesting howtos on downloading TV and tools to make the process even easier. I pay ninety dollars and nine cents every month for cable television, and certainly don't advocate stealing anything, but I sure hope the entertainment and technology industries provide a legal means of downloading TV soon, or it'll become the story of the mp3 all over again.

TiVoToGo and Media Center are a good start. But they still don't solve the problem of recording many shows at once, or catching that episode of 60 Minutes when the NCAA game before it goes into double overtime.

As the industry goes to Supreme Court tomorrow morning, I'll leave you with this memorable quote courtesy of

In 1982, testifying in front of Congress before the Supreme Court had ruled, MPAA President Jack Valenti said, "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Hello shuffle.

I caved and bought an iPod shuffle. It's sexy.

I'm hoping having it will inspire me to start running again this summer now that the snow's melting away.

iPods are so slick.

flickr moblog online!

As you can see, the flickr stream is up and running. I'm pretty satisfied with it in general, though their systems seem to get bogged down from time to time. I am a bit disappointed that they feel the need to display ads alongside my photos despite the fact that I paid for the account ($41.77 for the year) which still has upload and image size limits.

It's also unfortunate that they've decided to restrict the ability to leave comments on photos to registered flickr users. One of the most difficult tasks in blogging/moblogging is building a community around your site. Not allowing the option for users to let anonymous visitors leave comments doesn't help. It's unreasonable to expect visitors to sign up for accounts with every web site they stumble upon. Blogger recently updated their service to allow anonymous comments. I hope flickr and other services do the same.

But overall, it still seems to be the best service out there, and I'm happy with it. I hope they continue to innovate, work out the kinks, and build an ever better service.

Over time, I'll probably be uploading more of my traditional photo sets into flickr. I have 3,679 photos (2.7GB) in 32 albums, so I'll likely write a script to pull them out of Gallery and upload them to flickr using the flickr API. Should be fun (seriously).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Washing my underwear"

I just came across this gem on the Google Blog. Hilarious! Lilly's actually a friend I met when she was here with Google giving a tech talk and recruiting on campus last semester. She's awesome, and this story just cracks me up!!

Hello flickr.

I've finally decided to ditch textamerica for flickr. It's been a long time coming. Unfortunately I haven't had the time to migrate my photos until now, a process which is painfully difficult given that textamerica does not support RSS or provide any other export functionality.

So far I'm pretty impressed with flickr. I even bought a 1 year paid account. I like how they limit upload traffic per month rather than download traffic and/or photo size/quality, though it would be cool if they offered an option to purchase additional upload bandwidth. I've got about 2.7GB of photos to upload, so we'll be taking flickr to the max.

One thing that concerns me slightly is its being acquired by Yahoo. I'm not a fan or a user of any of Yahoo's paid or ad-supported services, and really really hope they don't screw this one up. That said, flickr does have RSS support, so it won't be too painful to move next time if the service begins to lack.

I've noticed a few areas of flickr that could use improvement:

1. flickr has batch functions to allow you to change some properties of many pictures at once (like titles and descriptions). Unfortunately, you can't change photo dates this way, and there are 2 separate screens for changing the "date uploaded" and the "date taken". So importing this information from my old photo gallery was a manual, and painfully slow, process.

2. The flickr badge isn't very customizable. This is the feature that allows you to showcase a few of your newest photos on your blog or other web site. It would be cool if you could specify which types of photos you want to display (by tag, or set).

3. It would be nice if there were some way to automatically generate sets from tags. So, for example, I could have a set for my moblog without manually adding each photo to it. It would also be nice to be able to have sets of sets. Shallow hierarchies become rather difficult to work with.

The good news is that these feature requests seem to be coming up over and over in the flickr forums. So hopefully, if the company wants to stay ahead of the game, they'll fulfill the requests of their users.

So, that's about all I've got for now. I finished another great book, which I plan to write about here soon. The new flickr photo gallery should be online soon.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Cold Calling Computer Science

Tonight I spent a few hours calling high school seniors who have recently been admitted to the University of Michigan and have at some point indicated they might be interested in Computer Science.

It's something I've been doing once or twice a week over the last month or so through the CSE Scholars program here at the University, and it's been a really great experience.

Believe it or not, enrollment in Computer Science has dropped a bit over the last few years. So, as part of a larger effort, we're reaching out to recent admits and talking to them about all Computer Science has to offer. In addition, we're making a special effort to reach out to women interested in Computer Science, a demographic that makes up something like 12% of my graduating class.

For someone like me with relatively little sales experience, cold-calling a bunch of potential CS students and talking to them about U of M Computer Science has been really valuable. It's probably the best kind of cold-calling experience one could ask for -- the kids are really exciting to receive personal calls from a respected department at such a large University. At the same time, I can actually feel my sales and communications skills improving, and believe me, we engineers can use all the help we can get. ;-)

We're also bringing back to campus Tony Fadell, a U of M alum, and the creator of the iPod. He'll be speaking along with one of my favorite professors, Elliot Soloway, at an "Inspire Fair" we're putting on with Michigan Inspire featuring projects that have recently come out of Michigan Inspire, GROCS, and various design courses and research projects here at the University. The event will be on April 14th. I'll post the URL along with more info as soon as I have it.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tablet PC Art

My EECS 376 Professor is very fond of his Tablet PC..

(A beautiful rendition of the reduction of 3SAT to CLIQUE)

RUEHL No.925

This past Saturday, I went to the new RUEHL store at the Twelve Oaks mall in Novi. Just when you thought everything great came from California or New York City, Abercrombie & Fitch decides to open their new line of themed clothing stores in cities like Paramus NJ, Schaumburg IL, Tampa FL, and Novi MI. I randomly bumped into two friends who work at the store.. so that was pretty random & cool too.

The store was surprisingly cool. It looks like a nondescript, trendy New york City house randomly dropped into the middle of a midwest shopping mall. There's no name on the store, which was pretty funky. The pic above is from the a RUEHL MSN Group I found. I should've taken a few myself, but soon enough I'm sure they'll be at malls all across the country.

The clothes were pretty slick too. I bought a white polo. The material seems rugged enough. They also have some pretty awesome jeans I now regret not buying. They're going for a New York City-infused theme -- a refreshing change from all the California skater/surfer beach wear stores. It's a bit pricey, though not as bad as Lacoste or Diesel. I hope it catches on.

I thought it was pretty interesting how the A&F stores (Abercrombie, Hollister, and RUEHL) were pretty packed, while the Gap stores (Gap and Banana Republic) were empty. I think Gap's missing the boat on the whole themed-store trend. Gap's trying to go upscale a bit, and only taking away market from Banana, which seams like a stupid move to me.

Doh -- 11:30 -- gotta run to class!

Update: This page seems to be getting quite a few hits. So, I've posted a few new pics below from my 2nd trip to the RUEHL store (yesterday) [4/28 - 4:10pm]

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Home sweet home!

I suppose it's finally safe to let slip that I've bought a home in Seattle!

When I was out there visiting in February, I came across a condo that I absolutely feel in love with. It's in a fairly new 6-story building right on Capitol Hill, with easy freeway access for the undoubtedly dreadful commute. Perhaps I'll start listening to Podcasts during the drive.

All the papers have been signed, so now it's just a matter of waiting sixty days and hoping all goes as planned...

Here are some pics..


School has been hectic.. more posts to come soon!

Monday, March 07, 2005


Imagine this scenario:

It's midnight. You're a college student studying for an exam in a library on campus. In a study room 20 ft away sits another student studying for the same exam. The class has 150 students. You don't know any of them. Wouldn't it be great if there were some way to be introduced and make a friend to study with?

How about this one:

Your company has sent you to a client site 2,000 miles away from home. Coincidentally, an old friend is in town on the same days. Your trips overlap, but as you only catch up with each other a couple of times a year, you have no way of knowing that you happen to be staying on the same city block.

These are some of the problems mates (formerly M-Chat) attempts to solve. What is mates, you ask? Well, late last year, a couple of EECS students and I applied for a grant through the GROCS program at the University of Michigan. Our mission: Build an infrastructure to introduce and connect individuals based on physical location, class registration, group membership, academic interests, and other relationships, thereby laying the groundwork for the development of a multitude of next-generation collaborative learning and communication applications.

Allow me to back up a little and explain..

Last semester, I took a mobile technology class in which I led a team in developing a location based service. We built a GPS-powered application for the Pocket PC that would show people a list of nearby friends. They could then select a couple of friends, and find meeting places (coffee shops, restaurants, libraries) near the group. The application interacted with a PHP based web service and received results in an XML format. It was simple, and designed and built in only 8 weeks, but it peaked my interested in GPS and location-based services in general.

Then, late last semester, my friend and classmate Ayush Agarwal introduced me to another EECS student and friend of his, Jeff Powers. The three of us held multiple brainstorming sessions, and eventually, based on Ayush's passion for design, an idea Jeff had been toying with for quite awhile, and my interest in location based services, mates was born.

mates is also a web service (implemented in SOAP, again with PHP). Users supply the server with information including their location, friends, interests, and courses. The server returns information about other users in the system with whom there exists some relationship (for example, all users within a 300ft radius who are taking Physics 100 and are a friend of a friend, along with who the common friend is).

So how is mates different than the wide range of existing social networking applications out there (Friendster, orkut, Facebook)? Unlike those applications, mates strives to be an open infrastructure. We want to bring aspects of social networking into existing applications -- from Friendster to Instant Messaging.

Wouldn't it be cool if your buddy list could instantly populate a group for one of your classes if you had a question you would like to ask other students in the class? Or if your phone could receive a text message every time an old friend you rarely come in contact with happened to be nearby? What if you're simply looking to meet some nearby people with common interests? (we're talking feet here, not "within 10 miles of zipcode X!)

(Concept art)

(A cool Avalon interface we're playing around with)

In order to demonstrate the potential of mates, we're also building a proof of concept client using the latest beta of Avalon. The proof of concept client includes an amazing visualization and a working but simple messaging system.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd share some information about the project to which I've been devoting a good portion of my time lately.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Blast from the past!

A year and a half ago, while in Paris, a Norwegian reporter approached my buddies and me and propositioned us for an interview. She was doing a story on something related to the decline of American tourism in Europe. This was at the height of conservative America labeling France as traitorous and government cafeterias renaming replacing "French Fries" with "Freedom Fries" on their menus.

We were all happy to chat with her (though "Patrick Hox" chose to use a pseudonym after accidentally letting his company name slip). As my friends know, I tend to lean left politically, though I try to keep a pretty open mind. Keith leans right. "Patrick Hox".. well.. is probably too busy playing video games to think about leaning either way. I'd say we were pretty well-fit to represent our country, eh?

Anyhow, the reporter left us with the name of her publication. We searched for an article shortly after our trip, but weren't able to find one. Today, a year and a half later, I was cleaning out my bookmarks and came across the publication's web site. For the hell of it, I proceeded to search on my name, and found an article!

Amerikanerne svikter Paris

Interestingly, according to the site, it wasn't published until January 2005.

Anyhow, I thought it pretty cool, photo and all. My Swedish friend Dan translated a bit for us (Norwegian is somewhat similar to Swedish). Here were some highlights:

Down from the (eiffel) tower come three young men who were making fun of French fries being named freedom fries in the US last fall.

"Difference between the land and the people: these three American tourists (names) think France is a nice country, but they're not sure about the people"
(Undoubtedly derived from Keith's "I like France, I just don't like the people" comment. He also enjoys shouting "George Bush Rules!" at Parisian bars. Go Keith.)

"I boycotted French products in the US, but I chose to come here anyways" says 22-year old engineering student Kieth Moller from Michigan.

"It's a nice country but people aren't as nice", he said. But his friend Patrick Hox from San Francisco disagrees. "It's no worse here than in Amsterdam" he says. But the third man Adam Herscher thinks the French are good at knowing the difference between Americans and American politics.

Here's a funny attempt at computer generated translation.

What a trip...