Free business idea: parallel LED Christmas lights
When I was a kid, Christmas* lights were big. Exclusively. One huge advantage of those big ones was that they were shrunken versions of the 120V lights around the rest of your house, so they were wired in parallel on the strings. This meant that when they burned out, they didn’t affect each other at all. You found the dead ones and replaced them.
The little lights came later, but as we all know, they came with a huge downside: since they are wired in series, if one burns out, a whole segment of the string goes down with it. Maybe all of them. You can either spend hours swapping each bulb out with one you hope is good, or trash them. If two are dead, you’re basically fucked, since the number of bulbs you have to swap grows combinatorially.
Recently, the rage is LED bulbs. They last longer, use less power, and are prettier in some people’s opinions. But they are still low voltage devices, still wired in series like the old school ones. If one fails to a short, you lose the voltage drop and the other ones burn more brightly for a brief period before they start to fail in cascade. And if one fails to an open, you’re still stuck with the possibly combinatorial exercise in bulb swapping. Either way, it’s in the landfill, now with a bunch of increasingly hard-to-find rare earth elements as part of the deal.
Solution: add, at nominal cost, a low voltage DC power supply to the head of the chain and wire the LEDs in parallel just like the old school giant bulbs. For the cost of a rectifier, a voltage regulator, a capacitor, and a small transformer, you make maintenance trivial and guarantee these bulb strings will last forever.
I’d pay $5 more for that chain; wouldn’t you?
* choose the winter solstice holiday you like
Google knows what’s best for me
Suddenly, when launching Chrome, it opens with two tabs where there used to be one. One, as ever, is my had-it-forever but soon-to-die iGoogle page, but with it is another, unadorned google.com search page. I had to go into settings to disable this. It happened on my work mac and both of them here at home.
The only conclusion I can reach is that Google is trying to wean me off their deprecated web product by pushing an unrequested change into my settings on their browser product. Anyone else seeing similar? Anyone have an alternate theory?
All within their rights, probably, but how utterly fucking creepy. It’s convenient to have all my services in one place, and it’s nice that it’s “free” and all, but the real cost of ownership in the Google family is starting to give me a serious case of the icks.
If you’re dying for the updated quick picks code that can handle PowerBall and MegaMillions, as well as an improved method of generating the final random number, the source is here.
Related: I’m back at work today.
Mega Millions: On Generating Better Quick Picks
Since everyone has Mega Millions fever today, and I am concerned that you might not know I am the biggest nerd in the universe, let me share my shame with you: a few years ago, I wrote a program to generate “better” quick picks.
Here’s the source. The picture below is a sample output run.
Why do I think my quick picks are better?
Music nerd toy: LilyPond
I found myself needing to notate some music in a hurry. I wasn’t in the mood to shell out big $ for Sibelius or the like, and while I have Logic Pro and it can do notation, it’s awkward and feels like it was jammed in after the fact (which it was, since it’s really a pro audio tool).
So I looked around last night and found LilyPond, a nifty little app that takes text files as input and typesets fairly well. You describe music in this odd looking language and compile it into a PDF. The language, though quirky, makes sense once you get used to it and I was able to translate this:
And it only took about 30 minutes. I did a second, slightly less complicated piece in about 5 minutes since I was more comfortable with the language.
Anyway, decent stuff and it’s free, including a little wrapper app that helps you manage the text files and output, even though it could probably be done from the command line in a terminal window. Mac and Windows versions are there…worth a look if this sort of thing interests you.
Bonus points if you can name that tune. (Or come to Martyrs tonight and find out!)
This is bugging me
I know we’ve already established that Google+ rules and Facebook dr00lz. I don’t want to argue about it, mostly since I don’t really care. I’m doing both because I have to if I want to stay in touch with all my people, as established.
A recurring theme I keep hearing is that G+ gives you more control over who you share with than FB does. It certainly has an awesome and extra nifty UI to manage circles. Did you know that you can decide the audience of everything you post on your FB status, too?
See that little lock next to the Share button? You can choose who sees what you’re about to put there.
In fact, it’s got a feature G+ doesn’t yet: the ability to start with a set and exclude another. I’ve created a friend list called “sorry” for people who I want seeing a filtered version of me. Most of what I post is this way. But you can also choose a specific list to post to, or just let it be everyone, or whatever.
Try it and see. It’s a lot like G+, though surely and admittedly without the eye candy. It’s been there a long time.
Again, seriously: I’m not trying to defend one evil, privately held corporation against another evil, publicly traded one or argue one’s product over the other. This is simply one of those “the more you know” things. If, like me, you aren’t going to be able to just deactivate your FB account any time soon, perhaps this will make it more useful to you.
Now I’mma go find some boobs to look at.
What’s eating me about Google Plus
I’m writing this down more to clarify my own thoughts than to try to persuade anyone, or to change any hearts and minds. People like what people like and that’s fine. It’s a big world.
Too much set theory. There’s way too much thought required to reckon who sees what. My first inclination is to model it as set theory: there is a set (or set of sets) of people I broadcast any given message to, and among the potential recipients, they each have sets of who they are looking at, and my content will appear to the intersections of those sets. I may not have that exactly right, but then, that’s part of the problem, too. And if you think set theory’s the wrong approach and there is a more linear algorithm we can apply that might simplify it, take a look at this:
(Original image via a FoaF (someone in my Extended Circles?) named Evan Berman.)
I don’t think that’s materially better than my set theory model when it comes to figuring out whom I’m talking to, especially before my first 32oz of coffee.
It increases the number of places I’m going to have to check every day. I know there are all sorts of Social Media Weenises™ out there who have declared after 24 hours with g+ that they can shut down their blogs, Facebook and twitter accounts, even their gmail. Well, good for them. Most of these guys (and they are all guys) really just like the sound of their own voices, so a single place to blast their thoughts into the ether seems like a great idea.
But the reason I do social computing is for the social, not the computing. I’m here for the people; I’m here to read more than I am to write. And while it is clear that I have a number of friends who are leaping into g+ full speed ahead, I have many, many more who aren’t going anywhere. They’re staying right where they are: Facebook. It was a miracle that some of them even showed up there in the first place. So, if I want to see what they are up to and what the other bunch is up to, I’m going to have to go to both places. And, for me, that also implies that I’m going to have to participate in both as well. I may be here to consume more than to share, but social computing is what you make of it. The connections made are maintained by two-way flow. I will lose something important if I try to access any of these information flows unidirectionally. My time is already very tight and this is going to make the situation unequivocally worse.
Google is just as evil as Facebook, maybe more so. I see a lot of Zuckerberg and Facebook haters out there, and I get that. Anything that gets that big and monopolistic is something to be concerned about. It looks to me like a large number of the people flowing to g+ are doing so because FB is evil, and that’s OK, but in my opinion, the sins of Google far, far outweigh those of FB. They are selling more information about each of us in a given microsecond than FB would dare to dream to acquire over our lifetimes. Every search term, every gmail sent, every picture uploaded, youtube comment, +1 on some derpy CNN article: they’ve got it all and it’s all for sale. They’ve surely got more that we don’t even know about. Personally, I’ve made an uneasy peace with this fact, as well as with their truly evil behavior in China and other places. No corporation is without sin, and this is a fact that bears remembering.
Oh, and Google will bully you just as quickly as Facebook, and perhaps with more disastrous effect, too. Try willfully violating their ToS, maybe post some hard core porn, and see how long it takes them to shut your ass down, possibly including all your other Google services, too.
Too much whitespace. I know I’m in the minority here and Google is just doing what everyone else is right now, but I prefer my information to be densely packed on the screen. This surely comes as a result of my working for over a decade in the trading industry where I look at tight grids of ticking data, and from two decades of coding where I like to see as much as possible of what’s going on in my editor at one time. It’s purely a personal preference, but I’d like to see more than 2-3 posts (stream entires? googles?) on my browser window at a time. I understand this is just the latest trend that designers are foisting upon us. Gmail’s doing it, the new Lion version of Mail.app. We’re trending towards about 3 characters per square inch. Maybe if I don giant, plastic-rimmed glasses, Chucks, a scarf, and stop shaving for a week, I’ll see it that way, too. But this is everywhere lately and I suppose I’d better get on board, or finally knuckle down and learn CSS and create my own stylesheets, though that seems dangerous for services that evolve this quickly.
Random stream ordering. They’ll probably fix this or make it an option, but for Christ’s sake, just show the posts in straight reverse chronological order and show them all. Your algorithm adds no value to me, no matter how well you think you know me. Facebook’s “Top Stories”: I’m talking to you, too (but at least they gave us an opt-out).
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It’s early; maybe they will fix some of these things. There are a lot of really smart people working at Google and so far it seems that they are at least listening to user feedback. I’m cautiously optimistic. This is their third shot at this, and it’s clearly the closest yet. At least I’m talking about use cases that I think need fixing, not questioning why the hell they did it in the first place.
There are some things I like about Google plus. The Circles UI is fabulous. I think the concept is, too, if they can find a way to simplify the semantics. I haven’t done a hangout yet, but it looks great. The way you can send direct messages to someone via the stream (circle of size 1) is great.
There are also some things that are definitely not the problem. Most notable: I do not fear change and I am not too stupid to get it, themes I now see appearing amongst some of the Weenises out there. I’d love one of these bloviating douchebags who have never written a line of code in their useless, parasitic lives to say either of those things to me in person.
Anyway. Ramble over. My overall reaction to Google+ is one of sad resignation: “great, somewhere else I’m going to have to spend time and attention on to see what people I care about are up to, and while I’m there, I will be frustrated by the aesthetic and flow of it.”
But I’ll be there, at least a little, because I care about the people more than the technology.