Archive for July 2006

My Building Has Genovese Syndrome

I love my condo building. I really do. It’s located in a great area. Most of the residents are nice people. I have the top floor corner unit. My next door neighbor is hot. I could go on and on.

But someone spilled powdered laundry detergent in our one elevator over a week ago, and despite probably every single one of the building’s 50-odd residents using the elevator during that time, no one has cleaned it up. It’s like non-lethal Genovese Syndrome.

Someone took the time to write a note with a bold red Sharpie asking the perpetrator to take responsibility for their spillage. Another person took the time to take that note down. And just today, I saw that the words “clean me” had been scrawled in the powder. Cute. Kind of reminded me of an extremely dirty white Honda I saw once, with the words “Also available in white” written on the window.

So today I finally broke down and vacuumed the stuff up. As one of the only renters in the building, I was probably the least likely candidate to care enough to do so, but what can I say. It wasn’t even the detergent itself that was killing me. It was the constant reminder that I live in a building of people too wrapped up in their own lives to deal with even 30 seconds of pro-bono energy exertion… myself included.

Interpretation of "Several"

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We’re having a bit of a disagreement in the office about the meaning of the word “several”. Since such a vague term is only meaningful based on what the population thinks of it, I thought it best to put it up for a vote.

Without looking it up, please answer the question on the right.

July Randoms

Some possibly interesting items from the month of July:

  • A follow-up to the Subjective Group Decision Making and Carpets post is coming soon. The choices are narrowed down to two now and I should know what the final decision is in a few days. Such drama.
  • I’m heading down to Portland for WebVisions today. Will be speaking about “Designing for Community Interaction” and participating on another design panel as well on Friday. Come say hi if you’re in the Land of Port.
  • Lord Byron’s new book “Publish and Prosper” is out. If you’re running a business and thinking about maintaining a company blog for it, you should read this book for an overview of the important issues involved with such a thing.
  • Tivo Series 3 boxes are allegedly very close at hand. Comcast, you may have just been spared the gallows. We’ll see.
  • I’m thinking about getting a Slingbox, just for kicks. Anybody ever use one? Is the quality any good?
  • The new season of Reno 911 has begun. Rejoice.
  • I went coldwater diving in a dry suit for the first time last week off of Alki Beach. Not sure I’m going to do that again. There is some beautiful stuff down there, as is evidenced from my friend Calvin’s great photography, but man, it’s just too much gear. My idea of scuba diving is throwing on a shorty, hopping on a boat, and jumping in the 80 degree waters of a tropical island destination.
  • Has anybody else noticed a style of commercial on TV lately where a company will spend the first 25 seconds or so describing the product and then during the last 5 seconds, they will actually repeat a specific line mechanically three times in a row? One I saw yesterday said “Apply directly to the forehead. Apply directly to the forehead. Apply directly to the forehead.” Really weird and disturbing. I’ve seen a few more of these as well, all for different products. They seem to run a lot on cable news channels like MSNBC.
  • This is one of the best user experience design quotes I’ve ever read and it’s not even a user experience design quote.

Can You Buy a Community?

I wasn’t going to say anything about Jason Calacanis’ announcement today that he was looking to buy Newsvine’s, Digg’s, and Reddit’s top link seeders for a thousand bucks a pop, but the fine folks at Reddit said it with zero words better than I ever could (note the logo):

It’s an interesting experiment for sure: whether you can take a user base of 12 million that isn’t a community in any way, pull their aging but comfortable portal out from under them, pay a bunch of users from other sites to entertain them, and then get them injected into a new community before they decide to go elsewhere. It hasn’t caught on yet, and I imagine that 99% of Netscape’s current user base has yet to vote on a single article, but it’s still very early in the game.

People like to point to Digg as a model that has clearly worked, and they are thus far correct, but one important thing to keep in mind is that other models may work as well and perhaps even better. There will never be only one winner in the community-driven news world. There will be many, and each will bring their own philosophy and style to the table. Our philosophy at Newsvine is to provide the best news reading, news writing, news gathering, and news debate possible. We’re only four months into our public launch and still have miles to go, but big companies trying to buy our best contributors isn’t what keeps us up at night… it’s continuing to evolve, continuing to innovate, and continuing to respond to what our community is telling us they want.

Subjective Group Decision Making and Carpeting

Pink Comic Sans. A perfect indication of how this process has gone so far.I live in a condo building with four floors and 40 units. The time has come to replace the carpet in the hallways and all common areas. It is a pretty big job that will cost $20,000 or so and obviously affects everybody’s living experience. It is slightly complicated by the fact that the walls are a light mauve and the current carpet is a dark mauve and painting the walls is not part of this project.

Certain things have happened already in the selection/replacement process which, in my opinion, have been an unmitigated disaster. So without revealing the details of the situation, I’d like to ask this question:

If you were either the president or a member of a condo board, what exact process would you undertake to select new carpeting? It can be one sentence or one paragraph. Dictatorial or democratic. Or anything in between…

Wither The Halogen Torchiere?

The halogen torchiere. You know it well. It was the portable upright lamp seen in every living room, dorm room, and bedroom during most of the 1990s. Available for not much more than $15 at any home and hardware store during the height of its popularity, this ultra-soft source of light was a staple of urban living.

Has anybody noticed, though, how difficult it is to find one of these badboys today? Everywhere you go, it seems this bastion of illumination has been replaced by either an awful flourescent bulb version or a weak incandescent model, both usually with the dreaded “three-way switch” instead of the full-range dimmer. What gives?

I went into my local Lowe’s Hardware Store to find out.

As it turns out, there have been a rash of accidents over the last several years resulting from the use of these lamps. Apparently, the bulbs burn extremely hot and if the fixture tips over or some moron throws a shirt on top of it, a fire can start. Hmmmm, seems like a reasonable cause for alarm, but my halogen of 15 years just went out and I need a new one! How prevalent could this safety hazard really be?

After work today, I went down to the last place I knew of which carried something resembling my current model: Fred Meyer in Ballard. Fred Meyer is a combination hardware store/grocery store and they have a ton of stuff. Sure enough, I spotted a Holmes 300 Watt Halogen Torchiere with full-range dimmer!!! And better yet, it seemed to have all sorts of new safety features built in like auto-off and a cage around the bulb. According to the packaging, its “new technology and design exceeds new 1999 UL 153 Safety Standards”… whatever that means.

So I threw two of them in the cart and went over to the food section for some groceries. No sooner do I run into Keith’s wife and start talking about how Disneyland beats the crap out of Disneyworld, than a woman interrupts our conversation and politely says the following (pointing to the torchieres in my cart):

“Sorry to interrupt you, but my entire house burned down because of one of those lamps.”

Apparently it’s kind of prevalent!!!

I went on to explain that these new lamps were safer than the ones from the past but she didn’t seem impressed. I don’t blame her.

And so with that, I proceeded to the checkout to purchase my death torches. I’m taking the Holmes company at their word since they are a reputable manufacturer, but if my condo or the Newsvine offices catch fire and kill me, somebody please hack into my server and delete this blog post.

The Last Straw

What a great ending to the 2006 World Cup. At least that’s what my friends tell me. Here’s a screen-cap from Comcast’s High Definition TV broadcast during one of the most important plays of the game — a missed penalty kick in the overtime extra time shootout:

I saw three kicks before the Comcast “crystal clear digital HD” signal cut completely out. No audio even. Not until the shootout was over and Italy was celebrating on the field did the picture return to its normal state.

Motherf…

I’ve covered the brutality of Comcast’s unreliable PVR service in the past, but this inability to hold a lousy TV signal at such a critical time is the last straw. I’m switching back to what I’ve missed since the day I got cable: DirecTV with Tivo.

Comcast, you gave me bargain basement rates for a year to lure me in. You even “bought back” my actual DirecTV dish so I wouldn’t be tempted to switch back to satellite. All you’ve done during that year is convince me that you are deserving of every negative thing anybody’s ever said about you.

Now get the hell out.

Sizing Up A Grill

It’s about a month into grilling season here in Seattle, and after an unappetizing experience with MatchLight “Easy Lighting” (viz. “Soaked With Fuel”) Charcoal the other day, I finally decided to go out and get a proper gas grill for my deck. A couple of weeks ago, I had spotted an unusually cool clam-shaped barbecue at my friend Stephanie’s house so I decided to look it up on the interwebs.

After a few minutes, I determined it was one of the “Weber Q Series” grills. The problem was, there were three sizes and I had no idea which would be ideal. Luckily, Weber put together this extremely helpful diagram on their spec page:

Now that is some great information design. I don’t care if the grill is X inches by Y inches. I don’t care if it’s “small”, “medium”, or “large”. I just care what I can grill on it. Weber’s diagram tells me I can cook 10 hamburgers, 16 hot dogs, 55 shrimp, or 2 lobsters on it, and that’s all I need in order to determine that the 100 Series is big enough for me (I ended up getting the 120… it has flaps).

Anyway, great grill so far. I definitely recommend it. It’s small enough to throw in the back seat of your car as well so you can take it down to the beach or wherever you need to heat up tasty foodstuffs.

Rocketbust

The big news in the blogosphere/vlogosphere today is the apparent departure of Amanda Congdon from the popular video newscast Rocketboom. While this could easily be a publicity stunt or a situation that is quickly repaired by the two Rocketboom co-founders, things look pretty grim for the show right now.

I’ll withhold most of my feelings about Rocketboom as a show because frankly, it’s never been my bag and almost everyone I’ve ever asked feels the same way. I’ve always been under the impression that Amanda’s hotness (see bad pun in article title) is a big reason why 250,000 people watch the show. I could very well be wrong, but that’s just the impression I get. Neither the writing nor the delivery can hold a candle to say, Ze Frank’s The Show.

I’m more interested in the business and industry implications of this breakup. Firstly, unless the Rocketboom founder’s agreements were written abnormally in a way to really screw over Amanda, Amanda is by far the better-off party after this. Get fired and still own 49% of the company? Sign me up! If Amanda was smart, she made sure ahead of time that if a situation like this occurred, she would maintain at least most of her equity, if not all of it. There is, of course, a chance that the papers were written to strip away equity in this situation, and if that is the case, wow… it’s a stern reminder to always consult your own lawyer when dealing with employment contracts. Hopefully, information about the equity implications of this breakup will emerge shortly.

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The second interesting aspect of this is any non-compete clauses in the Rocketboom employment contract. If I were Andrew Baron (Rocketboom’s other co-founder), I’d have written this in from the start, and it’s not an unreasonable thing for Amanda to have agreed to, but who knows what’s really in there. If there’s nothing in there, Amanda will either sign on with a big TV network, an upcoming video podcast, or strike out on her own. Either way, she’ll make out very, very well and still own a large percentage of Rocketboom. It’s a huge win-win for her and a huge lose-lose for Rocketboom. If there is, however, a non-compete, then something will perhaps be worked out where Amanda gives up a percentage of the company in order to get out from under it. Again, interesting to see what happens here. If it’s three months, I probably wait it out if I’m Amanda. If it’s a year or longer, I’m probably at the negotiating table right now.

Another interesting thing to watch will be who lands on their feet sooner. My money is on Amanda, as is probably most of the world’s. Rocketboom has about a month to find a suitable replacement, but if Andrew didn’t already have one in mind before “firing” Amanda, then he’s really dropped the ball here. Matthew Ingram suggests Amber McArthur, who in my opinion, is even more suited for the job than the woman she’d be replacing, but who knows if she’d even do it. If I’m Amber, I’m aiming higher than that right now. No one wants to be another Deborah Norville. In any case, go Amber Mac!

With all of the negativity surrounding this Rocketboom announcement, there is still a chance for Andrew to really prove his mettle here. If he’s able to find a great replacement and the show gets even more popular than it is right now, he deserves a lot of credit. He’s got everything to lose here: money, momentum, existing contracts, and reputation. It’s a ballsy move. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Here we go. It appears the 49% is now officially “in question”. Thanks to Matt Savarino for posting a link to Amanda’s latest post detailing the latest exchanges between the two. Yes, it’s clearly dirty laundry, but it may be the only way to prove who said what.