Monday, May 30, 2011

Early Summer Bluefish

Today's blog entry will be about early summer fishing.  But first I'd like to take a moment to remember those whose day this really is, and quote an excerpt from the Memorial Day Proclamation of the President:

On this solemn day in which Americans unite in remembrance of our country's fallen, we also pray for our military personnel and their families, our veterans, and all who have lost loved ones. As a grateful Nation, we forever carry the selfless sacrifice of our fallen heroes in our hearts, and we share the task of caring for those they left behind. 
- Barack Obama, Memorial Day 2011

Back on May 16th I talked about the neighborhood where I keep my boat, and how my neighbors and I prepare for the fishing and boating season in May.  By Memorial day, well over half the boats are in the lagoon and many of us have started our fishing season.  Over this holiday weekend, many of us targeted Fluke (also called Summer Flouder) and Striped Bass (called Rockfish in the Carolinas).  These are two of our area fisheries that provide some challenge (not always easy to find) some fun (the fights can be fairly good) and some food (they both are delicious fish).  Few people target Bluefish, despite the fact that they are a beautiful, sleek and muscular fish, and a wonderful fight on light action fishing rods.  One reason that fisherman may not target them is that they generally don't taste as good as Fluke or Striped Bass.  They have a reputation as being a "fishy" tasting fish.

This past weekend we caught over dozen bluefish and kept a few to eat.  On Friday afternoon I was fishing the Shinnecock Inlet. I was drifting the incoming tide, targeting Fluke and Striped Bass on different rods baited with different baits for the two species. No bites other than the occasional Sea Robin, a junk fish.  I don't mind catching them once in a while just for the fight, but when they repeatedly steal my baits while I'm targeting a fish for the table and for the photo album, I have to try to laugh rather than curse. None of the other boats seemed to be catching any Fluke or Striped Bass either, as far as I could see.

On almost every drift through the inlet, I'd see some sea birds "working" the surface, picking off little baitfish.  This is very often a sign of larger predator fish feeding below the surface.  I knew from experience that today this was probably Bluefish feeding on schools of Bunker or Menhaden.  After a few more unsuccessful drifts, I racked my fluke and bass rods up, and then I rigged a light casting rod with a lure I knew would have a good chance at attracting the Bluefish.  I moved my boat into a position to drift through the spot where the "working birds" indicated the Bluefish might be feeding.  I quickly hooked up and had a fun fight with a moderate sized Bluefish, who peeled line off the reel and didn't come quietly.  I landed that fish and then set out to catch a few more, releasing those that were looking perfectly healthy, keeping those fish injured by the hooks and the fight.  Those would be for the dinner table.

Two days later on a short evening boat ride in the bay, my wife and I saw the working birds again, this time much closer to home.  We were only out for a ride, but I never ride without a casting rod ready on board!  We landed a fish right away and then headed back to pick up the kids to give them a shot at some bluefish.  We all had some fun for about 40 minutes and kept a few fish for the table. These fish were all about 20" long, not the "gorilla" blues we sometimes catch late in the season in the ocean, and not the little snapper-blues we catch in the lagoon and pan fry in garlic and oil.

If you set out to fish for Fluke and Bass and the sea offers you Bluefish, my advice is to take what's there, and appreciate it. Be flexible, be ready to see what's going on around you on the water and make the most of your day as we did. We enjoyed catching those fish, and to our delight, we also really enjoyed eating them. They were very fresh and great on the grill, mild meat and not at all fishy.

Whether you fished or golfed or barbecued or worked, I hope you all had a great Memorial Day weekend, and that you remembered those who made it possible for us.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cars That Drive Themselves

Really, truly, drive themselves while you sit there and read the newspaper (while newspapers still exist).

Google Self-Drive
Several times over the last decade, teams from around the world competed in the DARPA Urban Challenge in which vehicles navigated and drove entirely on their own on a closed course, with no human driver and no remote control. The results over those years were mixed, but that there were any successes at all to such a huge challenge from very small research teams gave reason for hope.

In the fall of 2010 it became widely known that Google had developed self-drive car technology, and that they had actually logged thousands of real world road miles on these cars with a superb track record.  Less well known, the University of Parma achieved successful road tests earlier that same year in their own version of this project.

VisLab Van
It’s human nature at this stage to ask yourself the obvious question: Would I get into a car that a machine was driving? Knowing all I know about the rate at which computers and other automation systems fail? Would I get in and trust my life and the lives of loved ones to a collection of technology?

Probably not.  Not yet anyway. But some day I think I will and you will, too. In fact, you already do something like this all the time. Elements of air travel and even car travel already depend upon technology in ways that have crept in over time. Your engine, your steering system, your braking system all depend upon a great deal of computing and related technology that takes you at least partly out of the equation. When technology works very reliably for a long period of time, we begin to trust it.

Many of the pieces to make this real have existed in basic form for years and are commercially available. I know I’m oversimplifying, but … (GPS) + (Cruise Control) + (External proximity sensors) lead to self-driving cars. Again, I’ll grant that there’s more to it than that. But how much more? Some high-end cars that you can buy today already have on-board systems that allow them to self-park. Others are starting to have crash detection systems that allow them to respond to imminent impact in ways that minimize passenger injury. If you’ve driven a car with any of these features, you are already part way to handing over driving control.

Commercial availability of this technology will continue to trickle out slowly. Ford recently revealed that they are making use of a Google technology called Prediction API to enhance the driving experience.  Using this technology, the history of that driver in that car could be available to predict destinations, and to consider traffic or weather conditions, or a desire to make a food or fuel stop, to suggest the route to be used.  Think of the best features of high-end GPS use more tightly integrated into the driving experience.  With each new model year, we can expect still more, and before we know it, we may warm up to the idea of self-drive cars.

When will you be ready to hop into a car driven by some computer hardware and software while you take a nap or read a book?  Tell us about it here in the comments!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kindle and Nook Occupy One Branch of the Tablet Market

While the iPad dominates today’s high function space in the touch-tablet market, many newer entries are finally providing some competition.  The Motorola Xoom, the Blackberry (RIM) Playbook, and the HP TouchPad all show real potential, and others are arriving often enough to keep the space interesting.

But there’s another, more basic, tablet space that’s dominated by Amazon’s Kindle with competition from the Nook by Barnes & Noble.  This space is one that’s defined by a primary application (book reading) with a smaller number of additional applications and functions, and available at much lower prices.  These devices are evolving in functionality and in shape and size.

Rumors of Amazon developing a higher function tablet have been circulating for a month or two.  With their Kindle development experience, their relationships with book publishers and storefronts, and one-click purchasing for a faithful user community, they have a strong foundation to leverage for a commercial success.

Nook readers
Meanwhile Barnes & Noble, which already had been selling devices that were part e-book reader part junior tablet, just released a little brother to the Nook – the Nook Simple Touch Reader which is small, light and grayscale-only. 

These rumors and releases, and the increasing competition at the higher end are all signs of a maturing product space, and a broader set of choices and price points for users.

  • Do you own any of these devices?  Are you considering a purchase?
  • Would you consider owning more than one such device?
  • What are you looking for in a tablet that isn’t quite there yet?

Please post your comments here and share your thoughts.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Which Social Networks, and Why?

I make daily use of Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. 

Facebook keeps me in touch with so many old friends I’d otherwise lose track of entirely.  Facebook makes it easy to see and comment on the photos and updates we share, and to remain connected.  Like many, I worry some about privacy in the face of changing Facebook tools and policies, and the complexities of rights granted to applications that work together with Facebook and with external facilities.  But all things considered so far, Facebook does so much for me that I count myself as a fan.

I use Twitter to get news and information from my favorite sources, and to send shorter updates.  I also promote this blog using Twitter.

I use Foursquare to study location services, and I use it as sort of a perpetual game of point and badge collection.  I wrote about my Foursquare experience in a blog back on May 6th.

I've been experimenting with a workplace social network called Rypple to coordinate goals and provide online recognition with other staff.  So far, it seems promising.

I have accounts on numerous other social networks, and ignore most of them most of the time.  This may be because I don’t entirely understand their intent and their potential value to me.  Today's blog is really a set of questions for you.  Please tell me which of the other social network tools you use and a few words on why I should consider or reconsider them.

Plaxo, LinkedIn, Xing, Classmates, Jaiku, Ping,,, Stickam, Tripit, Tumblr, just to name a few.  
  • Do you use some of these?  Do you have other favorites?
  • How do you use them, and what advantages have they brought you?
  • Are some of the photo sharing apps "social networks" in your mind? 
  • Is Skype a "social network"?

Please post here to tell us about any social networks other than Facebook and Twitter that you use and really like.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Watching TV Without The TV

When Does One-Way, Big Appliance TV Go Extinct?

Some people are wondering whether TV sales are now at a tipping point, stalled in growth and maybe even on a decline that is likely to continue.  Is this the beginning of the end of television as we know it?  Is television, like the landline home phone, a dedicated appliance that increasingly seems out of step with the way we live?

The theory is that younger people are spending more of their “screen” time on the Internet on their laptops, iPads, and smartphones.  Some of that time is spent doing non-TV things like playing Angry Birds, web surfing, using Skype and FaceTime, and of course listening to music.  But some of that time is spent watching TV or similar content. 

Similar content? What are people watching on computers and mobile devices?  What do they want to watch?  What’s the mix of traditional 30-60 minute programming versus short clips popular on YouTube and similar video services?  And what about content that splits the difference, sometimes called “webisodes?”  One example is the Internet series The Guild that pokes fun at online gamers in a 5-minute sitcom format, but which is distributed on the web.  Similar in length and access, hip informational video podcasts like and inspiring talks from the TED conferences are drawing an audience.

Are people moving away from the lean-back 30-60 minute content of their father's generation and moving towards the lean-forward YouTube and webisode content?  Do enough people want 30-minute sitcoms on their computer to make it a worthwhile business?  Hulu thinks they might.  Does anyone want The Guild on their 50” television?  Roku and Boxee are betting they do.

So today’s question is how is TV changing for you and the people around you?  Are you part of the “dropped my landline phone, never buying a TV again” set?  Were you never a television watcher?  Are you an avid TV watcher waiting to buy an 80” 4D Hyper HDTV when they drop below $10,000?

Tell us about your “view” of the changing television landscape.  Please post your comments here.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Google and Apple Music Services

Google Music (Beta) launched.  Is Apple’s service only days away?

Back on May 9th I talked about the Music Lockers idea, about Amazon’s newly announced service, and the widely expected coming services from Google and Apple.  Just one day later, Google announced Music Beta by Google.

The Google service is free for now while in beta and is still invitation only.  No information on how long it’ll be beta or what pricing might be like later. I’ve requested an invite but don’t have access yet.  I also don’t own an Android-based phone so maybe I’m not really the target audience.

Here's my understanding: Google isn’t selling any music tracks, but they give you the opportunity to upload those you already own using a manager application that they provide. They support multiple common formats. Once stored there, you can use a web tool at to play the music, or you can play music on your Android phone or tablet with the Google Music app loaded on it. Playlists seem to be synchronized among devices and are available on the web interface. Some nice early features include “instant mix” and offline caching for playback of recently accessed songs on your Android device.

Joining Amazon and Google, Apple’s service is expected to be coming very soon.  Apple, though, may have a different kind of service which allows for not only storage but also purchase (or rental?) of media, since they have an existing relationship with the record labels and other content owners.

Many people, including me, believe that the Apple announcement will take place in early June at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco.  But it could be even sooner -- there are rumors of an Apple announcement of some kind just a few days from now to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Apple Retail stores. 

If you are already a Google Music or Amazon Clouddrive user, why not post a comment here and tell us about it?  If you have thoughts to share on the upcoming Apple service, or a particular feature you'd like, please post a comment about that.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Down To The Sea In Ships

I keep my boats docked in a lagoon that opens onto a bay that opens onto the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s in a residential area that at the high point of the summer season holds 30-40 boats, ranging from about 12’ to 35’. Boats larger than that must be kept at a commercial marina.  Given the weather patterns, people start tying up in our lagoon on or about May 1st.  Boats come back out to “dry dock” in September and October. I’m typically “in” by mid May, “out” by early November.  

At the start of this past weekend there were 8 boats tied up in my lagoon.  Lots of other boats had their winter covers off and guys were working on them on their front lawns and in their driveways.

On Saturday, my friend B was driving past the house as my oldest son and I were working to prepare for the launch of my big boat, and doing spring prep on the smaller one for launch in a few weeks.  He stopped to say hello.  “Is your boat in?” I asked him. “Yup! And I’m retired now, so I’m going to be out fishing more than ever,” he told me.  B is a tough older guy, a patient fisherman not put off by rough ocean waters.  Later that same day, my friend K from across the lagoon shouted over “when are you going in?”  I was walking to the dock with extra tie-up lines and the bumpers we use to keep boats from hitting the docks when waves push too hard at them.  “Today!” I said.  “Good for you, congratulations!” he called back. K was first in our canal this year and every year.  He’s a little younger than me, but he really knows his seamanship and takes his very large sport fishing boat up and down the east coast every winter.  In our lagoon he keeps a pair of smaller fishing boats, one a little larger than my big boat, one a little smaller. He keeps them meticulously clean, always ready for some fishing.

Down at our docks, May is a month of promise and potential.  We stop by and see each other, and comment on any new boats that might be appearing. Our boats are being launched, and the lagoon goes from empty to bustling with activity over the course of the month.  We chat idly about what repairs or improvements we are doing to our boats.  We may offer a cup of coffee if it’s morning, a cold beer if it’s afternoon.  We walk along the bulkheads and visit the next boater/fisherman and ask how the season is shaping up for him.

By Saturday evening, there was a 9th boat in the lagoon. My 26-footer, Freedom, looking fit and ready.

There’s a certain gleam in the eye of each of us in May. The look that says, “this will be my best year yet – I have dreams, and I have plans to make them real." It gives us away, and explains why we go down to the sea in ships.

Are you a boat owner and a fisherman?  Tell me about the start of your season by leaving a comment here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Web as Echo Chamber

When Algorithms Rob You Of the Unexpected

My web experience isn’t the same as yours.  In fact every day, my web experience is more and more my own (and less and less like yours).  Google gives me search results it thinks I want based on all it now knows about me.  Amazon shows me products it thinks I may want to buy.  The ads I see on Facebook or on news sites are for things I may have searched for lately.  A really pronounced example was when I was car shopping this past March and advertising for the models I was researching were everywhere I looked.

I think it’s reasonable to wonder whether this is always really a good thing. 

The idea that Facebook and Google can tailor their services to meet my needs seems very customer friendly.  And I certainly understand that some services are almost entirely funded by advertising, so I should expect to see targeted ads based on my shopping and searching habits.  

But am I slowly being shielded from opposing views, new music and literature, and seeing only what some algorithms think I want?  If so, we may all be at risk of creating our own little echo chambers, where the ideas, people, products and services we encounter are so customized that we are at risk of being cut off from the best experiences of the Internet – being exposed to new ideas and new things.

Try this experiment.  Really try it.  Sit down side by side with someone who is demographically and politically different from you.  Both go to Google.  Try a few searches.  Do you always get the same results?  Do you ever? Go to Amazon.  Does Amazon show you the same recommendations?

I admit, I don’t want my custom experience to go away.  I just want a little more transparency, maybe a little more control.  I think I may want to turn off the customization from time to time to see if I might have a few unexpected experiences.

What about you?

Leave a comment here, and please share my blog with friends if you find it interesting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What will Microsoft do with Skype?

Do you use Skype?  Lots of people do.  It’s really very functional.  Skype pulls text, audio and video communications together fairly well in one tool and connects people for free over the Internet.  It’s a slick package that runs on all popular computer operating systems and many mobile platforms.  

Over the past week, though, there have been rumors of an upcoming sale of Skype to a deep pockets bidder.  Skype doesn’t appear to make any real money yet, but it’s well known and it’s got some tech-cool.  Somebody could figure out how to run it successfully to make money on it’s own or to provide a boost to existing services.

Most of the speculation I was hearing was around either Google or Facebook.  Google might want the technology and the chance to integrate it with some Google tools already existing in that space.  Facebook would take their text chat to the next level by integrating Skype directly in the Facebook interface and instantly getting good quality, well-tested audio and video at large scale.

But in the end it was Microsoft.  For $8.5B. Folks, that’s a lot of money to spend even for Microsoft. Microsoft who already has tools that do the things that Skype does.  Microsoft who doesn’t run many large open services like Skype, Google and Facebook do.  What will Microsoft do with Skype? 

They could bury Apple’s FaceTime with a service that already runs on every platform and that already has a huge number of users.  They could make it a centerpiece of the Windows smartphone operating system.  They could integrate it with Outlook.  They could make it part of gaming systems, adding large scale voice and video chat to Xbox and Kinect.

Any of those sound good to you?
Will Skype change Microsoft strategy around Lync?

Drop a note with your opinion here!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Apple, Google and Amazon “Media Lockers”

My record collection in the clouds?

I’m old enough to remember not only CD collections, but “record” collections.  Big, long rows of LPs.  Some of my friends had impressive collections in pristine condition. They handled the vinyl with care and cleaned each record each time. The liner notes/sleeves were kept spotless. To visit these friends was to visit their album collections, and to see what had been added lately. As we listened, they might hand me an album cover and tell me who played on it, and on what other albums they may also have played.  We had a very hands-on relationship with music in those days.

Digital music has changed all that. Our music may sometimes touch us, but we no longer touch it. Still, managing a media collection can take some effort, and a little loving care.

Lately, there has been lots of news (and speculation) about Amazon’s launch of, and Apple’s and Google’s plans for, a service in which you can keep your media collections on storage in the cloud rather than stored on your own computer or smartphone. Think of it! Digital music, videos and books, all stored in one place and accessible from all your computers and media players. Some call this concept the "Media Locker." It’s an idea with obvious appeal, and some obvious concerns and questions.

Amazon has the early lead with the new Amazon Cloud Drive service.  The service advertises 5GB of free online storage, unlimited access from any computer. “Never worry about losing your files again.”  Apple (can you say "iCloud?") and Google are expected to have entries into this service area very soon.  Some have even speculated that they’ve allowed Amazon the lead in order to assess any initial legal challenges from rights owners.
The advantages of a cloud-based media storage and streaming service are clear. Media files can be very large, and not having to store them locally or back them up would be great. Being able to access anything you’ve stored in the cloud-based service from any device you own without moving files around and syncing over and over would be great. No juggling multiple disjoint copies of your collections.

Some concerns do spring to mind, however. Assuming great Internet access all the time (and that seems like a questionable assumption), will this risk blowing out our data plans at a time when the carriers are clamping down on unlimited data? Will we be able to easily share a few music tracks or movies with family members, without giving them full access to our accounts?

Perhaps these services will have some positive impacts on access. Maybe consumer demand will cause carriers to improve their data coverage and capacity, and maybe they’ll compete on unlimited data plans…. but I’m not holding my breath. The carriers and the media companies and the cloud service providers are separate entities (as they should be!). New services that don’t directly make money for the carriers are unlikely to motivate their services and pricing.

Let’s hear from you.  
  • Is the Media Locker an idea whose time has come? 
  • What’s a fair price for such a service?  
  • What are some of the service details that could tip the scales for you?

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Year On Foursquare

How does this idea sound? -- tell everyone where you are all the time.  Sound good?

Okay, not everyone, and not all the time.  I’ve been using Foursquare for a little over a year now, and I “check in” or report my location where and when I want.

Foursquare is perhaps the most well-known of a set of online, smartphone-based location services that allow users to share their location near to a landmark (rather than by coordinates) with each other, with or without Facebook and Twitter reporting.  It has a game-like feel to it, with the ability to achieve “badges” for certain activities and to become “mayor” of places you visit often.  It helps friends to find each other by chance and to have common experiences to discuss.  Users leave “tips” for each other, such as what food to try at a restaurant. It also allows you to stumble across discounts and deals. 

I’ve been using Foursquare for 13 months now.  I started using it to get a sense for the value and the strengths and weaknesses of location services.  I had planned to try Foursquare for a month and then move on to others like Gowalla.  Never happened.  Foursquare was great and others were overshadowed, seemingly lacking by comparison.  Not only is it fun and a nice conversation starter, but I’ve also gotten real savings at restaurants and stores over the last few months on things I already planned to buy.

As I’ve said in the past, I think location is really key information when it comes to providing services to users.  The combined context of location, capabilities, and user preferences can really inform communications.  Sometimes a location tells us that quiet is important (“I’m in the library”) or that do not disturb is appropriate (“I’m in with the boss”).  Sometimes device capabilities inform the communications (“I’m on my smartphone on 3G, no video right now”), and preferences always do (“Use my photo rather than a video feed during video chats!”).

Does such a location service invade your privacy?  I don't think it does. You decide what to communicate about your location. The idea of a location service like Foursquare is not that you are being tracked. It’s that you elect to communicate your location within well-defined contexts ranging from just Foursquare friends to the “public” and with several possible levels in between.  

Do you use a location service?  Which one and why?  If you don't, can you picture yourself using one in the future?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

More (Loss of) Privacy in the News

Today is a 2-for-1 blog entry. First, more news from Sony on a massive breach of private customer data.  Then an update on the Apple iPhone location data story.

The L.A. Times reported this past Sunday that the late–April hack of a PlayStation users database at Sony’s San Diego operations center put 10 million credit card account holders at risk.  Sony said that the credit card information was encrypted, but that names, addresses, email addresses and birth dates were not.  The exposed information could be enough to put many of those people at very serious risk, even if the credit card numbers themselves have not been exposed. The New York Times reported that a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Sony asking for more information about the attack, when the intrusion occurred and whether Sony knew who was responsible.

Breaches of customer information seem to be becoming increasingly common, over time putting so many of us at risk of identity theft.

The other topic today is Apple’s use of location data associated with iPhone.  I blogged about this back on April 22nd.  Since then, on April 27th, Apple provided a Q&A article on the topic. Apple talks about using selective cache data to assist where location via GPS alone would be slow or impossible.  This is consistent with what F-Secure said at the time.

Some of the things Apple says in that Q&A are a little less clear to me.  Such as “the cache is protected but not encrypted” and when speaking about WiFi access points and cell towers around your iPhone, Apple says that some “may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone.”  Okay, how is the cache protected?  And what good is information on a cell tower 100 miles away when trying to fix location? What seems a little more encouraging is that Apple says that they will issue a software update within a few weeks that will treat this location cache more carefully and delete it when Location Services is turned off.

My question for readers of this blog is this:  Does a company’s track record for how they treat your personal data influence your choices?  If you don’t like how your personal data is handled by Apple or Sony (or Google), are you willing to move away from their products?  Could you live without iPhones and iPads?   Without Playstation or Gmail?

I really want to hear your answers. What exactly do we think should motivate large companies to be careful with data about us, if not the threat of loss of business?

Please post your thoughts!


LA Times

NY Times

Apple Q&A

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden Killed in Pakistan

I’m pushing my planned blog entry on some news items in tech privacy to tomorrow.  Despite the fact that I really don’t plan to cover military and political topics in this blog, it’s impossible not to write about the death of Osama Bin Laden today.

Bin Laden was the face and founder of al-Qaeda.  He may or may not have been playing a very active role in their operations in recent months, but his capture and killing are clearly a matter of being brought to justice for horrendous past crimes against the US including against thousands of innocent civilians.  We all understand that there are al-Qaeda leaders ready to fill the vacuum created by Bin Laden’s removal.  Still, this development will no doubt help to bring closure for so many of us.

Let’s hear from you:
  • What does this mean for the war on terror?
  • Will the death of Bin Laden help to heal some of our country’s malaise and some of the rancorous partisan division?
  • Will it have any long term impact on the US economy?