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Preview: Rafe's Blog

Rafe's Blog



Technology, startups, and other unpublishable items.



Updated: 2010-05-16T21:39:03-07:00

 



Welcome back to RafeNeedleman.com

2010-05-16T21:49:20-07:00

On Monday, May 17, 2010, I'll be starting as the daily co-host of CNET's Buzz Out Loud podcast (Live every weekday at 10:30 am Pacific) with Molly Wood and producer Jason Howell, now that Tom Merritt is leaving the show...



This is not the blog you're looking for

2007-12-04T18:45:17-08:00

Hello, Indpendent readers! If you're coming here from the story, Top of the blogs, on the Independent UK site, please see my the blog that I presently run, Webware.com. This old blog isn't updated much. Thanks!

Hello, Indpendent readers!

If you're coming here from the story, Top of the blogs, on the Independent UK site, please see my the blog that I presently run, Webware.com.  This old blog isn't updated much. Thanks!




Sanity Saver: DisplayFusion

2007-11-13T09:15:41-08:00

DisplayFusion is a Windows XP and Vista utility designed for people with multiple monitors. But even single-display users should check it out. The free app's core feature is wallpaper management. It lets you select different pictures for your desktop background...

(image) DisplayFusion is a Windows XP and Vista utility designed for people with multiple monitors. But even single-display users should check it out.

The free app's core feature is wallpaper management. It lets you select different pictures for your desktop background on your various displays.  XP by itself can't do this.

It will even let you search for Flickr photos for your backgrounds. Cool.

But what I really like about it is its built-in shortcuts for window management. There are a number of customizable ctrl-Windows commands that I've taking to using habitually. Ctrl-Win-left-arrow and ctrl-Win-right-arrow resize windows along the left and right halves of your display, respectively. It makes it easy to line up two windows side-by-side, like a browser and word processor. Multi-monitor users will also like ctrl-Win-x, which sends your active window to the other display.

DisplayFusion is donationware.




I still like it: Bust A Name

2007-11-07T17:29:07-08:00

Bust A Name is the best tool I've ever used for finding out if the domain you want is still availalble. I wrote about it in July ("Bust A Name: Best domain name helper ever") and I'm still using it...



Webware.com is live!

2006-11-29T23:42:39-08:00

For the past several months I've been working on launching a new blog at CNET: Webware. It's finally live. The blog is about online apps for real people. Not the inside baseball of the blogosphere or venture capital. Anyway, I'm...

(image) For the past several months I've been working on launching a new blog at CNET: Webware. It's finally live. The blog is about online apps for real people. Not the inside baseball of the blogosphere or venture capital.  Anyway, I'm having a great time covering new Web sites and services. Check out the blog.

I can't believe I made it this far without saying, "Web 2.0."  I hate that term.




Visit me at CNET

2006-05-07T19:30:52-07:00

I haven't blogged much here lately because I have been covering new startups and technologies a lot for the CNET Alpha Blog. The latest three companies I've covered are MusicIP (music discovery), ScanR (document management for cellphones), and Mozes (tag...



My laptop can't breathe

2006-03-25T12:56:01-08:00

I wrote a post on CNET about my ThinkPad not working in airplanes. A few readers responded with interesting information about hard disk air bearings and how they can crap out at the pressures inside an airplane cabin.



PC Forum startups

2006-03-15T14:49:55-08:00

I saw a bunch of cool startups at PC Forum. My fave was SpotRunner. Just a brilliant business idea: Resell leftover TV advertising spots to local small businesses. I had to reverse my initial opinion on Bitty Browser. I went...

(image) I saw a bunch of cool startups at PC Forum. My fave was SpotRunner. Just a brilliant business idea: Resell leftover TV advertising spots to local small businesses. 

I had to reverse my initial opinion on Bitty Browser. I went from perplexed to "this has potential."

Most eagerly-awaited launch: the photo search service Riya. I saw this company at Demo, too. See video. Still waiting to get my hands on the beta!

All my writeups are on the CNET Alpha Blog. There is complete coverage on CNET News.com.




Too much choice

2006-03-12T16:53:24-08:00

I'm at PC Forum, listening to Barry Schwartz talk. He's author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. The data he's rolling off is frightening: The same store that offers 29 jams sells less jam than when it...

I'm at PC Forum, listening to Barry Schwartz talk. He's author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.  The data he's rolling off is frightening: The same store that offers 29 jams sells less jam than when it offers six.  For every ten 401(k) options funds a company makes availalbe to its employees, participation in the plan itself goes down 2%. Too much choice, Schwartz says, leads to paralysis, which leads to misery. Which leads to bad business, obviously.

Although people want choice (he has data to prove that, too), it makes them unhappy and lowers engagement in life and in commerce.

"The secret to happiness," Schwarz says, "is modest expectations."

So one secret to good business is a defined, reasonable product set. Don't bludgeon people with choice when it's not necessary. Focus on function and design (iPod), not feature bloat (Microsoft's Origami). To that end, at CNET we should probably take a very hard look at our own crowded front page...

[Cross-posted to the CNET Alpha Blog.]




For sale: Tannoy S6C center channel speaker

2006-03-03T11:40:01-08:00

For sale: One barely used Tannoy S6C Center Channel Speaker. $225 obo. * Black ash cabinet. * No scratches or imperfections, grille in perfect condition. * In original box with original packing material. * Used for a month a few...



Is this the next iPod?

2006-02-21T20:43:22-08:00

You try to take the wife out for dinner on a weekday, to get away from work for just a few hours. And what happens? A news scoop drops in your lap, and there you are, thinking, I have to...

(image) (image) You try to take the wife out for dinner on a weekday, to get away from work for just a few hours. And what happens? A news scoop drops in your lap, and there you are, thinking, I have to blog this. Right now.  So here's the scoop: The next iPod. The one Apple is teasing the press about. The iPod Macro. Spotted in the wild on display at a neighborhood hardware store in San Francisco. How they got the prototype, I have no idea. [More photos.]




The perfect question?

2006-02-18T19:23:18-08:00

I am a believer in the power of online communities. But I'm bugged that most of them are islands. They don't connect to each other. And it's more than inconvenience -- it's getting in the way of business. Here's why:...



Carded

2006-02-17T22:17:21-08:00

One indication that Bubble 2.0 is getting out of hand: I was walking down the dark Atherton street to Michael Arrington's house for the latest TechCrunch meetup/party, and a guy approached me from across the street. Before I could tell...



Rant of the day: Allergic to peanuts.

2006-02-15T13:31:46-08:00

I hate packing peanuts. Almost every time I order something online, it comes in a box filled with either Styrofoam, or much less frequently, cornstarch packing peanuts. I have boxes of packing peanuts in my garage. I can't put them...



A lot of money for an obsolete product

2006-01-29T17:51:35-08:00

We're putting an addition on to our house, and I've opted to not wire it for data or phones. I'm going to use cordless technologies instead. WiFi, of course, is cheap. And on the phone side, all I need is...

(image) We're putting an addition on to our house, and I've opted to not wire it for data or phones.  I'm going to use cordless technologies instead. WiFi, of course, is cheap. And on the phone side, all I need is to get two additional wireless extensions for my Siemens 8825 two-line phone system. It's not a great system, but I'm invested in it, with one base station and four extensions already distributed around the house.

But there's a problem: the phone is no longer being made, and the extensions, which were hardly cheap when I got the system years ago, are now selling at inflated black-market prices on eBay. I just lost an auction for two handsets, where I grudgingly bid $110 each. Buy-It-Now prices are $129 to $149, and it sells for $350 at online stores. This is robbery.

I'd like to dump the system and start over, except getting a high-quality six-extension two-line wireless system is expensive now matter you slice it, especially since if I'm going to upgrade, I'd like to get a 5.8GHz system, and there are only a few models available. So I think I'm stuck paying these usurious prices for a product I don't really like to begin with.

End of rant.




An iPod under the tree

2005-12-31T11:44:27-08:00

My wife got me a 60GB Video iPod for Christmas. It's a fantastic machine. My entire music collection (35GB) fits on it, and I've also loaded it up with podcasts, videocasts, and even the first few eps of Lost, which...

(image) My wife got me a 60GB Video iPod for Christmas. It's a fantastic machine. My entire music collection (35GB) fits on it, and I've also loaded it up with podcasts, videocasts, and even the first few eps of Lost, which I missed when it premiered. Of course, the day after Christmas, I started to wonder how to extend on what the iPod does.

The first thing I wanted to do was plug it into my living room A/V system, so I could watch the iPod's recorded TV shows and videocasts on a bigger screen. Apple charges $19 for its special AV cable, which is robbery.  The connectors are identical to a standard 1/8" video camera cable, which you can find on eBay for $4.99. You just have to remember that Apple shuffled the connectors. See this page for the mappings. I went out looking for a cheap non-Apple cable, but even at my local Radio Shack the cable was $17 (there was an absurd Monster version for $39). I bit the bullet and got the cheaper one. If I lived closer to Fry's I would have shopped for one there.

The other thing I wanted to do with my iPod is listen to new (to me) music, and I didn't want to spend $1.99 on iTunes for each new track. So I'm using the trial version of Griffin's iFill instead. This is a very cool desktop app that tunes into multiple Internet radio stations of your choice and saves the tracks (with artist/title info) directly to your iPod. You can leave it running overnight while you recharge your iPod, and it will fill up your player with fresh content.

My next project revolves around iTunes, which I do not like. I find the interface to be slow and inflexible. There's an alternate iPod manager called Anapod that I'm beginning to experiment with. I prefer it to iTunes, although it doesn't have built-in support for subscribing to podcasts or buying videos. So for the moment I'm still using iTunes, but once I get tired of paying for iTunes videos (won't be long) and once I lock in to a good alternate podcast manager, I plan to move over to Anapod.




Tivo: Features vs. Quality

2005-12-21T07:54:58-08:00

Most of the geeks I know in San Francisco have Comcast digital cable television, and Comcast's own digital video recorder. The advantages of this DVR are that the service fee is bundled in with the cable bill, and that it...

(image) Most of the geeks I know in San Francisco have Comcast digital cable television, and Comcast's own digital video recorder. The advantages of this DVR are that the service fee is bundled in with the cable bill, and that it displays and records high definition TV. I, however, do not have an HD television, nor am I likely to buy one soon, so to feed my old 27" tube TV, I recently got a new standalone Tivo box.

I've had an old Tivo for a very long time, but I wanted the new Series 2 features (network access, DVD recording, upgradeability, and so on). I picked up the latest Humax DRT800 and set it up in my system.

It's very disappointing.

Like  a lot of technology products, the features are all great -- in theory. But the implementation just isn't quite there yet. The user interface is Tivo-simple, for example, but it responds more slowly to the remote control than my old Series 1 Tivo, so navigating the features is a chore.  Also, the Tivo/PC integration is not as smooth, or complete, as it should be. I had to dig into my PC's firewall settings to get it to work, and even then, the Tivo Server app that runs on my PC occasionally gobbles up all my computer's processing resources, slowing everything to a crawl. Also, the Tivo music player and photo viewier applications are so basic they're a joke. Say you want to play a track by Yo-yo Ma: You have to navigate through all the artists in the alphabet, page by page (with the new, slower interface), to get to the Y's. There's no shortcut.

It's little things like this that really bug me, and make me want to go back to Tivo Series 1. It only does one thing, but it does it so well.

There is a saving grace to Tivo Series 2: the open-source application called Galleon. It does everything the new Tivo PC and Web apps do, but it does it better. The music organizer works better than Tivo's own; the podcast module is much easier to use; and the PC-side software doesn't kill your PC. I recommend this app to all Series 2 Tivo users that have their Tivo on a home network.




The most valuable resource

2005-12-06T11:40:13-08:00

This post also appears in CNET's Alpha Blog. The business lesson of the camp Sci Fi classic, When Worlds Collide, was this sign at the spaceport where the plucky humans were building the ship that was supposed to rescue humanity...



I believe in tags

2005-11-29T21:33:49-08:00

I recently interviewed Fred Krueger, CEO of the startup TagWorld. He's launching a community site to compete with MySpace. While the site will live or die based on its success in aping the MySpace business model, more interesting to me...

(image) I recently interviewed Fred Krueger, CEO of the startup TagWorld. He's launching a community site to compete with MySpace.  While the site will live or die based on its success in aping the MySpace business model, more interesting to me is the tag-centric model of TagWorld. The site allows users to tag any content -- photos, bookmarks, blog entries, etc. -- and then organize their activities on the site around those tags. It even works as a tag-based social network. I think it's a fascinating concept, and I wrote a Rafe's Radar column about the company for Release 1.0.

Good news: My Release 1.0 columns are no longer behind a registration wall!




New tech in Vegas

2005-11-21T15:52:36-08:00

Every year, CNET sends a huge contingent of editors to the January Consumer Electronics Show. We write up all the new products we can lay our hands on. And lucky me, I've landed the Emerging Technologies category. So I'll be...