archive for January, 2005

Creative Writing Syllabus

Jesse just blogged about the creative writing assignments I’ve given her. Just to make it clear, I don’t think I have any special kind of authority on what makes a good creative writing assignment. I was just trying to come up with a list that would cover a lot of ground, wouldn’t be easy (so she’d have to push herself a bit), but that would be at least a little fun. Here’s the assignment list that I came up with:

1) Write a short story in the first person.
2) Write a story that is composed of at least 50% dialog.
3) Write something that includes at least 28 lines of poetry.
4) Write a story in the third person.
5) Write about something that actually happened today (the day you write it), but liven it up with poetic license.
6) Write about someone in a predicament.
7) Write a fable with talking animals and that ends with the moral spelled out.
8) Write a surreal story that could never happen.
9) Pick a story and re-write it making it your own. The plot and characters should remain recognizable, but the words should be all original.
10) Write a story where the first sentence of each paragraph corresponds with the number of that paragraph. For example, the first paragraph should start with a one word sentence, the second with a two word sentence, etc.

I tried to do some research, but it seems that most professors don’t publish their assignment lists. Maybe they don’t want people to work ahead, or to spend to much time worrying about a particularly hard assignment that might be coming up. One thing that I did find interesting where the three paragraphs on this page titled “That thing called …” that you can find about 80% of the way down the page. It’s worth a read even if you aren’t a writer.

Matt did give me some ideas from his class, but anything that’s wrong with the above assignments is entirely my fault.

BannerBot

The company I work for, Conversive, has a new product/service called BannerBot. BannerBots are free talking heads that can be placed on websites.

You can use our BannerBot Creator service to customize a BannerBot of your own. Currently you can pick from three heads and six voices (available in English, Spanish, and French), pick a text color (if you want the text to show), and design the configure the background however you want it. All you have to do is enter the text that you want it to speak, and click the Create button. Our software will make a file for you to download and install on your website as you see fit.

Technically we’re still doing beta testing, so you might run into some bugs. We plan on adding more heads, and more voices as we have time.

Recipe: Raspberry-Chocolate Ice Cream

It’s time for yet another ice cream recipe. This version has quite a bit of raspberry flavor. It’s not like chocolate ice cream with a little raspberry sauce. Ingredients:

1 pint Heavy Cream
1 cup Sugar
2 cups Frozen Raspberries
1/2 cup Powdered Cocoa

Start by defrosting raspberries in just enough water to cover the bottom of a pot. Blend until smooth, and strain out the pulp. You should end up with about a cup of raspberry juice, but you may need to add a little water if it’s too think to strain.

Put the raspberry juice back on the heat, add the sugar and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil and reduce to a syrup.

Cool the syrup by putting pot in ice water. Once chilled, add the cream, mix and refrigerate. Leave the mix in the fridge until it’s as cold as it’s going to get. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions.

New Dietary Guidelines

You’ve probably seen it in the news: the US government has released the new dietary guidelines for 2005. The USDA has a nice summary of the guidelines. There are some changes, but it’s not surprising that they’re asking American’s to eat fewer calories, and to exercise more because “almost two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and more than half get too little physical activity.”

They’re going to release consumer brochures later this year. I hope they explain a few things that I’ve never been clear about. For example, how many calories should I eat per day? They’re always talking about the reference 2,000 calorie diet, but who should eat 2,000 calories? I used this calorie calculator, and it said that I should eat 3,147 calories per day to be a healthy 170 lbs. And that’s if I exercise the recommended 60 minutes per day. If I only exercise “rarely”, then it says that I should eat 2,600 calories per day. I figure that I average between 1,500 and 2,500 per day and I don’t exercise much, so according to that calculator I should weigh less than 170 lbs (I don’t, I weigh more). I have to set the calculator to 87 lbs. before it shows the reference 2000 calories. It just doesn’t add up. It’s not even close.

The other problem I have with the guidelines is that they’re suggesting that we exercise at least one hour per day most days of the week. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure we’d all be healthier if we exercised that much, but is it really practical? I don’t think so. I’d like to see some real guidelines for the American couch potato. Maybe we need to figure out ways to get exercise 30 min. per day, and only eat 1,500 calories mostly from vegetables. I don’t know. I’m not a nutritionist, but until they come out with guidelines that are clear and practical, most people won’t follow them.

Huygens Landing Tonight

The Huygens probe is all set to descend to Titan tonight. Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. Data will be transmitted back to Cassini on the way down, and if Huygenes survives the landing, it will keep on broadcasting for a couple hours. I’m going to try to stay up and watch it “live” on NASA TV.

Link Roundup: Jan. 12, 2005

Advice for Computer Science College Students
Desktop Search Comparison
20 Year Usenet Timeline
Paint-On Solar Power
IBM Opens Their Patent Portfolio to Open Source
Artists House

Checkup

I finally went to the doctor today. It’s been something like 10 years since I’ve been just for a checkup and not because I had a cold or a flu. It turns out that I’m healthy, so that’s cool. I did mention that I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, and I have a hard time getting back to sleep. I guess it’s nothing to worry about, but he set up an appointment for me to get some tests. I’m also going to have my eyes checked, but I don’t think I need glasses quite yet.

Mac Mini

Like everyone else today, I’m going to talk about Apple‘s new products. First up, the Mac mini. This is the first of my 2005 predictions to be tested (prediction number 3). I was right. Apple isn’t selling the new Mac Mini for $250 as hoped, but instead for a very reasonable $499.

Cringely may still turn out to be right that Apple is going to take a big risk this year, but this doesn’t seem to be it. Maybe they’ll wait until this summer to drop the price, but I doubt it. Apple usually increases the features and power of their products instead of lowering prices. When they want to lower prices, they come out with a whole new product.

It doesn’t look like the Mac Mini is going to make a good platform for a PVR. Though, it would look sweet sitting in the entertainment center. Who knows, maybe later this year they’ll come out with a PVR Mac.

Back to today’s new products. The other new piece of hardware is the iPod Shuffle. It’s a flash memory based portable media player. It’s smaller than a pack of gum and holds about eight hours of music (the battery is said to last 12 hours). It doesn’t have any display, and they’re really pushing the idea that you’ll just turn it on and listen to music randomly play. I usually listen to my music on shuffle, so I think this is going to be really popular. The best news is that it’s only $99, so it’ll probably be flying off the shelves.

Cringely’s 2005 Predictions

Robert Cringely has published his predictions for 2005. I thought I’d take each one and give you my opinion (just so a year from now we can see how wrong I was).

1) Microsoft’s anti-malware businesses. I talked about that here. I still haven’t tried it out, but I agree with Cringely. I just don’t see how this is going to make Microsoft look good, especially if they charge for the service. BTW: Microsoft’s Genuine Windows Extortion program (my name, not their’s) where they don’t give you updates unless you can prove that you bought Windows doesn’t look good either.

2) Burst.com vs. Microsoft. I don’t know anything about this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft figured out a way to drag this out.

3) Apple to take some big risks. My gut tells me that Apple won’t sell their bare-bones system for as low as $250, but I agree that they should. The rumors say that the headless Mac will run about $500 which seems reasonable. I’m looking at building a PVR in 2005, and a Mac running MythTV would be sweet. I sure hope they make a grab for market share.

4) The RIAA will continue to sue customers. Yes, yes they will. Of course, that will drive file traders to use even more secure and private networks. These guys (the old guard) will never learn that people will pay for music if you sell it at a reasonable price and can compete on convenience.

5) WiMax gets hyped. I’m already seeing a healthy dose of skepticism with the WiMax coverage. If WiMax has the bandwidth and range that’s being talked about, then it really will be able to deliver real changes to the economy. Phone (VoIP), Internet access, games, and all kinds of media will feel the implications within a few years.

6) VoIP will shatter the telephone industry. Agreed. The prices are too good argue with. Not only that, but I think VoIP is going to seriously drive adoption of broadband. Cable companies are going to have to jump on the bandwagon, and eventually we’ll see TVoIP (but probably not in 2005).

7) Repurposing Linux-based consumer electronics devices. Yeah, but I don’t think it’ll be big news.

8) Desktop Linux will finally make some serious inroads. I don’t know what he means by serious, but I think desktop Linux will continue to grow. As good as Firefox is doing, Mozilla doesn’t have nearly the market share it deserves. It’ll be even harder to get people to switch operating systems. Hopefully Apple will make switching easier. It’s a lot easier to switch away from Windows if it has 70% of the market than if it has 96% of the market.

9) Innovative online video initiatives. A video version of podcasting will probably pop up. The big question is: will someone spend millions of dollars to make a show that’s designed primarily for Internet distribution? My guess is no, not until 2006.

10) Peoplesoft-Oracle merger. Cringely is probably right here. I don’t know enough about the market to say anything more.

11) Cisco will buy startup companies. Same as above. This is Cringely’s domain, not mine.

12) Sun will continue downward. My guess is that Sun will get desperate enough to make real changes. Sun needs to scale appropriately, and focus on what it does best. They’d probably be smart to jump on the Linux bandwagon and bring any Solaris tech that’s worth anything with them, but I doubt they will.

13) Intel. They’ve lost a lot of their luster to AMD, but I think they can regain control by choosing their battles wisely.

14) UltraWide Band networking and Power Line Networking will have to wait until 2006. I think we’ll start to see some big moves here, but it probably will take until 2006 before it’s common place.

15) Sony’s PS3 will be delayed. I’m clueless here. However it happens, I think Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo will all release their next console within a year of each other; probably within six months of each other. I think the big winner will be whoever maintains backwards compatibility. Of course I’m probably engaging in wishful thinking and betting on what should be true instead of what’s actually likely to be true.

One more prediction for the video game market: Microsoft is going to keep buying up studios. Sony is going to work out special deals with studios so that they get the games first. Nintendo will still compete with it’s suppliers. Who wins here? Not the consumers. It will make the industry ripe for change, but not in 2005.

So, that’s it. Probably none of this is shocking to anyone paying attention to these sorts of things. The funny thing is that there is plenty of room for shocking changes in 2005. Cheap digital video cameras will put movie making in the hands of the masses. Same goes for music and other media like photography, comics, literature, news, etc…) Ubiquitous, high-speed, wireless Internet access will be able to deliver it anywhere, anytime. The tricky part (and the real business opportunity) will be to figure out how to aggregate and filter it all. The solution will be both bottom-up (ratings by consumers), and top-down (authority of the gods of cool). New types of entertainment, like ARGs, will be able to explode.

Netflix Friends

Netflix has finally added a friends list feature. I emailed them about this over a year ago when FOAF networks were getting big. (FOAF networks are friend-of-a-friend based services like Friendster and Orkut.) I also blogged about it a couple of months ago in my Netflix Price War post.

I haven’t actually gotten past the sending of invitations step, so I don’t really know what Netflix is offering yet. It looks like they only let you see your friends ratings. If so, hopefully they’ll add a way so that you can recommend movies for specific friends, and see what their rental queue looks like. As I said before, they should also create a set of community forums to make Netflix the place to discuss movies.

Update: It looks like they do allow you to recommend movies to friends. Good job Netflix.

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