Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lon's Guide to Increasing Your Twitter Followers

(The following is a response to Kevin Rose: 10 Ways To Increase Your Twitter Followers)

  1. Be Famous
    This daring strategy seems to be working effectively for Britney Spears, John Cleese and Tina Fey. By cleverly arranging to already be famous, they have a built-in audience when signing up for social networks.

  2. Have lots of followers on other social networking sites.

  3. Have a high traffic blog or web site
    Post links to your twitter page on high-traffic sites such as CNN or Digg.

  4. Offer your famous iPhone to a random follower
    Of course, some would consider that crass. Especially if you have to give away a different phone...

  5. Mention your twitter account on This Week in Tech as often as possible.
    (I'm looking at you, Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble, and, of course, John C. Dvorak.)

  6. Visit another planet
    Mars counts.

  7. Engage in a highly publicized Twitter follower competition with Leo Laporte.

  8. Be the head of a large organization and make your employees follow you.

  9. Follow everyone. Hey it works for Guy Kawasaki!

  10. and the best way to increase your Twitter followers:

  11. Be President of the United States.



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Cutting the Cord: January Update

I've now been without cable for a couple months.
The initial transition was tough. No way around it.
More than a few times, I found myself sitting on the couch in front of a blank screen.
Decades of habits are hard to break.

I find I'm still watching TV.
But a couple hours of DVD instead of a whole evening of broadcast.

Now, the idea of spending all that money on cable seems preposterous.

The Numbers:
I can't even figure out what was costing all the money, but when I dropped my cable, the bill was $120/month.
That was digital cable plus a couple premium channels.
No on-demand. No Pay-per-view.
Crazy.

By watching for sales, I'm spending about $30/season for hour dramas, and $20/season for sitcoms on DVD.
On most days, I watch two shows.
Assuming 14 episodes/season, and no "reruns," that means I could watch one show a week.
That would be $100/month.

Or let's flip it: for that $1440/year I could get over 50 complete series seasons. Wide-screen. Without commercials. On-demand.

Even a top tier Netflix or Blockbuster account would be under $20/month.

What I'm Watching:
The reality is that I already had a bunch of unviewed DVDs and that I DO re-watch a lot of shows.
I'd say I spent closer to $60 these last two months, but I'm getting to watch shows that aren't currently airing.

For news, I've gone to the radio.
For "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," I occasionally watch them online. But they are no longer a part of my daily life.

My prime time lineup right now: "Veronica Mars," "The Closer," "Firefly," "Eureka," and "The Big Bang Theory." Pretty awesome TV season!

I love "Morning Joe" on MSNBC. They podcast the first segment everyday. Not as good as having the whole show, but it's on my iPod every morning when I boot up for work.

"Meet the Press" also comes as a podcast, and I usually watch that at the computer.

What I'm Not Watching:
Sports.
I'm not a huge sports fan, but I hadn't missed a Vikings game in many years. It's a short bus ride to Metrodome, so I think I'll just watch in person a couple times next year. The average price of $73 is a bit steep, though.

Daily News. No TV News. All radio and web right now.
I think the 24-hour news stations were the greatest time-waster.
I find I really don't miss them.

CNBC was a casualty. I would usually have them on when working from home, but they don't stream online, so I don't have any way to watch.

Once I upgrade to a wide-screen TV, I'll probably buy "Mythbusters" and "Penn & Teller's Bullsh#t!" from iTunes.


Next Steps:
OTA:
Whether the DTV Transition officially happens in February or June, most stations are already broadcasting in digital format. Those that aren't required to keep broadcasting an analog signal will probably stop in February anyway.

My plan was to purchase a digital Over-The-Air receiver after 100 days without cable.
This would let me watch regular broadcast TV and get the news.
But I really don't think there's time for "The Today Show" or all that crap reality TV.
So right now, I'm reconsidering that plan.


DVD Swap:
I'm making plans with friends and family to trade TV series DVDs.
Watch a show. Trade it for one you haven't seen.
Everyone wins.


Media Center:
If I manage to upgrade one of my computers, I may convert one of my workstations into a Media Center. It would be nice to have all the DVDs ripped. But that's not a high priority at this point.


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Monday, January 26, 2009

TapDefense 1.3: Updated Strategy Guide. Levels 1-10

With TapDefense 1.3 "Hard" mode got a lot harder.
It's taken me a couple weeks to beat it, but I was finally successful.

Income:
Each regular monster will yield 3 gold. The "bosses" yield 30 gold.
This isn't remotely enough income to build the upgraded towers.
The single greatest source of income is the interest on your unspent gold.
At higher levels, that will yields more than 400 gold per screen.

You need a tight strategy and a little bit of luck to pull it off.
The original strategy used exclusively Arrows because of their price. With the adjustments to 1.3, we need to mix up the tower types a lot more.

If we build enough towers to guarantee all the monsters are stopped, we will run out of gold in the later levels. So there is some luck involved. (At least for me.)

We can minimize the luck factor by building pretty conservatively and letting that gold carry with its compounding interest.

For the first 10 levels, we will generally keep the budget under 40 gold.

Level 1: Tap To Defend

Just building 3 towers.

By placing each tower in a "corner," each has maximum coverage. With this placement, you will clear the wave over 90% of the time. If we miss a monster, start over. Compounding interest makes losing a life in the early levels a disaster.


Level 2: The First Swarm

Three more towers.
Distributed damage.

I think I've only lost a life once with this configuration. Again, if you lose a life, start over.





Level 3: Slow but Deadly

Here's where we had to significantly change the strategy from before. Since the monsters are slow and usually densely grouped, a Bomb is the most cost-effective way to deal with them. One Arrow tower at the end will have good coverage to demolish any stragglers.




Level 4: 2 Heads > 1

Instead of upgrading towers, we will build our usual three Arrows.
Fill in between Arrows we built on level 3, but let the bottom one get a little extra coverage.




Level 5: The Demon Within

3 more Arrows.
Fill in the row of arrows on the right.



Level 6: On Fire

I actually follow the advice here and build 2 Water towers.
This takes us over budget, but I will usually lose a couple lives if I only build one Water.



Level 7: Bat out of Hell

Here's the biggest break from the old strategy. We need the evenly distributed towers to take out waves of fast units, but each individual tower won't do enough damage to the Hellbat to take it out. The Hellbat is worth enough gold to make it worth our while, so we will upgrade the first Water tower.


Level 8: Go Green

Keep your Halo for interest upgrade later.
Because we had to overbuild last wave to take out the Hellbat, don't build anything this level.



Level 9: Better, Faster, Fuzzier

Back to the usual 3 Arrows.
Leave room next to the track for Ice towers later.



Level 10: Whip It Good
A second Bomb and an Arrow.

With any luck, you should have 330+ gold and all 20 lives at this point.

If you have less than 300 gold at this point, I'd recommend starting over.








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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TV09.org TV Screen Size Comparison Tool

I've been working on a little tool to help people figure out the differences in different sized TVs.
The response so far has been extremely positive.

It's a great tool for when your parents or some other non-technical person has basic questions about how big a TV really is.

Just enter whatever measurements you know about the televisions under consideration, and the site will give you a graphic presentation of the relative sizes.
Simple as that!

The project was inspired when a friend was considering a purchase from woot.com.
We ended up drawing it on a whiteboard, but there was trigonometry involved. I suspect that's why the question was directed my way.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, there are some nice resources online, but I wanted something more visual.

Here's a short video demonstrating the basics:



Any suggestions for ways to improve the site are welcome.


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Qwest: Still Clueless.

Why do I expect competence from Qwest?
I paid way too much for my Internet pipe for many years because I didn't want to risk having everything messed up. But I simply cannot afford the monthly bill anymore.
So, I'm changing a bunch of my services this week and one of them upgrading my DSL line.

The Good:
I was quite surprised when I called them last week and got an extremely helpful and knowledgeable person who helped me configure my new package of services just the way I want them.
This cut my bill by over 75% and will increase my incoming bandwidth by 800%.

The Bad:
Unfortunately, the competence ended with that phone call.
My existing DSL was terminated at midnight last night, but my new service doesn't go live until 5:00 tonight.
This isn't just a problem for my home office. I host my own DNS and servers. This will be my longest downtime for those servers in 10 years. And that includes a flood.
We're just starting, but let's document the service so far:

The Incomprehensible:
Initial call to change services: A+ outstanding
Qwest downgrading my service twice in the last 9 years while keeping my super-high price: Borderline criminal
Qwest forcing a minimum of 17 hours of downtime: Ridiculous
Qwest phone tree suggestion that for help with my DSL modem installation I should check the web site: Migraine
Qwest phone with natural language prompts and voice response: Just creepy


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Unboxing the SwitchEasy Colors

After looking at dozens of iPhone cases online, I found the SwitchEasy products.
These guys are designing some very sensible products. The prices are good as well, so I ordered the Colors case for my iPhone 3G. Heck, it's only $15!

I ordered directly from the SwitchEasy website.
Ordering direct, the shipping via was only $2.
Upon ordering, I received a confirmation email from SwitchEasy.
A few days later, I got a "processing" email from Stamps.com.
A little over a week later, my package arrived via USPS (United States Postal Service).
I spoke with some friends who also ordered directly from the site, and they had a similar experience.
The product arrived in a fiber padded mailer.
Everything in a poly bag
Package Contents
Fully Unpacked


Package contents:
  • The SwitchEasy Colors Case
  • Cardboard "fake iPhone"
  • Screen protectors x2
  • Molded covers for the earphone and data connectors ports
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth
  • Small plastic "squeegee"


The silicon in the case is fairly stiff and the case has been very secure so far. The molding is cleaner than a similar Belkin case I have for my iPod Touch.
Buttons and ports all work fine with the case in place.
I don't use a docking base, but I assume the thickness of the case would cause issues.
The Colors case features a nice separately molded home button.

On the website, the home button is described as a "hard resin tactile solution." So I was expecting something like acrylic or Bakelite. It's much more like a stiff vinyl. Their "jelly bean" phrase more accurately describes the button. The button is actually a hollow shell with a bit of internal structure to stiffen it. Although softer than I expected, it has a very positive action, and I've had no problems with the home button. The only complaint (and it has not been an issue for me) is that because the button is just a shell, it is flexible around the edges and works best when pushed in the center.



I've never used a screen protector before because I think the glass surface is already pretty durable and certainly harder than any plastic screen "protector."
Since a protector (actually a pair) was included in the package, I figured I'd try it and toss it out if I didn't like it.
Installation was easy and forgiving. It took me three tries to get things aligned, but that didn't seem to hurt anything. A small plastic card is included in the package to help press out bubbles and burnish the film onto the screen.

I don't know if this screen shield is protecting anything, but it feels great! My finger glides on this surface more smoothly than on the plain glass. The surface is extremely shiny and it looks great.


Installing the case itself was trivial. Wiped down the phone to remove any dust and slid it into the slightly flexible silicon case. The buttons and access ports were all perfectly aligned. The covered buttons work as well, perhaps better, than before the case was installed. When I'm using the phone just as a phone, I use the earphone and dock connector covers. They look great and keep pocket lint out of the ports. These covers are small, and I expect I will lose them at some point. Some sort of retainer system would be nice.

One thing that makes absolutely no sense to me is that audio from the speaker sounds slightly louder. Don't know how or why, but it was a unexpected benefit.

The case adds less than 2mm to the iPhone. Not a lot of added bulk.



The case gets positive comments. At least a half-dozen people have gone and purchased one after seeing mine.
SwitchEasy has a winning product here.



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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dr. Horrible Gets a People's Choice Award!

In the category of "Favorite ONLINE SENSATION," the nominees were:
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
  • Dance Battle 2
  • Kobe Bryant Attempts Massive Stunt
  • Paris Hilton Responds to McCain Ad
  • Pork and Beans

http://www.pcavote.com/pca/show/nominees/

Grats to all involved.


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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Upgrading" My Waterman

My brother used to commute to Paris for work.
One benefit of this was the occasional French trinket.
I got a lovely Waterman rollerball pen one year for Christmas, but was never thrilled with the cartridge. Waterman makes a terrific fountain pen, but I think the rollerballs are nothing special.

I'm a huge fan of the Pilot G2 ballpoints though. When I was online ordering a Waterman replacement cartridge, and I realized the Pilot G2 ballpoint refills were the same length as the Waterman rollerball.

Turns out the Pilot G2 refill fits! Now I have the nice feel and appearance of the Waterman, with the smooth G2 ink. (And at a fraction of the price.)



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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dr. Horrible "Commentary! The Musical" Official Lyrics Posted

The official lyrics to Commentary! The Musical have been posted at the Dr. Horrible site.
Almost as accurate as the ones the fans assembled.

Now I know the actual words to:
REMEMBER THAT IT’S NOT ABOUT:
THE WEIRD BEARD ON OTTO
THE BEER AND CLAMATO
THE HAIR IN THE CHEESE AND
THE GUILD’S SECOND SEASON



But now, with the real names of the songs, and I have to go edit the MP3s I ripped from the DVD.

All Hail Doctor Horrible!


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Friday, January 2, 2009

The Mandatory New Year's Prediction Post

So...
Predictions for 2009?
I normally look at larger trends than a single year, but some people actually asked for my 2009 predictions.
So blame them for this lame post!

Please leave a comment and let me know the many ways in which I'm an idiot...


Surge in dog ownership:
Although cats now rule the roost I expect the Obama puppy to cause an increase in dog ownership.

Decline in Cable TV Subscriptions:
Many younger people are cutting the cable and getting their video programming online.
Between news sites, Hulu, and NetFlix, they don't see a need for cable.

As for the older audience, Cable is hoping that with the Digital Transition, people will switch to cable, but I don't see it happening. With an over-the-air digital receiver, I would get plenty of channels.
I know that when I was taking stock of my expenditures, I just couldn't justify the cost of cable TV. I would cost less to go see the movies in a theater.
I think a lot of people will come to similar conclusions during 2009.


The End of the Twitter:
Twitter is serving two masters: Microblogging and Instant Messaging.
It actually does both of these fairly well, but the high-volume twitterers are using tools like Tweetdeck to manage the tweet stream. Unfortunately, this can make following these people futile for users who just use basic Twitter clients.

Either Twitter will implement some sort of message discrimination, or a new service will rise up to serve this need. In either case, Twitter, as it stands today, seems unlikely to survive the year.


Edgar Allan Poe
With the bicentennial of Poe's birth, I suspect the Hollywood machine will latch on to the public domain stories for a slew of made-for-TV.


Independent Media Productions
The alternative distribution channels created by YouTube, Hulu, and podcasting have created a medium for new artists to find an audience without the cost and politics of big studios and unions.
The Guild is every bit as good as the comedies you'll find on TV. Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog probably wouldn't have happened without the Writer's Guild strike.

Leo Laporte (This Week in Tech), Cali Lewis (GeekBrief), and the Ask a Ninja guys are all living the dream: They've carved out a full-time job producing content that is distributed directly to their audience on the web.

We've all heard about the democratization of media promised by the Internet, but it appears like it's finally here.

Dr. Horrible made a splash in the larger media, but I expect in 2009, we'll see a web-originated production to really hit it big.



The End of "Trickle-Down Economics"
I know a lot of people regard President Reagan as a great savior or something, but how many times do we need to see that "Trickle Down" just doesn't?

After every market bust or bubble burst, the Haves sit on their resources waiting to see how things play out while the Have-nots get pinched by the sudden loss of available capital.
The great Market Panic of 2008 demonstrated this so clearly. The financial institutions were given an insane amount of cash for the purpose of restarting the credit markets. These institutions sat on the money. As of this writing, they are acquiring smaller banks that didn't get the free money. But still not lending.

With the entire world watching, we're finally seeing a change in policy to put money to work more directly. It seems unlikely that any flavor of "trickle-down" policy will get a hearing in this new environment.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a big believer in a free market and Capitalism. But our current market systems are anything but free.

Unfortunately, given the ignoble state of our financial and stock markets, I suspect the pendulum will be swinging away from the Free Market mentality for awhile.
This is probably an appropriate thing given the circumstances, but hopefully it won't be a long-term trend.


The Beginning of Free Energy
Obama has stated that a large public works project to upgrade the United States' electrical distribution infrastructure will be the bedrock for his plans to improve US security and financial growth. A large-scale an efficient Grid will allow for the cost-effective development of wind farms, tide generators and, yes, nuclear power generation.
Moving from a system where we transport hydrocarbon fluids around to pushing voltage should result in energy independence and nearly free energy.
This will certainly not happen in the next 12 months, but the forces are all aligned, and we have an incoming Administration that seems to "get it," so the potential has never been greater.

Automotive Status Quo
While transporting 2 tons of steel to pick up groceries is preposterous, it seems unlikely that existing US auto manufacturers will react to the changing environment in a significant way.
The market has spoken, and these companies should fail to make room for the next generation of transportation technologies.

Politically, this seems unlikely to happen.

I expect we'll see, at most, one Detroit auto manufacturer go under. And that will more than likely just be a merger.
We probably won't see the next generation of transportation until after the new power generation technologies come online.

Tubes Be Gone!
Holiday 2008 saw some very aggressively priced flat-panel televisions. But retailers still didn't move as many as they had hoped.
Combine these new inexpensive flat screens with the Digital Transition of broadcast television in February, and I think we'll see most homes finally switch away from CRT televisions 2009.

Farmers Markets
When the economic pinch started to hit Main Street in late 2008, many people rediscovered Farmers Markets. By selling direct, farmers can offer superior locally-grown produce at competitive prices.
I think Farmers Markets will become trendy outside the uptown crowd in 2009.



Thing I don't think we'll see in 2009:

The Internet equivalent of the Rural Electrification projects of 1930's.
While desperately needed, I don't think this will make the priority list for 2009.

Revamping of the Patent Office.
Too much money involved to allow the abolishing of all those bogus patents. I fear the system will stay in place until it collapses catastrophically. If the economy stays depressed, it should collapse sooner. Give it five years.

An original idea in Hollywood.
A safe bet in any year!

A real competitor to the iPhone.
There's just too much inertia in the existing manufacturer's to allow enough innovation to leapfrog the iPhone.
Especially if Apple implements cut-and-paste!

A Veronica Mars Movie.
Unless both of Rob Thomas's new TV shows tank, I don't think he'll have time to get this moving. I suspect such a movie will eventually get made since Kristen Bell is a pretty bankable star nowadays. (And as previously stated, Hollywood needs ideas.)

The End of the world.
There's a hundred ways life on this planet could get snuffed out. I'm not expecting it to happen while I'm kicking around.



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