Sunday, January 31, 2010

The iPad: A Thing Of Beauty, But…

The new Apple iPad is a very slick device and it has the potential to be a real game changer. I say potential, because this version doesn’t have what it needs to appeal to the masses. I’m sure sales will be respectable, but it won’t be until the 2nd or 3rd gen of this device that we see it come into its own.

Basically it’s a Touch on steroids. I love my Touch, around the house it’s a fast and easy way for me to check my personal mail or look something up quickly on the web. Press the on switch and 20 seconds later you’re at the desktop and it’s downloading your mail. When I’m on the road, its all things for me; music, video and game player, repository of calendars and addresses, photo viewer, web browser and mail station. All that, and it fits in my pocket to boot.

Although I’ve often wished for a bigger screen, I really can’t see myself carting around a device the size of the iPad. I’ve already got my laptop that I have to lug around, and the iPad can’t replace that from a business standpoint, plus I’d never pay for a 3G plan for something like this. I don’t for my laptop, if I’m out of WiFi range, I just use my Blackberry. And speaking of Blackberries, could you see trying to use the iPad for a phone? Please…

I just don’t see it as a useful mobile device for me.

What I do see it as is the perfect coffee table companion. The ease of popping it on to show someone your photos, read the paper, check your calendar or just look something up on the web makes it a solid around the house network appliance. It puts the current offerings like Chumby to shame already, flesh this baby out a little with that function in mind, and I can see it becoming as ubiquitous in our lives as the iPod. Here’s what I think it needs to reach that status:

First and foremost, it needs a webcam. Picture this, you’re home watching the big game, and instead of twittering or texting your buds on your phone, you pick this bad baby up and have a face to face with them via Skype, all while remaining planted on the couch watching the game. Now we’re talking.

A built in memory card slot. If you want it to be a picture viewing device, it has to have a built in slot. I can’t see having to dock it to use the photo kit add on when somebody shows up with some fresh pics on a card, it defeats the whole purpose of it. If you’re gonna do that, you might as well just load them on your PC.

It also needs an IR port. Bluetooth is great, but can you imagine if it had an IR port and an app that would let you download the latest codes for your TV, cable box, DVD player and stereo components via WiFi? It's already capable of downloading the current TV listings. No more multiple remotes, no more ruining everyone else’s viewing experience by popping the onscreen guide. Bye-bye Harmony, you were good to me, but you’ll always be a one trick pony.

More onboard memory and better price points. It won’t be long for these two, remember the iPhone?

A lot of this stuff may already be in the works. Their first version of everything they make is always stripped down, probably so they won’t waste their time and money on features that no one wants. They listen to the buzz on release, and then add things that fit. Apple also has a penchant for putting the guts for new features in place ahead of time, so that they’re able to roll things out with just a firmware upgrade. Someone will be taking one apart as soon as they hit the stores, so we’ll know soon enough where their heading with this one.

I’m not ready to buy one just yet, but as I said earlier, this baby has serious potential. With a few tweaks and a price drop or two though, I'll be on board.

That is all.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh What A Feeling… Toyota

This ubiquitous Toyota jingle has taken on new meaning for me of late, as two of our vehicles are part of the recent gas pedal recall. Where once it most accurately described the enjoyment and peace of mind I’ve experienced with my Toyota products, now it best describes my uneasiness and worry.

The two vehicles affected are a 2007 Camry and a 2009 Highlander. The Camry has the double whammy, it’s got the “too low pedal issue”, where your floor mat can get wedged up against the pedal (and it has). It’s also got the Drive by Wire throttle issue. The 2009 Highlander just got added to the recall this week. While it has plenty of clearance between the gas pedal and the mats, it has the same electronic throttle assembly as the Camry.

Drive by Wire, or DbW, is an alternative to the old cable controlled gas pedal. Vehicles with DbW no longer have a cable linking the gas pedal to the throttle, instead they employ a myriad of electronic sensors and processors to control throttle movement. The reason car manufacturers have been switching to DbW are twofold. First, it allows easy integration of systems like ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and adaptive cruise control. Secondly, it enables manufacturers to give you more form and function in a smaller cabin space, as they’re no longer subject to the physical constraints of pedal range of motion inherent in the traditional cable controlled pedals. It’s a great innovation, unless something goes kerfluey in its electronics, which seems to be the case here.

Since shortly after we bought the Camry, we’ve been bringing it back to the dealership because it idles too high at times. When you put this baby in drive, you better have your foot on the brake, ‘cause it’s prone to lurch into motion. “Nothing wrong here” said the dealership. “It’s the Sports Edition; it’s supposed to be that way.” To that I say BS; I was born at night, but not last night. They just didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, or worse, they didn’t want to open that particular can of worms until they had no recourse.

This same vehicle has had the Toyota winter mats jam the pedal, also. Scared the bejeesus out of my wife as she zoomed right past her exit, thank God she was on the highway when it happened. Toyota “fixed” that problem with a recall on their winter mats. The old set had a rather high raised lip around the edges, like on the plastic boot trays you can get for inside your front door. The size of the lip and the overall footprint of the replacement mats have been greatly reduced. Their other fix for this problem is to lop off the bottom of the gas pedal.

So, what’s a consumer to do? In the short term, we’ve gone over the correct procedure for dealing with the problem until it’s been remedied. Toyota outlines emergency measures you can take in a worst case scenario on their website. Depress both feet firmly on the brake, no pumping, as that will deplete their vacuum, and shift the car into neutral, then turn off the ignition as soon as possible. Do not turn the key past accessory if you’re still moving though, as this will lock the steering column.

Our final decision on the fate of these vehicles will depend on how Toyota reacts in the coming days. We put a lot of thought and research into these purchases, and on the whole, we love both vehicles. I often joke that both of them do everything but sex me up, much to my wife’s chagrin, so ideally I would like to get them fixed properly and move on. Toyota announced yesterday that they have the fix, and will announce more about it this coming week. If they do, and they supply the dealerships with the new parts before they supply their factory floors, I’ll be reasonably happy, albeit greatly inconvenienced.

On the other hand, if they care more about getting their production lines moving again then they do about their customer’s safety, I’ll be more than angry, and probably done with them forever.

I’m sure that their delay in announcing the “fix” is so that they can line up additional suppliers of the parts in question, and also to document the fix very well. Once the cause is definitively known, the lawsuits are going to fly, and the original part manufacturer will most likely be crushed by the weight of them and never be able to supply the corrected product. Given Toyota’s Kaizen philosophy, it’s probably what they’re up to this very weekend, and also the best way to prevent further repair delays.

I'll keep you posted on our progress, so stay tuned.


We finally got our Toyota recall issues resolved, and that takes a load off my mind. I got lucky on my truck. Its VIN starts with a J, indicating that it was made in Japan, and is thus exempt from the recall. The Camry got 3 fixes; a makeover of the gas pedal and the floor, a reprogram of the computer that causes a brake pedal actuation to override acceleration, and the replacement of a faulty oil line. As my wife had experienced the “Runaway Camry” situation first hand, it’s been a real worry. Hopefully it’s once again the sharp and dependable vehicle we thought we were buying. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Good Tunes For A Good Cause

iTunes is offering The Hope For Haiti Now live performance album and TV special at a great price, with 100% of the proceeds going to the relief effort.

The live and studio tracks are available for .99 each, or for just $7.99 you can download the entire album (20 tracks).

A Season Pass is also available for the TV special for $2.99. It includes the 2 videos now available, as well as free downloads of subsequent releases.

It's a great collection of performances, and a great way to show your support for the enormous humanitarian effort now underway in Haiti.

Here's the links:

Hope For Haiti Now Album

Hope For Haiti Now TV Special

Don't have iTunes? No Problem, here's the link to download version 9.0.2:

iTunes version 9.0.2

Remember, you don't need an iPod to enjoy iTunes music and videos. You can use it as a media player on your PC, and even burn music or mp3 jukebox CD's from your library.

I know times are tight, but don't cheap out. Buy the entire album and the TV season pass. You'll enjoy it, and you'll feel good about it.

Here's a little preview of the concert:

A Bad Case Of The One And Done Blues

The Patriots total lack of execution and effort in their 1st round loss to the Ravens left me stunned and angry, so much so that I haven’t been able to bring myself to comment until now. Every time I’d start to put down my thoughts I’d feel my blood pressure, and my acid reflux, start to rise. Yes, it’s the typical reaction of a dyed in the wool homer, but I can’t help myself, I am, and I'm proud of it.

I was happy to see the Ravens go down in flames last week, but seeing the Jets advance to the AFC Championship round just made matters worse. The Jets are where they are in part because Indy laid down in their last match up, so I guess its fitting that they’re coming back to haunt them, but more importantly, The Jets aren’t what you would call a “top tier team”, and look where they are. In this age of parity, any team can get hot at the end of the season and have a legitimate shot at going to the big game. You don’t have to be one of the top tier teams; you just have to get into the playoffs, and then want it more than your opponents. Of course, you also have to execute, but I think the two go hand in hand. Teams that want it, usually bring it, and the Pats did neither this year.

So, what went so wrong this season? First and foremost, the 2009 Patriots weren’t a team; they were a collection of unmotivated underachievers. There are some great players on this team, but they just never seemed to all be on the same page at the same time. Each week we saw a different segment of the team step up, or not, and it made for a very uneven and disappointing season.

How do they fix things? From the top down. Bill needs to find both an offensive and a defensive coordinator that he trusts. I think a good deal of the confusion on the field this year stemmed from Bill being unhappy with the play calling on both sides of the ball, and countermanding their instructions at the last minute. It showed in the inappropriate time outs and delay of game penalties, and the exasperated looks on the players faces. I don’t think that Bill is losing it, as some have said; I think he’s just trying to do too much. Football is a business, and as is the case with any business, a lack of consensus and strong, inspirational leadership from management sends mixed messages to the employees, and usually leads to chaos on the shop floor.

On defense, Pees leaving, or being asked to, is a good start. On the other side of the ball, there actually hasn’t been an offensive coordinator since Josh McDaniels left. Bill O’Brien, whose official title is quarterbacks coach, has been filling the roll, and in my humble opinion, not doing a very good job of it. The offense has become so predictable that teams have been able to shut it down easily. Sometimes I’d swear the opposing defense not only knew the play, but the snap count as well. The Pats have to find strong replacements for these positions, and they have to do it soon. They’ve already missed, or passed on, the two best candidates available, Weis and Crennel.

Once they're done fixing the coaching staff, they need to get down to the business of fixing the team. They need a decent pass rush, and for that they need some quality off season additions to the roster. I think the secondary would look a lot better if the opposing QB’s didn’t have all day in the pocket. They also need to lock in Wilfork, and they need to make better use of their existing talent. Position shifts, better schemes, and above all, fostering some on field leadership, ‘cause there didn’t appear to be anybody stepping up into the role this year.

On the offensive side, they need to provide better protection for Brady. Depth at the lineman position is a must. I liked the look of the line when Light and Vollmer were at left and right tackle; it actually allowed the nearly invisible tight ends to participate in the passing game to some degree, but they may not always be available, as was the case this past season, and to deal with that you need depth.

I’m not totally convinced that they need any more receivers, unless of course Welker doesn’t come back. They just need some better effort, and they need to stop bunching the routes. If most of your receivers are in the same quadrant of the field, so are most of the DB’s. Either some of them are running the wrong routes, or it’s a prime example of the aforementioned crappy game planning.

On the better effort front, I’m certain that Randy was hurting more than he or the team let on this season. And speaking of hurting, did you see Brady’s index finger on his throwing hand? It was black and swollen. If that was me, I’d be on the sidelines with a clipboard, chewing aspirins by the handful, not standing in the pocket and hurling balls while being bull rushed. Factor in the ferocious body shots he took all season and the rumor of broken ribs, and it’s no wonder his performance trailed off as the clock wound down.

They also need to bring in a young running back. It doesn’t have to be a first rounder, just someone with speed, power and potential. Taylor and Morris are good, but the wear and tear of the game is starting to show. Maroney is up and down. Is he a bust? I don’t think so. I think he’s not being coached or utilized correctly. I see him as more of a third down back ala Kevin Faulk, who, by the way, was one of the few guys you could count on this season. I just don’t know how much more punishment he can take.

Wow, I could go on like this for hours, there’s just soooo much that needs to be done. The good thing is, these aren’t the Patriots of old. As long as the Kraft’s are in the owner’s box, you know we’re going to see investment in the team, and Belichick, Brady and company still have a lot of gas in the tank. I have high hopes for the future.

In the here and now, I’ll settle for the Jets getting smoked by the Colts today, and then Indy going down to the Saints in a Super Bowl XLIV shootout. Seeing Sexy Rexy go home crying, followed by repeated close-ups of the Peyton Face, would be priceless.

Hey, you gotta have dreams…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not Such Deep Thoughts In The Year 2010

I had a great holiday vacation, and I hope you all did too. I rested, relaxed, visited, shared and celebrated. I even managed to get a few long put off projects done, most notably installing slick new programmable thermostats throughout the house and rewiring my entertainment center to include a nice input selector switch to manage all of my sources. On the whole, it was time very well spent.

All good things must come to an end, though. I’m back in the thick of things now, and life’s tempo has picked back up to its usual break neck pace. I spent most of last week in that “after vacation” state, where I run around trying to get caught up, and promptly crash and burn the minute I find time to sit down. Although I haven’t been able to stay awake long enough to post anything, I haven’t stopped thinking. Matter of fact, in that period just before sleep, as I’m slowly and blissfully spiraling down into unconsciousness, my mind bubbles ups all kinds of interesting things.

Here’s a few of this past week’s “thought bubbles”:

Wow, 2010. It still seems kind of unreal to me. It wasn’t that long ago that the year 2010 seemed an eternity away for me, and it promised to be a time of technological wonder. In Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Oddessy 2, he had us visiting distant planets and seeing a second Sun appear in our sky after aliens turned Jupiter into a star. Although it has become a world of technological wonder, the journey to 2010 hasn’t played out quite as he had envisioned, and that’s probably a good thing. I’m of the opinion that aliens can be rather pesky, plus I’m pretty sure a second Sun wouldn’t help us with the whole global warming thing. Computers with artificial intelligence freak me out a little, too. Sometimes I worry that my GPS might pull a HAL and carjack me, but so far all it’s done is scold me. If she starts calling me Dave though, I'm shutting her down.

A lot of people like to make New Year’s resolutions. Not me. I prefer not to make any promises that I may or may not be able to keep. It only seems to lead to disappointment down the line. In fact, research shows that only about 12% of people polled actually achieve their goals. Instead, I like to make a list of New Year’s hopes. Almost the same thing, except there are no lofty expectations attached. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a completely passive wish list. As the year, or the new decade, in this case, progresses, I try to do what I can, where I can, to help things along.

Speaking of new decades, the Aught’s kind of sucked. I hope the Ten’s are better.

Win, lose or draw, I hope the Pats bring it, and leave it all on the field during the playoffs.

I really love the CES; it’s a pure, unadulterated, geek fest. Although a lot of what’s unveiled at the show amounts to little more than vaporware, it brings me great pleasure to see what amazing things people have been cooking up each year. This year’s buzz is all about 3-D TV, with tablet PCs, e-readers and handheld digital TVs also making a strong showing. I’d love to attend one of these days. I’ll have to work on getting some press credentials for next year. Anybody out there interested in helping a fellow geek live his dream?

The Winter Classic was fun to watch, but I still can’t get into the Bruins in a serious way. I was a huge fan as a kid, even sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the Gahden for days, just for a chance at playoff tickets, but it doesn’t seem to float my boat anymore. It’s a different game these days, and way to sterile for me. Memories of Orr, Espo, Turk, Pie and the Chief, all flying around sans helmets (and teeth), ice chips and blood spraying everywhere, seems to have spoiled me forever. Those were the days when men were men, and sheep were afraid. Especially if the Turk was around.

There’s nothing like heated seats when it’s frigidly cold. It’s one of those small things that make a huge difference in life. Mmmm, toasted buns…

On the subject of life, and making differences, I leave you with this; during my holiday sabbatical I realized that I haven’t been striking a good work/life balance lately. It’s important to be with friends and family, and to enjoy life on a regular basis. It will do wonders for your stress and anxiety levels, but more importantly, life can be way too uncertain to squander.

This year that’s going to change. This one isn’t a hope or a resolution, it’s a solemn vow.

That is all.

zzzz, SNORK, zzzz…

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welker Out, Pats Blow Another Lead

Looks like the Patriots have lost Wes Welker for the season. Initial reports are that it may be a torn ACL and MCL, and if that’s the case, we won’t be seeing him again until next season.

This is a devastating blow to the Patriots offense, Wes has been a first down machine, and there’ll be no end to the second guessing this week as to why Bill had him in there in a meaningless game. My thoughts are that it was a non contact injury and it could have happened on the practice field this week even if he had sat out today. This guy has taken a ton of punishment this season and something was bound to give.

To make matters worse, the Pats blew a substantial lead in the 4th quarter, again. What’s up with that? Well, we also found out today that Brady has been playing with a broken finger on his throwing hand and 3 cracked or broken ribs. If this is true, it would go a long way in explaining the offense’s late game drop off. By the 4th quarter you know Brady has to be one hurting buckaroo.

The good thing is that like Welker, Brady is an iron man and can play through the pain. I’ll put my money on him, hurt or not, in a playoff situation every time. I also like the match up with the Ravens next week. The Pats will have all 4 running backs healthy, Edelman will be a passable substitute for Welker, and Wilfork, Warren and Bodden will be back on defense. Plus it’s a home game, and the Pats thrive on home cookin’.

After that, who knows?