Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

How We Decide: Book Review

April 6, 2009 3 comments

While I’m happy to read just about anything that’s put in front of me (an exaggeration but within the ballpark) I pretend to be
ntellectually curious enough to be able to make my way through non-fiction tomes that are fully outside of my tech-y domain but still accessible to my decidedly mid-range IQ.

How We Decide is one of those books.

Its a NYTimes bestseller about the science of decision making by Jonah Lehrer.

Think of Jonah as a more scientific, less breathless and probably smarter version of Malcolm Gladwell. Also think of the book in an analogous vein to the 2006 bestseller “Blink” by Gladwell. The book discusses the fact that decision making is finally being studied as a real science because of fMRIs and other tools recently available to neuroscientists. It also argues that we should embrace our rational and emotional brain subsystems as essential to good decision making. Instead of getting caught up in the idea of supreme rationality (a la Plato) or in the exclusive powers of the emotional brain (a la Gladwell), we should use both as required by the circumstance.

Along the way, the author details some fun neuroscience experiments over the years and follows some interesting characters. I realize that that’s a glib review but hey you get what you pay for. Definitely read it if you have the time.

Categories: reviews

Saumil’s Guide to Riding Caltrain Like a Champ

November 20, 2008 3 comments

I suffer the ignominy of riding Caltrain four, sometimes five days a week. I live in SoMa and work on Castro in Mountain View. Sure, both locations are supposedly “convenient” to the train but then why is it that I feel like my life is being spent in the company of granola-ass crazy pocket protector could-use-a-shower-badly Caltrain freaks? Because, well, I guess it is when you spend 10 hours a week riding the rails. 

So – here’s the deal with Caltrain, put together in a bullet list of rants, hacks, tricks and tips. Enjoy and profit!!

  • Follow if you use Twitter or refer to the webpage before you get on. 
  • The morning bullet trains are great if you don’t work on your laptop. If you do, having 40 minutes is simply not enough to get a lot done. This is especially true when you’ve got jerkoffs hassling you about the tickets and the damn conductor braying over the PA system about every damn stop every 3.5 minutes. 
  • If you are on your laptop, take the slower trains and get more shit done. Plus, the slower trains are emptier and you have to deal with a smaller quantity of MORONS. 
  • If you’re bringing a bike, try to steer clear of the morning bullet trains. The bike car gets packed FAST. Plus, the imbeciles that run Caltrain frequently put in just ONE bike car with 16 bikes on it. Translation: they’ll tell you to, ahem, leave your bike somewhere or take the next train. Nice work, tools. Real well-managed. 
  • Why the hell doesn’t Caltrain have a coffee bar on the train? Staff it during the morning hours and it still turns a profit. 
  • If you’re riding one of the older model trains from San Francisco, make sure to walk at least 3 cars back before boarding. Why?? Because the first one is the bike car, the second one usually smells and the third one is a first one that’s tolerable and therefore packed. 
  • In each car, there are 4-6 seats (2-3 rows) that have extra leg room. They have enough leg room that you can pop open a laptop comfortably. Look for them in the back of the car.
  • Caltrain is obviously very granola. If you like wearing fluorescent straps on your pants so you dont “ruin them with your bike” (mmm news flash, those pants aren’t that nice to begin with), you’ll fit RIGHT IN. If you’re like me, however, you’ll cringe silently in despair.

The HTC “Dream” is one butt-ugly device

August 31, 2008 5 comments

I mean, come on. What a great way to dig yourself into a hole by nicknaming your device “DREAM”. I’ve been following along on all the details as best as possible and am excited to see that Android will have a home in a few weeks.

But if there is ONE thing that HTC knows how to do (HTC, btw, stands for the cartoonish name High Tech Corporation), it is building devices that look and act like they were designed and manufactured by chumps. I owned an HTC device that ran Windows Mobile a few months ago. It was AWFUl. The slider is hard to operate. The keys are a bitch to operate. When you try to type with the slider out, you’re always afraid that the device is going to fall out of your hands. The fat slider, the four stupid buttons at the bottom, the standard T-Mobile co-branding at the top.

Sounds awful lot like business as usual, no? Where is the iPhone-like hardware disruption? Check out these stealth photos for yourself:

Categories: reviews, tech Tags: , ,

On iPhone 2.0, Shazam and the future of music

August 8, 2008 2 comments


Like every other Valley Apple fan boy, I’ve been spending lots of time downloading, discussing and evangelizing iPhone apps.

My favorite app right now, bar none, is Shazam. I cannot believe that the list of fawning servile fans of this app is so small, but let me be the first in line. Not only is the app usable and ridiculously useful, IMHO it points to something the music industry should have been working on for a long time.

What is Shazam? its an app that you install on your cellphone and run whenever you come across a track that you can’t recognize (which happens ALL the time to most of us at the gym, the car radio, and if you are a major Kenny G fan, in elevators). Once the app “listens” to a few seconds of the song, it sends the audio fingerprint up to the server and figures out the actual song and sends it down to the device. You can then proceed to purchase the track (at least on the iPhone you can) or watch a YouTube video.

This is great, but it is rendered more powerful by the iTunes model of music. Several commentators smarter than me have commented on how the album – a collection of songs sold as a whole – is still a valid form of music retail.

Based upon my personal behavior over the last 2 years, I call bullshit.

Purchasing music now is like purchasing a stick of gum while standing in line at Safeway. Or the National Enquirer if you want to be trashy about it. In other words, music purchases are starting to be impulse buys. You hear a great track, you WANT TO BUY IT RIGHT THERE. Given the low price point of 99 cents, you don’t think twice about making a purchase RIGHT NOW.

This impulse has been around since iTunes started to take off but its been dormant. I hear a great track on Entourage, I have to do the heavy lifting of remembering the stupid lyric, Googling the lyric (game over right there), finding the track on iTunes and then paying 99 cents for the privilege. Uhh, no thanks.

On the other hand, Shazam greases that impulse better than anything out there on the market right now. Plus, it retails for FREE via the appStore.

What’s not to love??

Categories: apple, life, reviews, tech Tags: , , ,

Things that tick me off: Google KNOL doesn’t syndicate

Google Knol made a ridiculously loud fat-man-diving-into-kiddie-pool splash last week. Why? Three reasons:

a) Google is involved, and anything with our Interwebs overlords in charge should be greeted with deference.

b) Wikipedia might get crushed in the process. Nerdy Wikipedia editors are just so annoying, after all.

c) The content, at least for the seed list of topics, is FANTASTIC.

Most of the articles have been licensed under Creative Commons. So why the hell is it so hard to get to the content via XML? Let’s say I want to syndicate Knol Content on my site? Why can’t I do that? There isn’t even an RSS feed that will let me get to the first 1000 characters of the Knol.

That blows. And Google should really fix it.

Categories: reviews, snarky, tech Tags: , ,

A Dirty Job: Book Review

April 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Picked this bad boy up – where else – at the Palo Alto Borders a few months ago and finally got around to knocking it off the pile.

“A Dirty Job” is a very ghoulish, fairly entertaining, at times laugh-out-loud book by local SF author Christopher Moore. It starts off, disturbingly enough, with an inveterate weak-kneed fella whose wife passes away in the emergency room while giving birth to a baby girl. Charlie Asher – the guy – then goes on to discover that he is a “Death Merchant” and is in charge of retrieving the souls of the dying/recently dead.

In other words, buy this book for your children.

No, but really, what makes the book for me is the fact that it is set in SF and written by a local. Lots of descriptions of SF neighborhoods and town arcana that you wouldn’t know about. There are weak patches in the book and the ending isn’t so hot, but overall it rips along very well.

Categories: life, reviews Tags: ,

Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Movie Review

March 31, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m not the kinda guy who will willingly walk into a completely artsy movie just for the heck of it. But I do enjoy the occasional flick that is miles away from stuff getting blown up.

I heard about “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” from a coworker and was immediately intrigued with that very unique title. I’m so pleased that I actually watched it.

The movie is about a debonair, flawed and all-too-human French magazine editor who suffers a massive stroke and is basically completely paralyzed except for one eye. As he says, he has his eye, his imagination and his memories.

And what a wonderful imagination it is. The filmmakers take us into the victim’s brain with roving images of glaciers, deserts and gorgeous sights around the globe. They take us to his memories at Lourdes, the French countryside, sex on the beach with a beautiful French woman.

I won’t say much more because I’d hate to ruin it for you, but please do yourself a favor and watch this movie. You won’t regret it.

Categories: movies, reviews