Thursday, December 20, 2007

My HOF Ballot

I am a lucky voter in Joe Posnanski's "Pozcar Awards." Here is my ballot for baseball's hall of fame:

Bert "Be Home" Blyleven
Andre Dawson
Goose Gossage
Don Mattingly
Jack Morris
Jim Rice
Pete Rose
Alan Trammell

Some comments:

Blyleven: I've always loved Bert. He's not given nearly the credit he deserves.
Dawson: I grew up at a time when cable TV was just coming into homes, and our family quickly became Cubs fans. I will always have Dawson's menacing batting stance burned in my memory.
Pete Rose: Yeah, he bet on baseball. But you just can't deny his place in baseball history. The guy could flat out hit better than anybody in the game.
Alan Trammell: I wish he had never taken that manager job in Detroit. His reputation is forever stained after losing all those games. Great player, though.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Take a Note

My wife thinks I’m a little bit nuts over this issue.

I’ve been an Outlook user all of my life. (By “all of my life,” I mean “since I’ve been a serious email user.” That was probably around 1997 or so. I used other email programs before that, but that was about the time that serious work-related email use really kicked in.)

I’ve always thought of email and calendar as sort of a ubiquitous activity. It was there, and we really didn’t have to put too much thought into it.

Over the years, Outlook has evolved into a very powerful and easy to use interface for email and calendar. When I left my previous job, I was using Outlook 2007 which was coupled with the latest version of Exchange Server. (I’m not much on the Exchange product, so I’m not sure what they call the latest version).

I accepted an offer with another company about 2 months ago. I came to the company knowing that it was a Lotus Notes shop, but I didn’t think too much about it. My wife has been Notes user at her job for years and years. She’s never really complained about it. I mean, seriously… how difficult is it to create a decent email and calendar program?
Apparently, it’s so difficult that the largest computer company in the world can’t do it. IBM’s Lotus Notes is, in a word, awful.

There are obvious issues, of course. It completely ignores the interface design standards that have been established over the last 20 years of Windows computing. For example, look at the scroll bar on the right of your screen. The length of that bar gives you an indication of how long the document you are looking at is. In Notes, the scroll bar is always the same size.

And of course, it’s ugly. Notes is the worst looking mainstream application I’ve ever seen. It uses its icons that are right out of the early days of Windows. Can’t IBM afford some decent designers?

But all of that is probably tolerable, if it weren’t so damned difficult to use. This is where the conversation gets a bit fuzzy. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always used Outlook, or if there is something to this, but I find Notes difficult to use.

It’s hard for me to find emails that I know I’ve saved in my Inbox. It’s hard for me to figure out if I’ve accepted or declined a meeting. It’s hard for me to schedule meetings.

I’ve been using Notes for 2 months, and it’s not getting any easier.

At my old company, we used to sell a service for interface design. We bragged about the staff we had who graduated with degrees that specialize in human/computer interaction. I personally thought it was a bunch of hogwash. But I’m starting to believe that there really is a science to this. I think Microsoft built all of this subtle usability knowledge into Outlook.

Outlook is just plain easy to use. It capitalizes words for me. It corrects spelling for me. It shows me a small preview of my new mail down by my clock, so I can instantly decide to read or ignore it, or even delete it right there without ever leaving my work. I can send email by hitting Alt+S. The calendar is easy to read. There’s no extra effort required to figure out who is available for a meeting. It’s great!

Obviously, I can’t just give up on Notes. My company uses it, right or wrong. I will continue to try to learn its ways and perhaps one day, it will be as easy to me as Outlook. But as of today, it sure doesn’t seem like that will ever happen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Gig

Yesterday I started my new job at Perceptive Software. Perceptive makes a product called ImageNow, which is a document imaging, management and workflow tool. So far, the company seems to be a great place to work and while I'm just starting to learn the product, it is very impressive.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Financial Peace University – Fall Class

Our next Financial Peace University class is scheduled to begin September 17, 2007. We will have class on Monday evenings from 7-9. If you would like to join us, please email me.

Our summer class is winding down. We have just one class left. It has been a good class, and I hope everybody has gotten some good information from it.

Personally, our debt snowball remains on hold while we save up some money to get our house painted. We had to start over after we had some extra expenses in July. We hope to have the money saved to paint the house in just a few months, and then we will be back on the snowball with a vengeance!

Monday, August 06, 2007

The 100% Down Plan

Can you pay cash for your home? Think about that for a moment… How much do you pay in monthly mortgage payments? Now, imagine your life if you didn't have to make those payments? What could you do with that money? Save for retirement? Give to a charity?

So many people have the mortgage idea ingrained in their thinking. They can't even imagine having a paid for house.

Is it easy? Heck no! If it was easy, everybody would have a paid for house! (No, my house isn't paid for, but we're working on it).

But it is possible. There is a young man in my current Financial Peace University class who may be able to do just that. He is working hard, earning as much money as he can. He is renting a small house, and splitting the rent with a roommate. He is currently paying off all of his debt, and then will start socking away as much savings as he can. He hopes to save enough to pay for some land with cash, and then will build a house on the land.

If he is able to succeed on his plan (and since he has a plan, he's well on his way), he will end up with a paid for house in a few years. Yes, it will take hard work, and it will take time. But by putting it off, he will be in a great position for the rest of his life.

If you already have a mortgage, you can still experience this freedom. You need to pay off your mortgage as fast as you can. Don't stick with that 30 year plan. Figure how much you are able to send each month, and re-amortize your current mortgage. You can find amortization calculators on the Internet. You don't need to refinance (unless you have an adjustable rate mortgage. In that case, refinance NOW!)

Just use the amortization calculator to figure out how soon you can have your house paid off. You can either set a time goal (7 years, for example) and calculate the payment and start paying that, or use the calculator to see when your house will be paid for based on the payment you are able to make.

MAKE IT AUTOMATIC! We all know that telling yourself to write a bigger check each month won't work. It just won't! So, set up the payment using your bank's online bill payment service. That way you never have to think about it. Sit back and watch that balance shrink!

Once your house is paid off, you are in the catbird seat. You can either take your old house payment and start funding mutual funds and become wealthy very quickly, or you can put that money away in savings to build up some cash for your next house.

Let's say you pay off your $120,000 house, and then start putting away your $1,000 payment into savings. In three years, your house may have increased in value to $150,000 and you will have $36,000 in savings. You can then go buy a $180,000 or $190,000 house for cash! It's amazing the power your home has once the debt is released.

Most people believe mortgages are a way of life. But the paid off home is the way to riches!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Retirement and College

I am coordinating a Financial Peace University class at my church. (If you are interested in taking FPU, please let me know. I'm planning our next class now).

Last night's lesson was on retirement and college saving. There were a couple of very important points from that class that I would like to reiterate here.

Save for yourself first

You probably feel a tinge of guilt thinking about putting off your children's college fund for your own savings. Believe it or not, your first priority should be your retirement savings. It is much more important that you have your nest egg built up for retirement.

There are too many ways to fund college other than college savings. Yes, if you are funding your retirement accounts and are debt free, then by all means throw some money in an Education Savings Account. But if you are still paying off your debt or are saving for college instead of saving for retirement, do not save for college.

First, there is no guarantee that your child will go to college. Some kids are natural mechanics and welders and can make a great living without college. Second, college can be paid for in other ways. Your child can work through college, you can apply for scholarships, and your child can go to a community college for their first two years. In Missouri, there is a program that pays for the first 2 years of college for eligible students. Look into programs like these to help with the cost of college. But, by all means, DO NOT TAKE STUDENT LOANS!

Too many students are starting life under a mountain of debt. Worse, they never learn the power of being debt free, and fall into a lifestyle of payments. How can you get your life started, or save for a house with that debt hanging over your head? Here's an idea: start life debt free, and work hard to keep it that way.

Take your employer's FREE MONEY

Does your employer offer a 401(k) plan? Do they offer a match? If so, TAKE THE MATCH. Your employer is offering to give you FREE MONEY for your retirement. That's great! Take it!

If you still have debt, you might want to either suspend or hold off on starting your retirement saving. Dave Ramsey's advice is to not save for retirement at all while you are paying down debt. That way, you will have more money available to work your debt snowball.

But if your company offers a match, you might consider saving just enough to take advantage of the match. For example, if you company matches the first 4%, then save 4%. Take that free money and sock it away into your 401(k) account. It's just too good a deal to ignore.

We love the name ROTH

If your company does not offer a match on their 401(k), then perhaps a better plan is to fund a Roth IRA instead. With a Roth, you invest after-tax dollars in your choice of investments (please choose growth stock mutual funds with a good track record). That money then grows TAX FREE. That's right, when you pull the money out at retirement, you pay no taxes! There are some restrictions on the Roth, so please check with your financial advisor, but if you can, invest in a Roth.

There are lots of different things to think about when planning for college or retirement. The most important thing is this: START EARLY. The power of compound interest will easily make you a millionaire by just investing a little each month. If you haven't started yet, get yourself out of debt and get your emergency fund built up quickly. Then start putting as much as you can (15% is recommended) away for your retirement.

The earlier you start, the wealthier you will be.

For more information on how you can retire wealthy, please see Dave Ramsey's web site.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Debit Cards Are Evil

You are probably thinking I mistyped the title. It should read:

Credit Cards Are Evil

Well, that is true too! Credit cards are bad news.

But in this post, we'll talk about how using a debit card can wreck a budget.

Last summer, my wife and I were shopping for our son's birthday. Just a couple of weeks earlier, we decided to get serious about our money and stop the crazy spending. Using Dave Ramsey's advice, we started using cash for our purchases.

Previously, we thought that if we were using our debit card we were doing well because we were not charging our purchases. We were paying with money we had and not going into debt.

But what we didn't realize is that we were overspending by using that debit card. When you swipe, you don't register the pain of money leaving your hands. And you don't have a hard limit on what you can spend.

Back to our birthday shopping. We were struggling. We'd never been on a pure cash basis before. We always caught our slack with the credit card. But here we were, wandering around Target with $100 cash in our pocket. We were suddenly very aware of what we were buying. We wanted to make sure the items we purchased were good buys, and something that our son would really appreciate.

I can remember holiday shopping trips in the past. We just picked up any old thing and tossed it into the cart without much thought. It's amazing how your thinking changes when you are using folding money.

We finally had a cart full of items and headed to the register. This was the big "Ah ha!" moment for us. The cashier rang up our purchases and the total was over $100. How would we handle this in the past? Shrug and swipe.

This time though, we only had $100 to spend. We asked the cashier to put back 2 items to get the total under $100. We felt so empowered!!!

The $20 or $30 we didn't spend on his birthday went toward groceries or gas for the car. Suddenly, this whole budgeting thing made sense.

Dave Ramsey says that studies show that people who pay with plastic (debit or credit) tend to spend 12% to 18% more than if they use cash. And in a fast food environment, it's more like 20% to 30% more (no wonder McDonalds installed all those debit card machines!)

So now, we pay cash for everything. Real, green, folding cash. Gas, groceries, gifts, clothes, everything is cash. We budget our expenses, withdraw the cash and put the budgeted amounts in envelopes. For groceries, we'll take the cash and put it in an envelope with "groceries" written across the front. When we go to the grocery store, we never spend more than what's in the envelope (because we can't - that's all that's in the envelope!)

We now feel terribly guilty when we have to use the debit card. We know that using the debit card means we're spending money that wasn't budgeted for.

This system is the key to paying off debt. We want to make sure we have an extra amount of money each month to send off to pay down debt. By sticking to the envelope system, we can be assured to always have that money available for debt.

Some financial experts say to throw out the budget. (I'm currently reading "The Automatic Millionaire" by David Bach. He says budgets don't work. I respectfully disagree.) There's a saying: "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time." A budget gives you a target, something to aim at.

The budget and envelope system is the key to freeing up the money you need to get out of debt.

And getting out of debt is the key to freeing up the money you need to reach financial freedom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on Cars…

One more thought about cars…

I think that when most people hear someone say "save up and buy your car with cash," the immediate reaction is, "no way! That's too much money!"

But, remember, you have an asset to add to your cash. The trick here is getting your current car paid off. I was thinking about this as I drove to work today. My car will (hopefully) be paid off in about 6 months. I'm going to keep driving it after that while we work on our other debts, but once that car is debt-free, it now becomes a powerful asset for buying my next car.

If you think about buying a $10,000 car with saved up cash, you might feel overwhelmed. But it doesn't have to be that bad.

As an example, let's pretend my car is 5 years old and I'm ready for a new car. According to, a 5 year old Taurus like mine is worth $6,195 in a private sale. In this example, let's also say I'm debt free except my home, and so I've been putting away $400 a month into a "new car" savings account. After just 10 months, I have $4,000 plus whatever interest I've earned in there.

I run an ad for my car and find someone to buy it from me for $6,000. I add that $6,000 to the $4,000 I've saved, and I have $10,000 to buy a car. Remember, I only buy good, reliable used cars, so finding one for about $10,000 shouldn't be too hard.

If I continue saving $400 per month, in just 10 more months, I could upgrade to a $14,000 car with cash (sell my $10,000 and add my savings). If I continue this trend, I could be driving a very nice car in just a couple of years, WITH NO CAR PAYMENTS!!!

Of course, I wouldn't do this. Once I get my new (used) car, I will drive it longer than 10 months so I can put that $400 into something other than a new car cookie jar. For example, maybe I'll put that $400 into a good growth stock mutual fund. If it grows at 10% (which it easily should) that $400 a month will turn into about $80,000 in just 10 years. In another 5 years, it would be about $160,000!!!

Wow! I'd much rather have $160,000 than that new car smell any day!!!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cars and Money


From my experience, cars are one of the biggest reasons people run into money problems. I am guilty of this. I've made some VERY stupid mistakes with cars in the past. But, I've learned my lessons. Here are some thoughts on what I've learned.

New Cars Suck

That is, they suck the money out of your wallet. I love driving a new car. They smell great, they shine, and they don't rattle. New cars are awesome! But they are a terrible place to put your money.

Everybody knows that new cars lose their value very quickly. But for some reason, we don't care. We still buy them knowing we are losing money on the deal. But the positive feelings that come from driving a new car buffer all of that pain.

But studies show that new cars lose about 40% of their value in the first four years. You might as well throw your hundreds out the window.

Millionaires Buy Used

Buying used makes good financial sense. If you buy a good, reliable, two-year-old car, you're letting somebody else take the hit on the depreciation. That's what most millionaires do. How do you think they became millionaires?

Roll Me Over

This is the one that killed us. Let's say you bought a new car a couple of years ago. And, like me, you wanted the best so you bought the top of the line model and financed it out 5 or 6 years so you could make the payment. Now, you're tired of that car. You work hard, so you deserve to drive a nice car. Besides, the car you have will need repairs soon anyway, so why not just buy a new one and get the new car warranty that goes along with it?

Believe me from experience: DUMB!!! You trade in your car, and you learn that the dealer will give you less than what you owe for it. That's okay. Just roll it into the new loan. Now, you are even more upside down on the new car!!! It's an endless cycle.

Soon, you're stuck in a car with a bloated payment and a huge debt.

Pay Cash!

I used to say it. How many times have you said it?

"You'll always have a car payment. There's no way to avoid them."

You have to be an adult about this. Don't let that new car fever get the best of you. Take your time, save up and pay cash for your cars. Avoid the dreaded car payment.

Snowball Your Car

If you currently have a car with a car payment, you need to decide whether to keep it or sell it. Here is a rule of thumb to help you decide:

  • If it will take longer than 1-2 years to pay off your car, sell it
  • If all of your cars together are worth more than half your take home pay, sell a car

If you love the car and you think you can get it paid off in a year or two, keep it and snowball the loan to get it paid off.

But, what if you decide to sell it but owe more than it's worth? Here's an example. You owe $22,000 on a car that is worth $18,000 (be sure to check for your car's worth. Look at "Private Sale," not "Trade In Value.")

If you sold it for $18,000, you would have to come up with $4,000 to settle the note. So, you could either save up that money, or you could borrow it. What??? Borrow??? I thought we were getting out of debt!!!

We are. But a $4,000 debt is better than a $22,000 debt, isn't it?

But then what do you drive? Well, you have to be serious about getting out of debt. If you need to replace this car, then instead of borrowing $4,000, borrow $6,000 or $7,000 and buy a little $2,000 or $3,000 car.

Of course, you don't want to drive this little clunker forever, so GET MOTIVATED! Get your debt paid off, then save up some money! Put your old car payment in a cookie jar. In 10 months, you'd have around $4,000 (assuming you're saving $400 a month). If you then sold your clunker for $2,000, you'd have $6,000 to upgrade. In another 10 months, you'd have another $4,000. Sell your new clunker for $5,000 and you could buy a $9,000 car. Pretty soon, you're driving a decent car with no debt!

This is an extreme case. You have to be VERY MOTIVATED to work this plan. In our case, we couldn't quite muster the strength to do it this way.

I drive a lot for work, and so I wanted something that was comfortable and reliable. I traded my BMW ($20,000 debt) in on a Ford Taurus ($10,000 debt). That cut $10K out of our debt and reduced my car payment by about $200.

My wife's car is a different story. We are VERY upside down in it. We'd like to sell it, but we the deficit is so large, we can't make it work. So we are going to try to pay it off (or pay it down). It will take a while, but that albatross will either be out of our lives or paid for.

Either way, I'm drawing a line in the sand… No car payments!!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Don’t Save For Retirement?

The biggest key to getting out of debt is unbridled focus and intensity. If you focus on that and that alone, and attack it, it can be done.

Dave Ramsey calls it "Gazelle Intensity," based on a show he saw on the Discovery channel. (He tells the story in his book, "The Total Money Makeover.")

If you are spreading yourself across several goals, you will not get to where you want to be quickly. For the debt snowball to really gain some traction, you must scrape up every last penny you can, which brings us to a very difficult decision – should I stop putting away for my retirement?

This is a sticky point. If you work for a company that provides a match for its 401(k) plan, you should be thankful. How can you turn away that "free" money? It's tough, I know.

But if you are trying to pay off a bunch of debt, and you are also sending some money to a retirement plan, some to a college savings plan, a little to this credit card, and a little to that savings account, nothing gets done! You are spread too thin!

Dave's advice is to stop all other saving and attack the debt. In most cases, you will be able to make up for lost time after you are debt free by saving much more than you are today. You will finish the second Baby Step faster, and get on with your plan for financial freedom sooner. You will knock that retirement savings into the stratosphere after your debt is gone.

But, in the real world, this is difficult to actually do. My wife and I struggle with this. We have not stopped investing in our retirement accounts. Both of our companies have match programs, so we are contributing as much as the match allows, but no more.

Remember, there are recommended ways of traveling down this path. But in the end, you and your spouse much be in agreement and do it together. If one of you is not comfortable with stopping retirement savings, then adjust your plan accordingly.

Connecting MDA to Vista’s Mobile Device Center

I started using Windows Vista last October. Since then, I've tried off and on (unsuccessfully) to connect my MDA phone to Vista's new Mobile Device Center.

I've used the ActiveSync for years without any problem, but the Mobile Device Center just wouldn't connect at all. It's not a big deal for me because I sync directly to my company's Exchange server over the air, so I can get anything to my phone that way.

Still, it was frustrating that I couldn't get this connection to work.

I've Googled for the problem (and I've also Live'd for the Microsoft folks reading this), and there were some others with similar problems, but those were all solved with firewall tweaks. None of that helped me.

Well, yesterday I finally got a successful connection. Here's what I did:

On the MDA, click Start, then Settings. Go to the Connections tab and click USB to PC. Uncheck the "Enable advanced network functionality" check box. (does anybody know what that's for?)

Connect the MDA to your USB port and you should get a connection. However, if you try something like copying files to the MDA, you'll notice that the connection keeps getting lost. Go back into the USB to PC setting screen and recheck the "Enable advanced network functionality" check box. That should cure the connection problems. It seems that one connection needs to be made with the box unchecked, and then it can be checked thereafter.

Hope this helps… Now if they would only release that WM6 update for MDA…

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Debt Snowball

Since August, 2006, my wife and I have been able to pay off over $45,000 in debt. That's a lot! There are several things we did to make this progress.

Stop Borrowing Money

We cut up our credit cards and agreed that we would never borrow again. We've gone a year now without using credit cards, except for work expenses that were reimbursed. By refusing to borrow more money, all our steps are going forward; none backward.

The Snowball

Anybody who's remotely familiar with Dave Ramsey knows about the debt snowball. You take all of your debts, order them from smallest to largest, and start paying them off one at a time. You pay the minimums on all but the smallest one. For the smallest one, you find as much extra money as you can each month to add to its payment. Once the smallest one is paid off, you celebrate briefly then roll that payment into the next debt. Each time you pay one off, the snowball rolls over and you attack the next.

The reason you go smallest to largest (and ignoring interest rates) is so you can experience some victories. Going through this process is largely behavioral. If you have that satisfying feeling of paying one off, it motivates you to keep going.

Our extra snowball amount at the start was a few hundred dollars. We started with Care Credit which was zero percent, but the smallest amount.

Whole to Term

For many years, we had been paying into whole life insurance policies. At the time, it was sold to us as a way to take care of our need for life insurance as well as an investment for college for our kids. We paid $250.00 a month into this, and our balance last year was a total of about $15,000. That's not much of a return. We applied for term life policies and when they were approved, we canceled the whole life policies and took our $15,000 out. That money was applied to our debts, smallest to largest. By the time we did that, we had knocked out the first four debts and part of the fifth.

Sell Stuff!

Another tactic is to sell stuff. I had a 1966 Mustang Convertible sitting in my garage for years. I LOVE old Mustangs, but at this point getting out of debt is more important than having an old car in the garage. We sold it, netting us another $9,000.

The Dreaded Car Payments

I was driving a BMW that I owed about $20,000 on. A lot of times, Dave will say "sell the car!" I didn't have enough extra cash around to buy another car that I could use for my job, so instead of just selling it, I traded it in on a 2004 Ford Taurus. The car dealer thought I was nuts, but there was a method to my madness. I went from a $20,000 debt and a $515 payment to an $11,000 debt with a $250 payment. That freed up almost $300 a month to apply to the snowball, and reduced our total debt by almost $10,000. I love the Taurus and can't wait to pay it off (4 years ahead of schedule, by the way!)


I love that my wife has been equally focused on this process as I have. We've both been very motivated to become debt free. There have been times when we've had extra money that we could have spent, but we've supported each other and have applied the money to the snowball.


We are now putting our snowball on hold. We have some things around the house that need to be taken care of, and we are not borrowing money to do them. We will save the cash to take care of these things and then resume the snowball. We know it will take a while – about three more years – but we know it will be worth it.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Please see Dave's web site ( for more information about the Financial Peace program. If you want to learn more, buy a copy of "The Total Money Makeover." That book gives you all the information you need to get started.

Our Journey to Financial Peace

A year ago, I became fed up. My wife and I both have great jobs and make good salaries. But, when I sat down to pay the bills, I found that we had no money left to buy groceries. We had too much debt; too many payments.

It was last July when I discovered Dave Ramsey. His radio program motivated me to get serious about our money.

I have been resisting blogging about this because it is somewhat personal, but I've now decided to blog about our debt-free journey.

I have a formulated a lot of opinions on money and debt over the past 11 months. I'll be sharing those along the way as I share our journey with you.

Here is a rundown of our debt (except our house payments) when we started our journey on the first of August, 2006:

Orthodontist: $1,800
Best Buy Credit Card: $1,847
VISA 1: $4,468
VISA 2: $8,158
VISA 3: $12,357
BMW: $20,000
Care Credit: $1,600
2nd Mortgage: $12,109
2nd Mortgage: $32,029
Volvo: $36,500
TOTAL: $130,868

Just 11 months later, here is the rundown:

Taurus: $10,625
2nd Mortgage: $11,995
2nd Mortgage: $31,665
Volvo: $31,500
TOTAL: $85,745

You might be wondering why we have so many mortgage payments. We have two houses. In 2005, we purchased a home for my wife's parents. I think it's safe to say that we really couldn't afford it, but it was important to us to help them out. To rearrange our debt, we got a second mortgage on our primary home. Then we got a mortgage and a second mortgage on the house we purchased.

Our immediate goal is to pay off all our debt except for our 2 main house payments. So we have $85,745 to go.

We've made great progress in our first year. We've paid off over $45,000 in debt in just one year.

In a future post, I'll explain how we were able to do that.

Remember: "Debt is Dumb, Cash is King!"

Monday, July 09, 2007

Microsoft's New Mobile Phone

My good friend Jon Box blogs about Microsoft's newest innovation... the Windows Mobile OFone.

Check out the video here.

Watch out Apple!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A World Record

Over the weekend, I broke a world record. Well, not just me... Me and 1,682 of my closest friends.

The record was for most guitars playing a song. We all took the field at Community America Ballpark and played "Smoke on the Water."

I wasn't sure about the event leading up to it, but it turned out to be a great time. The best part was that I got to hang out with my old buddies Kris and Mike, and play a little guitar with my son Joey. Kris, Mike and I were in a band years ago, so playing with those guys again was a blast.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Seeing Pink

I've been wanting to get a Pink Zune for my wife. When I saw Circuit City's sales flyer this week, I knew it was time to buy. The Pink Zune is a limited edition, only 100,000 of them are begin sold, and they are selling better than any other color of Zune. The retailers have started charging different prices for the different colors (see, so at $199, I jumped on it.

We got the Pink Zune yesterday, and we let it charge and sync overnight. I'm excited to play with it tonight - specifically, to try the wireless sharing feature (this is the first time I've had two Zunes together to try it!).

My wife loves it, and I must say, the Pink looks very cool. It's much better in person than in the photos I've seen. I do find it curious that the Pink Zune does not have the Zune logo on the back like my black Zune has.

Zune Download of the Week: Fourth Edition

"Breakfast in America" was a huge album. I remember when it was released back in 1979. "The Logical Song" was a big hit, and I remember a story about how the saxaphone solo was recorded in a bathroom because they liked the sound of the echo in there.

There were some huge hits on that album, and not surprisingly, four of the tracks on "The Very Best of Supertramp" come from that album. Also included are some other Supertramp greats like "Give a Little Bit," "School," and "Bloody Well Right."

The Zune subscription is a great way to reaquaint yourself with old favorites.

Microsoft Surface

Check out Microsoft Surface. At first you may wonder what the purpose is. A table top computer? Why?

But think about the possiblities. For example, a demo at the end of this video shows an interesting example of this technology in a retail setting.

Another cool idea: You and a friend have lunch, and wish to split the bill. You each lay your credit card on the table, and it automatically recognizes who you are and then displays pictures of each item you ordered. You and your friend can each drag your food items to your credit card, making splitting the bill easy. You then drag a slider over for the tip and touch the "pay" button.

How about this: You lay your Zune on the table. You then scroll through your music library using your finger, and you drag the songs you like over to the Zune and the music is synced to the Zune.

Then, you lay your digital camera on the table, and the table shows you the photos on the camera. You drag a few of them over to your Zune so you can show them to your friends.

It's all done with your finger and with no cables to attach. Very cool.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Zune Download of the Week: Third Edition

Okay, okay… so I missed a couple of weeks. So sue me!

To make up for it, I'll give you two downloads this week.

First up, an example of what makes the Zune Subscription so cool – rediscovering old favorites. I grew up listening to the FM Album Rock station, which included a healthy dose of David Bowie. I never considered myself a Bowie fan, but after years and years of hearing those songs, they just sort of stick with you. To feed my urge, I downloaded "Best of Bowie."

Isn't it funny how there are some songs that you never really thought you liked, but then at some point a switch if flipped and that old familiar song becomes a favorite. Bowie's songs are like that for me. Songs like "Changes," "Suffragette City," "The Jean Genie," "Rebel Rebel," and especially "Young Americans" are just great tunes. These are songs that I've heard over and over but never really paid any attention to, but now are some of my favorites. This CD also includes one of my favorite all times songs, "Under Pressure" which Bowie did with Queen.

Speaking of Queen (and rediscovering old favorites)… I don't remember how old I was, but I remember getting Queen's "Jazz" album out of a discount bin. It had a little cut in the corner to remind me that I paid less than retail for it. I pretty sure I bought the album for the music, but a side benefit of course was the poster that was included in the album. The album included some great songs like "Bicycle Race," "Fat Bottomed Girls," and the lesser known "Don't Stop Me Now." I also very much enjoy the swingy "Dreamer's Ball."

Bowie Downloads

  • Changes

  • Suffragette City

  • Young Americans

  • Under Pressure

Queen Downloads

  • Bicycle Race

  • Fat Bottomed Girls

  • Let Me Entertain You

  • Dreamer's Ball

  • Don't Stop Me Now

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Zune Download of the Week: Second Edition

When we have the XM Satellite radio on in the car, the kids always want to put it on the "Top 20 on 20" channel. If you aren't familiar, this a channel that constantly runs a top 20 countdown, based on listener votes. As soon as the finish with Number 1, they start all over again.

One evening, the channel was on but we were having a conversation. I remember thinking to myself that whatever song was on sounded a lot like Freddie Mercury and Queen. I looked at the display and saw the artist's name: Mika.

The next day, I hopped on Zune Marketplace, and found the CD called "Life in Cartoon Motion." Mika is a pop artist who is fairly well known in the UK, and making a splash in the US.

The Queen-like tune is called "Grace Kelley." The second song ("Lollipop") reminds me of the Indigo Girls' "Iko Iko."

Also, much like Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," Mika pay homage to the larger ladies with a fantastic song call "Big Girl You Are Beautiful."

In all, "Cartoon" is a fun romp of a CD that relies on influences from all kinds of music.

Tracks to Download

  • Grace Kelley

  • Love Today

  • Big Girl You are Beautiful

  • Lollipop

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Zune Download of the Week: First Edition

I'm currently enjoying my second month of my Zune Pass subscription. With the subscription, I can download as much music as I like for one monthly fee.

I've decided to share with you some of the new music I've discovered as well as old favorites I've rediscovered. I will try to post something new each week.

I've downloaded a bunch of music, so I have plenty to write about. This week, though, I'll fill you in on an album I downloaded yesterday.

"Dusk and Summer" by Dashboard Confessional

My 13 year old son, who's always tipping me off on cool new tunes, asked me yesterday if I'd heard "Stolen" by Dashboard Confessional. I had to confess (pun intended), I had never heard the song and had never heard of the band. I sampled a few of the songs and decided to grab the entire album.

Apparently, Dashboard Confessional isn't as unknown as I thought. Their song "Vindicated" made it on the "Spiderman 2" soundtrack, and they've toured with Weezer.

I've listened to "Dusk and Summer" several times and I'm really liking it. I'd compare it to a cross between Counting Crows and Train, but with more of an edge. Very enjoyable.

Tracks to dowload

  • Don't Wait
  • Reason To Believe
  • Stolen
  • Slow Decay

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Really Do Love My Zune… Really!

According to the Zune Insider Blog, Microsoft is prepared to launch a new ad campaign in May. This corresponds with news that there will be a new color for Zune: pink.

This got me to thinking, as I cleaned the kitchen while listening to U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" on my Zune: it's hard to feel good about being a Zune owner.

First, the original ad campaign didn't relate to me. I'm not a big fan of the brown/pink/orange colors that dominate the Zune's aura. The ad campaign features a bunch of youthful, happy people listening to their Zune in dark basements. I'm sure that the music they were listening to was obscure, unknown indie bands or booming, repetitive dance mixes. And then there's that tag line, "Welcome to the Social." That has to be the worst slogan. Ever.

I'm 39, I'm a computer geek, I don't wear my jeans halfway down my ass, and I get fairly regular haircuts. I'm not who Microsoft envisioned selling the Zune to.

I bought the Zune because a large part of my well being is due to Microsoft. I work with Microsoft technologies every day and Microsoft is vastly responsible for my salary. (I do not work for Microsoft, but I do work with Microsoft.)

So, I was willing to give the Zune a shot when I found myself ready to replace my three year old iPod. There are features of the Zune that I really like: the big colorful screen, the ability to customize the background, the built in FM tuner. And as a technology person, I could envision some pretty cool uses for the built in Wi-Fi capabilities.

I've had my Zune for about three months. In that time, I've fallen in love with the Zune Marketplace subscription service. It's an unbelievable feeling of freedom to be able to download any song or album at any time without feeling the pain of paying for each one. If I don't like it, I simply delete it.

It's not hard to appreciate the Zune. It's just hard to feel that pride of ownership. The TV ads have dried up, removing that feeling of "yeah, I got one of those." I have seen a magazine ad here and there, but again, they don't reach my demographic and they are vague, confusing, and ugly. I don't see anybody around me with a Zune.

I've tried to spread the love. A friend was over at my house with his high school daughter. She had just purchased a 30GB iPod. She was showing it off to me, but then she started complaining that it had scratches all over it, after only a few days. She had even purchased a fairly expensive case for it. I showed her my Zune and how it resists scratches. She started tinkering with it, and was very impressed. She loved the big screen and the fact that it had an FM tuner. She was a little put off by not having a scroll wheel, but I explained that I thought it was easier to scroll by just holding a button down than by spinning my thumb around and around. She reluctantly agreed.

She told me that she was going to take her iPod back to get a Zune. The store she had bought it from allowed 10 days for returns.

I saw her a week or two later and I asked if she had gotten a Zune. She said she didn't because somebody told her that Zune didn't work with Vista (she pronounced it "Veesta"). I just shook my head.

The anti-Microsoft engine is very formidable, and unless Microsoft can aggressively market this device and its capabilities, it is going to have a very difficult time making a dent in the marketplace.

I just hope Microsoft keeps its word and doesn't give up on the Zune leaving us first generation owners in a lurch.

In the meantime, I will anxiously await the new ad campaign. Maybe I'll buy a pink one!

Fallen Angel

Please check out Dan Fox's column on the decline of Angel Berroa at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required, but well worth the money).

Dan has more info at his blog.

Don't forget to check the Breaking 100 blog to track the Royals.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Breaking 100

Yes, I am doing the Breaking 100 blog again this year.

In this blog, I track the Royals and thier pursuit of a sub-100 loss season. Last year was the first year for the Breaking 100 blog, and the result was exactly 100 losses.

This season is off to a great start, with the Royals already projected to win 159 games. This could be a fun season!!!

Keep checking the Breaking 100 blog all season long...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Blue Men

My family and I enjoyed Blue Man Group's "How To Be A Megstar" show in Kansas City over the weekend. I had never seen a Blue Man show before, but I was familiar with them. My family was less familiar with the group.

I thought the show was fantastic. The show, of course, was quite a spectacle, with the three blue men pounding on homemade instruments made of PVC pipe and a hard rocking 8 piece band backing them.

The highlight of the show was their cover of the Who's "Baba O'Riley." Below is a video. Very cool...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Zune on SALE!

Office Max seems to be leading the charge on discounting the Zune. Last week, Office Max offered the Zune for only $179 in a two-day "Friends and Family" sale. Now, Office Max is offering the Zune for just $199 to anybody who walks in the door. This is the best price I've seen on the Zune, other than special, invitation-only sales. Grab yours quick!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Future of Zune?

I picked up a brochure at a Zune display at our local video game store the other day. It was typical Zune marketing – "spread the music," "Music the way it wants to be."

However, I did notice an interesting paragraph tucked in with the list of features. It read as follows:

"It Only Gets Better: As Zune evolves, your device can easily be updated. The Zune software on your PC will let you know when these updates are available for download. And with built-in wireless capability in each and every player, the future is filled with possibilities."

Maybe I've been living under a rock, but this is the first time I've seen Microsoft mention wireless in such a way to suggest anything more than the current Zune to Zune music sharing. This paragraph seems to tease us with the possibility of perhaps other wireless features. I can think of a few – music downloads in Starbucks, access to Zune Marketplace without a PC… Hmmm….

Monday, March 05, 2007


This is odd… I logged into the Zune Marketplace this afternoon, and of course, I always like to check the current top seller lists on the right side of the screen.

I found it very strange that an Art Garfunkel album from 1975 is listed as the number 1 album. How can that be?

I can understand Daughtry, Hinder and Nelly Furtado... But Art Garfunkel???

Friday, February 23, 2007

Denny Matthews

What can you say about Denny Matthews?

Denny has been the voice of the Kansas City Royals since their inception in 1969. He's called nearly every pitch in the history of the Royals.

He's missed a few games in recent years. Matthews has taken a few road trips off the last few years, a luxury that he certainly deserves.

But other than those few games, he's been there. Night after night, game after game, pitch after pitch.

I was two years old when Denny began broadcasting Royals games. Needless to say, I grew up listening to Denny. My summers are defined by the sound of Denny's voice.

When I was growing up, the Royals were on. We had an old transistor radio in our kitchen, and Denny's voice flowed out of that radio in a sweet baseball melody.

Denny Matthews is not a flashy broadcaster. His quiet, elegant style fits baseball perfectly. Baseball has no shot clock, and does not involve huge, hulking men crashing into one another. Baseball is a slow paced, flowing game. It is three hours of pleasantness.

Denny's style of broadcasting is like baseball itself. It's a quiet, understated flow of words that perfectly describe the game. Denny is very knowledgeable about baseball. You can learn a lot about baseball when you listen to Denny broadcast a game.

He has no catch phrase. (Personally, I want to hang myself when I hear the "Hawk" scream "HE-GONE!")

He simply describes the game in a comforting voice that makes you feel like all is good in the world. He has a wry humor that makes you smile in between pitches. And occasionally, he will tell one of his many stories that he's accumulated over the years. It goes without saying that a great baseball announcer is also a great story teller.

He is radio's equivalent to comfort food. He's there, in the car and on the porch. He's there, as a child and as an adult. He's there, with your parents and with your kids. He's there, while you work and while you play.

And now, Denny Matthews is there. Matthews was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, winning the Ford Frick Award. Congratulations, Denny. You certainly deserve this great honor.

And thank you.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Zune Bug?

Have I discovered a bug in the Zune? I'm listening to an MP3 recording of last night's Drudge Report Radio Show. It's a long "song:" 53 minutes and 24 seconds.

While I was playing this file and when it got half way through, my Zune's time counter stopped ticking. So, on the left side it showed 26:42 elapsed, and on the right side, it showed -26:42 to go. The progress bar stuck in the middle. The file kept playing all the way to the end, but I could not fast forward.

When I pressed the fast forward button, the time tickers would progress, but when I let it go, they would return to 26:42 and -26:42, and the audio would not advance. It played from the spot where it was when I pressed the fast forward button.

I tried this on the Zune software on my desktop, and it worked normally.

I'm going be trying this on several different long files.

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Evening with Dayton Moore

One of the many changes that Royals GM Dayton Moore has brought to the organization is to create a Speaker's Bureau. By making himself accessible to the public, Moore hopes to bridge the gap between frustrated fans and the club.

I experienced this first-hand Thursday night when Moore visited my brother's church. Moore spoke for about an hour, most of which was Q&A with the audience.

Moore began his talk by discussing his background and how he came to become the GM of the Kansas City Royals. Moore stated that as he began his career in baseball, at the college level, his feeling was that he did not want to be a part of Major League Baseball because of what he had observed as an erosion of morals as people moved up through the ranks of professional baseball.

The Atlanta Braves approached Moore to join their organization, and Moore declined the job. A few days later, Roy Clark called Moore and persuaded him to take the job, and after a great deal of prayer and contemplation with his wife Marianne, he took the job.

Moore was greatly successful in Atlanta, starting as a scout, then Director of Player Personnel, and then finally Assistant General Manager. In 2005, he was named by Baseball America as one of the top 10 Up-and-Coming Power Brokers in Major League Baseball. In 2004, Moore was Baseball America's top general manager prospect.

Moore's success was not going unnoticed. First, the Arizona Diamondbacks approached Moore hoping to hire him as their GM. He passed.

Then, after Theo Epstien so famously left the Boston Red Sox, they tapped Moore to be their next GM. Moore said that he felt excited about the opportunity, but after much prayer and deliberation, he and his wife decided to stay in Atlanta. Moore said that he felt that John Schuerholz would be retiring in a few years and he would take over for the Braves.

Then, in May of 2006, David and Dan Glass requested permission to speak to Moore. Again, Moore was excited about leading a baseball organization, especially his boyhood team. He considered the opportunity, but in the end, decided to stick it out in Atlanta. He called his wife and they agreed that they should stay in Atlanta. But, alas, Moore had a gnawing feeling about the Royals' job. He called his wife four hours later and she mentioned the same "gnawing" feeling. Together, they decided that he should take the job.

After the game that night, Moore called John Schuerholz into his office and told him that he had decided to take the job. He was excited to "go do something special."

Moore expressed his belief that the success of a baseball player depends mostly upon his moral character. He mentioned that there were several players in Kansas City that he felt did not have the character needed to be successful, and those players are now gone. (Affeldt? Burgos?)

Moore opened it up to questions from the crowd, which I will paraphrase below:

Q: How do you turn this thing around?

A: By doing things the right way. We know that it will take time, but we are putting people and processes in place that are the right thing to do. From that, we expect success. I know of people in other places who didn't care about their jobs or about the success of their team because of the way they were treated. We will treat our employees well and do things the right way so that everybody will work together to bring success to Kansas City.

Q: How do you rate the KC farm system?

A: My only point of reference is how Atlanta did it, and they were very successful. We are beefing up our player development and scouting. We are focused on pitching, and we have some good prospects – Luke Hochevar, Tyler Lumsden, Billy Buckner – but not enough. We've added another minor league team to increase the number of prospects we have in our system. We are investing in Latin America, opening an Academy in the Dominican Republic this year. Just a couple of years ago, the Royals were very last in spending in Latin America. We are changing that.

Q: How is Mike Sweeney?

A: He's doing well. He's changed his workout routine to focus on flexibility. He's working with a back specialist. He's a good example of players perhaps doing too much with regard to working out in their younger years. As they get older, they begin to experience these injuries, especially in their backs. He plans to have a strong, healthy season this year.

Q: What is the first thing you changed when you arrived?

A: Level of expectations. Too many people in Kansas City had just come to expect to lose. We've brought in people who have experienced winning in the past, and who expect nothing less than success. Teams who win the World Series overachieve. The talent level is pretty comparable between teams, but the teams that win overachieve, and that is caused by great chemistry and character. The players we've let go didn't fit that mold, the players we've brought in do.

Q: What will happen with Mark Teahen?

A: Teahen will ultimately play the outfield. He could play third or DH to spell other players, but ultimately, he will be an outfielder.

Q: What about the logjam of outfielders?

A: We do have a lot of outfielders right now, and that is a good problem. Buddy Bell will have a lot of flexibility to rotate players around. We also have some room for trades.

Q: What did you see in Gil Meche?

A: We often see pitchers who can "throw" but haven't developed the ability to "pitch" yet. Gil is reaching the point in his career where his ability to throw, his power, is meeting up with his knowledge and ability to pitch. It's when these two things meet that a number 1 or number 2 pitcher is created. But look, signing him may end up being a mistake. But if it is, we would still do it the same way. We needed a pitcher and we felt Gil was the best available and we were going to win that negotiation. What the critics aren't telling you is that the Blue Jays and the Cubs were willing to pay what we paid. The Cubs had 4 years, $40 million on the table. The Blue Jays had 4 years, $48 million on the table. They were willing to go to 5 years, but Gil picked us. He wants to be an ace, and we need an ace. You'll just have to trust me on this one. We feel it's a great match.

Q: Who do you think will have big years this year?

A: Ross Gload. Ryan Shealy. And certainly having Jason LaRue here will spark the competiveness in John Buck, such that I think Buck will have a great year.

Q: What's up with Zack Greinke?

A: He's doing well. I've heard that this offseason, he's worked harder than any other offseason. He's more excited about getting to Spring Training than any other year. Zack is a good example of the damage that can occur when a player is rushed to the majors too fast. He just didn't know how to react to being in the big leagues.

We're finding that a lot of our players come from broken homes, and who have never really learned wrong from right. They are immature and don't know how to handle being on their own. We've created a new Character and Leadership Program in the minors to help teach players these things. We discuss things like "how did Jackie Robinson react, and how would you react?" We hope to give these kids some direction and develop them into strong young men with character.

Q: How soon until we see some success?

A: It obviously won't happen overnight. If we win the World Series in the next 1-3 years, we will be ecstatic. We will be better this year, but we're probably looking at 3-5 years to be a World Series caliber team.


All in all, I was very impressed with Moore. He spoke with authority and he definitely has a plan of attack for making the Kansas City Royals the model organization in baseball. He took on criticism head on, and was realistic about the current state of things and where the sees it going. I'm looking forward to this season, but more importantly, the next 3 seasons.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Future of DRM?

Could the end be near for DRM? Probably not, but if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have their way, DRM would soon go the way of the dinosaurs.

Steve Jobs wrote a very interesting commentary regarding DRM in which he calls for the music companies to release their DRM requirements. Bill Gates has also indicated that he believes DRM is broken and suggests that music lovers should just "…buy a CD and rip it. You are legal then."

The DRM issues also coincide with Zune's sharing feature, which is causing Microsoft more trouble than they anticipated. Not only is the "3 plays/3 days" restriction a pain, but Zune owners are finding that as much as half of their music isn't shareable.

I certainly hope that the pressure applied by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates will help to convince the music companies to give up on DRM once and for all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Free Music

Just thought I'd pass this along…

ArtistDirect is offering free MP3's for download at their site. There's some good stuff there, including Moby, Barenaked Ladies and Cracker, along with a bunch of stuff I've never heard of.

I found it interested that on a page featuring "Free MP3's brought to you by Zune," that right next to the photos of the Zune player is an ad for iTunes/iPod.


Monday, February 05, 2007

I Want That One, and That One, and That One…

I hadn't thought much about the subscription service offered by Microsoft's Zune Marketplace. Being the tightwad that I am, I just immediately dismissed the idea of paying $14.99 per month for music.

But after I purchased my Zune last week, I eventually succumbed to the temptation and I redeemed my free 14 day trial of the Zune Pass subscription service.


How liberating is it to know that you can download any album, any song, at any time?

I'm still not sure I'll pay the $14.99 per month (or $44.97 for 3-month renewals) for the service, but that's because I'm so cheap. I do see the value in this subscription service and I think it's a great product.

There are caveats with the subscription service. I would compare to a "music rental" service. For the monthly fee, you can download and listen to as much music as you like. However, the songs are not capable of being burned to CD. And once you cancel your subscription, the songs no longer can be played. But as long as your subscription is active, it is a music smorgasbord.

Just this morning, I was looking for some Prince music (inspired by his fantastic Super Bowl performance), and found 32 Prince albums available for download. This initial search spawned a train of thought that led me to search for such varied artists as Barenaked Ladies, Crash Test Dummies, GTR, Cracker and Jimmie Lee. Zune Marketplace offered many options for all of these artists (except for GTR, whose album was not available but still listed in their database). Just in this quick 15 minutes search session, I downloaded 6 albums. If each album costs somewhere around 10 or 11 bucks, I just easily paid for several months of the subscription service.

Of course, if there is an album or song that you would like to keep, you can still purchase songs using the confusing Microsoft Points system. Once purchased, the songs can be burned to CD and kept forever.

So, while I'm not sure I will subscribe to the Zune Pass service, I still give it hearty thumbs up as a great way to get music into your hands and onto your Zune.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hello from Seattle

Hello from Seattle

That's the tag line on the back of my new Zune. Yes, I finally purchased a black Zune (with blue "double-shot" no less) yesterday.

Now, I've been reading a lot of reviews and blogs about the Zune, and I was beginning to get scared. According to these folks, the Zune is one device that can and will take down the free world.

Fearing the worst, I grabbed my pocket knife and cut the tape that secured the box sleeve. I slid the brown sleeve off revealing the inner box with that lame-ass slogan, "Welcome to the social."

I should take a moment here and explain my thoughts about the marketing campaign around the Zune. Apparently (actually, obviously) Microsoft is targeting the young uns. They are hoping that high school and college students hop up on the Zune Wagon and "squirt" their favorite songs to each other. All of the photos feature young, typically long-haired kids in torn jeans digging the hell out of their Zune.

This is not me. I'm a (almost) 40 year old computer dork whose musical taste leans more toward Dave Matthews than Ludacris. I also have a steady job, and so being able to afford a $250 music player wasn't as much of an issue for me as it would be for your typical student. And, I damn near hate the brown/pink/orange color scheme.

Okay, so I've removed the outer sleeve and have opened the lid on the inner box, revealing my new black Zune. Inside the plastic sleeve along with my Zune was a tiny, dead insect. I was curious if that was some kind rare Chinese bug that travel thousands of miles from the factory to my home. Everything seemed to be in order. I had a Zune, some earphones, and a sync cable. I opened the flap for the back part of the box and found the software CD, a product guide and a start guide. Also in the back compartment was the slip cover (which is barely big enough to fit the Zune with some stretching. At the pouch that came with my iPod was big enough to also hold the earphones), and my free 14 day Zune Pass. (Wasn't there supposed to be a window sticker in here?)

Brown/pink/orange colors aside, the Zune is very well packaged. It is an attractive box that Microsoft obviously put a lot of thought into. It's almost Apple-like.

I powered up the Zune to take a quick peek at the pre-loaded content. The battery was almost dead, according to the small, Vista-like battery meter in the lower right corner. I tinkered around with it a bit, but then decided to connect it to my PC to charge and sync it.

I've read all of the horror stories about how terrible the Zune software is, and that my computer would lock up and my pipes would freeze and my car would bread down. Surprisingly, none of that happened. The software installed just fine, and it found my music library and commenced with syncing it to my Zune. My library consists of about 5,000 songs, so the sync took a little while to complete. (I'm sorry, but I forgot to time it. Let's just say it took more than 15 minutes.)

The software also transferred a couple of videos it found on my laptop. One was a trailer for "Borat," one was an episode of "The Sopranos," the movie "Benchwarmers," and there were also a few Glenn Beck video podcasts (downloaded from iTunes). All transferred flawlessly, and once the sync was complete, my Zune was loaded up and ready to go.

I've had it for about 48 hours, and I've given it quite a work out. I've listened to several "albums" that I've not heard in years – it's amazing how seeing the album cover art makes you rediscover old favorites that you had forgotten about. I've also watched several videos, including the preloaded ones.

My son grabbed it and listed to FM radio for a while, and he seemed to really enjoy it.

I've since updated the background image to use a picture of Kauffman Stadium that I took on Opening Day 2004. Nothing like a baseball field to get you in the mood for spring.

So, what can I say? I've been an iPod/iTunes user for 3 years, and now I'm on board with the Zune. The Zune works great, has a beautiful screen, and sounds awesome. I can't say that Zune is better or worse than any other MP3/media player. They all have their strengths and weakness and they all have their fans and haters. I like my Zune. It does what I need and I'm anxious to see what Microsoft has in store for the WiFi capabilities.

Until then, hello from Seattle.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I was just reading another review of Microsoft's Zune. This one is published at Digital Media Wire and was written by "jay."

It was pretty clear early on that jay's "review" would be a bit biased. The third sentence of the review reads, "But I still prefer my video iPod."

Interestingly though, jay then spends the rest of the review describing the advantages that Zune has over the iPod, all the while still insisting that the iPod is better.

"If only Apple could just find a way to make the screen a little bigger" is followed by "In the end, I prefer the video iPod when it comes to size and design."

Jay then describes some of the other features – he gives a nod to the Zune on its UI, and iTunes takes the cake in the 99 cents vs. points argument.

In his conclusion though, jay sums it up very well: "The video iPod is the clear short-term winner."

But wait, jay then says, "If Apple manages to fit in a larger screen, add wireless capabilities and possibly a subscription service to iTunes, it will also likely be the long term winner."

Huh? The iPod is the winner, but it doesn't have a nice large screen, wireless capabilities or a subscription service. The Zune does have all of those features but is the loser?

This brings me to my point. All of this "fanboi" behavior, cult-like allegiance and fire spitting hatred is getting old. It's the same thing regardless of what the product is. Microsoft people will trash Apple stuff. Linux people will trash Microsoft stuff. It's all so sophomoric.

Here's an idea. Let's all realize that there is a place in this world for each of these companies and their products. Linux has an important role in shaping the "open source" world. Microsoft makes great software that millions of businesses rely on every day. Apple has the most elegant and well designed products I have ever seen.

iPod is great. Zune is cool. Sansa is sweet. OSX rox. Vista kix. Oracle works. SQL Server works. PeopleSoft is a great product. So is SAP.

They all have their place, and the competition between these companies and products will continue to drive those companies to give us better and better products.

Apple will respond to Zune with a better iPod screen and perhaps an FM tuner and WiFi capabilities. Microsoft will continue to improve the Zune and will release new versions with bigger capacities (hard drives) as well as smaller capacities (flash-based Zune).

All fanbois will benefit from this!

It's all good!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Feeling Better…

In an earlier rant, I was venting about my issues with technology. Several days later, I've calmed down a bit.

My "failed to start" problem was my problem. I had a typo in an XML definition file. Easily fixed and everything worked great.

I did resort to putting Windows XP back on my laptop so I could use an AirCard while I was out of touch, but I've since reinstalled Vista and things are running great.

10 deep breaths. Ah…

Is Zune Gaining Favor?

No, I still haven't purchased my Zune, so I haven't had the opportunity to explore it firsthand. But I have been keeping up with all of the Zune blogs (ZuneScene, ZuneThoughts, Zunerama, and my favorite, ZuneInsider) as well as the various reviews of the device.

It seems to me that after the initial hate-filled garbage was written at the time of the Zune launch, some of the criticism is starting to die down, and more favorable reviews are surfacing.

I theorize that this is because folks are beginning to realize that the Zune of November 2006 is nothing like what the Zune of summer 2007 will be. Microsoft is working hard on the product and updates are coming. It's already been leaked that a flash version is coming, and that MSFT is working on building Podcasts into the Zune Marketplace.

And there was news that a meeting between MSFT and the record companies may ease the sharing restrictions, which seem to be the biggest gripe of Zune haters.

I still believe that one day the Wi-Fi capability will be huge on Zune. Not only for song sharing, but for also downloading new music while on the go (like when you walk into a Starbucks, for instance).

Yes, Microsoft probably did rush the product to get it in stores for Christmas, so they didn't have the "killer-app" features ready for prime time. But I've been around the Redmond folks long enough to know that they will eventually get it right, and it will be a killer product.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Screw Your Technology!

I'm sick of my crap not working.

Understand I've always been one of the "early adopter" types. I love checking out the new stuff, even when it's not quite ready for prime time.

But I've run into issues recently that are about to drive me to drink (more). And I even waited for the production versions to be released.

I'm running Windows Vista Business. Vista hasn't been released to the general public yet, but it has been released to businesses and Microsoft partners. Of course, running a brand new operating system will always present challenges, but when Office 2007 (also brand new) keeps crashing, you know there's a problem.

And don't even get me started on trying to set up an AirCard on this Vista machine. Ugh.

Then there's SharePoint. The brand new version of SharePoint has just been released. One of the great new features of this version of SharePoint is the ability to build custom workflows. I have a client who needs just this kind of functionality. So, I'm trying to build a simple workflow to rename a document when it gets put into a Document Library. No dice. It took 2 days just to get something built that would install into SharePoint successfully. Feeling good about that, I set out to fire off my workflow to test it.

"Failed on Start." That's all it says. No error message. Just "Failed on Start."

I wrote previously that I'd decided to buy a Zune. I still plan to, but am wondering what kind of headaches that will bring.

Maybe it's because I'm getting dangerously close to the age of 40, but I'm starting to get pretty cranky about being on the leading edge. I think I may have to start creeping back toward that trailing edge a little bit.

I'm sure it will reduce my blood pressure.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Podcasting via Zune

I haven't purchased my Zune yet. I have been reading up on some of the Zune blogs, and noticed an interesting bit on Clikzune regarding podcasts. One of the big criticisms of Zune is the "lack of podcast support." Of course, that's not correct as the Zune can play podcasts just fine. What's missing is the lack of a podcast directory on Zune Marketplace.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, a lot of which I retrieve using iTunes. Several are not DRM'd by iTunes, so my Zune software (yes, I've downloaded and installed the software without yet having a device) picks them up and can play them. I assume they will sync and play on a Zune.

Monday, January 15, 2007

I shall soon Zune

I've decided to buy a Zune. I'm not sure when the purchase will be made – perhaps this week – but it will indeed be made.

You may be wondering why I've made this decision. I have a perfectly good (back from the dead) iPod. It is an old sucker that nearly bit it last month, but it's still cranking out the tunes.

And now there is word that the killer feature of the Zune, its wireless music sharing, is crippled at best. Even if it worked as promised, the "3 days, 3 plays" restriction just kills any excitement about this feature. The record companies and their paranoia are nixing all of the innovation around these exciting technologies.

Still, I will buy a Zune. Part of the reasoning is my job. I work for a Microsoft partner, and so I am a bit biased when it comes to Microsoft. But I'm also very interested in Microsoft's future plans for the Zune. We all know that Microsoft will expand the Zune's wireless capabilities. The technology is there, so I can see a day when the Zune will allow users to wirelessly purchase music and sync. I can also envision an entire line of Zune-branded devices and technologies for home entertainment.

At any rate, the time has come for me to get a new digital media player. I've decided on the Zune. I'll keep you posted on my impressions of the device when I get it.

Welcome to the social.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Person of the Year

I am Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

I am very grateful to receive prestigious award. So as not to disappoint the folks at Time Magazine, I offer these bits of random thought:

  • The ads say it only happens once a year, but I believe Toyotathon is a year-round event.
  • Of the thousands of videos on YouTube, I would venture to guess that only 2-5% of them are worth watching.
  • Debt is dumb; cash is king.
  • If Microsoft really wants people to buy Zunes instead of iPods, maybe they should offer it with either more disk space or a smaller price tag. (BTW – I'm fighting the urge to buy one)
  • Yes, "LOVE" by the Beatles is just another attempt to make money off of some dead guys, but it is a joy to listen to.
  • Maybe I'm a baseball romantic, but I love JoPo's optimistic outlook on the Royals this year.
  • Vista is quite beautiful, but only if you have the video hardware to support it. Otherwise, it's a pain in the ass.
  • I'm starting to believe my wife: Lamar Hunt is responsible for the Chiefs' making the playoffs. There is no other explanation.