Archive for June, 2009
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
I’ve been a little bummed about the properties I’ve been finding while searching around Central Florida for a place with a little more space. Generally the prices are still way too high and the types of homes are not to my liking. I’m also feeling a little tired of living on flat land year round. That probably has something to do with my having grown up near the mountains of Colorado. So now I’m wondering if slightly cooler weather and scenic views for part of the year might be a nice addition to my lifestyle. The Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina are peaking my interest. (Hat tip to my big sis for turning me on to this area of the country.) The Boone area in particular, looks really really nice.
To see more excellent photography of the area visit the Blue Ridge Blog. (The images above were taken by the author.)
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
“Their proposal to tap oil reserves is what happens when political hacks start writing bills on things they know nothing about, which in general is everything.”
Friday, June 19th, 2009
This is really starting to shape up far less disastrous than Obama’s original proposal, specifically –
Expanded Medicaid – The original income levels this was to be expanded to have been scaled all the way back to the poverty line for adults, and around 133% for kids. Subsidies will be phased in over a few years, which is basically a way for Congress to hide true costs at the time of enactment.
Insurance Subsidies – Eligibility has been scaled back to around 300% of the poverty line. This is still way too high in my opinion. I’d much rather see reform that cuts costs vs. simply having government pay the bills. However, future reforms will have the ability to decrease costs by regulating the level of care, so it gives future politicians the opportunity to scale this back.
Public plan – It’s looking more and more like this is not going to be part of the plan, with some sort or consumer run co-op non-profit corporation taking its place. This is really good news IMHO. The public plan (which was based on Medicare) was flawed in a thousand different ways, so it’s good to see Congress is finally making some changes. IMHO whatever this “co-op” thing is, the idea that it’ll be “consumer governed” seems like a great idea. Another good thing about this is that the financials would likely be completely separate from the general accounting of the federal government. (Like a Freddie or Fannie for health.) The details though are still thin, so we shall have to see.
Mandates – A foregone conclusion. It’s unfortunate we have to implement stuff like this as its basically playing Robin Hood with health, but it’s also easy to understand the financial issues revolving around not having it.
Insurance regulation – In return for mandates, insurance companies would be regulated more. For example they would not have the ability to refuse coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. IMHO trading the mandate for this is probably a worthy trade.
Employer provider / funding mandates – It may get scratched completely, or phased back significantly.
Misc. “preventative health measures” - Mostly provided through existing systems or tax incentives for business who provide preventative health service for employees. Note that last part.. Congress it seems, is not filled entirely with idiots.
Funding – A whole host of major tax hikes are under consideration. Predictably Obama wants to tax the rich, but it seems Congress is thinking that something a little more fair might be the right solution. Options range from payroll tax hikes (fair), VAT taxes (fair), taxes on the rich (not fair), taxes on company provides health benefits (levels the playing field). It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with. Tax hikes are inevitable, so if I had to choose I’d go with a payroll tax (so everybody pitches in their fair share and gets a feel for the cost) or even better, a new VAT tax that could be leveraged down the road to implement a more broad based “fair tax” at the federal level.
Senate Finance Committee PDF Link
All-in-all, it seems some real progress is being made.
Saturday, June 13th, 2009
Engadget has a nice picture of the device, and mentions 2010 for the release date. Rats!
Thursday, June 11th, 2009
This, is the biggest let down Microsoft has ever committed for me personally. I get frustrated sometimes with their products, everybody does regardless of their choice in os/app vendor, but overall I love Microsoft tools, especially Microsoft Money. I’ve been an avid user of Money for about a decade, and I’m really, really sad to see it go.
When I first started using software to track my finances, a couple of my financial firms didn’t support Money, so I had to use both Money and Quicken for a while. About three years ago all my financial institutions finally had Money support, so I dumped Quicken off my drive and took the painful step of migrating all of my Quicken financial history over to Money. It was time well spent. I’ve brought my cost of living down 50% using Money. I’ve improved my investing approach. I track everything – my investments, my credit cards, my checking, the value of my house and my car, my home equity line of credit, my HSA, everything, all through Money. The app automatically categorizes anything that comes in, I’ve taught it what goes where, and how things get split up. When I get an interest payment on an investment or my 401K gets a deposit or I charge something or pay a bill online, Money has it the next day, categorized, broken down, graphed out, and ready to go. Plus, because I enjoy using it so much, I open it more often, I poor over my graphs, I analyze everything more often. It’s an excellent tool that I love to use, which why I’m so dissapointed that Microsoft is cancelling it.
So what will I do next, go back to Quicken? I hope not. Having worked with both programs side by side I’ve always felt Money is a far better product. A few examples –
User interface – Quicken on Windows is akin to someone taking a dump on your desktop. 2006 was without a doubt the worst UI design in history, until Intuit came out with 2008. That release was so horrible in terms of look and feel that it literally made me heave every time I opened the app.
Quicken is one of those awful apps that has a poorly drawn custom UI. For some reason their software designers felt they were more skilled at UI design than the company that made the OS. Some apps can pull this off assuming their designers actually, you know, have some skill. Intuit’s designers are clearly all design school drop outs. The UI breaks UI conventions and style so that it doesn’t integrate with your desktop. The UI layout is mangled, and the design is incredibly poor. The rendering engine also flickers a lot when it redraws. In short, it’s an ugly app.
Imagine spending an hour or so every day giving the elephant man a back rub – that’s what using Quicken is like. Here’s a taste of the “Deluxe 2008″ edition –
Note the mixed use of win95 / Vista UI common controls and the wonderful 360 degree shading on all the ugly custom drawn elements. Also notice the smart choice for toolbar background color and 16 color icons spread throughout the app. (I’m amazed, and I mean truly amazed, that Money didn’t wipe these guys off the face of the map.) Generally speaking, the UI is a complete mess.
Money on the other hand
has had a slick, well integrated custom drawn UI. It also had web integration, excellent rendering and graphics support, (for graphing and the like) and generally conformed the browser UI style with forward and back buttons for navigation, integrated web content, and a slick themed look that appealed to the eye.
Here’s a snip, which is all I can show. More can be found by searching the net –
It’s nice to look at, the UI is easy to navigate, things are organized in a cohesive and sensible manner.
2) Graphing – Money’s graphing wasn’t perfect, but it sure as heck was better than Quicken. Quicken’s graphs are ugly and can’t be customized. Money’s graphs on the other hand were well rendered, colorful, and didn’t flicker when drawn. You could customize them to produce numerous different graphs and reports that helped visualize what was going on with your money and investments. I have around fourty of these now and they are invaluable. Tools I will miss.
3) Account register and reconciliation – I’m not sure why I was never able to get Quicken to correctly categorize things automatically, or why my account balances never seemed to match up, but I know I’ve never had this problem in Money. The amount of time I used to waste digging through registers trying to find errors in Quickens transaction tracking was immense. It always frustrated me. Money did this kind of stuff automatically, which saved me time.
Now I’m bitching a lot here about Quicken only because this is the pile of dung Microsoft is likely forcing me to go back too now that they have completely bailed on one of their most devoted customers – me. Hey Microsoft, are you listening? WTF guys? How can you possibly just dump a piece of software like this? It’s one of the few apps you wrote that “just works” that has a devoted base of users who depend on it for, you know, fracking managing their financial future. Do you even care about that or is it all in the bottom line, or some such nonsense that you’ve placed ahead of the needs of your devout customer base? Also, seeing as how you’re simply dropping the project, how about open sourcing the code so folks like me can continue to work on it? Are you really just going to dead end twenty years of software development? If that’s really the case, and you don’t have “something else” up your sleeve, I guess all I have say is, fuck you too. You really let me down on this one.
Some might suggest that instead of using a desktop solution, I should try out a web based solution like mint.com. All I have to say to that is, are you high? You’re suggesting I turn my account numbers, login information, net worth data, investment transactions, credit card numbers, and a whole host of personal financial information over to a bunch of geeks running a startup in the valley? You have got to be kidding. If there’s one thing that’s meant to stay locked up tight as a drum on my personal computer it’s the sum total of all my personal financial data. Uploading that to some server in a colo in California is stupid, and I sense a lot of people out there who do that will someday regret it.
Anyway, rant mode off. Microsoft, you let down damnit. I really do not know what I’m going to do now.
Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
It looks like this:
The United Auto Workers union will get a 55 percent stake that will be used to fund its retiree health care obligations, while the U.S. and Canadian governments will receive a combined 10 percent stake. Fiat would get 20 percent, with the possibility of up to 35 percent.
Sunday, June 7th, 2009
208.7 – before correctly calibrating your new digital scale
192.4 – after correctly calibrating your new digital scale
It pays to read the instructions. Argh. At least I can stop FREAKING OUT!
Monday, June 1st, 2009
These new features look pretty sweet –
- HD streamed video content upped from 720p to 1080p w/5.1 surround sound
As an avid user of the HD movie downloads, I think this will be a great upgrade. I wonder if it will be specific content, or if all the HD content will be upgraded? Probably be mixed, since some studios won’t support 1080p.
- Video content will also be playable on Zune HD, and the video, film and music libraries will be combined, maybe?
The size of the content library is everything. The 360 film selection has always been pretty good – latest releases are usually on there. But music video content on the 360 has lacked. That’s not something I’m particularly interested in, but a complete video library would help them compete. The Zune Maketplace video and music library has been pretty good, so maybe they’ve managed to combine the three together. Hard to tell from the press release. That should be a pretty killer feature if it turns out to be true.
- Motion capture, facial recognition, and voice command input
The motion-camera, which in fact does look functionally identical to the 3DV demo we previously wrote about, allows you to control games, try on virtual clothes using your own image, and even use hand-motions to buzz in while playing game shows. Voice commands? They’ll be in there. Microsoft brought Steven Spielberg onto the stage to demo the technology, and his avatar moved in real time as he controled the UI. While many called this technology a gimmick before E3, everyone seems completely impressed by what’s being shown here today. This isn’t waving your hands around like the Wii, this is a very immersive technology tied to a very powerful console. The game demos look promising, including the ability to simply paint on a virtual canvas with your hands and voice commands. The sense of play is very Nintendo, and that’s a high compliment for Microsoft.
What about buttons for firing and the like? I haven’t read anything about a new wireless controller. Can’t wait to fire up a game of tennis on this thing though.
A little spooky looking.
What makes this so damned cool is that it lets you do more than just play games with it. You can also move through menus by swiping your hands back and forth. The camera allows for fun features like facial and voice recognition. When you have it running, your Xbox will recognize your face and sign you in automatically.
You can start to imagine the possibilities already. Everything from Minority Report style menu control to Dance Dance Revolution games that require you to actually dance rather than just hit buttons to videoconferencing in your living room, the thing just feels like the future. And it already makes the Wii seem like a gimpy and outdated piece of tech. There’s no way it can touch what this will do.
What makes this so exciting isn’t what they showed off today, which seemed like glorified tech demos. No, what’s amazing is to think about what creative developers will be able to do with the dev kits that just arrived on their doorsteps. This is a whole new way of controlling not only games but what’s quickly becoming the media and communications hub of your living room. Get excited.
(If it actually works as advertised, this sounds incredible.)
- A slew of exclusive new games, including another in the HALO series. (sweeet!)
- Download games straight to the console
(sweet, no more trips to BestBuBuy)
All in all, it should be a fun filled fall season for 360 owners!