The most disgusting cold treatment ever... I'm serious.

I used to get sick every holiday season. I swear, every year the same thing. I got sick when we did nothing special, I got sick while traveling to England in 1999 over New Years, I got sick every single year.

Nothing special or amazing about my being sick, I'm not diseased or frail. These episodes had always been variations on the common cold that just decided to show up at the most inconvenient time they could. It's almost like getting sick around the holidays was a tradition.

The last few years, I've not been sick at all. I don't remember exactly how many sick days I've taken in the last five years, but I could count them on one hand. Most of those required the emergency room and stitches - My getting "sick" for a day is pretty odd. Staying home for the day was even more unusual.

But far more unusual is this new cold treatment that I've just been put through. Maybe unusual is not the best word. "Disgusting" is a better word.

In addition to the Vitamin C and other cold remedies that I've tried this time, I was given something called ZICAM. Now, usualy the process of being sick is gross enough. There is a lot of spitting, coughing, snot and other really gross stuff that just kind of goes with the territory. You accept the fact that when you are sick, it will be gross.

This cure makes things more gross.

ZICAM is a treatment where you stick a "Gel swab" up your nose and spread medication all around for a specified period of time.

Who thought of this?

5 Simple reasons why the Zune flopped.

I know that this blog has taken a turn into the off topic for the last 8 months or so, something that I'll be rectifying soon. That being said... one more off topic post before I find a place to put these more work-like ramblings.


Why did the Zune fail? There was so much hype and buildup. Almost as much as Apple gets when the media pushes their products for free.

I find it difficult to believe that, with all this free publicity, a product could flop so miserably. Even in the face of the almighty iPod. Especially towards the end of a very long iPod product cycle. There have been numerous pundits that have given their opinions, some of which I agree with, some of which I don't. However, there are a couple of items that I don't think people have picked up on yet that I think are key issues that may have significantly helped the product to fail.

1. The biggest reason? - Microsoft hired the wrong agency!

Suggestion: hire someone that knows advertising. "Welcome to the social? What happened to "Share the music" or "Set your music free?" Both are obviously better alternatives. Surely their agency must have come up with something better than welcome to the social and decided not to use it.

Worse than that, somebody apparently forgot that advertising is often about more than just one message, take a look at these banner ads for the Zune:
These images and the Bugs and skulls on the device screens pictured within them make me wonder whether my Zune going to be "buggy" or if I'll die when I use it. These ads say that both are a really good possibility.



I learned about subliminal advertising many years ago from John Lovitz Kevin Nealon on Saturday Night live when he played "Subliminal man", but apparently the agency wasn't listening. I'm sure that this has played against the Zune quite a bit without anyone really understanding why.

Subliminal messaging takes a large roll in what message an ad sends out. Think about it, would you rather be the cool and slick "Mac" or the frumpy "PC" You know which you prefer, but it was never a part of the spoken words in those commercials that you should prefer one computer over the other based on human perceptions of who is "cooler"

Product releases are more about telling the story of the product than it is about the product itself. Generating massive lust for products is something that Apple understands very well and Microsoft never will. Even the very successful X-box is, in my opinion not a product of Microsoft, but rather a side effect of the popularity and "lustability" of Bungie's Halo game. (a company that was really Mac only before Microsoft acquired them - Hmm...)

2. The Zune has bad in-store product displays

I've played with a Zune at Target and felt like a criminal when doing so, the unit was "strapped down" as if it were Frankenstein on the table. I was poking my fingers through small openings and really felt sorry for the device. It wanted to be played with, to tell me the story of why I should buy it. But Target and other stores that I've since seen it in all treated it like a caged and dangerous animal, tied down and bolted to a table. Actually, they treated me like a caged and dangerous animal, not trusting me to hold the scratch free "brown" thing.

Compare this to the Apple store iPod experience: I feel I can play in almost any way with an iPod at the Apple store, even though it is also locked down – The difference being that Apple tethers with a string and lets the iPod sit directly in the consumers hands.

3. Microsoft focused on telling consumers about features that nobody will be able to use out of the box.

Microsoft focused a lot of their messaging on the social aspect of their player. I'm not saying that the ability to "squirt" isn't pretty cool. I've thought that idea would be great for a while (though not that word). But nobody else has a Zune, so who can you share with? And that sharing is not really very good, it's only three plays or three days, and they encrypt my unencrypted MP3 files as well as files that have DRM. I can’t even truly share my own music files or MP3s even if I’m the author of those files.

It's like some M$ engineer came up with a great idea and they let Universal tell them how it should work. What a stupid idea that was. In my opinion, Microsoft should have put their focus on things they could deliver now, not things that require massive Zune adoption in order to work well.

I don’t want to sound like I think the idea of social music sharing won't work. Quite the contrary, I love the idea of social sharing of music. When on MySpace, I click "+add" on any music player and presto, that track is on my profile. I think this is a great feature. I really love the fact that I can use Apple's iTunes to listen to friend's music in the office. But all of these things work because of the huge network in place.

4. Somebody in charge implemented a very confusing payment model.

So, I have to pay 99 cents to get 79 "points" which I use to buy songs? And I have to buy a certain number of points to play but I can't spend all that I buy unless I buy more than I need.

Now come on... I don't do this anywhere else, and I think that most people will fid this to be a dumb idea.

5. Did somebody forget that size matters.

Well, it matters in electronics anyway. You can't be bigger than the iPod and win. Even by a little bit... Period. They should have shot for the Nano as the target, or at least gone with the idea of bigger and *better*.

Despite all this, can the Zune succeed?

I doubt it, but anything can happen. To really win me over, Zune has to offer something that I cannot get anywhere else. Maybe streaming television over wifi, maybe music purchases over Wifi. I don't know. But *something* has to be better. And it has to be Better for me, not for Universal, not for Microsoft, but for me.

Apple knows that and that is why I'll be buying the next iPod sight unseen.

-Don

Billy O'Reilly?

This is brilliant.

Widgets

A few of you might have picked up that the project that I hinted at a while back involves a new paradigm shift in content delivery called "widgets". For those of you who don't know what "widgets" are, the simple explanation is that they are small windows that sit on a page and display content from another location.

The longer explanation is that widgets can be extensions of existing business models, sites or ideas. They can be whole business models or sites in and of themselves and they can also be the entire reason that a site exists. YouTube was built on the success of it's video player "widget" and it's ability to be pasted, without restriction, around the web. YouTube would hardly be who they are today if they had limited all viewing of their content to visitors of YouTube.com - there are dozens of sites that did that earlier and better than they did when they started.

In short, YouTube built a 1.65 BILLION dollar business because they allowed the sharing of their content on other sites through the use of a widget.

Widgets can obviously be built by the site owner to extend a business. They can also be built by a third party trying to make a buck by cleverly extending someone else's business. With widgets, imagination is the only limitation to what can be created if you have free reign and content to share.

Most widgets that you will find are likely going to be parasites, built to siphon traffic from a much larger host, like MySpace or Blogger. These web based parasites, similar to parasites in life, can be good or bad for you, assisting you in useful ways like the bacteria that help you digest your food or feeding off you at your expense like the flu or e-coli.

It's interesting that in nature, almost all living creatures need parasites present in order to be healthy. What is more interesting is that the arrival of "web 2.0" has caused websites to become living, breathing beings that are beginning to emulate life in almost every way, including the support for symbiotic systems of parasites and viral pathways. Trying to remove or hinder viral web content or "parasites" on the web will likely result in the same kind of reaction that treating viruses and parasites in real life does, occasionally killing or injuring the host during the process of treatment.

Personally, I'd like to think that this evolution of the web is a good thing and that widgets are the best example of how we interact with the new web. Mainly because they allow users to take what they want, put it where they want and customize individual web experiences in ways that might just make the old web portals just a bit afraid of what's coming next.

- Don

If you look on the right side of this blog, you will see a few widgets. A clock, and RSS reader in which I've placed my Digg stream, this blog, my Myspace blog and the top 100 google videos feed amongst other things (which may have changed by the time you read this - buyer beware).

Interesting...

Directly below this post you should see a YouTube video embedded as the primary content. I found this video on YouTube and embedded it through the very nice auto-post feature found on every video in that site.

Somehow my "auto posting" this video has somehow flagged me as some sort of spam risk and added a text verification box to nearly every action that I take on blogger. Had I just copied and pasted code, I guess that I would still be trusted as being a human but my hitting submit on another site makes it possible that I'm a robot.

Beep.

Whirr.

I've used the YouTube posting feature a few times on this blog in the past, and this sort of cross-pollenation tool is what I think defines the best of web 2.0 - I can use different services tools together to tell a story. I just wish that I could use these tools without being considered as some sort of slimeball.

Follow up to "I've stopped watching news"

A couple months ago, I wrote that I rarely watch "news" anymore.

I still don't. As I said, I've given them up for Stewart, Colbert and CNBC. Apparently I'm not the only one that thinks this is the best way to go.

This article suggests that in a direct comparison, I get as much news from The John Sterwart Show as I would from other, more "news oriented" sources.

Keep up the good work John!

A very long, strange week (and an even longer post)

The last few weeks have been very strange. We've been working on something big for a while and a couple weeks ago, news of what we are working on reached the public. I'm not going to comment on the accuracy or lack thereof of what has been written, I'll leave that up to you to decide for yourself. What I will do is tell you that my team has been running around on a cloud for a week now and it feels great.

The counter to this is that in the same amount of time, I received two pieces of bad news in my personal life. First, my sister called and told me that she "found a lump" and was going into surgery (she is doing well). Second, a very good friend recently decided that she would stop treatment for the cancer she has.

My friend is in the medical field, and has been in treatment for some time, so I trust her judgment that this is the best path for her - But nonetheless, it's hard to hear. So I spent last weekend and the early part of this week in Omaha visiting my sister and my friend being depressed by that news and oddly elated by work.

A little background: My family has a history of cancer. My father died of brain cancer after a lifetime of *never* being sick or hospitalized, my mother had cancer and the effects of it more or less her whole life. My first loss to cancer and coincidentally my first experience with death was my grandfather who died of lung cancer when I was 8. I've grown numb to the emotional aspects of losing someone to cancer and I have a pretty good idea of what is going to kill me.

So what is happening with work? With the exception of the last couple weeks, work has largely been a bit of a pain in my butt. Something about 16 hour days, needing to work miracles on a shoestring, and having to daily defend every idea we have from being screwed up by people who really should know better. In short, work has been sucking of late. (That being said, we barely spend a dime, miracles are being worked every day, and I never get tired of arguing a good idea.)

The articles that were written about the product that we are working on, "TheSpringBox" were fantastic reviews when you consider that our product is still very beta and is not supposed to be public at this time.

Better yet, the feedback that was written in those articles was just glowing and indicates that "real" people might really like what we have built. Even the very critical Digg crowd had a couple nice things to say and the criticisms are all things that I completely understand given the view they have had of the product. (Although we did find out some insights that are being addressed as I write this)

No need to take my word for it, take a look at the clock in the upper right of this blog - that is one of our widgets, the RSS reader is ours as well.

So the next few weeks will be both interesting and challenging. I'm sure that work will return to being a pain, but for the time being I will enjoy the break. In the meantime, I just wanted to thank everyone that I work with for doing such fantastic work.

As to my personal life, well, that's harder. I wish that I could fix everything for my sister and my friend, but I know that I can't do that. I wish both of them my best and I'll try and do whatever I can whenever I can.

Hmm... just got dugg.

Something that I have been a part of (with some really great guys and gals) just got dugg. (For those of you who don't know... visit Digg.com.) It was a bit shocking to see this climb. I was watching it thinking we dodged another bullet, but then - just like the IBM commercial, the numbers just started climbing.

I have to tell you, it feels really good. The team is buzzing and everybody is excited.

With the 8 people a day that visit this site, I'm sure that I'm not contributing anything to that flow by posting this but I had to say something.

I work with some really great people!

Thanks guys.



read more | digg story

The Commodore 64 was much better

So, I found this video on Digg today where William Shatner is getting practice for his priceline gig by selling the Commodore Vic-20. The commercial is pretty good. William goes over the many featurs of the Vic, the games, the learning aspects and the true versatility that this system offers over the Atari 2600 game system, all for 300 bucks!

My personal preference is the 64, truely a better machine. The 64 was more powerful and more popular. Using the 64 ate up many cumulative hours of my life, and trained me somewhat for the career that I would eventually take. My 64 had a "Koala pad" which was basically a very early version of a wacom tablet. Yes, I could sketch on my 64 even if those sketches looked like giant icons. I think the max resolution was 128x128 pixels.

Recently there was a news item where a man captured and imprisoned a girl for 8 years. The police have the man's computer - a Commodore 64. Still in use by him for day to day computing. Because of his unique choice of computers, they will likely not be able to retrieve any useful information from his "hard drive" (um... 64k does not a hard drive make)



And a link to a whole slew of 64 commercials (just for fun ;-)

I've stopped watching "news"

Well, not really.

I actually watch more news now than I used to... or at least as much anyway. I just don't watch the same news.

Back when I worked for myself, I would always have Fox News or CNN on in the background. It would be blaring away with the important stories of the day and give me ample opportunities to look over and take in the "breaking news item" that I just could not miss. Eventually this just became the background noise that I need to concentrate when I work and while I had the news "on" I rarely cared about it because the signal to noise ratio just plain sucked.

Both Liberal and "fair and balanced" news companies both sound the same; "Bush did this, bush did that. Terror is coming... Run for your life! The world is ending!"

Recently something happened. I started watching Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert on Comedy Central and I was steeping myself in the steady stream of stock news at CNBC.

So Am I getting the "right" news or even, for that matter, am I getting "news" at all?

I think I am.

I think the quality and impartiality of my news is far better today than I ever received while watching Bill O'reily or little Wolfie Blitzer spouting off about some middle eastern this or "vegetable lady" that. Did you know that between CNBC and Comedy central, you can get all the real news and color commentary you need?

CNBC really only breaks a story that I need to know about, If a plane crashes I know it. If a terror plot thickens, I'm aware... The thing is though - they only do it once. I don't hear the same fifteen minute loop for the next three days. The CNBC audience is money driven. They need to know about world and national events, but only because they make stocks go up or down. Knowing that a hurricane is deadly will move stocks, knowing that the star reporter is having a hard time standing in the wind... well, that doesn't happen much.

As for John Stewart and Steven Colbert... They say more truth with a smirk than Billy O'Reilly can in an entire show.

Stocks.

So, for those of you who don't know, I'm deeply into stocks.

I watch CNBC every time I pass by a tv... Cramer is on the radio when I drive in to work... my Yahoo page has about a hundred stock symbols embedded in it and about a dozen stock site RSS feeds.

In short, I love this stuff.

I thought that I might pass on to you that while the stock market has been a bit down lately, it's still the best way to make money over the long haul. In fact, theory goes that you really should buy when everyone else is running for the door. (which I try to do... though I'm mostly "all in" at any one time, so I'm "buying" all the time)

I learned about three years ago that the "professionals" are hardly concerned with my income... Brokers care about "churn" in my account. That means that they make a commission every time I buy or sell something, but they make no money if my account just sits on a profitable stock.

Interesting conundrum for them...

So I looked at my brokerage account and saw the amount of money my broker made and compared it to the amount of money I lost. It was around that time that I decided that I could lose money as well as he could, maybe even better, so why did I need to pay him to help?

I began to invest for myself. In the first year, I pulled in a 140% return... Wow. I was floored. Now I know this is not normal. I'm not expecting it every year. In fact, this year I'm down about 10%. Nowhere near what I lost with the "professionals" but still down. In fact, my losses for my account are right around what they made in fees one year when they were in charge. but hey... who's counting.

I'm superstitious, so I'll knock on wood every time I discuss stocks. (I'm knocking on wood now)

So, in short. If I have one suggestion for you. Learn about stocks. Go buy books on it. Basic books that will teach you the fundamentals. Read the books. Make a fake stock portfolio on my.yahoo.com and follow it every day. It's OK to lose money in this fake portfolio... just learn why you lost it. Join a stock club. Watch CNBC. Read the financial section. It's really, really fun after you get into it.

If you have a hot stock tip, leave it below. ;-)

Sadly, I qualify to save the earth.

Probably not going to mean much to those reading who are a bit younger than myself. but this is what I was always thinking while I was playing video games... you know, the ones where the graphics were not lifelike and actually required some kind of imagination to see the aliens.



If I had invested all the quarters that I spent on Microsoft stock, I'd be a millionaire right now.

I'm serious.

Gasp... July update.

So far so good. We've been focused on some pretty big things at work... really trying to move the needle in a significant way. For once, I really think that there is a very good opportunity to (again) get some truly worldwide recognition - this time for a pretty simple idea that my team and I had about a year ago that could(should) be very, very big.

(very long time coming - all of which I'll explain when I get this muzzle removed.)

Of course, the last push on this project has been less than helpful to the progress of my mission to clean up my life. I have been moving forward, but have hit nowhere near the milestones that I was hitting late last year - I hope to get back to that kind of focus again soon. Additionally, one of the items that I really was trying to "fix" was my ridiculous propensity for working myself into the grave - funny how easy that was to sink back into.

On to life outside the office... Work has started again on the new house - getting the last bits ready so that It could be occupied. While rental income over the last year would have been nice, there has been no way that I could rent the house out in the condition that it was. As it stands now, we are thinking that we'll just move in to the other house and continue the development while we are there. That way at least I can rent this house out and reduce the monthly drain. Downside to this is that I'll probably have a taxable event that i'll have to figure out... drat.

One bit of very good news: I'm finally debt free with the exception of house payments. I've been eating at my savings over the last three years due to the last start up that i worked at... Long story short, (my old boss, who shall remain nameless) had promised the world if only I would only work for a much lower salary than I was worth. Did anyone get the world? Yea... just not the people who earned it, and certainly not me. Of course, there were promises of great wealth, but in the end I made much less than I spent to live and I've had to rebuild that base over the last year.

Done!

Whew.

Feels good.

Very good.

So, next things on the agenda will be huge... largely because if we do move from one house to the other, we'll have to get rid of a lot of the remaining "junk" that sits in the garage, the house, etc. I'm even thinking about losing some things that I really love (but NEVER use). Namely, one or both of my motorcycles. I really do enjoy them, but it's a crime that they sit while I work and when the weekend comes, I'm too tired/busy to ride anyway. Take the money that I could get from a sale and throw that into the right stocks and I could be a lot farther ahead in a very short time.

One last note.

I have an idea (patent applied for) for a great diet. I don't think that this will be unhealthy and I'm sure that it would be nutritious enough, affordable and most importantly, easy to remember.

I get $5 a day to spend however I like on food that I get outside the house. I can buy and eat anything that I like - until noon. After noon, regardless of the meal, I get to eat only soup. I can stock up on soup to eat at home.

I should be able to cut costs, remember to implement a simple plan and stay healthy at the same time. keeping in mind that I never eat lunch prior to 12:00, this means soup for a majority of the day. This is great because soup is usually two to three hundred calories per serving and is almost always good for you. Also, having no limits on what I can eat means it's easy to find a meal, but with only five dollars to spend per day, I'll likely not be able to stuff myself.

Thoughts?

Birthday

The 24th was my birthday.

Sue and I were in San Francisco for the weekend, we went at the tail end of a business trip out to California. Actually both the weekend and the business trip went well. We gave a presentation that despite technical problems went very, very well. (Don't say that Macs never crash... I had a bit of a problem with "parallels" virtualization software that caused my screen to wig out.)

Anyway... If you feel like sending me a gift... here is my Amazon wish list ;-)

Hard times

I feel almost guilty writing this. I've had so much good fortune over the course of my life. Most of it undeserved. There are countless thousands who don't have even the modest means to buy a meal that I might take for granted on a random tuesday night. People who count pennies and plan where each one goes.

I've not been careful about how I spend lately. I spend willy-nilly...

As the months go by, I hope to get this under control. If you have a suggestion on what I should do to get things under control, let me know by posting a reply to this message. Currently, I use Quicken - but I've got to be honest, I'm way too lazy to spend time entering checks, detailing expenses, etc. I'm looking for a method or way that I can follow a set of rules and thus almost automatically control the spending.

First thoughts might be:

1. Limit myself to a certain amount, say $100.00 a week. I can spend it anywhere I want, but I don't get more until sunday and I don't carry my cash card.

2. Get a "petty cash credit card" with a low limit and only use that card.

3. Limit the size of item that I can buy, say 10.00 only... including food purchases, etc.

4. Ask "do I need this" prior to every purchase and force myself to look at some guilt inducing picture if I say yes. ;-)

5. Only allow a purchase if I go back for it on a second trip. (no impulse buys)

6. only purchase online so that I can easily track from one place.

Again, I'll welcome any suggestions that you have.

Homework

Random thoughts:

Taxes are coming.
I need to assemble all my tax information. (you do too)
I have yet to finish cleaning my house.
Some "home"work is required - building a new kitchen on the other house, fixing the countertops in this one, new stairs, deck, etc. Big expenses, but really, really need to get this monkey off my back. We've decided to move into the other house instead of renting it out. It's just become too difficult to take that route.
That being said. I need to figure out what and how this affects on my taxes... Obviously this is a conversion of an investment asset into a personal asset, but what is the value? Or is it a conversion? Can I "live" in investment property?

Oh, and I need to get hold of the plot of the investment property as well. There are way too many bushes, trees and to quote Monty python, "Shrubberies" that need pruning or removing.

Like I said, "Home"work.

Relapse.

This is apparently the part of the movie where the superhero loses his powers and has to fight his way back to his mission. I've had a smll relapse and been spending too much time working and not enough of getting things back in order. As a result, the house is a mess, projects are stacking up and my taxes, which I had honestly hoped to have done by now, are looming larger every day.

I did get a note from someone lately who commented that my blog was about the troubles of the modern day man and that if I keep it up, I might be famous someday.

I wonder if being famous for "getting simple" would feel good?

Progress in the new year

Sorry that I've not posted in a while (really, I doubt that many read this blog, so I guess I'm feeling sorry to myself ;-)

On the last day of last year, We took our ninth carload of donations to goodwill. This load contained three computers. workhorses that have performed flawlessly over the years and it was actually hard to let them go. I know that sounds strange, but I've formed a small bond with the machines that I've used over the years. Like a viking names his sword and is later buried with it, my steady companions were my Macs, each giving me the power to slay many dragons over the years and allowing me to survive.

I'm going to go watch "electric Dreams" (for those of you who rightfully don't know, this is a very bad movie made in the eighties about a living computer ;-)

So anyway, nine loads. Nine full Honda Element loads. That figures out to somewhere around 900 square feet of donations. I'm sure that if I took a ton of time, I could have sold all of that on eBay for a good amount of cash, but the hassle of doing all that and the fact that I would have to have continued living with all of that stuff until it sold tells me that donations were the right decision. Of course, I'm sure that I'll have much more to donate as I continue to go through everything around the house, but I think we got most of it.

It feels good.

I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about one of the next steps that I'm taking, which is refinancing. I'm really trying to figure out if this is a good idea, but I think I have to if I plan on keeping my rental house. I purchased it on a short term interest only loan. while I can (and do) pay over the interest only payment in order to reduce the principal, the interest rate will increase in two years and if I don't refinance, keeping the house could cost me a good deal. My research is leading me to believe that I can still get a good rate for a reasonable cost, but I have yet to do the emotional math on whether I want to keep the property or sell it. (Tax deduction and possible income versus Tax liability for profit made and possible deflating market - ugh!)

On another topic, my brother sent me an email the other day. I've not spoken with him for two years now. Not because I haven't wanted to, but because of all the work that I was doing. I know, this sounds nuts, but it was really easy to let happen. I find this to be the saddest thing that I've written here. I hope to rectify it as soon as I can with a visit to San Francisco to see him.

-Don