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27
Dec

Cell Phone Salesman Sings Opera

I stumbled across a video of the British version of American Idol, called Britain’s Got Talent, where a cell phone salesman named Paul Potts sings opera in his audition for a crowd of 2,000 and receives a standing ovation. He’d taken opera lessons at his own expense and sung in several amateur shows but was basically unknown.

I’ve never been much for opera, but had to watch him several times. His semi-final performance and winning final performance are incredible as well.

27
Dec

Ron Paul TV Special for Iowa

This is a twopart 30 minute TV special created by the Ron Paul campaign that ran in Iowa on Dec 22nd and 23rd. They are a great summary of Paul’s positions.

19
Dec

iPhone Update

About a year ago, I predicted that Apple’s iPhone would sell really well. A recently released market study by Canalys claims that the iPhone has a 27% market share in the North American smart phone market. 2nd place isn’t bad for a first-time product. Blackberry has a small lead, and Windows-based phones (all of them as a group) are in 3rd place.

It will be interesting to see if Apple can continue their success in the international market. I suspect that they can. I’m still hoping to find some justification for getting one at some point. :-)

15
Dec

Marking Spam as Read in Gmail

I’ve always been annoyed that the link to my spam folder in GMail showed up as bold text because there were unread messages inside. At first, I tried using Greasemonkey scripts or other forms of hacking the style sheet so that the word “Spam” wouldn’t be so attention grabbing. These worked until I’d use a new computer or reinstall my browser (like after my hard drive crashed at work).

After reading Matthew Gallant’s note about how he uses filters to automatically mark his spam as read, I tried it out. After a few tweaks, it’s working great. I only get a few spam messages a month that causes me to open my Spam folder. In one case, it was a legitimate email that I was glad not to have missed.

The basic idea is to create a filter that marks everything in the Spam folder as read unless it contains one (or more) keywords you specify, like your real name. That way, most spam will just be ignored, but misclassified emails will show up as unread which you can then verify by hand. Very nice.

14
Dec

Inside Jokes at Pixar

I found an article that explains many of the inside jokes appearing in Pixar movies. Watching the movies repeatedly with my kids helped me notice most of these, but there were several I’d missed.

In my opinion, part of what makes Pixar and it’s movies great is this kind of fun-but-not-in-the-way stuff: there if you’re looking, gone if you’d rather just watch the movie. Brilliant.

12
Dec

Site Update

I’ve been meaning to put together a good design for our blog for months now, but haven’t gotten to it yet. I keep hoping someone will create a great site design I can use, making it really easy for me. In the meantime, however, I decided to add a “Recent Bookmarks” section showing my ten most recent bookmarks from del.icio.us.

Years ago, I uploaded about 400 links from my Firefox bookmarks file to del.icio.us with the intention of cleaning up the list — making sure the links were still active and relevant — and making it public. I only just finished the process. It sure does take a lot of time to sift through hundreds of old, potentially broken links. From now on, I intend to keep the list up-to-date.

I also added a “Links” section that only has links for family and friends so far. I may add others at some point, but most of what I read regularly is either tagged on del.icio.us or stored in my Google Reader account.

10
Dec

Quote: Abraham Lincoln

A great quote from Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States:

The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.

5
Dec

Political Positions of Ron Paul

Wikipedia has a great summary of the political positions of Ron Paul. The more I learn, the more I like Ron Paul.

His next non-official fund raising day is December 16th, anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Paul is on track to raise more money during the 4th quarter than any other candidate. He’s already raised more money than Romney and Giuliani did during the 3rd quarter.

That last sentence makes it sound like I oppose both Romney and Giuliani. That isn’t true. Romney is my second choice. I do oppose Giuliani. As far as the presidency goes, there’d be nothing scarier for me than Hillary vs Giulani. You don’t have to look further than the people he governed as mayor of New York to get the idea many of them don’t like him very much.

Read more »

4
Dec

Hard Drive Crash at Mozy

Well, yesterday the hard drive in my computer at work failed. I find this more than a bit funny as I work at Mozy which is company that does online backups. It gave me an opportunity to experience the process of restoring my files first hand.

When arrived at work yesterday morning, I noticed that my computer was freezing for a minute or two at a time. I thought it was some run-away process on my computer, but didn’t think much of it at first. Eventually, it got annoying enough that I decided to reboot my computer to get rid of it. That was the last I saw of my computer.

Eventually, I did manage to get the computer to boot into “single-user mode” which is designed for diagnosing and fixing problems. A few obscure terminal commands later, I discovered that the file systems on both partitions on my drive were badly corrupted. For those interested, the super block and all of its backups were bad on both partitions. Not good.

Apparently, the crash was caused by a power failure or brown-out over the weekend. The company is a bit behind in getting backup power supplies (UPS) to all of their new employees. They have several on order, but it’s going to be a week too late for me. I’d been through 4 brown-outs so far this year and hadn’t had any problems. My luck couldn’t last forever, I guess.

Anyway, since I’d been using Mozy to backup my important files. I got to see how Mozy’s restore process worked and discovered a few things that could help the process go a lot more smoothly. Just after losing a drive, our customers are wondering if they’ll ever see their files again. Getting their files back quickly and easily would make them incredibly happy.

I use the Mac version of Mozy, so I’ll avoid commenting on the Windows version. We try to make both versions similar, but I’m sure there are some differences. So here’s the list for happy customers:

  1. Consistency — get the files back at all.
  2. Accuracy — get the files in their exact original state.
  3. Speed — get the files as quickly as possible.
  4. Usability — having a simple, easy, quick process for doing it all.

Looking at this list, it strikes me that this is probably the correct order in which to focus our attention. The Mac version does a good job on everything, but can improve on #2 and #4.

The current version of Mozy does not backup some types of files correctly, including symbolic links and resource forks. It also has some UI issues with bundles. These problems have already been fixed for inclusion in the next release and are in testing now. They were some of the last bugs necessary for Mozy to get out of it’s beta state.

UPDATE: Version 0.9 (and later) of Mozy supports resource forks, symbolic links, and bundles.

The main improvements needed before restoring files with Mozy can be a joyful process (“Yes, it worked!”) are:

  1. The ability to restore files to their original locations.
  2. An option to “synchronize” a folder by deleting files that don’t exist on Mozy’s servers.
  3. Support for restoring a “backup set” instead of just browsing for files.

Right now, it is possible to restore files to their original locations by choosing the root folder as the destination and selecting all of the highest-level folders for restoration. You get one warning about overwriting files. Since this is probably a very common desire (it’s what I wanted after my reinstall), I think Mozy should make it easier.

I also found that there were some default files and folders on my computer that I didn’t want after restoring. In particular, I had to delete the default files for iCal and Mail before restoring to make things work right. Since I knew that I’d backed up my entire Mail folder, it would have been awesome if Mozy could have restored my Mail folder to be exactly like Mozy’s copy of that same folder. There could even be some type of “merge” process that displays what Mozy is going to do (including files that will be overwritten) and ask for permission to proceed.

When you configure which files and folders you want Mozy to back up, you can choose to back up a “set” of files from a list or browse the filesystem directly. When restoring files, the only option is to browse. Since our website allows users to restore files by choosing from the sets they backed up, it makes sense that the Mozy application should too.

Overall, I was able to get my files back without too much trouble. Since I’m the one responsible for eliminating that “trouble” for our customers, I’ve added these ideas to our list of things to do. I don’t think I would’ve volunteered to destroy all my data just to see what it’s like, but maybe I should have. In any case, I hope to improve Mozy’s restore process soon.

28
Nov

Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, written by Robert Kiyosaki, was the first book I read on the subject of investing. I’ve never thought of it as an incredibly well-written book, but it did get me thinking about money.

The three most valuable lessons I learned from reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad are:

  1. Assets make you money. Liabilities cost you money. To be rich, buy assets and avoid liabilities.
  2. Most decisions about money are driven by the emotions of fear and desire. Learn to make rational decisions.
  3. The more I know about something, the less risky my decisions become.

I believe these are incredibly valuable lessons to have learned. Notice, however, that I didn’t say anything about real estate. There is quite a bit about real estate and owning your own business in the book, but there isn’t really enough to act on. In fact, this was somewhat frustrating. I purchased two more of his books and his CashFlow 101 game, which I really like. The books started to get repetitive, so I stopped buying them.

Today, I stumbled on a thoroughly researched criticism of the book and it’s author by John Reed. Reed argues extensively that Kiyosaki is making up some of the major stories in the book and giving dangerous advice in others. I found his arguments and evidence pretty convincing.

However, I needed to learn those lessons. And it was better to do it by reading someone else’s experiences than to learn it myself the hard way. I still like the book, but would like to find a better one to recommend — one that doesn’t have ethical issues.

In the meantime, Rich Dad, Poor Dad is still one of the best books on higher-level thinking about finances and money. When I find a better book, I’ll be sure to mention it.