Friday, April 30, 2004

A dog with issues (and a serious shedding problem)
Before meeting my wife, she adopted a dog from a shelter that was local to her in Maryland: a dog that, as it turned out, sheds enough hair in one day to make a new dog, and, for some icing on the cake has a few issues. The worst of these, from our perspective, is that, as a former street dog, she was never reprogrammed to be satisfied with dog food. Or, for that matter, just to be satisfied with a full stomach (however it was acquired). If you were a street dog, you would know that you have to eat as much as you can whenever you can because you never know when you're going to eat again. "You must go above and beyond the call of duty to obtain food" according to the Official Street Dog Survival Guide, a reference book we found hidden under our dog's bed after we came home one day to find that she had removed the lid from a jar of Skippy Peanut Butter and cleaned it out. Though we're not sure how she got it (we've suspected alien abduction), we've also discovered that our dog has a gizzard. After several poultry-retrieving acrobatic feats that would make a Cirque de Soliel performer jealous, she has swallowed a bunch chickens (we're losing count) and at least one turkey (the one that was sitting on my cousin's kitchen counter just before Thanksgiving Dinner one year) whole. The process involves little if any chewing and a lot of worrying that she'll die because of what one chicken bone can do, let alone the entire carcass. We watch for anything unusual on the "other side" but miraculously, nothing unusual comes out which leads us to believe that either she has a gizzard or the bones are still in her. Watch this blog and you'll learn more about our psychopathic dog, especially on slow news days (since news is usually what inspires new entries).

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Screw speech recognition technology. Just outsource it to India with VoIP
Ask any major IT guru what the next biggest -- and I mean really big -- productivity breakthrough will be and few of them will disagree that it's speech recognition. If speech recognition worked really well on mobile devices, we could throw away our PCs (since the keyboard is really the only difference between the two). If only we could get rid of these stupid keyboards, then our productivity would shoot through the roof. So, building on a previous blog entry where I suggested having a Web services-based speech recognition service (with a grid-driven supercomputer behind it), I realized that with all this outsourcing going on, the better, and maybe cheaper answer is to keep the Web service, but replace the grid behind it with a dictation farm in India and use free VoIP for the plumbing. After all, the beauty of Web services is that, to the outside world, the underlying platform is transparent. Who cares if it's Java, .Net, or a few million Indians with headsets on the other end of the VoIP pipe? Even better, maybe this approach solves the brewing outsourcing dilemma (see IBM shareholders voice concerns). Keep the existing high-paying jobs in the U.S. and create new ones (that no one domestically has ever heard of) over there.
Our brush with death (a.k.a "Why to drive as far as possible from the median")
Have you ever watched a NASCAR race and seen what happens when a wheel comes off a race car? It shoots ahead of the car at about twice the car's speed. Two weeks ago (before I started bloggin'), a Dodge pickup truck that was heading in the opposite direction of the SUV that I was driving (on a two-lane road) mysteriously lost its front left wheel which subsequently shot like a bullet into the front of my vehicle. A heavy chrome bumper absorbed the brunt of the impact (the damage totaled $2033) and my two sons and I escaped completely unscathed. Later, at the scene of the accident, Officer Murphy said we were lucky the wheel wasn't bouncing, which they often do. "If it went through the windshield, all of you would have been dead" he said. If we were both going the speed limit (40 mph) and the truck's wheel was going 1.5 times the speed of the truck (conservative estimate), I calculated that the wheel could have come through the windshield at an effective speed of 100 mph. This was one of those wrong place at the wrong time incidents. If we were at the same location one second sooner, or one second later, we may have avoided the accident altogether. Or maybe I should have been driving in the shoulder. I'm not a religious man. But times like this make me wonder about other forces out there.
Of Pepsi, Apple, and the missing link
After CNET News.com's Ina Fried reported that the Pepsi iTunes promotion has gone flat, it reminded me that my 13-year old son scored a free music download the other day (according to underside of the bottlecap on a bottle of Pepsi I bought for him). With cap in hand, I decided to test the download process to see why the promotion might have gone flat. According to the top of the cap, downloads must be redeemed by 4/30/2004 and you must go to iTunes.com to redeem your download. Although I can't tell you exactly why the promotion went flat, I can definitely say why I wasn't able to downlaod a song before the deadline: there were no instructions on the the iTunes home page telling me what to do next. So, I called the 800 number on the bottlecap (800-418-9766) and was told by a recording that I need to go to iTunes.com and click on the link that says "Pepsi iTunes, Click Here." Unfortunately, to no avail, I searched the iTunes home page for said link yesterday and today. No link, no download. Somewhat outraged, it caused me to wonder, "Isn't Pepsi guilty of false advertising or something?" Ina Fried later told me that if the link existed, it would have taken me to http://www.apple.com/itunes/pepsi/. Once there, I think I figured out why the promotion went flat. To download a song, you MUST have Apple's iTunes Software (free to download) and in order to get it, you have to trade-in some personal information (a concession many Web users are afraid to make these days).
Insert foot in baby monitor (a.k.a "How to piss off your neighbors")
We recently moved from a rural to an urban setting and althought we don't use our baby monitor much, our toddler's recent bout with the stomach flu motivated us to turn it on for the last few days. Baby monitors are consumer band radios and ours picks up every sound in the house including what we say. Forgetting that it was on, I said something last night that I didn't want shared with the entire neighborhood. My neighborhood is full of people with radio-frequency scanners in their kitchens. 'Nuf said.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Dell-SAP-Oracle "partnolidation" synthesizes competition to one-stop shops like IBM, Sun
According to News.com reporter John Spooner, Dell will announce an expanded alliance with ERP giant SAP (see Dell and SAP sittin' in a tree). The announcement comes on the heels of an similar Dell-Oracle announcement that came earlier this year (see Dell, Oracle expand alliance). Long term, the trend worth watching here is one of consolidation through either M&A or partnerships as enterprises like Morgan Stanley develop more interest in the cost benefits of utility computing (see Morgan Stanley, IBM ink utility computing deal) and, short of utility computing standards (see Hardware vendors inch forward on utility computing), the only way to really get it is through one vendor (under the auspices of a pay-as-you-go outsourcing contract). In such a world, lone vendors like Dell, SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle will find themsleves increasingly more isoloated unless they "mergolidate" or "partnolidate." So, it should come as no surprise that this is happening. HP has a similar alignment with J2EE-based application server provider BEA (see What is J2EE?), a relationship that is especially important to BEA as its relationship with Sun grows increaslingly strained (see Turf wars on the Java front) now that Sun is getting more agressive about selling its own application server. Sources close to BEA tell me that the company has experienced a dramatic shift from Sun to HP in terms of the hardware that BEA's application server (WebLogic) is being bundled with for new customers. For some deals, partnolidation may end up being a precursor to mergolidation which is why I think BEA is a prime M&A target for HP as HP looks to gain and maintain ground against IBM and Sun.
DB uprades P&G from "HOLD" to "BUY" due to toddler diarrhea epidemic
This has been a rough week. All of our dreams of returning to active duty fully refreshed after a family vacation in Ixtapa, Mexico were dashed when our two-year old came down with some sort of stomach flu that has kept him up for three nights straight and that has turned his mother and me into zombies. Yesterday was my day to take off from work and I calculated that the diarrhetic flow producted by our son's stomach illness has quintupled our family's rate of diaper consumption. We use Pampers, a product of Proctor & Gamble. Between diaper changes, we learned from friends that our son isn't an isolated case. Perhaps we should buy some Proctor & Gamble stock as a way of recovering the "investment" we've been making in Pampers.
Mozilla-Gnome merger talks reveal strengths, weaknesses of open source
News.com's Paul Festa reports that representatives from the Gnome and Mozilla open source projects are hooking up to figure out how to deal with the threat posed by the way the next version of Windows (code-named Longhorn) will more deeply integrate the rendering of the desktop user interface and the Web. The most noteworthy aspect of this collaboration is not the chance that it will produce something out of the open source world to compete with one of Longhorn's features, but rather the open source world is recognizing both the benefits and the threats of a Microsoft's centrally coordinated big picture when it comes to operating system development. Longhorn's desktop rendering is but one feature that those promoting desktop GNU/Linux will have to deal with. There are many other features (including some that were pushed back to a later release) that reveal a key weakness in GNU Linux: lack of an integrated roadmap.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Senator McCarthy woulda been proud
OK. So I stole the headline. But at least I stole it from my own story. My outrage of the day goes to administrators at Prosser High School in Benton County, WA who, according to an Associated Press Report on Foxnews.com were so alarmed by two pieces of artwork that a 15-year old turned in for an assignment, that they contacted the local authorities who in turn notified the Secret Service who in turn investigated the incident which ultimately resulted in disciplinary action (administered by the school). The artwork consisted of two pictures: one with George W "as a devil launching a missile, with a caption reading 'End the war -- on terrorism' " and the other showing "a man in what appeared to be Middle Eastern-style clothing, holding a rifle. He was also holding a stick with an oversize head of the president on it." So, let me see if I understand this correctly. It's one thing to ask a few questions just to make sure everything is OK. But, a 15-year old uses art to express free thought about a mature topic (a rarity by itself) and the school sends a message to the rest of its students that such free thinking and expression won't be tolerated? It's such an outrage, that I'm not even sure where to begin. So, I won't. I'll just let the story speak for itself.
Is that a version 1 or 2 wocket in your pocket?
Ace News.com mobility reporter Richard Shim reports that IDC has released its findings that handheld shipments have dipped when compared to the same time period last year. About the only people this should be of interest to are short-term investors. I've always been bullish about the future of handheld devices (especially wireless ones). Somewhere down the line, most if not all PCs will give way to specialized mobile devices. For example, my son and I recently had a conversation where he argued that on-line gaming couldn't be much better than it is now with his tricked out Alienware system (note to self: do a family whiteboard session on Moore's Law). I begged to differ. If you ask me, Nokia's GPRS-enabled N-Gage gaming deck barely scratches the surface of things to come in terms of mobile, wireless, and task-specific technologies. It's no Alienware, but give it the sort of Moore's Law time it needs. Have you used a pocket-sized digital dictation recorder? Add some wireless technology, a Web services-based speech recognition grid (aka "supercomputer"), and an iPod like GUI and will we really need a keyboard to do email or word processing? I don't think so. For the handset companies like Nokia that understand this trend, quarterly hiccups like the one IDC just highlighted will be meaningless in the long run.
Can your firewall stop this?
Today, ZDNet has a news story (see The black lining to Symantec's silver cloud) about the difficulties that Symantec is having in attracting enterprise customers for its security products. The timing couldn't be worse for Symantec now that Microsoft is getting serious about personal firewall and anti-virus technologies. Some time in 2004H1 (probably near the end), Microsoft is due to release Service Pack 2 for Windows XP (see Windows XP service pack gets face-lift) . It will include a significantly revamped personal firewall (the name changes from "Internet Connection Firewall" to "Windows Firewall") which I predict over time will render most dedicated personal firewalls from companies like Symantec and Zone Labs obsolete. It won't be better than the others but it will be good enough to the point that it's cost (free) and seemless integration into Windows will cause Windows users to keep their money in their pockets. Last year, Microsoft acquired Romanian anti-virus outfit GeCad. What do you make of that? In an upcoming Reality Check  on ZDNet, Dan Ingevaldson, director of research and development at Internet Security Systems (ISS) (the guys that bought BlackICE) tells me that successful diversification into the enterprise is the key to survival of security vendors as Microsoft kills off more cottage industries. Today's story about Symantec may be proof.

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