Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Impossible 10 Year Plan.

Ah to be young again. It wasn’t that long ago that I could be still counted amongst the ranks of teenagers, fresh out of college and blasting my way onto the university scene with all the subtly of a drag car in a library. Back then I was still young enough to believe I knew everything and was able to predict my direction in life with the utmost certainty. It was settled, I’d get my degree, land a secure job and fight my way all the way to the top and become a CEO of some mega corp. At the same time I made an informal bet with a good friend of mine that I’d be a millionaire by 30, building on the idea that I’d leverage my savings and possible future home purchases to reach that lofty goal. Those years were probably the most liberating of my life and knowing exactly where I was going was something that I wore proudly.

6 years on however, I don’t think my teenage self and I would get along very well 😉

Back then I was all about knowing your direction to the umpteenth degree and following it to the letter and honestly back then it worked pretty well for me. That wasn’t because it was a good plan and I barely deviated from it; more it was because for the first 4 years of my 10 year plan I was stuck in university so there really wasn’t a lot of room for variation save for failing a class (which I didn’t, thankfully). After finishing my degree and managing to land the coveted job at a large multi-national company I was all set to start my ladder climbing but it took less than a year for my spirits to be broken, dreams of project management shattered and my focus changed from that lofty goal of CEO to generating as much income as possible at any moment whatever the cost.

It was then that I scaled back my goals to something I felt was a bit more managable, around 5 years or so. That meant when I was 23 I thought I had everything planned out till I was 28 which again seemed to work quite well. Instead of just career goals though I started to include more of life’s basic pursuits, love and children. It was a scary thought at first, as it is for any man, but soon the thoughts came to warm me with a soothing amount of certainty. Yet again however these carefully laid plans started to get dashed with the reality of life. Our dreams of going overseas right after the wedding were torn down by the staggering amount of work and cash that would be required to achieve it, and my world was turned upside down when I faced the trifecta of losing my job, buying an investment property and trying to help plan a wedding that would be happening in less than 3 months time.

Whilst it all came clear in the end it taught me that even 5 year plans are probably too long and incapable of dealing with the reality of life: the unknowns.

So right now you’ll rarely ever hear me talk about plans that are longer than a year, just because everything can change so fast that anything longer than that has a good chance of being completely scrapped. Additionally the lofty goals I set myself when I was 19 seemed so complex that the time frames I gave them were in the order of decades, a classic example of Parkinson’s Law (although I’d hesitate to call it a law). Now when my planning only stretches out so far I’m forced to work within the bounds of shorter time frames and things start to look that much more achievable. Sure I’m still working on unkowns but the beauty of it is that they won’t remain that way for decades. The only thing worse than trying something and failing is not trying it at all.

It all comes back to my core belief that setting goals or dreams that are unachievable are the root cause of people giving up on them. I whole heartedly encourage everyone to dream of better things but if you really, truly want to realise them you have to break them down into achievable chunks. Then you know that every step you take is towards that final prize, the dream that you once held up on a pedestal finally becomes a reality. It’s after one of your dreams comes true that you start to look at the others more seriously.

Maybe I’m channeling Tony Robbins here but every time I hear someone talk about their dreams my first compulsion is to ask them “What have you done today to achieve them?”. It’s these infinitesimally small steps taken as often as possible towards your goals that will see them become a reality. It’s so easy to put excuse after excuse up to stop you from exerting the smallest amount of effort towards a life more like the one you dreamed of but if you power through and start achieving you’ll find the willpower to continue on.

Achievement is the self fulfilling prophecy to your dreams.

Twitter, Promoted Tweets and You.

Let me just come right out and say it: I like Twitter. Granted I only really got involved with it in the first place as it was a useful little bit of glue logic that let me cross post my blog onto Facebook with a minimum amount of set up. Whilst I was on honeymoon on Turtle Island it became the perfect one-way communication channel to the wider world, where I could send a 140 character summary of the day back to the real world and then be done with it. More recently I’ve been knee deep in Twitter’s API and have come to love it for the sheer simplicity it offers, ensuring that the first bit of code I deem “done” is always my Twitter integration. Still I’ve always had a skeptical eyebrow raised as to how these guys are going to capitalize on their endeavour, seeing as they are the 12th most visited site in the world.

For the most part they’ve been doing what most start ups do initially, venture capital funding rounds. Whilst there’s no exact figures around we do know they’ve got upwards of $70 million dollars in 3 separate funding rounds (with an additional $100 million rumoured to be in the works too). Couple that with the cash injections from Microsoft and Google to include tweets in their search results (to the tune of $25 million) the guys at Twitter really aren’t strapped for cash by any stretch of the imagination. However without some strategy to actually monetize the service they provide that money will only last so long before they have to close up shop. The usual strategy here is to try and find a large company to buy you out (ala Youtube, what you thought it was profitable?) which in the case of Twitter there would be no shortage of potential suitors.

However it seems that Twitter isn’t your traditional up-start start-up and have figured out a monetization strategy that seems rather familiar:

Earlier this evening, we broke the news that Twitter was about to launch its new ad platform. The news has just been confirmed: moments ago, the New York Times published a report detailing the new platform, which is officially being called “Promoted Tweets”. Update:  AdAge has published a report as well.

Here are the details outlined in the articles:

  • As we previously described, the new system serves up ads based on keywords in Twitter search queries.
  • Promoted Tweets will appear at the top of the search results page, with small text indicating they were sponsored. The Times piece notes that companies could use this to combat negative tweets (they can place a positive tweet at the top of the page)
  • A Promoted Tweet isn’t guaranteed to stay afloat for a long time — if the tweet isn’t tracking well in terms of replies, clicks, and a number of other metrics Twitter is calling “resonance”, it will be pulled, and the advertiser won’t pay for it.
  • One ad will be shown at a time
  • Initial ad partners include Best Buy, Virgin America, Starbucks, and Bravo
  • Advertisers will be paying on a CPM basis initially, with plans to adjust the model once Twitter can better gauge how people are engaging with Promoted Tweets

Anyone who’s tried to make some cash on the Internet can recognise what this basically amounts to, it’s Google’s monetization strategy all over. For the uninitiated there are two sides to Google’s (largest) revenue stream: AdWords and AdSense. The former is basically a market for advertisers to buy advertising space on certain keywords which could appear on Google’s search results or web pages running AdSense. Payment is done on a cost-per-click basis so in essence you only pay when someone clicks through. AdSense is the other side of the equation which is the system where publishers can reserve space on their web sites for advertising which Google then populates based on the keywords it finds on the website. If you go back and take a closer look at Twitter’s ad system you’ll notice how similar they look.

Honestly though I’m not suprised. Unlike small time players that can get away with slapping some advertising on their blog and calling it a day it doesn’t really scale up to the size of something like Twitter. Sure they’d make a fair amount out of it but it would be peanuts compared to them actually going out directly to advertisers and cutting deals directly. With their initial partner list showing some rather big names you can see that this has probably been bubbling away in the background for quite some time and shows a lot more promise than some of their other monetization ideas did.

The system itself apparently is already in full swing for a lucky few (see here for how they roll out new features, its quite cool) and seemed to coincide with a bit of a revamp of their landing page. The reaction hasn’t been all that positive but you’d expect that. It seems some of the twitterati (or tweeple, as I like to call them) assigned a kind of indy rock band persona to Twitter and when they finally decided to “sell out” it comes as a massive shock. However I believe it will be a very short lived outrage as even the closest competitor identi.ca has no where near the same amount of traction that Twitter does. Additionally should there be a mass exodus from Twitter you can guarantee the other services will look to monetize like Twitter as quickly as they can in order to cope with the increased traffic they’d receive. You can only run on venture capital for so long before the benefactors start looking to get their slice of your service’s pie.

Personally though it’s a bit of a non-event. It won’t change the way I use Twitter and since I’m not exactly a big shot on there I’m not going to be looking to capitalize on this new advertising medium. It’s good to see Twitter finally coming up with a solution to their monetization problem and I’m sure the VCs are rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect at finally getting something back for the untold millions they’ve pumped into the Internet’s latest starlet. I’m very keen to see how this affects their bottom line, and time will tell if this will turn Twitter into another advertising giant like their big daddy Google.

You’ve Got Rumours? Call me When You Have Products.

I’ve been at this geek thing for a long time now, over 20 years since I can first remember sitting down in front of a computer and hammering away at some DOS game. In that time I’ve had my share of ups and downs when it comes to tech and for the most part its always been ups. Games are always looking better, I’m rarely lost for choice when it comes to finding some form of entertainment and I have enough gadgets and gizmos to keep me entertained when even the great Internet fails me. Still for all the good that the tech industry has done for me there have still been times when I’ve cursed some of the companies who are responsible for lavishing such greatness on myself and the wider world.

Take for instance the Sony PSP. Many moons ago I remember hearing about Sony’s foray into the portable gaming market and almost launching myself through the roof with excitement. Having recently purchased a Nokia N-Gage (don’t be hatin’ my sidetalkin’ yo) the rumours that Sony would be releasing a handheld gaming device that, at the time of the announcement, could have a phone in it made me one happy geek. Sure the N-Gage wasn’t a terribly good gaming device or phone but I was sure that Sony could do a better job and waited patiently. You can then imagine my disappointment when it was finally announced that the PSP had no phone and no bluetooth which while it didn’t stop me from purchasing one did turn me towards casting a skeptical eye on tech rumours. It would seem however that getting burnt by my tech dream date wasn’t enough to stop me from getting caught up a recent whirlwind of speculation however.

I was happily suffering in silence over this matter because for the most part the only major offender of this sort of malarky was Apple. Whilst I can appreciate the astronomically successful PR campaigns they put out for every one of their products (their “leaks” are anything but that) the inevitable wave of speculation on the tiniest bit of information manages to drown out actual stories about real products. It had been tolerable for the last couple years since there wasn’t so much of a frenzy over the revised iPhones but their iPad has and continues to create enough fluff pieces to coke a giraffe several times over. I mean come on the thing has only been out for what a couple weeks and already there’s rumours of an iPad Mini set to be released at the start of next year. Frankly I’m sick of hearing about it, and the only news I want to hear from Apple on their iPad is sales numbers and how their media deals are going. That’s the only interesting apart about the device I’ve bashed into oblivion on this blog, yet I’m still flooded with Apple rumour speculation.

What sent me over the edge however was this little piece of non-news:

Confirming the rumors, and after dismissing the iPad as nothing more than a large phone, Google is getting ready its own tablet computer. At least, that was what Google CEO—and Steve Jobs’ own personal Judas—Eric Schmidt is saying.

According to the New York Times, Schmidt told friends about the new tablet at a recent party in Los Angeles. NYT’s sources point out that Google has already been talking with publishers about delivering content for the platform. Surprisingly, Schmidt said it will not run Chrome OS—as recently shown by a Chrome OS engineer—but Android, making it the true big phone Schmidt was mocking. It makes sense to build on Android, since it already has applications.

I wonder if Schmidt told Jobs about it over coffee. The War for the Future of Computing carries on.

So a Google exec told a friend at a party that they’re working on some form of product and a couple people who can’t be named confirmed it. Colour me unimpressed guys, without any real information on the product you’re basically just spreading FUD. Sure it’s quite feasible that Google is fiddling around with something and whilst they’re not as secretive as Apple they have a habit of not talking things up before their release (the first rumours of the Nexus one surfaced around December 13th last year, it was released less than 3 weeks later). So it’s plausible yes, but then again every man and his dog is talking about an iPad competitor, this isn’t news!

Bah maybe I’m just cynical because I’ve been burnt too many times in the past or maybe my new iPhone (review coming!) just serves as a constant reminder of Apple’s shenanigens. I’m sure in a few more weeks the rumours will die down and I can get my teeth into some juicy new tech instead of harping on Apple and everyone who’s trying to be/beat them.

Job Ad Shopping Lists (or Recruiters: Your Nets Are Cast Too Wide).

I’ve been told for almost all of my full-time working life that I’ve been lucky since I knew what I wanted to do from the day I first set foot in the door. Ignoring the fact that I went from help desk monkey to programmer to system admin to project manager and back to system administrator (showing that no, I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do) much of the “luck” I’ve been graced with was mostly for applying for jobs that I wasn’t exactly qualified for and happening to get the job. When I was hunting around for permanent jobs on my own, before I got recruitment agencies to do the legwork for me, I never really understood how I managed to get these jobs or how the people I was working with managed to get into their positions as well.n It all dawned on me when I sat down with my very first pimp (people who find me jobs) who gave me the behind the scenes look at the IT jobs market, but I’d hazard a guess that these principles hold true no matter what the market is.

Take for instance the list of job requirements listed below. This job pays similar to my current position and the work is in the same area, however the list below has people like me thinking twice about sending our resume their way:

  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a complex MS Windows active directory based environment
  • Demonstrated ability in supporting desktop systems in a MS Windows environment including local and remote deployments
  • Demonstrated ability in supporting MS Exchange based messaging systems and Blackberry Enterprise Services
  • Experience in Video Conference and IP Telephony administration desirable

Just to make my point a little more clear take another position where the work would arguably be the same, but the required skill set varies wildly:

  • Proven analytical and problem solving capabilities
  • Consulting experience
  • Excellent working knowledge of Windows based Infrastructure Environments (Windows 2003 OS, Exchange, DNS )
  • Having obtained or working towards an industry accreditation such as MCSE
  • Experience with Active Directory, Citrix, VM Ware
  • A good understanding of communications equipment and distributed networks

Whilst the former isn’t too bad the latter example shows what most recruiters call their shopping list of skills they look for in a candidate. In most situations you’re not going to be expected to match the criteria perfectly, in fact they’re usually counting on it. Once you get passed a certain level of skill it gets pretty hard to be an expert on more than a few technologies, especially if they don’t go hand in hand with each other (like CITRIX and VMware for example). Typically any IT shop that requires people with in depth skills of any nature will usually have a team of several of such people, just because they can’t expect one guy to know everything and if you could find such a genius you wouldn’t want to hire just one of them anyway. You’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle if they ever get sick or, heaven forbid, find a better job elsewhere.

The tactic I use to combat this brick wall of requirements is what I call shotgun job applications. Knowing full well that the shopping list of skills is probably no where near what they actually need I’ll send out applications to any job that I think I’m even mildly qualified for, basically spraying the job market with resumes. The responses that I get back from the recruiters then shows which ones are looking for someone like me and not the ones who are just putting up wish lists and hoping for that coveted genius tech to come along.

Wide reaching skill sets can also be an indication of how big of an operation a place might be. For example a job ad that lists basically every technology under the sun is more than likely to be a one man administrator shop, and I’d be surprised if the pay matched the skill set required. Jobs with narrower skill sets are more likely to be much bigger operations with multiple levels of support handled by varying pay grades. Depending on what you’re looking for these can be good or bad things, as you’re likely to have a lot more freedom in smaller operations but also a lot more responsibility. Whereas in larger operations you’re probably going to be quite restricted in what you do but the pay off is that you’re not responsible for everything under the IT umbrella.

It’s not just places with jobs doing this either, there’s also a healthy amount of recruiters posting up fake jobs with astronomical or wide reaching skill requirements just so they can fish for applicants to keep on their books. In my last shotgun job application spree I managed to net about 2 of such recruiters who advertised jobs in Canberra but strangely had no presence in our nation’s capital. This raised red flags instantly and after being lead up the garden path several times (and the “jobs” they had advertised being linked to an unnamed company who just landed a “big government contract” they couldn’t talk about) I knew I’d been reeled in. It did help me land a contract extension though as their multiple phone calls towards the end of my contract made bargaining with my current employer rather easy.

On the other hand though I really can’t blame the recruiters or organisations who are doing this. After recently losing 2 members of my current team to greener pastures management has been in recruitment mode to get them in. Unfortunately for them they’re one of the honest ones and this attracted candidates who, whilst looked quite good on paper, floundered in the interview. The result was so devastating that for the next round of interviews they gave every candidate a writtern test to complete before the interview would start, something I hadn’t seen since my days as a programmer (and that was for entry level, this is for a specialist position). When you’re looking for a decent candidate you have to do something to filter out the cruft, and scaring them away with a list of skills as long as your arm is probably the most popular option.

I guess my point to all this is that if you’re even the slightest bit good at your job chances are that you could be doing a lot better for yourself. You may look at the job market and wonder where all these people with amazing skills come from but the fact is that most of them are people like you who just gave it a shot one day and found themselves so much better for it. If you’re in a permanent job you really have nothing to lose by sending your resume out to see if anyone bites, and if they do it could be your ticket into a wonderful new world of opportunities.

Of course there’s always the chance it will go the other way, but that’s what taking a risk is all about 🙂

Tickets to Space: The Price Just Doubled.

You would think that with all the competition that is starting to appear for access to low earth orbit that prices would be falling through the floor, so to speak. Taking a quick look over what the going rate might be for say a Dragon capsule with a Falcon 9 underneath it you find yourself paying a cool $100 million or so and you can take yourself and 6 friends into LEO, or just shy of $17 million a pop. If we use that as a benchmark for the cheapest form of travel that is, as of yet, unproven then NASA’s previous costs of about $26 million per astronaut when using the Russian Soyuz craft seem quite reasonable.

Unfortunately that price relies on a couple of factors that are going to change once the Shuttle is retired, and it seems that Russia is no slouch when it comes to pricing those factors in:

WASHINGTON – The price for American astronauts to hitch a ride on a Russian spaceship is going sky high.

NASA on Tuesday signed a contract to pay $55.8 million per astronaut for six Americans to fly into space on Russian Soyuz capsules in 2013 and 2014. NASA needs to get rides on Russian rockets to the International Space Station because it plans to retire the space shuttle fleet later this year.

NASA now pays half as much, about $26.3 million per astronaut, when it uses Russian ships. NASA spokesman John Yembrick said the cost is going up because Russia has to build more capsules for the extra flights. NASA had already agreed to pay as much as $51 million a seat for flights in 2011 and 2012, before the latest increase.

Really it comes as little suprise that the price jumped significantly once NASA started asking for a serious number of seats. Soyuz spacecraft really aren’t that big (see here for a scale drawing vs the Shuttle, it could fit a couple Soyuz in its payload bay) and can only take 3 space faring humans at a time. Energia,  the company that builds the Soyuz capsules and rockets, is currently producing 5 full launch systems a year which gives Russia 15 seats a year to play with. Considering NASA launches around 4~5 Shuttles per year with up to 7 astronauts in each you can see that if they’re planning to launch even half that many people on Russian crafts they’re going to need to build a fair few more launch systems to cope. It doesn’t really help that Energia will need to build some new infrastructure to increase their production capacity as their current 5 per year is pretty much the maximum they can build.

This should put it into perspective just how much of a blow to the United States losing the Shuttle is. Whilst I can still appreciate some of the work they did (Ares V was set to be an absolute monster of a rocket) the launch gap they’ve put themselves into is incomprehensible. Many years ago when they began talks of retiring the Shuttle fleet there really wasn’t any alternative but to buy Russian rides and even then they knew that their capabilities can’t support both Russia and the US. Couple that with the fact that they could’ve spent some of the money they had for constellation on say man rating the ATLAS V (which Bigelow intends to do, but NASA rejected as it was too “high risk” to reach the deadline of 2011) they could’ve avoided this situation entirely.

It doesn’t help that people keep throwing fuel on the fire by suggesting that the Shuttle be extended past its current end date. Sure it would help close the gap in launch capability but they would’ve had to had that extension in a couple years ago so that critical infrastructure, such as the external tank construction plants, wouldn’t have been shut down. Couple that with the fact that the Shuttle program costs $2.4 billion just to keep it alive (regardless of how many Shuttles are launched) you’re looking at huge costs that will net a very minimal  benefit and will likely kill off many other projects due to NASA’s budget constraints. There’s really little sense in trying to revive something when you’ve already relegated yourself to letting it go.

The huge cost of the Shuttle is nothing new either, but it would seem a lot better if the shuttle was used as it was designed to be. Despite its design by committee the Shuttle was designed to be launched often, up to 12 times a year (that’s 1 per month folks). If we were launching that often then the costs of the standing army would seem a lot more feasible as instead of some $400~$600 million costs  you’d be much closer to $200 million, a sizable cut. That goal was never reached unfortunately although NASA did manage to get 9 launches done in 1985, which seems almost impossible now.

It is really unfortunate that it’s too late to do much about the manned flight situation in the US, but there is hope on the horizon. With the Falcon 9 hopefully blasting into orbit sometime this or next month we’re not too far away from a private company resupplying the ISS, and from there its only a small step for astronauts to start hitching rides up there to. Maybe NASA needed to lose its capability in order to rethink what they’re doing, and hopefully they take this opportunity to do so.

STS-131: The Launch The World Forgot.

You know something’s up when a space nut like myself misses some juicy blog fodder such as the latest Shuttle launch. Whilst I’ve been off slandering the iPad and its fans the good folks at NASA have been hard at work with STS-131 launching into space early in the morning just three days ago. It’s also a sign of the media’s waning interest in the Shuttle program as usually a few news outlets pick up on it and I’ll be treated to some wonderful Shuttle imagery over my morning coffee. That unfortunately wasn’t to be this time around.

STS-131 is the fourth last of the currently planned Shuttle missions and the second last mission for the space Shuttle Discovery. Additionally this will be the last mission to take up a full compliment of 7 astronauts and the last mission that any first time astronauts will be riding the Shuttle into space. Couple this with the mission’s payload (more on that below) it’s a sign that the Shuttle program is well on its way to retirement at the end of this year. All that’s left to do is gear the International Space Station up as much as we can whilst NASA sorts out what its next transport solution will be.

The biggest part of STS-131 is the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) called Leonardo. The MPLMs (there are three of them) are pressurized containers used to transport cargo to and from the ISS. It is currently full to the brim with extra equipment for the ISS that includes:

As well as the usual compliment of food and supplies for the various experiments currently residing aboard the ISS. There’s nothing really amazing or spectacular about the payload of this mission apart from the fact that this won’t be the last visit to the ISS that MPLM Leonardo will make, albeit in a different form.

In their current form the MPLMs aren’t suited for long duration flights connected to the ISS. They lack appropriate shielding and interconnects with the various systems aboard the ISS that would enable them to become a permanent fixture, which is why they’re always carried back down at the end of the mission. A while back the European Space Agency (ESA) suggested that in order to reduce the number of resupply missions needed the MPLM Donatello should be upgraded (it would then be called a Pressurized Multipurpose Module) to serve as a permanent storage module on the ISS. Initially the idea was rejected due to costs but the plan is going to go ahead using the Leonardo MPLM instead. So after it is brought back to earth after this mission Leonardo will undergo extensive upgrades and will then be launched back up on the last mission STS-133.

As we near that final end date of September 16, 2010 every shuttle launch I see is always accompanied by a small twinge of sadness. Whilst this isn’t the final flight for Discovery it still marks one of the very last missions that the Shuttle will ever fly. Much like seeing an old friend off on a long trip overseas you know that you’ll see them again, but you still can’t help but feel sad for their departure.

Pads, Tablets and Slates: There’s Not Just One.

Go on, cave in and get yourself a shiny iPad. You’ve been hankering for a device like that since the Apple rumour mill started working you over in the middle of last year, and you were sure it was the only device you ever wanted once Mr Jobs dropped the proverbial iBomb back in January. I mean come on, it’s not like there’s any other options available to you is there? If you want a highly portable, large touch screen device you’re pretty much stuck with Apple, and you might as well sell your soul to the covenant of Steve Jobs whilst you’re at it. If you only have one choice you might as well be happy with it, right?

<Cheesy French accent> WRONG! </Cheesy French accent>

I wish my satirical take on what I can only describe as Apple Fever was as far away from the truth as the iPad is from being the only device capable of doing what it does. Thanks to their aggressive PR and rabid fan base every other tablet/slate/pad device that has been announced or even released over the past 6 months has been lost in a white wash of iPad fandom. The cult of Apple will almost always trounce these other devices as copycats or half baked attempts to steal Apple’s thunder when in fact some of them were in development long before the Apple rumour mill was whipped up into full swing. Today I’d like to take you though the 4 (yes FOUR) other options that are either available right now or will be in the next couple months.

The Joo Joo:

An idea spawned by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington this 12 inch slate has had a troubled birth as it went from being called the Crunchpad to the Joo Joo after a deliciously dramatic bit of controversy. After several delays and dismal pre-orders they finally managed to get some actual hardware out the door, albeit at the most unfortunate time when everyone else in the world was collectively soiling themselves over their new iPad. It probably hasn’t helped that the custom software for the Joo Joo has been met with lackluster reviews leaving this potential iPad contender floundering in the wind. Still it shows that despite the hype there are alternatives available, should you be willing to subject yourself to an inferior experience.

Archos 9 PC Tablet:

Ah Archos. These guys have been around for quite a while now (over 20 years to be precise) and made their name initially selling peripherals for Commodore Amigas.  Shortly afterwards though they dived into the world of portable media players and more recently have been making their name with their slew of MIDs and netbooks. The Archos 9 PC Tablet is in essence a fully fledged computer as it comes pre-installed with Windows 7, which realistically puts it in the UMPC category. Reviews so far have been less than stellar mostly due to its (relatively) slow processor and so-so screen. Give it another iteration and I’m sure Archos will be a serious contender for the iPad, especially with those hungering for more functionality. It is also available for purchase right now.

OpenPeak OpenTablet 7:

OpenPeak isn’t a name you’ll instantly recognise, mostly due to their devices being re-branded by the carriers they sell them to, but they’ve got a bit of a record for delivering some pretty stellar products. Their latest work is the OpenTablet 7 which boasts its own custom UI and apparently thousands of applications ready for it. Whilst it is not yet available previews of the device have been well recieved and the specs of the device are extremely impressive (1080p front facing camera? Wow) with oodles of connectivity this might just be enough to convince the tech crowd that tablet devices are worth giving a second look to.

HP Slate:

First seen brandished by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer back at CES the HP Slate is probably the most mysterious of all the tablet devices out there. Recent leaks have shown quite a bit more information about the iPad competitor but with nary a hint of release date or price its still up in the air on whether or not its serious competition or just a swipe at Apple by Microsoft. On a technical level though the HP Slate seems to win out and since its announcement I’ve had my eye on it for demonstrations of my up and coming application Geon, since its one of only 2 tablets on the market (that I can see at least) that will support Silverlight applications out of the box, and the only one that seems any good at the moment.

Honestly I was hoping to tread all over the iPad’s reputation by showing it up with all the alternatives available. However after doing a bit of digging I’ve come to realise that all the options available now have a long way to go before they’re actually worthy of being called competitors and the devices being released soon are already up against an army of 300,000+ iPad warriors. Frankly the only competition thus far resides in the HP Slate and time will tell if the Microsoft/HP partnership will be enough to take away the mind share that Apple has gained.

Blah Blah iPad Blah…

After sifting through the backlog of April Fools Day pranks that had accumulated over the Easter weekend whilst I was hiking my way up several mountains unnecessarily (note to everyone out there, a real GPS is money well spent) the next big ticket item that seemed to be gracing my favourite news sources was of course the iPad. Over the weekend it appears that all those who lashed out to get their hands on Apple’s latest device have finally got some physical hardware in their hot little hands and the reviews of the device have been coming thick and fast. I’ve read my fair share of the commentary of the lead up, announcement and now actual review of the hardware and if there’s one thing that stands out from all of them it’s this: I just don’t care anymore.

Way back when the iPad was still just a rumour and had a much cooler name (iTablet and iSlate have a much better ring to them in my opinion) I actually perked up at the idea. Needing some form of Apple computer to develop on I had hoped to be able to purchase what would amount to a less powerful Mac Mini stuffed into a touch screen, and had almost resigned myself to parting with circa $1000 for the privilege. The actual announcement then left me with a rather sour taste in my mouth as the device was nothing like I had imagined and was completely unsuitable for the use cases I had drawn up in my head. That’s no fault of Apple and I completely lay the blame on myself for getting caught up in any Mac hype, but that didn’t give the iPad a good first impression in my head.

However for what its worth the reviews of the device, even from those who were deliberately skeptical in the lead up to actually getting their hands on the hardware, have been fairly positive. The iPad experience seems to be well rounded and there are seemingly no 1.0 glitches to sully Apple’s reputation for good products. In all honesty I expected as much as the software hasn’t really undergone any revolutionary changes apart from a UI redesign, something Apple has proven themselves to be quite capable of doing. There’s been no report on any major website of DOA hardware or anything else so hats off to Apple for being able to ship thousands upon thousands of iPads without any glaring manufacturing defects.

Just like the original iPhone before it there are a few things missing from the device that have drawn the ire of a couple reviewers. Many of them make a point that a device like this would be a pretty darn nifty video conferencing device if there was an included camera, although since Apple has yet to include a front facing camera with their iPhone you’d have to question how much use the thing would get if it was actually there. The lack of a user login on the device is probably a bit annoying for those who were looking to have it as a coffee table device that was shared amongst a family, but the use cases for such an interface are a bit dubious (I mean really porn on the iPad? Ewwww). There’s also the usual no multi-tasking and lack of flash support but I’ve already harped on those enough already and beating a dead horse isn’t really my thing.

What I’m not seeing however is how the iPad is the media revolution device that it was supposed to be. Sure this could be due to the fact that negotiations between Apple and the media giants aren’t going along as quickly as they had planned (or the fact that most people who get their news on the Internet won’t pay for it) but those who are extolling its ease of use with all forms of media are really just regurgitating the same points they made when the iPhone came out. In reality there’s nothing new here apart from the form factor and 90% of the things that the iPad does the iPhone or iPod Touch could do before it. It’s still early days to call it a failure in that regard but for the most part even the enthusiasts aren’t really excited about the media revolution that this device was supposedly bringing in, they’re just really impressed with a solid piece of  Apple hardware.

It seems whenever I post on the iPad I always have to finish it off with a “let’s wait and see” just because the product is going to need a long time for it to actually become whatever the hell it was meant to be. Apple to their credit has launched a solid bit of hardware that’s backed up by some very mature software but beyond that the device is nothing more than the giant iPod touch it was first revealed to be. I would say I’d give one to my parents, but they discovered netbooks last year and haven’t had any troubles using them. I think the iPad would just confuse them more than it would help them.

Then again, my parents aren’t that typical (I mean they did raise me up as the complete geek I am ;).

Inspiration Lost: NASA and the Future of Humanity in Space.

Everytime I think I’m losing my interest in space something always comes along to bring me right back into that almost dream like state I first had when I decided that leaving this blue marble was my lifetime goal. Whether it be pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, a few readings from the Mars Exploration Rovers or even a discovery that might one day lead us faster than light travel I can’t doubt myself for more than a day before I reminded of the beautiful, complex and ever changing universe that we live in. It is my fervent hope that I can one day instill such passion in a wide majority of the world, and the beginnings of that are contained in this blog.

However I understand that we don’t live in a world that is governed solely by one man’s desires and hopes. In this world that is ruled by politics, economics and raw resources we have work within these constructs in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Unfortunately in the case of NASA these rules have led from it being a source of inspiration for humanity worldwide to a struggling organisation who can barely make the headlines. Whilst some might say that this is because there are bigger problems to solve here on terra firma I and many others would disagree:

Tyson echos a sentiment I’ve held for quite a while now. Born well after the initial space race and in the remote location of Australia I was cut off from the world of space for a very long time. My earliest memory of having anything to do with space was a night of astronomy when I was about 8 years old, seeing a bright red dot through a large contraption I had no understanding of. It would be another 4 years before my next brief experience of space when I saw Mission to Mir on the IMAX screen in Sydney. After then I can not think of one experience I had with space until a couple years back, when I discovered my passion for space and all things to do with it.

After the dizzying heights that were reached when NASA was formed to win the space race it has taken a slow downhill course to irrelevance. No longer are they charged with pushing the boundaries of what we are capable in space, more they are responsible for a very expensive transport business with a small dabbling of science on the side. This is why they are no longer the inspiration they once were, every they do is routine. For decades now NASA has been in a position to cast off its routine duties and begin clawing at the edges of space, just like it did so long ago. We have the chance to do so much yet such a comparatively small cost is too great for those who have the ability to pay for it.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for a time that I didn’t live through, but after going so long not knowing about the tremendous benefits that NASA and its projects brought to our world and then finally discovering them I can’t help but feel that the everyman is in the same situation. As a species we seem so focused on the immediate problems of our world that we tend to forego looking up and seeing the direction we should be moving in, leaving us only to tread the paths we’ve been down before. It would seem that collectively we’re incapable of drastic change over a prolonged period of time.

The point remains however that should NASA axe its human space program that it will become irrelevant in the public’s eye. Whilst we have had a tremendous amount of success with robotic exploration missions they fail to grab the attention of the everyman as they can not identify with them. Whilst I lament the idea of flag planting missions they serve to inspire the generation of their time to achieve such lofty goals which, if continued over an extended period of time, leads to a feedback loop of epic proportions. Had NASA continued along the same path as it did when it was first created there’s no telling where we would be today, but there’s no use dwelling on the past.

Despite this we are on the cusp of another revolution in space which the fledgling private space industry is responsible for. We have so many companies that are now willing to do the job that only NASA was capable of just a decade ago that soon NASA will have no choice but to give way to them. Once they have done this they can refocus their efforts on pushing the limits of technology like they once did and hopefully see them return to their rightful spot as the most inspirational government organisation mankind has ever seen. Just that thought alone is enough to keep a dreamer like myself going even when NASA seems to be going through the darkest times.

My thanks go out to my friend Glen for linking the video that inspired this post.

The Plan Revealed.

Those of you in the know would’ve heard me yabbering about “The Plan” for a while now, like for about 3 months or something. It’s totally cool and I’ve been wanting to tell everyone about it but the time never felt right. I mean, it’s kind of embarassing what with me being such a manly man and all, but I’ve spent too long in the closet on this one so it’s time to let the pony cat out of the bag and let you all in on my big secret. But it’s like totally wicked cool and I know all of you out there are like the most awesome guys ever so here it goes.

That’s right, I’m a pony tamer.

Maybe its the country boy in me but I’ve always had a soft spot for our diminutive horse wannabes. I mean check this guy out, all cool and stuff with his flowing mane, riding through a field of little yellow flowers. I’d love to like brush him for hours on end and we’d talk about girls and rainbows and stickers. He’d totally understand me to because we’re like, kindred spirits or something. Then I would try to ride him and he’d probably fall over because ponies aren’t meant for riding, but I’d still try anyway.

I started my pony tamer training back in December when I became fed up with my day job as an IT contractor and found myself longing for the untamed freedom that being a pony tamer brings you. I found myself a local club to join and instantly made like 100 friends. They were mean to me at first because I didn’t have a MySpace account but I think we got over that after I told them how much I loved ponies and we traded some scrunchies.

Some people tell me that you can’t be a pony tamer because ponies are already tame. Well think again, I mean just look at how wild these guys get:

You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get SnickerDoodle and Pumpkin Eyes out of that bail of hay, they were totally into eating it. I was telling them over and over “You can’t have all the hay, the other ponies need hay to.” and then I said that they’d get fat and one of them kicked me. It didn’t hurt though and I know Snicker Doodle didn’t mean it, but I still had to cry it out in the corn field before going back and apologizing.

So there you have it guys, the big secret revealed. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about ponies, pony taming or anything else. Boy does it feel good to get that load off my chest.

Now where did I put my brush set, Pumpkin eyes will be getting restless right about now.