Weekend wrap-up

Thanks to all who voiced their concern about my stupid hand injury. I am, fortunately, pretty functional now, though I just found out that using a mouse with a splinted hand is next to impossible. Oh well. With the combination of injury and attendant slowness, I was unable to join Dave for dinner or breakfast on his brief swing through Cambridge.

On to other challenges. I neglected to write about my first two rehearsals with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus last week; suffice it to say, I was more than a little rusty for the first practice, but things got better with the second. This makes sense, I think; prior to last week, it had been something like seven years since I sang with a symphonic choir (the Cathedral Choral Society at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC). It’s going to take some time for me to get my vocal chops back. Fortunately, the Mahler is helping in that direction. It really only has two dynamics: mezzo-piano in about four or five measures, and fortissimo everywhere else. Since dynamic control is one of the hardest things to do in a symphonic chorus, where you are lucky to be heard above the orchestra even at your loudest volume, Mahler’s dynamics help tremendously.

So with no rehearsals this week, my mission is a little different: get a white dinner jacket (standard dress for Tanglewood performers). The chorus recommended Keezer’s, so I guess I’ll be checking out a Cambridge institution. Notes TK.

Bad night for stemware

Beginning a day with 600 pounds of topsoil and ending it in the emergency room is probably not uncommon. Ending it in the ER because of a wineglass is a different story.

After a bunch more lawnwork yesterday (including borrowing a Very Heavy Roller and raking about 600 pounds of topsoil), I grilled some t-bones alla Fiorentina (coated in a blend of rosemary, sage, thyme, salt and pepper, with a little olive oil) and cooked about a pound and a half of spinach with olive oil and garlic, The consensus is that we could have used another pound of spinach; the steak was good too.

The first warning sign that our glassware was revolting came when I pulled out four champagne flutes from our corner cabinet and discovered that one had a bad crack in it. (The adjunct bad sign was looking up the price of the replacement this morning.) The second bad sign came a while later, as I was drying a wine glass. I dried the bulb of the glass with my left hand while I held the base in my right. Then in a split second, the stem broke and I plunged it into my palm.

After applying pressure to stop the bleeding, we decided I probably needed to get someone to look at it to make sure no glass remained in the wound. So we ended up at Mt. Auburn ER, where I left four hours later with a tetanus shot, a cleaned puncture wound closed with three stitches, and a splint to keep me from creating more pain by moving my thumb while the cut closed.

I am learning to do a few things left handed, and fortunately after some initial awkwardness it seems my typing is mostly unimpaired. I could have been much less lucky.

Spring, break

After a week of Seattle-like weather, it has finally cleared and turned sunny. Just in time for my inlaws to come to town. The blog will likely be quiet for a few days; enjoy Memorial Day.

Oh, almost forgot: a year ago tomorrow we saw our house for the first time and put in an offer. We were in stealth mode about our decision then, so there are no blog details save a description of the miserable state of my health that day. Looking back it’s pretty clear that the fierce indigestion I suffered was due to stress, but I wasn’t capable of putting two and two together until I had a recurrence of the symptoms during my first week at work.

Pointless Mac fun

Daring Fireball: WaitingForLoginWindow. To get your very own login window to pop up at any time, go to the Terminal and type /usr/libexec/WaitingForLoginWindow. And enjoy the hilarity. The link at Daring Fireball explains how it works, and how to kill it.

Sound off

I realized the other day, just as I was falling asleep, that I link far too often to official “media” and far too rarely to other bloggers. And I don’t comment on other people’s blogs nearly often enough. And I certainly don’t respond to comments on my own blog very quickly. Which may explain why sometimes I feel like my only audience consists of my friends and the SiteMeter stats page. It’s just that I spend too little time trying to get to know the rest of you. And I know you’re out there.

So, consider this an open thread. If you find this site interesting, and you blog, and you’d like a link, and especially if I haven’t blogrolled you already, please post a comment. (Note: I know part of the problem is that comment links generally fail on my static site. So if all else fails, try commenting here—though you’ll have to register to do so.)

Sleater-Kinney, back and blogging

In happier music news, Sleater-Kinney released their seventh album (wow!) (and their first on Sub Pop) yesterday. In checking out the publicity for the release, I made my way to their official page, where I found the Sleater-Kinney blog. Yep, all three members of the band writing about touring, Revenge of the Sith, breaking feet (get well, Carrie), being interviewed, and other fun stresses of the road. No comments, alas, and no RSS, but it’s definitely a start. Notes on the album when I actually get a chance to listen to it. (I love my new company, but the open floor plan isn’t the most conducive to rocking out.)

Get well, Alan

I somehow missed this, but Low’s Alan Sparhawk wrote on the band’s forum at the beginning of the month that the band has cancelled its shows for May and June (and probably beyond) because he is coping with undiagnosed mental distress, probably depression. As much as it hurts to see someone go through this, I’m really glad that it’s playing out this way and not with a police report, as it did for Elliott Smith. Alan, take all the time you need to get well. We can wait to hear the music.

Schooled by Scoble, and my response

Scoble commented on my piece yesterday on MSN Virtual Earth and gently points out, through a link to the Channel 9 interview with the team behind Virtual Earth, that there’s considerably more to the new offering than following what Google did with Google Maps. I agree; certainly the eagle-eye view is impressive (if not destined for the first release; it would be rude to call it vaporware, though), as are the hybrid view and the UI work. I probably misspoke in calling this a “me-too” release; several of the features are brand-new to the market. I’m not sure that changes the main point I made, though.

Launching a product isn’t just features, it’s time to market. Shimon commented that there’s no question that Microsoft will keep innovating in this space and lap the competition. My question, as in my first post, is what took so long? Certainly the first feature, combining satellite and map in the same interface, is something that Microsoft could have done years ago. But from all appearances it took the arrival of competition for the company to deliver that value to customers.

My point is that the competition is good—for customers, for the company, and for its shareholders. And that brings me dangerously close to a hobbyhorse that I’ve been on and off for a long time. Microsoft can’t be the only company in a space and still deliver maximum value, because it generally does its best work in response to competition. That’s not a reflection on the company’s technical skills but on its great organizational strength: the way it responds to a challenge.

Mapping: When being a smart follower isn’t enough

Microsoft announced that they will debut a new mapping service, MSN Virtual Earth, this summer (thanks to Slashdot for the link). The service combines satellite images with map data, provides Sims-like isometric views, and allows layering information about businesses and services atop the search results.

This isn’t a surprising move. After all, MSN Maps have been around for a while, and Microsoft has had Terraserver since 1998. What’s different is that Microsoft’s announcement has a feel of desperation and me-too-ness about it, coming several months after Google debuted satellite images in their slick Google Maps service.

Integration of maps and satellite images is a natural incremental feature that provides radical amounts of value to users. It’s just the sort of software that you used to expect Microsoft to release. Embarrassing, then, that they got beaten to their own punch by a company that had no prior competence in mapping or imaging.

The good news in this scenario is that customers are getting a choice, as Microsoft feels the sting of competition. The bad news—for customers and for its investors— is that the most highly capitalized software company in the world isn’t capable of turning all its resources into bringing products like this to the market faster.


How is it that, even with all the work I put in over the weekend on our back yard, I don’t suddenly look like Jesse Metcalfe, the lawnboy on Desperate Housewives? As Larry Niven would say, TANJ. I should at least get the abs from all the exercise.

But to take a step back: we were essentially rebuilding our back yard from scratch last week. It all started with tree removal. We are planning to do some additions to the house over time, and one of the three large maples in the back yard was too close to the house. When we decided to remove it, that started some wheels in motion, and we ended up taking down two more. I have really mixed feelings about the tree removal, but we are planning to plant smaller fruit trees in their place, and by adding a lot more sunlight to the back we can eliminate the sea of patchy moss that used to dwell there.

So Friday and Saturday we bagged the leftover sawdust
from getting the stumps ground out; tilled the whole back yard;
spread something like 25 cubic feet of compost (not enough, but a
start); and put out about five pounds of grass seed. Just in time for
some more heavy rains.

Correction: InfoCard federates

Johannes Ernst, whom I linked from my piece on InfoCard last week, wrote in to point out that I erred in my quick description of the service. He says that in InfoCard:

…the PC does not actually store the identity information, only pointers to it. The actual identity information is stored by identity providers, who are the “3rd party” in the system (the other ones being the relying party, such as a website, and the PC component).

This makes InfoCard much less like Apple’s Keychain (or for that matter the existing Windows saved password feature) and more like, well, a federated identity system. Interestingly, this is consistent with what I remember from the discussion of the future of Passport back in 2001 with MSN execs.

Good wines of Virginia, oxymoronic no longer

As a newly minted oenophile traveling around my home state in the mid-nineties, I discovered two things:

  1. Virginia had wineries, many tucked into scenic ruins like the Jeffersonian house at Barboursville.
  2. Many of them made wine that only a mother could love.

I was always a fan of Barboursville, but felt the winery did best with its blends and with the lesser-known sweet grapes (Malvasia, for instance), and had a ways to go on its core reds (though its Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc held promise). Other wineries were equally variable: Lisa and I enjoyed our first date at Naked Mountain, but found its chardonnay undrinkable a year or two later as our palates matured. And often the best thing that could be said about tasting wines from other vineyards in the annual Virginia Wine Festival was that it got you out of doors.

An article in Friday’s New York Times suggests that the wines are significantly improving. Might be worth visiting again soon, particularly now that the shipping laws are (might be?) changing.

Getting things done: Tiger Mail

I didn’t have much chance to do anything with Tiger last week while I was on the road, but this morning I finally started playing with Smart Mailboxes in Mail, which is one of the features I most eagerly anticipated for this upgrade. And it is fantastic, even with just one or two smart mailboxes created.

Originally I had anticipated replacing some of my 150+ mail rules (I have a hierarchical mail folder structure that takes a lot of care and feeding) with smart mailboxes. While I may still investigate doing that, I found that the first smart mailbox I implemented is probably the most useful one I’ll create: Unread Mail. The mailbox has a single condition: collect all unread mail messages. This is great for me because of all the mail rules I’ve implemented, which spread a typical day’s mail across a bunch of different mailboxes. That’s generally a good thing for scoping messages for later retrieval, but less good if I just want to read my 30 or so new mail messages at one sitting without changing context between ten different folders. The Unread Mail smart folder allows me to just read all the mail without worrying about filing it, because it’s already filed. I used a system like this on Outlook when I was running Office 2003 at Microsoft, and that folder plus one for flagged mail completely revolutionized my workflow.

I’ll be playing around with some more smart mailboxes in days to come, including one for recent messages (everything sent or received within the last week). It’s nice to have some tools that actually improve my productivity.