Saturday, February 23, 2008

Out of office...

I'll be in rainforests and on beaches in Costa Rica for the next week. Posting can start again afterwards.

Admit it, you're a fan of what I do here and you'll miss me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Awesome free service

Grand Central is a service (recently purchased by Google) that takes telephones to the next level. Among the features:

  1. Custom caller groups
  2. Different voicemail messages for each caller group
  3. Different ring back tones for each caller group
  4. Web call button (at top left on my blog)
  5. Ring all your phones from one number
  6. Switch phones in the middle of a conversation
I just recently signed up for this service, and I'll report back in about 2 weeks about how useful it is, once I get into more of the details/experience. My first impression is that its really cool, but I still need to set it up for my office line, import contacts, set up groups, etc.

I'm excited. You can leave me a voicemail from my blog now, if you want. Convergence!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Great Smartphone Debate


I've been debating getting a 'smartphone' for a few months. I have a work blackberry , but its worthless because they block me from doing anything I would want to do (except play brickbreaker), like check my own email.

Since the Blackberry Curve and iPhone have been out, I've been thinking harder and harder about spending the $90 a month on a data plan for myself. Since I started writing a blog, I decided it would be cool/nerdy to be able to post mobilely (is that a word yet?).

To date, I'm having trouble deciding which, if any, to get right now.

Here's a quick summary of my thoughts:
iPhone = fucking seriously cool, real internet everywhere but no keyboard and expensive as hell
Curve = pretty cool, real keyboard, brickbreaker, lamer internet and only $50
Both probably are easy enough to setup email and sync contacts etc.

The Blackberry has brickbreaker going for it, which is a pretty sweet game. Though I've so demolished it on my work blackberry,that it isn't even conceivable that I would lose before the phone breaks. My current score is over 250,000 and I have 60+ lives left. Am I a nerd? You bet. Are you impressed? No doubt about it.
Does anyone know if there is a way to save my game to a new Blackberry? That would substantially increase my likelihood of getting a curve.

Anyways, I'm not sold on either one, mostly because neither one rocks the big daddy 3G wireless network and EDGE is more like dial-up (I know the iPhone has wifi, but not all the time). I think the iPhone has the slight edge because they are rolling out the developers kit to allow third party apps on the phone rather than just the web, finally. (aside: am I the only one who thinks Apple is about 100million times worse than Microsoft ever was in terms of shady business practices?) So, I figured that I could get used to typing on a picture of a keyboard. It might be tough to text late at night, but I've been meaning to cut down on my drinking anyways. But, does it come with any games?

Personally, I don't really care about the multimedia features. Both can play music, though playing video could be quite cool, especially if hulu (which i blogged here) looks good on it.

So, I was all set to bite the bullet and pick up an iPhone when I saw this rumor about the Blackberry 9000 that has 3G! A wrench has been thrown into the system.

What say you, dear reader, should I take the plunge and pick up an iPhone now, when a 3G Blackberry is rumored to be coming out in May? I'm gonna let it marinate until I get back from Costa Rica. Hopefully, someone out there will have made a strong case one way or the other.

And, seriously, how impressed are you with my brickbreaker score?

What's your address again?

I've noticed that cell phone manufacturers put more and more features into their cell phones. I've also noticed that most people do maybe 5 things with their phones:

  1. Make phone calls (duh)
  2. Text message / email (smartphones)
  3. Take a picture with the camera
  4. Play a game (like brick breaker)
  5. Check google maps/information (smartphones)

How many times have you been going to a friend's apartment and you can't remember the address? Happens to me all the time. I'm willing to bet that most people would take out their phone and call their friend to ask for the address. Then, when they get there, they will probably have forgotten the apartment number, so they'll go to the well again for that. It makes no sense! Why wouldn't you just put your friend's address into your phone. Every phone has an option for memos on your contacts where you can put the address. I suggest that we start using it.

Next, how often have you taken pictures with your phone? Probably pretty often. How often have you ever done anything with them? Probably almost never. I once took this picture of a random guy on the subway late at night. I never showed it to anyone, but he was a crazy person! He was white, with cornrows, a bluetooth headset (on the subway!) and a shiny, shiny shirt that may have been urban camoflauge. You know what, here's what he looked like (click for larger image):
Is that camo and bluetooth?!

Granted, I'm a geek and I absolutely own brickbreaker already. But, I'm going to make an effort to use more of the other features on my phone. Like the tip calculator. That's probably pretty useful. I wonder if it'll give me a shock when I cheap out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fox and NBC shows on demand on your computer

Probably 10 years ago, there was an IBM commercial where a man walked into a shitty motel looking for a room. They had bad service and bad accomodations, except that they provided every movie ever made on demand. Totally awesome. In real life, 10 years later, we still aren't there. But, slowly, network television is moving to give us good quality free video on demand over the internet. Cable and satellite companies are adding more and more to their own on demand offerings. I think you can say that the consumer is winning.

Enter Hulu.com, a joint venture between Fox and NBC to provide a load of good content for free. There are advertisements, 30 seconds for every 10ish minutes of content. To some people that is a major turnoff, I can understand that. However, at some point, content needs to be funded. To me, 30 second ads are more than tolerable--especially if it gives me access to a library that goes from Charlie's Angels and The A-Team to Arrested Development and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I have 8 invites to Hulu that I'm willing to share with you if you just post in the comments of my still brand new blog with your email address. After I run out, you can sign up at the website for the still-private beta test, but there is a couple of week delay before you'll get in.

Check back here for other useful links and websites and, hopefully, more invites to new services.

I'll read that later

I read a lot of things on the internet. The blogs, the MSM (NYT, WSJ, etc), and other random things. I find a bunch of interesting things to read while I'm at work, without time to read them. Often, I would end up forgetting about them because I didn't have a good way to mark it to read later at home.

The NYT has 'My Timesfile', which is great, but limited to that specific site. I never got into del.icio.us because I didn't necessarily care what other random people were bookmarking, and hardly anyone of my friends uses it.

Along comes Instapaper. It's perfect. Totally plain, just put a bookmarklet in your browser and you're good to go. That's really all there is to say about it--its that straightforward. The bookmarklet lets you bookmark any page for reading from any computer for later. So, for an easy way to save reading for later, check it out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mac Migration

I am a lifelong windows user. I've been with it since you had to load it up from DOS. I've been using Alt+TAB since taking a BASIC class and trying to quickly switch back to work from DOOM that we would play on the school network. I am comfortable making changes to the system settings since working in tech support had me making changes to network settings every day. In short, Windows is like my home away from home.

So, when I needed a new computer, why did I buy a mac?

There were loads of concerns that I had about making the switch. Chief among them were as follows:

  1. Keyboard shortcuts
  2. Software
  3. Price

So, what finally got me over the hump? I still am not sure. Like a lot of people, I figured I would just use Windows if I really couldn't take it. Right now, I'm using OS X.

That is definitely not to say that I am completely satisfied with my purchase. I read a LOT of reviews. They were nearly all positive. I must be missing something. OS X is fine, but I don't really see why it is such a major improvement over Windows.

I am getting more comfortable with it. I'll never understand why I had to change the keyboard shortcuts to have a way to get to the menu bar with an easy keystroke (apple+space vs. Ctrl+F2). It will take a few years before I'm as quick with it as I am with Windows. I also don't understand why they make it so annoying to resize a window to use the whole screen.

Software issues have turned out to not be much of an issue, except with Microsoft Office programs. Quicksilver, which helps launch programs, is one of my favorite programs and is keeping me sane.

The Macbook Pro was expensive upfront, but aside from the operating system, I really am a big fan of the design. No fans on the bottom makes it truly a 'laptop' computer and the battery lasts a long time. Plus, its really thin (though the Macbook Air makes it look like an encyclopedia).

My bottom line: I am happy with my purchase, but I think the mac worship is overdone. If anyone out there has some pointers about what you love about your mac, please share it with me. I really want to be wowed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Keyboard to a Man's Heart

I have an unhealthy obsession with keyboard shortcuts. I get frustrated every time I have to move my hand away from the keyboard to touch the mouse. Everywhere I go, I try to teach people to love keyboard shortcuts--somehow they don't.

I used to explain the time benefit of keyboard shortcuts like this:

There is a huge fixed cost associated with using the mouse. Every time you make the move to the mouse you take several steps that waste time.

  1. You move your hand to the mouse
  2. You locate the cursor by moving the mouse a few times
  3. You shake the mouse around because you have an old one with a ball that is dirty
  4. You finally move it to where you want to go and then you click
  5. Maybe you were supposed to double-click
  6. Maybe now you clicked in the wrong place and are renaming a file instead of opening it
  7. You have finally achieved your task

To most people that isn't a big deal, so they brush it off. These people don't understand the power of compounding. If it takes roughly 5 seconds to do all that and if you do that 100 times a day, which seems like a conservative estimate, you have wasted about 8 minutes of your workday. Think about that the next time you see your train leaving the station without you.

To me, the above was a great explanation. But then, I'm an engineer, I think in terms of cost-benefit analysis. People were less than on-board.

I have since come up with what I think is a stronger sales case for keyboard shortcuts:

Imagine that instead of using a keyboard to type out an email. You only had a mouse and the image of a keyboard on your screen.


Now people start to get it. They start to realize that they have 10 fingers, not 1.

Doug Engelbart would be proud of me, I think.

I share with you windows users the following information:
When you press the 'Alt' key, some of the letters on the screen get underlined. You can press that letter to do that command/open that menu. Do a few of those and you'll get really fast, cutting 5 seconds to nanoseconds, a nearly 100% improvement!
Here is Microsoft's Windows keyboard shortcuts page.

There are so many faster ways to do things, press some buttons, see what happens! Alt+Tab is just the beginning.

Looking for rentals in NYC

The search for a great rental apartment is what brings all NY'ers together. It's the one unifying theme in all of our lives. We've all dealt with shady brokers, fake listings and craigslist. Some of us have paid as much as 15% of a years rent in a brokers fee, thats two months! Others have dropped $200 or so for those nearly worthless no-fee apartment listings.

There are better options. StreetEasy and FlyRig. I haven't actually used either yet, but here are my first impressions.

StreetEasy is the most comprehensive listing I have come across for New York City apartments. It has both rentals and sale properties. I haven't actually used it yet to find a place, but it looks fantastic. It doesn't have the crap postings you get with Craigslist. The search function is very good with all of the basics (neighborhood, amenities, maps). But it has a 'commute time' option built in from HopStop. Phenomenal, especially for people who are fed up with paying absurd real estate prices and are forced to consider Brooklyn or Queens. The only downside that I've seen is that there are limited pictures for many postings, and they force you to other websites to learn more. The force to other pages, may be why so many properties are listed, but its still a little bit of a hassle.

FlyRig is still new and so its best feature is not fully operational yet. I love this website, because a couple of months before I found it, I had been talking about building something just like it. It doesn't yet have a great database of listings, but my favorite feature here is that the brokers get feedback, like eBay sellers. So, while I'm not 100% familiar with the protections against false reviews, I want to believe in FlyRig--if for no other reason than that the brokers I've dealt with have been mostly scumbags and this site would give me the ability to impact their future business. This website lists some NoFee places, but not many yet. Most postings have a ton of pictures right in the website.

So, friends, give these two sites a try and let me know if you find anything good. I'm hoping we all can save a bit of money on rent and broker's fees in the near future.

Welcome

I plan to write about a lot of things. I will cover whatever is interesting to me at that point in time. My interests vary widely from cooking and video games to productivity and morale to economics and public policy.

Though, for certain, I'm going to start sharing my life and any interesting articles/websites/applications that I find, mostly because no one around me seems interested enough in the developments happening every day.

Bear with me as I find my non-corporate presentation voice.

As for the name of the blog, Life of Balls, its a not so subtle attempt to show respect for Monty Python's The Life of Brian spliced with my nickname, Balls. Monty Python were pioneers in hilarity of the unexpected and influenced me greatly in my formative years. 'Balls' is just the best representation I can think of for the creativity and hard work I try to bring to my life everyday.