Cooking

November 2nd, 2008

On recent weekends we’ve been doing some improvisational cooking. We go to one of our favorite markets, see what looks good, and make up a menu on the fly. This past weekend, we made southern-style Kale (courtesy of Landon), roast chicken with a roasted garlic and herb compound butter stuffed under the skin, roast carrots and potatoes, homemade yeast rolls, and an apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream for desert.

I’m actually doing research on dinner rolls right and testing several recipes prior to Thanksgiving. I’ll write about my findings later. The two things worth writing about now though are the compound butter used on the roast chicken and the apple cobbler.

Compound butters are pretty simple creatures. Butter + stuff. For example, butter + sun dried tomatoes is a good one, especially tasty as a basis for beurre blanc accompanying seafood. This weekend we did one that was butter + roasted garlic, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. The recipe is simple. Take one stick of room temperature butter (unsalted) and combine with an entire head of roasted garlic, 2 tsp of chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tsp of chopped fresh thyme, 2 tbsp of chopped fresh marjoram, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, and a grind of whole black pepper. I do this in a food processor, although if the butter is at room temperature, the food processor isn’t really necessary. We stuffed this butter under the skin of a roasting chicken and rubbed it all over the bird before roasting. It’s a good idea to reserve a bit of the butter to baste the bird in the last 20 minutes of cooking.

The second recipe that we improvised this week was an apple cobbler. We had some really nice, locally-grown Fuji apples left over from last weekend, so a cobbler or pie seemed in order. Cobblers are a bit easier to make than pie. The apples can be cut a bit chunkier for cobblers than pie, so there’s less knife work. You also don’t have to make pastry for crust. The filling for the cobbler was 8 small Fuji apples cut into chunks, the zest and juice from a lemon, 1/4c of brown sugar, 1 tsp of cinammon, 1/2 of a whole nutmeg grated, 2 tbsp of Grand Marnier, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, and 1 tbsp of corn starch or Wondra. This filling would work for pie as well. For cobbler, choose your favorite cobbler topping recipe, top, and bake for about 1 hour at 350F.

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First thoughts on the T-Mobile G1

October 26th, 2008

I bought a G1 on Wednesday for personal use and wanted to jot down my initial thoughts about the experience so far.

First some background. I’ve been using an iPhone for the past 16 months, a 3G model since July. I can say without reservations that my two iPhones are the best mobile communication devices I’ve ever owned. They have a few warts: a so so network; no built-in IM client; a promised but still unshipped asynchronous message delivery system to offset the inability to run 3rd-party apps in the background; a keyboard that is usable, but nothing more; a profoundly inconvenient purchase process since the 3G arrived; and battery life that is too short given that there is no way for the user to swap in a fresh battery. But, to my tastes, all of these issues are well offset by the device’s stunningly intuitive interface to a set of functionality that has fundamentally changed the way that I use both voice and data while mobile.

This isn’t exaggeration. After years spent trying dozens of so-called “smartphones”, the iPhone is the first mobile device I’ve actually loved and, more importantly, found useful enough to keep by my side every waking hour of every day.

On to the G1. I’m actually a huge fan of the spirit on which the Android platform has been developed. I believe that building open, flexible software and hardware platforms is an extremely powerful way to nudge markets. The specific nudge that Android appears to be providing is further blurring the line between personal computer and cell phone in terms of capabilities, and, at the same time attempting to create a vibrant application ecosystem with 3rd-party participation and all the right basic conditions for disruptive innovation. Primary among those basic conditions are giving 3rd-party developers a set of coherent APIs consistent across devices and carriers, through those APIs providing non-restrictive access to device hardware and carrier data networks, and then allowing developers to access their potential customers with as few restrictions as possible.

I bought a G1 mostly out of curiosity. I wanted to see how far it advanced the grand vision above, and, I wanted to see how it stacked up to the iPhone. My one sentence review after carrying it side-by-side with my iPhone for a half a week: it would probably be my favorite phone ever if I had never seen an iPhone.

The good:

  • The integration with Google services is incredibly good. After typing in my Gmail address and password, I had mail, chat, and e-mail contacts at my fingertips ready to go.
  • Did I mention that I had chat at my fingertips? Presence information for my contacts is shown in the app and in the contact manager. The real kicker though: instant messages are delivered via the top-of-screen notification area even if you’re not “in” the chat app when the message arrives.
  • Street View in the maps app is very, very cool. Aside from being cool, I find this feature pretty useful when planning trips to places you’ve never been before. I use it a lot online to double-check addresses and to get a quick visual sense for where I’m going. This is very handy to have while mobile.
  • The ShopSavvy 3rd-party app provided my “holy crap this is cool” moment for Android and the G1. This app uses the G1 camera to scan product bar codes and then looks up information about the products online. I did this for a Ruby book after installing the app and got links to the book from multiple online booksellers complete with prices, reviews, etc. I can see myself using this a lot to get reviews on books while browsing at B&N.
  • The device is relatively cheap at $200 and $25/month for unlimited 3G data. I took the cheapest voice plan that T-mobile has ($30/month in my area). My 2 year TCO will be $1520 less taxes and fees. 2 year TCO for an 8GB iPhone 3G with the cheapest monthly plan is $1880 less taxes and fees.

The not-so-good:

  • The G1 device itself is nowhere near as satisfying from a design perspective as the iPhone. It looks like any other cell phone. In other words like a plain, black brick. It’s screen is slightly smaller than the iPhone. It’s slightly heavier than the iPhone. It doesn’t feel as good in my hand as an iPhone. It’s easier to flip the screen up to expose the keyboard with your left hand than it is with your right, which doesn’t make a huge amount of sense given that only 8-15% of the population is left-handed. Once the screen is flipped up and the keyboard is exposed, there is a slight slant making the bottom of the screen not quite parallel with the top of the keyboard. Most people might not even notice this slant. You can bet Steve Jobs would. :-)
  • The Android/G1 UI is reasonable, but not nearly as intuitive or easy to use (in my opinion) as the iPhone. I’ve found myself hunting around to find apps, application functions, and the location of settings than I ever did on the iPhone. A great example of a flawed G1 user experience is setting up your voice mail box. This is done via a voice menu system–unlike the iPhone where you do it entirely via the phone’s software. The thing I found especially irritating about this process is that I didn’t know where the speaker phone functionality was when I was setting up the inbox (you have to press the ‘Menu’ hard button to bring up a soft menu containing the speaker phone option) which meant that I had to keep moving the phone from my ear (to hear the next menu option) to my front (so that I could make the appropriate selection). Invariably between these moves, the G1’s screen would go blank and lock, and I would have to fumble through the unlock sequence to get access to the keyboard again. Granted, most people only set up your voice mail once. But the experience was irritating and one of my first impressions of the device. I don’t think Apple would miss such a detail.
  • The G1 doesn’t integrate with iTunes or the iTunes Music Store for music and video content. Prior to the introduction of the iPhone I wouldn’t have counted that as a negative. Now, however, I use my iPhone a lot to listen to music and videos I’ve downloaded from IMS. I’m not ready to part with these features, nor am I enthused about having to carry around an iPod in addition to a phone.
  • I like the iPhone App Store better than the Android Marketplace. There are way more apps available in the App Store than in the Marketplace, although that may change with time. The Android Marketplace doesn’t support paid applications yet. This may slow the development of the android app ecosystem and limit the number of available apps until the Marketplace allows developers to monetize their work directly. (Google shouldn’t underestimate the ability of stories like the Trism success to motivate people to develop apps. This is especially important given that iPhone has a larger installed base and a head start on the 3rd-party apps market. And then there’s the matter of app discovery. Again to my tastes, it’s a lot easier to discover apps from iTunes on my Mac than it is on either the iPhone App Store or the Android Marketplace hosted on the two respective phones. Neither iPhone nor G1 have an especially good on-phone user experience for app discovery.
  • I keep my calendar and contact information in iCal and Apple Address Book respectively. There is no apparent way, without a complicated dance involving 3rd-party software and copying my information into Google Calendar and it’s contact manager, to synchronize this information from my Mac to my G1. That’s a serious problem and greatly limits my G1’s utility compared to my iPhone’s.
  • The G1 keyboard is pretty bad w.r.t. my fingers. I was really excited that the G1 was going to have a physical keyboard. My inability to type as quickly on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard as I could on Blackberry has been irritating. Unfortunately, the low-profile of the G1 keys makes it hard for me to accurately register my fingers over them, and the lack of throw provides no tactile sensation that a key has been depressed. This amounts to no faster typing on the G1 than the iPhone which is unfortunate.
  • What’s with the retro analog clock? I finally figured out how to delete it, but I wasn’t able to find a setting or 3rd-party app to replace it with something more befitting a modern device.

All things considered, I like the G1, just not enough to displace my iPhone. If I had never seen an iPhone I would probably be annoyingly ebullient in my praise for the G1. I think that it’s incredibly good for consumers and the mobile ecosystem at large that there are two such devices on the marketplace now. These two platforms should do much to push the marketplace in a direction that should be very exciting for consumers and entrepreneurs. In fact, based on what I’ve heard from the Blackberry Developer Conference last week, RIM has some really interesting things in the works. I’m guessing that Nokia will join the fray and that carriers other than AT&T and T-Mobile will be anxious to participate in this acceleration of mobile in the coming months and years.

Exciting times.

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What I’ve been up to

June 1st, 2008

My posting volume has been pretty light since late last year. A large fraction of my energy has been devoted to my now-not-so-new job. I’ve posted some thoughts on my first 10 months at AdMob over at the AdMob blog. We’ll be posting a lot more there about what AdMob engineering is up to. I suspect that the posting volume here will remain light. Work isn’t going to get any less absorbing any time soon. And we have a baby coming in August.

The Tech Biz

Death Match: Handset versus PC?

November 8th, 2007

This is the second week in a row that a TWiT podcast has motivated me to blog. At one point in this week’s show the panel started discussing this question: is mobile killing the PC? By and large the TWiTs didn’t think so, and I even sort-of agree with them. Here’s my not-too-brief response to the question:

What’s interesting to me is how these two technology platforms are co-evolving, and what’s unique about each. In my mind the useful distinctions between handsets and PCs are the obvious: interaction mechanics and availability.

Interaction Mechanics

By interaction mechanics I mean methods of input and output, and what these methods make feasible or infeasible. For example, any device that you use with one hand or cradled in two can’t have a full-size keyboard. [Yes, there are full-sized bluetooth and laser-projected keyboards for handhelds, but you don't use either with one hand or cradled in two, so I'm not counting them.] Ergonomics and human physiology both conspire against authoring long pieces of textual content using small keyboards.

You could write a 100,000 word novel on your Blackberry, but you had better hope that your insurance pays for treatment of the crippling RSI that will result. Until we have really great voice recognition or some sci-fi-ish mind-machine interface on handsets, we’re stuck with small keyboards, and the relatively short works of authorship (short e-mails, twitters, short blog posts, SMSs, etc.) that are feasible with them.

A similar principle applies to screens. Handsets can’t have the big screens of PCs. Until the magic day when someone figures out how to project high-resolution information from short distances across a typical human’s field of vision, we’re stuck with screens that can fit in your hand / pocket / belt holster / purse. The iPhone screen is probably right at the size limit for handset form factors. Sure, resolution will get better and better over time. But that doesn’t really increase the amount of perceivable information you can put on a small screen, just the quality of how the information is presented.

That said, you can feasibly consume an awful lot of different types of content on a good small screen like the iPhone’s. For most textual content, like web pages, the issue with handset presentation is one of formatting, not of screen size. Formatting is a solvable problem. With video, I find that the iPhone’s screen is plenty big with high enough resolution and refresh rate to prevent serious eyestrain even when watching hour-long content.

There are some forms of content and interaction that do require a big screen, e.g., programming, serious video editing, watching movies with others, etc., where having lots of pixels for displaying content really matters, and that consequently are going to be infeasible to do on handsets in the foreseeable future. All told though, small screens seem to less of a limitation on what can be done with handsets than small keyboards.

Availability

Mobile handsets are designed to be…well…mobile. You carry the device around with you all the time. The convenience of this high availability sometimes trumps the convenience of superior interaction mechanics even when you have the choice between the two. For instance, when my wife and I are watching a movie in our living room, both of us have our mobile handsets within reach. We’ll often check our e-mail and make quick responses on our mobiles rather than getting up to go to our desktop Macs, or even to pop open a laptop which may be sitting just as close to us as our mobiles.

This is the really cool thing about mobile handsets. They are communication and content consumption devices that are always on, always connected, and always available. Despite small keyboards and screens, more and more types of communication and content consumption are possible all the time on mobiles. Couple that with the overwhelming convenience of availability, and yes, mobiles are going to steal a huge number of eyeball hours away from PCs. In countries where mobile devices and networks are more sophisticated than in the US–for example, Japan–the trend of spending less time on PCs and more time on mobiles is already noticeable. And the gap is widening rapidly.

I don’t think that this means the death of the PC. In fact, I don’t think that this is an either or scenario.

What I as a consumer want to see is more services like Google Reader, Google Calendar, etc., where I can get at my content on either PC or mobile. The line is already blurring between PC and mobile in terms of both communication and content consumption. My choice between the two in the future will largely be dictated by whichever is most readily at hand. Most of the time that will be my mobile.

I don’t see my mobile becoming the creative instrument that the PC is. For instance, as a programmer and writer, I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to give up my Linux boxes or Macs or my full-sized, ergonomic keyboard in favor of a mobile.

At the end of day (or blog post) though: in the war to capture as much consumer attention as possible, mobile handsets, in my humble opinion, are going to dominate the PC. This sea change is coming soon too, so hold on. It’s going to be an interesting and fun ride. :-)

The Tech Biz

Microsoft’s investment in Facebook

November 5th, 2007

I was listening to last week’s This Week in Tech and the subject of Microsoft’s investment in Facebook came up. The consensus among the TWiTs was that this was a stupid move by Microsoft. The wide-held theory is that Facebook pages don’t monetize well and that Microsoft can’t be making money on the deal. Who knows? That’s pure speculation unless you’re a Microsoft or Facebook insider. What is not speculation is the following:

  1. $240M is not that much money for a company with quarterly revenue of $13.7B and quarterly net income of almost $4.3B. Did I mention that’s quarterly revenue and income?
  2. Even if the deal isn’t profitable now, it gets Microsoft an exclusive look at real data and the opportunity to build tech that could improve monetization on Facebook pages and on other social network content like Facebook’s. Rather than casting about in the dark trying to build a system that monetizes social content well, they’ve paid a relatively paltry sum for a 100M user, in vivo focus group. If Microsoft can get the technology right–and it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will given the technical complexity of the problem–the opportunity in social content advertising just in terms of eyeballs and page views on Facebook and other potential MS partners is HUGE.
  3. Perhaps most cleverly, investing $240M at a $15B valuation is a pretty cheap way for Microsoft to test the waters while making Facebook prohibitively expensive (given their current putative revenue) for potential acquirors.

IMO, investing this money in Facebook is one of the smarter deals I’ve seen Microsoft do in a while.

The Tech Biz