Category Archives: technology & computing

You’re never alone

It’s pretty messed up when your boss basically tells you that you are working too much and tells you to go take some time off. In fact, he doesn’t even consider it “vacation.” He’s just sending you on a really long break.

It’s also pretty messed up when you go to the dentist and he tells you:

  1. There’s nothing wrong with your tooth. You just need to stop grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. Relax.
  2. Get some sleep. Your geographic tongue is out of control.

Everyone pretty much knows that work seriously took over my life the past few months and not in a “I’m really excited about my job and I’ve got lots of projects I want to work on” kind of way. And of course even after I’ve finally come to admit that I am seriously burnt out, looking at my calendar, I can hardly find time to take two days off before Thanksgiving, which will be a whole other stress-fest unto itself. And even if I did take a four-day weekend, I can hardly think of anything that I’d like to do or anywhere I’d want to go (that wasn’t completely expensive and far away). At this point, I’m pretty much looking at sleeping like 16 hours a day, watching TV and sitting around in my underwear. While a good plan, the problem with it is that it means I’m at home with a high-speed Internet connection and my computers. Which means I’ll probably end up checking work email which means I’ll end up thinking about work which means I’ll end up doing work at some point during my prescribed time away from work.

You would think the solution to this would be to leave my house and to leave my computer behind. Oh, but I’ll have my Blackberry wherever I’ll go. Doh. I guess that was the whole point of getting that right? Have email with me wherever I go? And yes, you’re probably saying “Well, leave the Blackberry at home.” Ah, but my obsessive-compulsive need to always have a phone with me and always be reachable in some way will never let me do that.

I think I just need to let go.

Expandable TiVo

Everyone knows I love my TiVo. I could not live without it and whenever I get a chance, I become the world’s biggest TiVo evangelist. I’ll admit it– TV is a big part of my life. I read, surf the Web, hang out with friends, go out, etc., but a big chunk of my life is still spent watching TV, a phenomenon that is just part of my generation and every generation after. And TiVo has given me a way to effectively get all those other things done and get my TV watching in.

That’s why it makes me sad to hear when people are bad-mouthing TiVo the company, asserting that as more cable companies release their own DVRs, TiVo will be pushed out of the market. It’s unfortunate really when you think about how pioneering TiVo really was, but I don’t think it’ll happen. TiVo’s software is still the best around– the mark of a really great consumer device interface is that you don’t need to read the instructions. The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate and their software is not only reliable, but is really streamlined with the “right” features. And amazingly, that little sound never gets annoying.

But if TiVo is looking for a little help in boosting their consumer confidence, not to mention their sales, they should really consider making TiVo expandable. I don’t have a TV in my bedroom because when I go into my bedroom, I don’t want the TV there as a distraction from sleeping, reading, or whatever. However, I realize that sometimes it would be nice to watch TV in bed or while I’m getting ready in the morning. Yet, the main reason I don’t put a TV in my bedroom is because the TiVo is in the living room.

I suppose I could buy another TiVo, but frankly, my 40-hour box is just the right fit and I’m rarely ever dying for disk space. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to manage two separate storage spaces– I would be limited to a certain set of TiVo recorded material depending on which room I was in. In the end, what I need is some sort of remote client setup where I could access my TiVo from another room. I could rig up some really long cables and some type of infrared repeater for the remote, but that’s just silly. It would be great if some type of remote client box/piece of hardware could register with a specific TiVo as an authorized client and be able to deliver content from that TiVo, similar to expandable cordless phone set-ups (which I also have). For monthly subscribers, TiVo could charge some additional fee per remote client, similar to additional receivers for digital cable/satellite customers (which I also am).

TV is an integral part of my life and TiVo has become essential to that experience. Now TiVo just has to become “mobile,” moving with me, following me and becoming as necessary and compatible to my high-tech life as high-speed Internet access and wireless Internet access (both of which I also have).

And that’s my big TiVo thought of the day.

RPC Hell

The beginning of the school year has finally arrived and thankfully, I’ve survived somehow. Since my last post, I’ve been busy getting ready to release all the cool new projects we’ve been working on all summer, but the whole end of summer rush only got worse because of RPC hell.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, I’m referring to the numerous RPC vulnerabilities on Windows NT, 2000 and XP machines and the unbelievably fast-spreading worms that have exploited them. As the computing organization that supports the approximately 10,000 on-campus housed students (almost all undergraduates and most graduates), we are responsible for a huge part of the campus network and total number of computers, especially considering 99% of students have their own computer. We had hundreds of computers hacked during the summer when there were very few people on campus and we knew that it would only get worse once school started and all 10,000 were back on campus– over 85% of our users run some flavor of Windows.

But we weren’t too worried.
Continue reading RPC Hell

Ta da!

Going to Stanford during the beginning of the digital music revolution, I was taking advantage of MP3 technology early on. Back then, when we wanted to create digital copies of our CDs, we had to rip the songs off of CD, converting them to WAV files and then encode those WAV files to MP3 files, each step requiring a separate piece of software. In fact, MP3 codecs were hard to come by, so we had a little pirated utility. And I have to admit, since I knew the old skool way to do it, the few times I have encoded music since then, I would do it this way.

Oh, but how times have changed. I recently reformatted my hard drive and thought that it might be time to join the rest of the world in my MP3 encoding ways. I recently bought an IPod (which is awesome) and that comes with the MUSICMATCH Jukebox software. It has a handy little utility that “records” the CD, automatically creating MP3 files that are then added to your music library. While CD burning and music software has been doing this for years now, I have to admit that I’ve only just started using this feature and find it very convenient.

The funniest part of this whole thing is that when the software is done recording the CD, it plays a little sound to signal the completion. Amusingly enough, the default sound is the tada.wav file that has been on Windows system since at least Windows 95. It’s almost as if it’s saying, “Ta da! I’ve created some MP3 files! You’re now on the road to sharing copyrighted materials with the world!” Ha ha. It’s like a little magic trick.

Fee for service? Not in education!

Despite the .org suffix for my domain name, I am very much a for-profit person. However, I think there’s little place for a for-profit, fee-for-service model in education. I work for the residential computing group of a university and the department, in turn, is part of larger computing group that aims to serve the academic needs of the university community through the provision of public computer clusters and consulting and technology resources for faculty, staff and students. (This organization is separate from the overall IT organization for the university that is more focused on university-wide systems and infrastructure, such as the network and central databases.)

Somehow, the larger computing group that my department is part of was given the responsibility to turn around a fee-for-service group on campus. They were something like two million in the hole, but the university hoped to give them to us so that we can make them self-sufficient and possibly, profitable. While I’m sure they’re good people and don’t want them to be put out on the street, I don’t really see how the group fits into our department’s, much less the university’s mission as a whole. In general, they provide Web services (Web site design, online surveys, logo design, etc.) to groups on campus that can pay market prices for their services. They are encouraged to conduct business only with university organizations, although they can work for outside clients on a very limited basis (if only to break even).

There are two major problems I have with this model (outside of my own reservations about the quality of their work):

  1. A fee-for-service group of qualified professionals is a great resource for those university groups that can’t afford to, or even want to hire full-time staff for special projects, like conducting an online survey or having their Web site redesigned. However, if they are charging market prices, it makes the entire endeavor less cost effective for the client. Because they are a fee-for-service group, long-term support is either non-existent or existent, but very expensive, cancelling out the value of having the fee-for-service group in the first place.
  2. The group was made part of a regular university department, I’m assuming, to be tied into that department’s and the university’s mission and to take advantage of the management resources available within the department. They are required to be financially self-sufficient (which is good in this economy and the current state of budget cuts), but they still take resources from the department. Besides the management resources required to keep the group running, management has been encouraging “working together,” which essentially amounts to taking homegrown software solutions and other tools built within the department and selling them as part of their services. While we are being monetarily being compensated for use of our products and staff time (as we normally do since we offer them as services for other departments ourselves, albeit at a much, much lower price), they are essentially getting to offer a much more valuable suite of services because of their attachment to our organization. In exchange, the theory is that they offer their own services– free Web design work, consulting, etc. However, since we are a computing group, we already have staff that are specifically assigned to work on those types of projects. So, the question is: is the exchange equal or even necessary?

In my opinion, no.
Continue reading Fee for service? Not in education!

Oh, Photo!

Yes, my friends and I mock all those silly people out there who use analog cameras. Granted, if you’re looking to do some real, impressive, hot shot photography, you should go with an analog camera with all the lenses and attachments and stuff, but the value behind a digital camera is growing everyday. You can buy a decent digital camera now for one or two hundred dollars and taking digital photos can provide some great flexibility:

  • You can immediately see what your photo will look like and retake those eyes-closed, weird smile, makes you look fat, short or stupid photos over and over again until you get it right. Yes, it can’t perform miracles, but you can try to get the best image you can.
  • With a decent size piece of media (Compact Flash, SmartMedia, etc.), you can take hundreds of photos without ever having to rewind or reload.
  • Video. Some of the more magical cameras let you take short clips of video footage. It won’t be a replacement for a real video camera, digital or otherwise, but could be useful if you need a quick video clip of silly antics.
  • Immediate gratification. If you need a photo right away, you can simply take the picture, download the photo to your computer and then use it in either digital or printed format. Personally, I find it very useful when I need to take a quick snapshot of stuff I’m selling on eBay or something I want to quickly send someone over email.

Continue reading Oh, Photo!