Whatever comes to mind, and then the interesting directions that thought will take you on the web.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Photoshop Elements can't save .PNG as .JPG

Had a very frustrating time with Photoshop Elements.

My image was in .PNG format, and I wanted to save as a .JPG

In the "File, Save As..." dialog, there was no option to save as .JPG

After a lot of surfing on the web, I found that this is generally due to the original image having layers, in which case you need to "Layers, Flatten Image", or the image has 16 bits per channel, in which case you need to convert to 8 bits using "Image, Mode, 8 bits/channel".

In my case it was the bits per channel issue, and after switching to 8 bits I was able to save as a .JPG

My Usability Suggestion to Adobe
Always have the .JPG option in the "Save As" dialog. If the user tries to save as .JPG, and there is something about the original image that is incompatible with .JPG, then either warn the user, and explain how to resolve, or silently do the Flatten Image, or convert to 8bits.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Netflix Watch it Instantly

Netflix Watch it Instantly is an awesome service to enable on demand watching of movies over the Internet.

However, whenever I want to recommend a movie to somebody, it's quite a mouthful to say "you should watch it on Netflix Watch it Instantly".

Seems to me that Netflix needs to become a verb, and I can just say "you should Netflix it"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Frustrating iPhone User Experience

The iPhone User Experience is close to perfect.

However, I have been frustrated a few times in the last few months, and here's the scenario.

I see the badge on App Store that there are apps to be updated.

I tapped on Apps Store, selected "Update All", entered my iTunes Password, and then am harassed by the message:

iTunes terms of Service have changed, you must agree, blah, blah. I then have to scroll to the bottom of the screen, press "Agree", then press Agree in an alert box. I then end up back on the home screen, and have to remember what I was doing, go back into the app store, and click Update All again.
Very annoying

Reminds me of the Terms of Service for the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

If it can go wrong, it will go wrong

I my first job out of college in 1988, I worked on a Microsoft Windows system that downloaded rainfall radar bitmaps over a modem from the Met Office in the UK. These systems were used by Water Companies.

Each radar image was saved to a file, and the file was given a name with the following format:
ie 2 characters for the year, 1 for the month, two for the day of the month, etc.

Note that there was just 1 character for the month. The idea was that 0-9 was used January through October, then "A" for November, and "B" for December.

The customer had got the system in the Summer, and I has scheduled Customer Training to start on November 1st 1988. I distinctly remember thinking that I should verify my "A" is November logic - but never got around to it.

So, early on November 1st, 1988 I took the early morning train from London to the customer in Leeds. Imagine my embarrassment when I arrived at the customer's site to hear that their system, and the systems at all the other water authorities had stopped working at midnight.

I knew exactly what the issue was, and quickly fixed it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

iPhone Antenna issues

Tomorrow, Apple is holding a Press Conference to discuss iPhone 4 Antenna Issues.

The iPhone 4 Antenna Issue is real - I can speak from personal experience that of I hold the phone such that my hand touches near the bottom left, then I lose reception. Not a big deal for me, the Voice Feature of the phone is not that important, and I've learned to hold the phone differently.

However, I'm not a civilian, I've read a lot of blog articles and discussions, so I'm aware of the situation.

So, how does the antenna issue affect a civilian? Here's an example. I was speaking to a Contractor, and all of a sudden I couldn't hear him for a few seconds. I asked what happened - "this new iPhone sucks" was his reaction. Lesson - civilians aren't aware of the known antenna issue, so do not know how to hold the phone, which results in them thinking the phone sucks.

This whole affair reminds me of the Intel FDIV issue in 1994. Intel initially (and in my opinion, correctly) claimed that this was not a significant issue. However, the bug took on a life of its own, making it to the chat show circuits, and spawning great jokes like "At Intel, Quality is Job 0.99989960954". Eventually, Intel caved, and organized an "on request" replacement. I feel that Intel ultimately benefitted by the fact that the bar had been raised in consumers' expectations of the product. Intel's smaller competitors were forced to spend proportionately more on QA of their products.

So, what will Apple announce tomorrow...?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Google Street View car

I saw the Google Street View car this morning at approximately this point.

I will return later to see if I can see my car!

View Larger Map

Monday, May 03, 2010

My Next Computer

My current computer is a 15" pre-unibody MacBook Pro.

I upgraded the memory to 4GB, and the hard drive to 640GB.

I was thinking about what will be necessary in my next machine.

Here's the list:

I don't want my next machine to have a place to put plastic disks into it. This will save weight, smooth out the lines of the computer, and stop the occasional mechanical sounds that come even when there is no disk in the player.

Higher Resolution Display
The current MacBook Pro is available with a 1680x1050 display. I'd like to get even higher resolution, and possibly OLED??

Solid State Drive and Large Capacity Hard Drive
I'd like a Solid State Drive to speed up access to files. However, it's likely that the combination of SSD and large capacity is going to stay expensive, so I'd like a large capacity hard drive to store infrequently accessed files. It would be best if this works transparently, and the SSD acts like a large capacity cache for the hard drive.

This cache should be smart. eg mp3 and movie files never need to be in there (unless I'm editing them), so leave the cache for swap, programs, system files.

HDMI Output
Ability to get video and audio output to a HDMI TV.

Needs to look Sleek and Minimalistic
As few buttons and flashing lights as possible.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


I'm a big fan of the TV show Survivor.

The show is often criticized for its editing - ie the producers pick the story they want to tell, and then edit in clips to support that.

So here's my suggestion: create a web site that has all the raw content available, and web based tools to edit and publish that content. This would enable fans to create their own edits of shows. These could then be published on You Tube in episode form. You could imagine that celebrity editors would emerge out of the community - people who put a new perspective on the show, and grew an audience.

That's the principle - some details would have to be worked out for the implementation. Seems like a revenue stream. As a pilot, make the raw content available from the first season, and see the perspectives that fans could create out of that content.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Philip M Parker

I came across Philip M Parker while digging into the "amazon oddities" tag on Amazon.com

What Philip M Parker has done is find a way to generate books based on databases. The books are targeted at the long-tail, and include irresistible titles like:

The 2009-2014 Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats in Greater China

He has 107,000 titles on Amazon.com - I would be fascinated to see how many sales he makes.

What about The 2007-2012 Outlook for Smoothies in the United States - that sounds fascinating! Have executives at Jamba Juice bought that one?

This mashup approach seems to be similar to what blockshopper.com is doing with press releases. Taking a feed of rel estate transactions, and concocting a press release by adding in information from linkedin, and other sites.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How much fuel is consumed on a flight?

How can you work out the amount of fuel consumption that you are responsible for when you take a flight? This is very significant - does all the fuel you saved driving the Prius to the airport get used up on your flight coast to coast?

Here's the methodology.

Let's take the paying WEIGHT that a plane transports from A to B.

The paying weight is made up of passengers, their baggage, and any cargo that the plane carries.

As an example, let's take an Airbus A320.

Typical 2 class configuration is 150 passengers. Take a load factor of 86.6%, so 130 passengers

Consider a trip of the maximum range (3,700 miles), uses maximum 6,400 US Gallons of fuel.


Empty Weight of A320 94,000
Weight of 6,400 US Gallons of Jet Fuel 42,624
Weight of 130 passengers plus their baggage 26,000
Weight of cargo (subtract above from Max Take off Weight of 170,000) 7,376

So, each passenger consumes approximately (200/(26000+7376)*6,400=38 US Gallons to travel 3,700 Miles. (not bad!)

The Secret Origin of Windows

I enjoyed reading this article about the early days of Microsoft Windows Development.

In my first job out of college, I worked for Logica, and was involved in writing an application that plotted lightning strikes. The Met Office in the UK had a feed over a modem that provided lightning strike locations, and this application would plot them on a map of the UK, allowing the user to zoom in, and see the exact location. This app was aimed at Electric Companies to help them find downed power lines.

The first version was built using Windows 1.x (don't remember the value of x). I do remember that it did not support overlapping Windows - I think that was due to litigation with Apple.

Relatedly, I really like this article about the Skunk Works project that made Windows 3.0 run programs in protected mode.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spell checking in Google Wave

I remember in the demo of Wave at Google IO, I was very impressed with the spell checker.

Its statistical approach meant that a word that was a valid dictionary word could be signalled as a spell error because statistically it didn't fit into the context.

The example that was shown at Google IO was "Icland is an icland"

The spell checker was smart enough to recognize that the first "Icland" should be "Iceland", and the second "icland" should be "island"

Interestingly, the spell checker is not highlighting any word in "Icland is an icland". I'm guessing that "Icland is an icland" has now appeared in so many blogs, that statistically it is a valid phrase.

"Icland is cold" correctly gives "Iceland" as the suggested correction.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Civilians might have trouble understanding this

A "civilian" is a non-technical computer user.

I was prompted to upgrade to Firefox 3.6, I said "Yes", and was presented with the following dialog:

Firefox was unable to verify the integrity of the incremental update it downloaded, so it is now downloading the complete update package
I find the dissonance of the update and download quite funny, but why does a civilian care about this message? A simple "Upgrading" message would have sufficed. See this post about overcomplicating communication.

Friday, March 05, 2010

How did Google do this?

A colleague was about to take a weekend trip to New York.

I was recommending various places for food. I remembered seeing an Anthony Bourdain show, and he recommended a hot dog place - I also remembered that it included Mango.

So, I typed into Google, new york hot dog mango, and it perfectly found the result I was looking for at the top of the list - Papaya King.

Thing is - the word "mango" appears nowhere on their web page. If you don't include the word mango in your search, Papaya King appears lower in the list.

Did Google link the words Mango and Papaya?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hedging the Gas Price

I just bought a new car which I intend to keep for the next 8 years (got the extended warranty).

I was thinking - how can I lock in a gas price for that time? To be more specific, how much would it cost to prepay my gasoline for the next 8 years?

I estimate that I will need 4,000 gallons to cover the next 8 years. How could I achieve this?

One approach - buy 4,000 gallons today and store it. How much does it cost to store that amount?Does gas spoil, evaporate when stored? Presumably you can get a discount if you buy that amount. Let me investigate that approach later.

Next approach is to find a financial asset whose price is closely correlated to the gasoline price at the pump. This is quite difficult. There are ETF's that track the Oil Price, but these do not necessarily correlate with the retail gasoline price. This chart (courtesy of GasBuddy) shows the oil price compared with the retail gas price is San Jose, CA.

The retail gas price could change as a result of tax changes. In fact, as an aside, I think that taxes on gasoline should be dramatically increased. This should encourage conservation, while increasing revenues for underfunded government. Check out this link.

So, how can I create a hedge that includes tax changes? Back to the idea of the 4,000 gallon tank!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Detective Work

I'm fascinated by the concept of information. How much data do you need to derive information. How can you inadvertently be providing information?

In Austin Powers, the following interaction takes place:

Austin Powers: Your boss, Number 2. I understand that cat's involved in big underground drills.
Alotta Fagina: How did you know?
Austin Powers: I didn't, baby. You just told me.

Alotta Fagina inadvertenly gives Austin Powers information!

I was watching the TV Show "Designed to Sell". They were featuring a house, but didn't say where it was located, no information.

But in 2 consecutive shots, I got some data:
  • On the real estate sign, I could make out the name of the realtor, "Sean", and the first part of a phone number - "818 999"
  • I could see the number of the house as "21716"
So, was this enough data to derive the location?

Using Google, I searched for 818 999 sean realtor

This gave me a realtor called Sean, in Woodland Hills with a number starting with 818 999

Next, I searched Google for 21716 "woodland hills"

This gave me a Zillow Page, that had an address 21716 Costanso St, Woodland Hills

This is definitely the house on "Designed to Sell". The image on the left is from the TV, the image on the right is from Google Street View. Interestingly, the Google Street View car was driving through the neighborhood at the time the house was being sold.

From blockshopper we can see that the owners (the people on the TV show) were Adam and Charity Brockman.

And from Zillow, are the new owners, the Cohens and Levins, regretting the $760K purhcase price?

Another example of inadvertently giving out information happened to Netflix, and it landed them in legal trouble. A few years ago, Netflix released ran a contest to create a recommendation engine that was 10% better than their existing one. The contestants used a file that contained millions of ratings that Netflix users had given to movies. The file contained just id numbers to identify people, but researchers were able to correlate the movie ratings with ratings that a person had made on another website (IMDB), identifying the person. Check this out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Suggestion for Greece

The Greek Debt is approximately 300 Billion Euros

Were Greece to default, Stock Markets are likely to fall, the Euro is likely to fall, Gold is likely to rise.

So, why doesn't Greece, along with their friends at Goldman Sachs, construct a portfolio that will pay off in the event that Greece defaults?

If you know that Greece is going to default, is it possible to surreptitiously construct a position that will pay off 300 Billion Euro? How much would it cost, and how do you stop other European countries bailing Greece out, and screwing up the whole plan?

Let's take an example. How much would the SPX fall if Greece defaulted? Say the SPX declines 7% (1075 to 1000), a position of just 10% of the open interest in the SPX Feb 1100 Puts (12,000 contracts) would give a nice $90 Million Profit. Expand this to more expirations, more strikes, more instruments and this can soon add up to real money. For comparison: after the Russian crisis in 1998, SPX fell approximately 15%.

Monday, February 01, 2010

What are Public Records?

There are many Public records created by government bodies.

However, the concept of Public Records was created before the internet. In the old days, there was some effort involved in accessing a Public Record - eg go to the Government Organization, and search for it, or pay somebody else to do it. And from an indexing point of view, were complex searches even available? For example, say I wanted to find all property owned by a given person - that might involve trips to many government bodies.

In the internet age, a surprising amount of information is incredibly easily available. eg - find the owners of houses in the smart part of Broadway in San Francisco.

Is this really what was intended by making records public?

Design Decisions of the iPhone

The design and implementation of the iPhone took some fairly controversial decisions. Decisions that are contrary to conventional wisdom. After reflection, I feel that most of these decisions are correct.

The areas I want to cover are buttons, flashing lights, multi-tasking, app approval process, garbage collector.

iPhone has a very small number of physical buttons - On/Off switch, "Home" button, Volume button and mute button. An old Windows Mobile Phone has 11 buttons, plus an entire keyboard. I find that mixing the user interface across the touch screen and buttons becomes confusing. You become focussed on performing the next action on yhe touch screen, and forget that you have to use the physical button.

Flashing LED Lights
No flashing lights on the iPhone, 2 on the Windows Mobile Phone. We don't need those ugly flashing lights.

Multi Tasking
"Conventional Wisdom" says that you have to have multi-tasking - it's a modern Operating System. This is where I think conventional wisdom has it wrong. The apps running in the background are consuming memory, CPU cycles and battery life. As a user, it is very difficult to manage that. I had problems on the Windows Mobile and the Android attempting to identify and kill processes. I've no idea how a civilian could deal with this. On the iPhone, the running app essentially gets all the memory and CPU, resulting in predictable behavior.

App Approval Process
Controversial, but I feel that I as a user have benefited.
  • Single, consistent place to download apps
  • Generally consistent and quality apps
  • I can trust that the apps are not going to pull in crapware or viruses
I've got to say that the Android App Store is nowhere in comparison

Garbage Collector
The iPhone applications are written in Objective-C. The latest version of Objective-C has garbage collection built in. The version of Objective-C used for the iPhone does not. Why is that? Probably to save power - ie no need to have a garbage collector thread running. But another reason - I feel that it raises the bar for the competence of a programmer needed to create an iPhone app.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tax Time

It's that time of year when I go through the ritual called Tax Time.

It's such a screwed up process - buy and install the software (I know that online options are available), wait for pieces of paper to arrive in the mail (W2, 1098, 1099), type into your tax software, try to remember charitable contributions.

Why doesn't the IRS run an online system? They have all those W2, 1098, 1099 in electronic form. Why can't I just log into an IRS system and then just fill in the blanks?

The makers of Turbo Tax and At Home (formerly Tax Cut) could then concentrate on creating software that helps you with tax planning, looking for deductions, etc. I'm sure their lobbyists would disagree with this approach, though.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

SSD Drives

Read a great article about Solid State Drive (SSD) performance at Tom's Hardware.

The benefits of having the operating system and applications on SSD seem remarkable.

The only downside is the cost of the drives, or more specifically, the cost per GB.

So, I'm considering getting a 160GB Intel SSD Drive as the boot drive for my Mac Book Pro, and then using a 500GB USB Drive to store photos, movies and music.

The downside of this approach is that I have a separate piece of hardware to deal with.

Got me thinking - I wonder when the form factor of notebooks will put flash memory onto the motherboard to hold the Operating System, Applications and swap, and have the existing 2.5" bay be used for a traditional drive or SSD to store the user's data.

Think I might wait for that form factor.