Friday, April 22, 2005

Cave fun

Took a little break from working on mates in the lab today to take a look at what Cave Capture's been doing in the Cave. It was pretty darn cool, and I took a few pics of the Cave with my phone:

Thursday, April 21, 2005


I usually don't just aggregate other peoples content. Instead, I list all the sites I read daily to the right (courtesy of Bloglines).

But, after spending the last hour or so reading through the last 24 hours of posts from the feeds I follow, I found three particularly cool/interesting things to share and comment on:

1. Tablet PC art from How cool is this??

2. BusinessWeek's latest cover story: Blogs Will Change your Business. As we geeks like to say: s/Business/Organization/! As those of you who are my friends know, my father is a rabbi in Los Angeles. Recently, I've been talking to him about starting a blog to engage his congregation (and even those outside of his congregation). Hopefully, one of these day's he'll bite.

3. A news story that's been making the rounds in the last 24 hours: Microsoft Caves on Gay Rights. It's a rather upsetting situation, but the issue aside, I think it's quite spectacular how the "blogosphere" community has taken on the issue in only a matter of hours with emotional stories and comments on popular sites like Slashdot, Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble's blog, and as of only 13 minutes ago, The New York Times. (The story seems to have originated at AMERICAblog)

4. On a much lighter note, this Sunbeam 20-in-1 Superior Panel is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time. Review here. Hmm.. how cool would this be in the dash of a car...

Happy to be unlocked

I was just checking out T-Mobile's International roaming rates for my upcoming trip to Israel.

$2.99 per minute! Ouch!

It's quite ridiculous, especially for a country that probably has more mobile phones than citizens... which is why I'm quite happy that I went out of my way to make sure the last two phones I purchased were unlocked.

See, in the US - the land of the mail order rebate and 3-year service contract, mobile carriers program the phones they sell to only work with their service - a practice known as "locking". Consumers of many other countries would never stand for such a thing, but the average American would rather save $200 (subsidized by the carrier) up front, and get hit with fees over the life of her service contract.

So while the average international American tourist will pay $2.99/minute, I'll be happily chatting away while paying only $0.17/minute using an Israeli sim card. His 15 minute phone call will cost $44.85. Mine will cost $2.55 (or $4.05 if calling back to the US).

I was originally planning on bringing two phones to Israel - my older Nokia 7250i, and my newer T-Mobile MDA III, and giving one my US # and one my new Israeli #. But at $2.99/minute, I doubt I'll even answer the US phone.

An even bigger rip-off: $15/megabyte international data rates

With the media-rich nature of the Internet these days, it's difficult to spend even 15 minutes surfing the web without downloading at least 10 megabytes of data. That's $150 for 15 minutes of Internet usage. Hit us where it hurts, T-Mobile!

Unfortunately, I haven't found a solution to the data rate yet. When I traveled all across Western Europe 2 years ago, T-Mobile didn't charge me any data fees. But at $15/megabyte, I don't think I'll test their billing systems this time around. I suppose I'll inquire as to whether or not the Israeli carrier provides data service via the pre-paid sim cards. Anyone happen to know? ;-)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Nobody knows the trouble I feel..

Well, this morning I downloaded and installed the March CTP of Avalon, and it turned my Thinkpad into a vegetable. Internet Explorer would no longer launch, so I couldn't finish the rest of the install or do, well, anything else.

I pondered leaving my Thinkpad in the broken state and switching back to Firefox (which I haven't used since it lost my bookmarks back in January). But I quickly remembered how Windows Update and quite a few web sites still require IE, and decided it'd probably be a good idea to try to fix the problem instead.

Unfortunately, 6 hours and several uninstall/reinstalls and complete system restores later, still no dice. IE's still broken, and multiple restores combined with multiple software uninstalls left Windows in a pretty funky state (basically, it keeps telling me it needs to install updates, and then that it is unable to install updates. wooohooo.)

So, I suppose it's time to reinstall XP. In all fairness, during the period of time between buying my Thinkpad over a year and a half ago and now, Windows XP has held up unbelievably well. I guess this was inevitable, and installing brand new betas of the .NET Framework and Visual Studio 2005 didn't help my cause. It could've happened on any operating system. Note to self: no more cutting edge development on my personal computers.

Anyhow, I'm gonna head out of the lab, grab some food, and get ready for the next 6 hour OS + software re-install party.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Go Flickr!

This is so cool:

Hi adamjh!

You may have heard on the grapevine that we planned to
reward our dear Flickr members who bought a Pro Account in
the early days. Well, it's true! And since you're one of
those lovely people, here's a little something to say YOU

1. Double what you paid for!
Your original 1 year pro account has been doubled to
2 years, and your new expiry date is Mar 24, 2007.

2. More capacity!
Now you can upload 2 GB per month.

3. 2 free Pro Accounts to give away to your friends!
This won't be activated for a day or two, but when it
is, you'll see a note on your home page telling you
what to do.

Thank you so much for putting your money where your mouth
is and supporting us, even while we're in beta. Your
generosity and cold, hard cash helped us get where we are

Kind regards,
The Flickreenies.

Now I can upload the rest of my photos!

Anyone out there interested in the free pro accounts?

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

I recently had the chance to read Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, a timeless classic (1st edition published in 1987, still relevant today) about managing software development projects and more. It was recommended to me by Microsoft as part of a list of "suggested reading" they sent over when I accepted a job offer back in November.

Lately, I've gotten into the habit of tabbing pages I find make interesting, inspiring, revolutionary, and/or controversial points as I read. Psychobabble generally comes in at 0 booktabs. Brand Harmony came in at 6. Peopleware came in at a whopping 10, which as you can probably imagine, made for a rather great read.

The book's underlying message is convincing and undoubtedly understood by anyone who's worked in software development:

The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.

I'm not going to write a full review, because I'd rather get on with reading more books. But, Peopleware got an impressive 5 star rating on, and you can undoubtedly find a great review on their site (or even on /.).

I will, however, post a few quotes from sections I really liked:

The trade-off between price and quality does not exist in Japan. Rather, the idea that high quality brings on cost reduction is widely accepted. (p. 22)

Projects on which the boss applied no schedule pressure whatsoever ("Just wake me up when you're done.") had the highest productivity of all. (p. 29)

The top quartile, those who did the exercise most rapidly and effectively, work in space that is substantially different from that of the bottom quartile. The top performers' space is quieter, more private, better protected from interruption, and there is more of it. (p. 50)

Even if there is a higher cost per worker to house people in the more agreeable space, the added expense is likely to make good sense because of the savings it provides in other areas. The real problem is that the cost is in a highly visible category (space and services), while the offsetting advantage is in poorly measured and therefore invisible categories (increased productivity and reduced turnover). (p. 88)

In the spring of 1932, efficiency experts ran a series of tests at the Hawthorne Western Electric Company to determine the effects of various environmental parameters on productivity. They tried raising the light level, and they noted that productivity went up. Then they tried lowering the light level, and they noted that productivity went up higher still. They speculated that turning the lights off entirely might send productivity through the roof. What seemed to be happening was that the change itself wasn't as important as the act of changing. People were charmed by differentness, they liked the attention, they were intrigued by novelty. This has come to be called the Hawthorne Effect. Loosely stated, it says that people perform better when they're trying something new. (p. 119)

Companies that downsize are frankly admitting that their upper management has blown it. But wall Street still applauds. Why is that? Part of the reason is that it looks so good on the books. A few thousand employees gone, and every penny they would have earned goes right to the bottom line, or at least it seems to. What's conveniently forgotten in this analysis is the investment in those people--paid for with real, hard-earned dollars and now thrown out the window as if it had no value. (p. 207)

Read this book. You won't regret it.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The End is Near

Aside from one review session this Tuesday, I'm officially done with classes at the University of Michigan. Woohoo! I'm not quite feeling the relief just yet, but I'm hopin' it'll kick in as soon as I'm done with my three remaining exams.

So, a few months ago I decide to stop machine drying my clothes (at least most of them). Is that strange, or is it rather normal? Sure, it's a hassle, but it keeps the fabrics so much brighter and tougher!

(Tonight it occurred to me that I really need a clothes line)

Following up on my last post.. I finally got through to T-Mobile. Their first response really pissed me off:

"You can log on to, to activate our 'spam key/word filter' to prevent these messages from reaching your handset."

Hmm.. I should have to create spam filters to prevent my own cell phone company from sending me spam text messages? Doesn't seem right. So I wrote back and told them so!

Finally, they got back to me with instructions on how to opt-out of their text message spam. The whole experience leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I suppose I'm back to being a content customer.

And with that, it's time to get back to hitting the books. Ten days and counting until my last exam.

Friday, April 15, 2005

T-Mobile: The opposite of Brand Harmony.

I just got a text message on my T-Mobile phone that read:

"Free T-Mobile msg: Try a text message package. 1000 messages for just $6.99/month, FREE for the first month! Visit or dial 611."

First, I find it ridiculously hypocritical that a mobile carrier who undoubtedly puts significant effort towards preventing text message spam (or at least publicly whines about the phenomenon) would itself send text message spam to its own customers!

Second, I already have a text message package from T-Mobile. They're spamming me on my mobile phone about a service I already pay them for monthly!

So, in my infinite anger, I write a surprisingly calm email to T-Mobile and attempt to submit it via the contact form on their web site:

I just got a text message from 7077 that reads "Free T-Mobile msg: Try a text message package. 1000 messages for just $6.99/month, FREE for the first month! Visit or dial 611."

Please do not send advertisements to my phone. I'm sure you spend significant efforts to prevent sms-spam, so why would you generate it yourself? If I ever receive sms-spam from you again, I will cancel my T-Mobile service and move to a different carrier. Please forward this to whomever came up with the genius idea to spam your own customers.

First, their site helpfully tells me:

Look what we found! These articles have helped other people who had a similar question. If none of these answer your question, click "Continue" below and we will collect your contact information.

Nokia N-Gage QD Troubleshooting

Samsung D415 Troubleshooting

Motorola C650 Troubleshooting

Motorola V600 Troubleshooting

Samsung E715 Camera Phone Troubleshooting

Nope. My problem isn't with the N-Gage or a Samsung E715 Camera Phone. Let's ignore their "findings", and click Continue!

Here goes . . .

Server error
We are experiencing temporary web site issues. Please try back again later. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

I don't need to express my frustration at this point, because it's undoubtedly a feeling you've all experienced at some point or another! It's the antithesis of what Steve Yastrow refers to as Brand Harmony in his wonderful book.

T-Mobile has really screwed this one up big time.

Smart Shopping

This week I helped my mom configure and purchase a Dell laptop for my cousin. Knowing that there are constantly Dell discount coupons circulating the 'net, I did a quick search before we placed the order. The search that took me literally 30 seconds turned up a $750 off coupon -- no strings attached. Wow!

It felt pretty good to save my mom $750. So I figured it'd be a good idea to post a list of my favorite discount shopping-related sites here for all. Check these out -- or just bookmark them for later. You too might save $750!

Coupons and Discounts

Overstocks, liquidations, and other discounts

Price Search

Got a great site I didn't list? Leave a comment and I'll add it to the list!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Inspire Fair 2005

The 2005 Michigan Inspire Fair was today and it was aaawesome. Aaron put it something like "It was the coolest thing I've seen come out of UM Engineering. It made me proud to go to U of M." I hope some of that rubbed off on the prospect students and parents that came to the event.

Thanks to everyone who helped put the Inspire Fair together. It rocked! Between the Design Expo and the Inspire Fair, we had hundreds of great projects on display. Professor Elliot Soloway gave an amazing talk, and Tony Fadell, the creator of the iPod and Apple's VP of Engineering iPod Division gave a great question and answer session.

I've posted some Michigan Inspire pictures on flickr. I also took a video of the Michigan Inspire car project. It's the first video I've taken with my phone and posted on the blog. The .mp4 file should be viewable with Quicktime. I'll find a better way to post video in the future.

Update: Car video is now hosted on Google Video [12/23/2006]

Monday, April 11, 2005

A little bit of tinkering on a Sunday evening

As you might've noticed, I finally had a little bit of time last night to play around with the look/feel of the blog. I hope you like it better than the previous version.

I've also made quite a bit of progress in uploading my photo collection to flickr and tagging as many photos as possible (adam, friends, family, nature, cool, and of course the moblog). I hit the 1 gigabyte upload limit in March and April, so it'll be another couple of weeks before I can finish uploading the rest. I like flickr so far quite a bit. I truly hope they continue to innovate now that they've been bought out by Yahoo.

Earlier this year, I launched a new web site for the UM Hillel organization. It's finally up and running -- check it out and let me know what you think! Many thanks to my friend Alex for contributing design skills and artistic talent.

On the mates front -- we've finished the first stable version of the Relationship Engine and are almost done with the RS Navigator. I've been putting a little bit of time into throwing together a simple web site for the project. It's not finished yet, but here's what I've got so far: mates. Again, comments are very welcome!

Since the mates project still has quite a ways to go before we can package/ship a version, I decided it would be a good idea to create an RSS feed for it.. which got me to realize that I myself have been putting off trying out an RSS aggregator for quite some time. I toyed around with Thunderbird's built-in support a ways back, but it really lacked features.

So, I finally decided to take Mark Jen's advice and try Onfolio. It's amazing! I've moved all of my favorite sites with RSS feeds out of my Bookmarks/Favorites and into Onfolio.

This got me thinking.. sites are definitely going to lose ad revenue if rss/atom syndication becomes mainstream. It'll be interesting to see how this one plays itself out. I imagine I'll have more thoughts to post on it down the road..

I also realized that I'm probably going to naturally stop reading web sites that don't have syndication feeds, or whose feeds are difficult to find. For example, I couldn't find a feed for the i, cringely site. Sorry, but I just don't have the time to constantly manually poll your site for your latest stories! (sidenote: I'm finally starting to understand why Scoble's so militant about rss.)

On the flipside, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few non-blog and non-software sites like ThinkGeek, who have set up syndication feeds for content like new product arrivals. I wonder how much longer until rss/atom syndication "crosses the chasm" (or "tips" - heh!) and we start seeing non-tech sites using it. The day my favorite online tea store supports rss will be a very cool day indeed.

That's all for now. Cheers.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

3:00am Sunday morning

Just spent another late night in the lab on North Campus working on mates. We're getting close. I've been spending most of my time optimizing sql queries and tuning the dbms so that most of the web service calls take at most 1/9th of a second to complete (and it seems to scale). It's a location-based social networking system, so the functionality is very join-heavy. Heap tables for message queues and hash-based equi-joins have done us well.

I found out tonight that my friend Mike got hired at Apple. He'll be working as a developer on the Java Framework team. Congrats to him -- he certainly deserves it!

Last but not least, my friend and former classmate Jill just came back from the CHI Conference in Portland. She had an amazing time and I'm totally jealous. She sent me a few very cool links to info on projects that were on display:

The I/O Brush (You HAVE to watch one of the videos -- you won't regret it!)

Virtual Raft Project

Jetsam: An Urban Probe

The Bubble Cursor


And with that, I bid you goodnight!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Weblog neglect.

I suppose I've been neglecting my blog (and my social life in general) lately. Mates has been keeping me busy in the GROCS lab on North Campus and I've been pretty active in planning the 2005 Michigan Inspire Fair. If you're in or near Ann Arbor and interested in technology, you'll definitely want to check it out. Tony Fadell, Michigan alum and creator of the iPod is our keynote speaker.

My EECS 376 professor just decided to move our final exam up a week at the last minute, which leaves me with 3 exams over the last 2 days of classes. The good news is, I'll be graduating a week earlier than previously planned, April 19th to be exact. Woohoo!

In May I'll be heading to Israel for 2 weeks. I'd like to incorporate my blog/moblog into my travel plans in some cool way. More thoughts on that as the trip approaches.

Then, on May 26th, I move out to Seattle. The condo purchase is slowly progressing, and I'm really looking forward to getting out there and working again!

That's all for now.. too exhausted and scatterbrained to write any longer (been coding for 7 hours straight).

Monday, April 04, 2005

More GPS devices on the way..

I was pleasantly surprised by the details of the new HP hw6500. The device is obviously meant to be a Blackberry killer, and undoubtedly will be with Microsoft's recent announcement that Blackberry-like "push" technology will be integrated (for free!) into Windows Mobile 2005 and Exchange server, allowing companies to deploy Blackberry-like solutions for work email without the costs currently associated with such services.

But what really pleased me most were three little letters buried deep down in the description: GPS.

It's awesome to see OEMs integrating GPS into their devices. The MiTec Mio's had this for awhile, but in the form of a big bulky antenna attachment.

This could enable a whole bunch of great new services.. next thing I know, my phone will be steering my car.

Why good biometric systems are a bad idea.

The BBC reports:

Police in Malaysia are hunting for members of a violent gang who chopped off a car owner's finger to get round the vehicle's hi-tech security system.

The car, a Mercedes S-class, was protected by a fingerprint recognition system.

Accountant K Kumaran's ordeal began when he was run down by four men in a small car as he was about to get into his Mercedes in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

The gang, armed with long machetes, demanded the keys to his car.

It is worth around $75,000 second-hand on the local market, where prices are high because of import duties.

Stripped naked

The attackers forced Mr Kumaran to put his finger on the security panel to start the vehicle, bundled him into the back seat and drove off.

But having stripped the car, the thieves became frustrated when they wanted to restart it. They found they again could not bypass the immobiliser, which needs the owner's fingerprint to disarm it.

They stripped Mr Kumaran naked and left him by the side of the road - but not before cutting off the end of his index finger with a machete.

Police believe the gang is responsible for a series of thefts in the area.

Bruce Schneier, security God and someone whom I admire very much, also commented on this one.