Sunday, March 25, 2007

Finally backed up my PC

It has been almost a year since I last made a full backup of my data from my Toshiba notebook PC, but I finally got around to doing it today. I have no good excuse for not doing it sooner and more regularly, but I do have lots of weak excuses.

Previously, I simply used a .BAT command file which copied all of my data files across the network to a desktop PC where I was doing some consulting work a year ago and then I burned the files to DVD.

Now, I updated the .BAT file to reflect some minor changes to where my data was stored and to copy to a folder named C:\BackupTemp on my hard drive. I then manually copied that folder (2.71GB) to C:\Backups\BackupToshiba2007MMDD where MMDD is the month and day of month. This will let me keep multiple backups right on the hard drive. Then I used the Sonic RecordNow! utility which came with my Toshiba to burn the DVD using the Toshiba's built-in DVD-RAM drive. It only took about 15 minutes to burn the DVD.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Allow cell phones to be used on planes

I personally do not own or use a cell phone, but I do have to disagree with all of those people who adamantly oppose the use of cell phones on planes. I pen this blog post after reading in The New York Times a summary of reader comments on FCC consideration of the issue of cell phones on planes, entitled "A Flood of Pleas to F.C.C.: No Phones on Planes, Please." First of all, from my real-world experience, most people "on" cell phones are absolutely silent most of the time since they are listening to someone on the other end babble away. So, these people are, by definition, not a problem when it comes to using cell phones on planes. What I do have a problem with is loud, obnoxious, rude, inconsiderate, discourteous people who seem to revel in "disturbing the peace." Professional psychologists have a technical term for such people: assholes. So, my proposal is quite simple: allow cell phones on planes, but coupled with an absolute ban of assholes from planes.

Flight attendent: "Excuse me sir, but we're getting complaints from the other passengers, so I'm going to have to ask you to stop being an asshole. After all, it is against FCC regulations."

I also want to see a ban of obnoxious ringtones. It would be nice if phone manufacturers could add the capability of allowing the environment (plane, meeting room, restaurant, office) to automatically disable ringtones, but simply a formal ban of phone ringers might be enough to have the effect that your traveling experience won't be marred by either assholes or ringtones.

In short, I encourage the FCC and the airlines to lobby for permitting the use of cell phones on planes, while simultaneously banning both assholes and ringtones.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Finished organizing my tax prep info

A couple of weeks ago I ruminated about my difficulty in getting around to organizing my info so that my accountant could actually prepare my taxes. It only took me three weeks to get around to doing the work. I actually did next to nothing for those three weeks, other than a little pre-organizing in my head. It wasn't until last night that I finally felt that I had the raw energy to start tackling this task.

I resolved to get up early this morning and "just do it" and try to finish it by noon. Well, it didn't quite work out that well, but close enough. I only got about half of the work done this morning, but that was enough to keep me motivated and on track.

When I got back home later in the afternoon, I was psyched to be so close to getting it done. I just finished it all and emailed the  package (fourteen spreadsheets plus a Word document with 21 notes explaining things) off to my accountant. All told, it was about five and a half hours of work. Some of it was simply shuffling numbers between spreadsheets, some was transcribing numbers from paper forms, and some was searching through my paper files for missing numbers. Some of the time was simply sitting and staring at the numbers and thinking for a while to figure things out, or to remember what I might have forgotten. Usually it takes me more than six hours, but this year I had fewer business expenses.

What a relief. Until next year. But, it should be easier next year since I am no longer self-employed with lots of business expenses. And I won't have to file a partial year Colorado state income tax return next year; Washington has no state income tax.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Save the asteroids

When I was a kid in junior high school (1967), I was fascinated by an article I read in TIME magazine about something called Project Icarus, an early academic effort to consider how to deal with an asteroid that might be on a collision course with Earth. It was only a hypothetical project and even a hypothetical problem, but it was quite fascinating.  Since then we've even seen two Hollywood movies about asteroid collisions. Now, I read an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart entitled "The Sky Is Falling. Really." which speaks in favor of pursuing the belief that "scientists feel we have the technology to intercept and deflect many asteroids headed toward Earth."

Superficially, this sounds like a truly wonderful and useful goal.

But, on second thought, I have to disagree with the motive.

Even if scientists and engineers and policymakers can in fact "intercept and deflect asteroids", I am not so sure that this is a morally righteous thing to do, without even needing to get into debates on cost and feasibility. Actually, I am sure that it is not the morally righteous thing to do.

Asteroids are a part of our natural world, the universe around us, our planetary neighborhood. We should be making a more diligent effort to accept our position in reality and adjust our lifestyles and worldviews accordingly.

Every day our very lives are threatened by all manner of perfectly natural phenomena, ranging from storms, floods, fires, and avalanches, to volcanoes, earthquakes and drought.

Sure, it is perfectly sensible to do our best to avoid loss of life and property, but ultimately my belief is that we need to accept that "bad things will happen" and that it is simply silly to try to avoid all bad things. Do what is sensible, and resist that which is beyond the limits of sensibility.

Sure, outright total destruction of the planet and total extinction of "life as we know it" is categorically different, but I would simply argue that we still should accept our planetary neighborhood for what it is and live our lives accordingly. First and foremost, living your life in fear is not an acceptable choice. Accept that some day each of us will die, accept it, and then live every day as if it mattered, and don't spend even one second contemplating that this day might be your last.

Odds are that every one of us alive today will all die a "natural" death long before any asteroid snuffs us and our planet out.

Taking extraordinary measures, at a high monetary cost, and a significant diversion of resources, and a significant diversion of human talent, and teaching people to live in fear if they don't take these extraordinary measures, to me, is absolutely crazy. The psychic cost alone is unimaginably high.

Besides, even a slight miscalculation in such human intervention could make the situation far worse than it might have been without intervention. Better to leave well enough alone.

So, leave the asteroids alone.

Save the asteroids.

And save our willing acceptance of the ultimate contingency of all life as simply a part of living.

So, no, the sky is not falling.

And even if it is, get over it and move on.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No more light at the end of the tunnel

I had been getting used to each morning the sky being a bit brighter by the time I got off the bus at 6:30 a.m. to go to work at The Evil Empire. In fact, just another couple of days and the sun would actually be up by the time I got off the bus. But, then the evil government (and you thought The Empire was evil) took that away from me with this abomination called Daylight Savings Time. Now, the sun doesn't rise for almost another hour after I get off the bus. Sure, you can see a very faint hint of light in the sky, but this is a big step backwards. Sigh.

The good news was that there was still a very faint hint of twilight in the sky by the time I left work at 7:45 p.m.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Blogging versus writing

I continually contemplate the prospect of doing some serious writing, like a book. I have always resisted the desire to pursue that path, but it continues to intrigue me. Meanwhile, blogging seems to be at least a partial substitute for a large-scale writing project. One question is whether blogging complements traditional writing efforts and reinforces good writing skills, or whther blogging is a distraction and possibly may have negative consequences for any serious future writing efforts. I'm simply not sure.

A number of years ago I decided that writing a book was not likely to be a successful effort for me. I concluded that a successful and truly satisfying bookwriting project would need to:

  1. Have a clearly targeted audience, a demographic to actually buy the book.
  2. Be a real labor of love, since most bookwriting projects would be unlikely to financially do much better than cover the advance payment. If you manage to earn minimum wage for your hundreds of hours of work, consider yourself lucky.

For me, for now, blogging is something to do to convert ideas in my head into a form that others can read.

I enjoy briefly sketching out simple ideas, rather than weaving a complex quilt as would be required for a full-scale book project.

I have also considered essays as an intermediate form between simple blog posts and full books, but haven't pursued that route either, yet.

I'll continue to contemplate the prospect of writing a book someday, but for now, blogging seems to fit the bill for me for my writing interests.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Google's Buses

I read this article in The New York Times by Miguel Helft entitled "Google's Buses Help Its Workers Beat the Rush" about how Google provides free bus service for its employees. Gee, it sounded so wonderful, but I found myself wondering why they were making such a big deal about it, compared to bus passes that other companies provide. In fact, my employer, The Evil Empire, provides a bus pass that lets me ride the local bus service in the Seattle, Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah area for free, including the express bus to the airport. Anyway, I get to the end of the article and finally read the revelation, that Google is not #1 as the most commuter-friendly employer:

For all their popularity, the shuttles have yet to earn Google the title of most commuter-friendly employer. The top spot in the Environmental Protection Agency's Best Workplaces for Commuters went to Intel, which allows telecommuting, offers transit subsidies to employees and helps pay for shuttles that bring workers from transit stops, among other benefits. Google tied Oracle for third; Microsoft came in second.

Intel is #1, my employer is #2, and then comes Google.

Crazy... why such a big deal about #3?

Yeah, I know... everybody's gaga over Google.

Seriously, writing an article about Intel, Microsoft, or Oracle, will get you no more than a stifled yawn, but just mention "Google" and ears perk up.

-- Jack Krupansky

Save the polar bears

I have nothing against polar bears and I am all in favor of protection of endangered species, including polar bears, especially if their habitats are endangered. If we have solid science that shows that their population is decreasing and in serious danger of being on its way to zero, by all means polar bears should be "listed." I'll accept that their natural habitat may be dwindling and contributing to the population decline, assuming there is solid science to back up those assertions. Where I have difficulty, is the huge leap from the local environment of polar bears to global climate or so-called "global warming" and so-called "climate change." Once again, it should be a matter of solid, sensible science, and not politics, social engineering, passion, or rhetoric, or mere opinion.

I think we can and should protect polar bears based evidence of local changes to their habitats, independent of whether global factors are causing the local changes. We don't need to argue or demonstrate global factors to agree on local conditions. For this reason, I am deeply skeptical of any perceived "need" to try to link the plight of polar bears to so-called global warming and climate change.

In short, we do not need to debate and settle discussion of global climate issues to go forward and grant protection to polar bears.

This all comes up as we read an article in The New York Times by Andrew Revkin entitled "Memos Tell Officials How to Discuss Climate" and an article in The New York Times by Felicity Barringer entitled "Protocol Is Cited in Limiting Scientists' Talks on Climate" concerning an minor uproar over whether the Bush administration was once again trying to limit discussions of government scientists on the topics of greenhouse gases, global warming, and climate change. Maybe the memos in question were a little heavy-handed, but in the given context, it wasn't clear that the relevant people had any expertise outside of the immediate purposes of their trips. I would suggest that there is nothing wrong with reminding government employees to restrict their public statements to their respective areas of expertise.

In any case, the good news is that the polar bears will be protected, assuming the relevant science demonstrates the threat of a dwindling population.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I will definitely be attending the 2007 Entrepreneurial Connections (EntConnect) conference

This morning I finally made up my mind to go ahead and attend the 2007 Enrepreneurial Connections (EntConnect) conference out in Colorado at the end of the month. I got a tentative travel itinerary yesterday and wasn't quite happy with it, but after sleeping on it I figured out how to "fix" the trip to work out for me. I'll be flying out from Seattle Thursday morning, March 29 and returning Sunday evening, April 1.

I had wanted to fly out Thursday afternoon so I could work half a day and not waste a vacation day, but the mid-afternoon flight didn't get into Denver until 30 minutes before I wanted to be way on the other side of Denver (more than an hour away) for dinner. On the revised itinerary, I'll leave in the morning (taking the full day off as a vacation day) and get into Denver in the middle of the afternoon, giving me plenty of time to rlax and enjoy Colorado before dinner at 7:00 p.m.

The conference nominally runs until the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, and I hate rushing to the airport, so I had planned to fly out on Monday morning. It turned out that the cheap flight was shortly after noon, so I would essentially spend the entire day traveling, eating up another vacation day, not to mention the extra hotel night. I also hate flying at night, especially late at night, but in this case I decided to go ahead and take a 9:30 p.m. flight and not waste Monday as a lost vacation day or waste the cost of the extra hotel night.

Unfortunately, the return flight doesn't get into Seattle until 11:20 p.m., barely five minutes before the last express bus to Bellevue. Sure, maybe my flight will be fifteen minutes early and I can run to catch the bus, but I won't bet on it. There are later buses to downtown Seattle, but only two late-night buses that go from downtown to Bellevue. The best I can do is catch a 2:15 a.m. bus from downtown Seattle that gets me into Bellevue at 2:33 a.m. Yuck. I have a choice of waiting two hours at the airport to catch the 1:30 a.m. bus to downtown, or catch the 11:54 p.m. bus from the airport and then spend two hours wandering around a relatively dead Sunday night Seattle bfore catching that same 2:15 a.m. bus. I'll have to ask somebody what fun and exciting things you can do in downtwon Seattle at 1:00 a.m. in the morning.

I made the hotel reservation as well, to stay three nights, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, for the conference group rate of $74 per night,

My flight was more expensive than I had hoped, but works out better schedule wise and saves me an extra night of hotel stay. The round trip fare, including taxes, fees, and my travel agent's fee, came to $323.

I'll be using up two vacation days, but be able to relax most of Thursday and enjoy the pre-conference activities on Friday, and won't be travel-weary on Friday evening.

I will probably be quite tired on Monday, but that was the tradeoff. Besides, I never count on getting much work done on a Monday anyway.

Three weeks to go. If you're going too, I'll see you there.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Are good ideas really a dime a dozen?

It is a common belief among professionals and entrepreneurs that good ideas are a dime a dozen and that it is your ability to "execute" on an idea that really matters. I've always gone along with this "belief", but deep down I've never believed it, not for a moment. That may have something to do with my lack of significant success as an entrepreneur, but it is nonetheless how I feel.

I feel (and passionately believe) that so many ventures are quite lacking in really good ideas. There are plenty of "okay" ideas that got tossed around and talked up as if they were great ideas, but the simple fact is that it is also a common belief that great execution of a mediocre idea trumps mediocre execution of a good idea.

That is one of the stumbling blocks that has prevented my from being a great entrepreneurial success. I've always looked for the better ideas and not been so great on the execution.

At heart, I'm an idea guy, not an execution guy. If you want entrepreneurial success, you've got to flip those priorities around.

Even if I had managed to do that flip, I would simply have risked having an entrepreneurial success which I wasn't passionately into. In other words, even if I achieved entrepreneurial success and was financially set for life, what would I do? I'd quit and focus on identifying, elaborating, and refining ideas.

Maybe there is no money in pursuing ideas, but that is what interests me most. My belief is that many of the big social, economic, political, and technological problems of the world are simply due to lack of sufficiently great ideas.

To answer my question, good ideas are not a dime a dozen,but an entrepreneur should answer: so what... execution is all that matters anyway.

-- Jack Krupansky

$41 steak


I used to go to the Palm steak restaurant in Washington, D.C. for dinner every Sunday evening when I lived there back in 2003. $31 was definitely a hefty price for a steak, but it was worth it. Now, having a good steak is simply out of the question. I glanced at the dinner menu posted outside the entrance of the Ruth's Chris Steak House here in downtown Bellevue, WA and was blown away by the price for a simple NY strip steak: $41. Sure, it was $39 or so when I got here back in June, but crossing that magical $40 barrier is simply too much for me to stomach. Maybe a couple of times a year I could justify that, but not on any kind of regular basis.

This is more than inflation. It is kind of a class distinction, separating those who can regularly afford a good steak from those who cannot. The fact that I'm now in the "cannot" class is a little difficult to swallow. Moo indeed.

The most I budget for a regular dinner is $50 for Saturday nights, which barely covers a $25 entree, salad, cocktail, tax, and tip. No wine. No desert. No room for any $41 steak. Moo!!!

-- Jack Krupansky

Renaming DVPC to DVPDS - proposal for Distributed Virtual Personal Data Storage

A couple of years ago I came up with a proposal for something I called a Distributed Virtual Personal Computer (DVPC), which was an attempt to abstract the user's data from their personal computer and have that virtual data live on the Internet, with the local storage of the PC simply being a cache of the distributed, virtual data. I have decided to rename the concept to Distributed Virtual Personal Data Storage (DVPDS) to focus the emphasis on the user's data as distinct from the computing or processing capabilities of their PC.

I don't intend to pursue implementation of the DVPDS concept at this time, but I do want this proposal to be available so that others may contemplate the incorporation of its features into computing infrastructures that they may implement in the coming years.

Here is the preamble for the new DVPDS proposal:

This proposal for Distributed Virtual Personal Data Storage (DVPDS) supersedes my previous proposal for a Distributed Virtual Personal Computer (DVPC). DVPDS includes all of the concepts of my previous DVPC proposal, but simply changes the name to emphasize the focus on the data storage aspects of a personal computer (PC) as distinct from the computing or processing capabilities of a PC. In particular, it abstracts the user's personal data to give it a virtual form distinct from the actual storage used to store that virtual data.

The intention remains that all of a user's data would live in a distributed, virtual form on the Internet, and that the user's device (PC or phone or other computing device) merely caches the distributed, virtual data. The intention is that the user gets all of the performance and other benefits of local mass storage, with none of the downside, such as need for backup, anxiety caused by lost or mangled data, inconvenience of access from other machines, difficulty of managing archives, etc.

The intention is not that the user would "work on the Web", but to continue to emphasize higher productivity through rich client devices with instantaneous data access and full control of that data. In practice, users will frequently or usually work directly on the Web, but occasionally or sometimes frequently or for extended stretches of time they may work disconnected from the Internet, all seamlessly and with no loss of the positive aspects of the user experience.

With regard to the requirements for being distributed, the emphasis is on maximum diversity so that users can be guaranteed that their data will be both readily accessible and protected from loss due to even the most extreme of contingencies. Degrees of diversity include vendor, geography, communications backbone, and offline, so that neither human error, fire, flood, earthquake, explosion, vendor financial difficulties, sabotage, theft, or legal disagreements, can cause any of a user's data to become inaccessible for more than a shortest period of time. A particular emphasis is placed on avoiding vendor-specific solutions. Vendor "lock-in" is unacceptable.

One area that needs attention since my original proposal is the more-demanding storage requirements for media such as music, video, podcasts, and movies, as well as intellectual property issues such as DRM.

This proposal is in the public domain. It may be copied and modified -- provided that Jack Krupansky and Base Technology are credited and a link back to this original proposal is provided AND these same use and distribution terms are carried along.

Please note that DVPDS is only a concept right now, with no implementation or business plan to turn the concept into a product and service.

The rest of the document is unchanged since its creation to describe the DVPC concept, but should be read as referring to the DVPDS concept.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, March 03, 2007

United Way "tax"

I've never been into the whole charity giving thing. In my world view, all of these "social" needs should be taken care of by our government, federal, state, county, local. Not that it works out that way in practice given our "divided" government, but that is my preference. Now that I am a full-time employee of "The Evil Empire", I have to deal with something the company calls "the annual 'Giving Campaign'" which is held in the early fall each year. It is completely voluntary and nobody twists your arm or anything and it is not relevant to your performance rating, raises, promotions, or bonuses, but there is still some amount of "pressure" to participate.

I had heard about it long before I joined the company back in May 2006, and knew that eventually I would have to deal with it, and half-expected that I could simply ignore it. I was actually a bit surprised that it didn't come up as a topic at the initial "NEO" (New Employee Orientation) or any of the other initial bureaucratic processes of becoming a new employee. I even went three and a half months before I heard about it sometime late in August. Again, initially I considered ignoring it since it is strictly voluntary, and besides, I was still struggling to cope with the aftermath of bankruptcy six months earlier.

But then I reconsidered, not because I have any interest in giving money (or time) to any of these "charities", but simply because one of my top goals is to simply be a "good corporate citizen." Sure, I'm willing to rock the boat when it's needed, but it gives you a little more credibility when you are a hard-core, solid corporate citizen most of the time.

Although nominally not targeted at any particular charity and not even restricted to a specific list of "approved" charities, the primary focus of the "Giving Campaign" is the local United Way for Kings County. So, I refer to this "giving" as "The United Way Tax."

You can designate your contributions to a variety of charities, including the United Way itself, with any dollar or percentage allocation you want between multiple charities.

The convenient thing is that you can elect to simply have your contribution deducted from your twice-monthly pay check, so even if you make a fairly hefty contribution for the entire year, you hardly even notice it from your paycheck. On a semi-monthly basis, the amount of my contribution corresponds roughly the amount I might spend eating at a fairly decent restaurant. My payroll deductions started  with the first pay period in January.

They have a concept of "Leadership" which is simply a dollar threshold ($1,000 per year) designed to acknowledge and recognize those making significantly higher than average contributions.

Initially, I considered making only a nominal contribution, barely enough to say that I am a good corporate citizen with a straight face, but I eventually decided to do the "Leadership" thing so that it was crystal clear that I was being a rock-solid good citizen, even if I wasn't morally 100% behind the concept of the charities. I even decided to contribute well above the "Leadership" level just to avoid the appearance of trying to barely meet the threshold bar.

Then I had to decide which charity to give to or to just punt and designate the local United Way and let them distribute the money (after spending a chunk of it on "overhead".)

I sifted through the list of suggested charities and ran across something called the "Gates Challenge", which is a relatively small fund set up by the big Bill & Melinda Gates fund, which matches contributions and targets them to an endowment fund for the local United Way which pays for a big chunk of their "overhead" expenses from the income of the endowment. If addition to the company match for my contribution, the Gates Challenge provides an additional match, so that the United Way endowment gets $3 for every $1 I contribute. This seemed like an ideal "contribution" vehicle for me.

My focusing 100% of my contribution to the Gates Challenge is a multi-win for just about everybody:

  1. More of the money of all non-endowment contributors to the United Way goes to their desired charities since less of the money goes to overhead since the income from my endowment contribution pays more of the overhead.
  2. Charities get more of the contributors' money from United Way.
  3. Charities are able to assist more people with that additional money.
  4. Better funding for "overhead" helps United Way provide more efficient and more effective support for the individual charities and their fund-raising efforts.
  5. Not one penny of my own contribution goes towards any of the charities which I may not be supportive of.
  6. Not one penny of my contribution even goes towards United Way overhead which may not be very efficiently or effectively managed since only the income from my endowment contribution gets spent.
  7. My contribution lives on and is not spent to zero within the year. My contribution sits in the endowment, earning interest and investment income year after year.

So, although I have reservations about the whole charity thing, at least I found an approach that works for me, is not a financial burden for me, is satisfying for me, and delivers value to the charities and the people they serve.

If only all "taxes" had this degree of flexibility.

-- Jack Krupansky