Archive for February, 2008

fun: Airbus A380 cockpit

Want to see the inside of the cockpit of the new A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world? Take a look at this very nice panoramic view. You can zoom in and see all the controls. It looks a bit different than running Flight Simulator on my home PC.

entertainment marcelk 22 Feb 2008 No Comments

tech: go Blu-ray! Uh, hold on a sec…

I’m about to take the plunge into HD video. I’ve been postponing as long as possible so the prices will come down and the features go up. I’m not a videoholic, so I don’t mind waiting a while. The only thing really pushing me is that I get my TV content over-the-air from an antenna. Analog signals end in Feb 2009. I could never swallow paying the cable company $60/month for 80 channels I don’t watch. Yes, I know about the discounted converters, but I do like my Tivo and my current set is 17 years old anyway.

One of the big turnoffs to the HD plunge has been the next-gen DVD battle: HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. Frankly, I don’t care who wins, as long as there is only one format for discs and players. Now that HD-DVD has quit the fight and Blu-ray is the winner, one would be tempted to go buy a Blu-ray player now. But hold on a second, are the existing Blu-ray players on the market going to work for the long term, meaning do they support Profile 2.0? Basically, no. The PS3 is the only existing player that is upgradeable to Profile 2.0, and even that upgrade isn’t available yet. Although I would have a hard time explaining to my kids why a potential PS3 in our house isn’t allowed to play games, just movies, while I secretly play “Need for Speed” late at night, I think I’ll just wait until later in the year for a Profile 2.0 player. It’s not like I haven’t waited before. Besides, I have my eye on a Wii.

tech tips marcelk 20 Feb 2008 No Comments

fun: how a techie would approach…

If you recognize how reviews are written about computer products, you’ll see this theme as applied to colored pencils. (Yes, we are a twisted bunch.)

entertainment marcelk 14 Feb 2008 1 Comment

tech: business and customers

I like these comments from JP Rangaswami. Stay focused on the customer, not on internal issues. Generate value, not effort.

things i wish i knew before working marcelk 14 Feb 2008 No Comments

personal finance: credit bureau freeze

Be careful of how much debt you carry. A mortgage is OK, but creditors will generally give you a bigger loan than you can really afford. An automobile loan is OK, but recognize that an automobile can depreciate faster than you can pay the loan – it sure isn’t an investment, it’s pure expense. One credit card is OK for purchase convenience, not carrying a balance. If you have all three of these, you don’t need any more. I’m tired of getting pre-approved offers in the mail literally twice a week all year long.

Also be careful of how much personally identifiable information you disclose. If a web site asks for my birthday for marketing purposes, I won’t give it. If they require it, I will give a fake one. If you’ve talked to anyone hit by identity theft, you don’t want to experience it yourself.

For these purposes, I have asked the credit bureaus to freeze my personal information so it isn’t disclosed to lenders. Since lenders need to know my credit worthiness before approving credit, this means no credit can be opened in my name. Right now I have all the credit I need and don’t need more. This also prevents someone else from obtaining credit in my name without my approval, i.e. identity theft. If I do need to get more credit, I can unfreeze just long enough for the new lender to approve me, then it goes back to a frozen state.

Clark Howard has some good pointers on how to freeze your credit information. You need to do it with each of the three credit reporting bureaus. All it takes is a letter and $10 for each one. Clark even provides the form letter. My requests were processed in about one week. Frankly, I recommend everyone do this. Recognize that the credit bureaus are in the business of selling your credit information to lenders, and lenders are in the business of getting interest and fees from you. Nobody is in business for you except yourself.

You also are entitled to a yearly credit report for free. Get your free report each year to make sure it is accurate. Then when you need credit, there won’t be any surprises. Start with the US Federal Trade Commision web site to make sure you go to the right site that offers the free credit report (there are copycats/imposters out there that may require costs).

Keep your finances in order and you’ll avoid a lot of pain.

life tips marcelk 01 Feb 2008 1 Comment

fun: the fragile e-commerce web site

Bring up the home page for this shopping retailer:

http://producten.hema.nl/

Yes, it is in Dutch, but just look at the web page for 10 seconds (after it finishes loading, you don’t need to scroll) and determine what you can see…

entertainment marcelk 01 Feb 2008 No Comments

tech: there is always more than one way to do it. Identify the pros and cons of each, and determine what makes the most sense in each circumstance.

If there is only one thing that you read on my blog in this category, this is it.

There is only one best way to do something. Bzzz. Wrong.

I don’t have any choice. Bzzz. Wrong again.

Let’s start with the first one. As you saw in the post title, there are always many ways to accomplish something. Always. Call them options. Some of those options may be sub-optimal, and some of them may suck, some may be mediocre, and a couple may look pretty darn good, but those are all options. Just because you don’t know about an option or don’t like an option doesn’t prevent it from being an option.

So the first step is to catalog all the options. Dig around and find all the options. I would even propose that the first option to come to mind when you are tackling a problem is probably not the best option. Go back and think critically and look at all the fringes for options you may have initially missed. There are always more options.

Then, for each option you’ve found, identify its pros and cons. Again, you may have bias and gloss over some of the pros and/or cons, but think critically and really dig here. With effort I bet you’ll find some pros you initially hadn’t thought of for initially unappealing ideas, and vice versa for the initially appealing ideas. Either play devil’s advocate yourself, or get someone to do that for you. You need to challenge the status quo and the preconceptions.

Then, which option do you pick? There is no absolute. Absolutes exist only in math and religion (and even those have some wiggle room). So figure out what you are trying to optimize for. Maybe you are optimizing for flexibility, speed, cost, value, effort, strategy, breadth, depth, coolness, stability, bleeding-edgeness, whatever. The best option is going to depend on what you are optimizing for. In other words, it depends. You will probably be optimizing for multiple facets. But you can’t optimize for everything, you need to target.

Once a company PR person called me after I had worked on a dozen projects. She said, “tell me about your coolest project so we can promote it.” My reply was, “Cool to who? The business person, the executive, the CS student, the manager, the middle-aged I/T worker, the intellectual property lawyer, the customer?” I would have picked a different project for each of those people. Each project had a strong point or connected with a certain constituency, there wasn’t one project that did it all. So I was basically asking the PR person who they wanted to optimize for. And that is basically the question we need to ask ourselves: in this circumstance, what I am optimizing for? That will guide you to pick the best option for this circumstance. It’s entirely possible, and sometimes even beneficial, to pick another option in a different circumstance. If you are picking the same option regardless of the circumstance then I’ll bet you are making the wrong choice in some of those circumstances. But on the flip side, realize that churn has a cost too.

Another thing to keep in mind is the difference between project execution and decision making. As engineers, at the beginning of a project we are prone to jumping in and starting execution before making the hard decisions. It is easier to do than to think. However, if you think criticially before you execute, you will end up in a better place. Some level of challenge within a team is healthy and desirable. Also realize that within teams certain people may have the specific role of decision maker instead of do-er, and the decision maker is not a lesser role than the do-er.

So, bottom line, there is always more than one way to do it. Figure out what makes the most sense in your circumstance.

things i wish i knew before working marcelk 01 Feb 2008 No Comments