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Imagination is never the limit

From Cisco’s infographic about IPv6 a month or two ago:

When billions of things are connected, talking and learning, the only limitation left will be our own imaginations.

Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize our imaginations were so restrictive. I could have sworn money was the limiting factor in situations like this — money for development, money to build infrastructure, money for content and intellectual property use, etc.

I could be mistaken. Perhaps there was no possible way for Cisco to imagine a better Flip player, so they had to kill off the product.

Oh, wait.

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Microsoft: Drowning in a Sea of Partners

As I type these words on my Macbook Pro, there is an iPhone 4 in my pocket and an iPad 2 propped up on its Smart Cover in front of me. If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be using three Apple devices at the same time, I would have laughed at you. (In a nice way; I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings.) So I couldn’t help but ask myself recently: what happened? Why have I turned to Apple when, traditionally, Microsoft has been the one to satisfy my geeky gadget needs?

The answer doesn’t lie with Microsoft alone. Microsoft is predominantly a software company. They write
the OS, the productivity software, the games, or the utilities that run on your device. They provide a solid platform that anyone can use in any capacity that they desire. This is something that has always appealed to me: if you want something in a small form factor, then you can build it that way — and you can be sure that the OS of your choice will run on it.

But what happens when your beautiful software gets put on ugly, underperforming hardware?

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Apple Announces the i_______, Available Immediately

Earlier today, at their Cupertino headquarters, Apple announced the latest entry in their “i” product line. Named the i_______ (pronounced “eye blank”), it allows customers to take their ideas for an iDevice, and make them official. “For years, we’ve been creating lustworthy gadgets that make friends, coworkers and complete strangers envious,” Steve Jobs explained in a press release. “Today, we are giving customers the ability to keep the people in their lives constantly envious, driving home the power of Apple’s innovation.”

The i_______ contains no electronics, and isn’t an actual working version of a customer’s idea. Instead, it is a sturdy, laminated piece of cardboard mounted on a solid aluminum back. The front features typical Apple minimalism, showing only your chosen i-product name, what it does, and when your idea was officially recognized by Apple. An idea plus three features is priced at $299. Additional features can be added for $49 each.

Only a few media representatives were allowed into the unveiling at Apple’s headquarters, ensuring they were the first to lay eyes on the product. Initial responses were positive.

"I’ve actually had an i_______ for a week now," admitted The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, much to the envious glances of other nearby journalists. "While it looks simple — just a sheet of cardboard declaring your official i-product concept — it takes on a whole new meaning when it’s in your hands. It becomes personal."

Surprisingly, the i_______ was available for purchase today, and lines have already started forming at Apple Stores across the United States. While select members of the media got the first look, it wasn’t long before everyone else got their chance to see Apple’s latest innovation.

Paul Thurrott, who runs the Windows SuperSite, offered a more measured response. “Quite simply, the i_______ is an evolution, not a revolution. It was only a matter of time before Apple moved beyond material objects, and into the realm of ideas, dreams and vaporware.” While Thurrott generally seemed impressed after buying an i_______ of his own, he found it difficult to ignore several shortcomings. In particular, Thurrott noted that, “…. Apple still hasn’t learned anything from the iPad. The i_______’s glossy, laminated front made it impossible to read in direct sunlight.”

Many happy customers were leaving Apple’s stores, even hours after they initially went on sale. Unlike the iPad 2, there appears to be plenty of stock. Customers were showing off their concepts for iAlarms, iCars and even iSpoons.

Marcel Jones, from Nashua, NH, was one of the early adopters. “It’s amazing! No other company lets you turn your ideas into something physical and real, in such an easy and innovative way. But Apple does, and it’s going to change the game forever!”

Mr. Jones did realize one possible issue with the i_______, however. “While obsolescence is always a problem, it seems particularly bad when your imagination is in charge. For example, for my iToaster, it would be perfect if there was a WiFi module that could send real time updates about your toasting adventure straight to your computer.”

Realizing he had just made his own newly-purchased i_______ obsolete, Mr. Jones’ smile quickly faded.


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The State of Tech 2010

Once again it’s time for me to ramble about some of the interesting technology developments that happened this year.

And what a year! Before starting this post, I went back to re-read my 2009 post.  It seems like almost every question I concluded with was answered in some way in 2010. Last year, I summed up the year as being more evolution than revolution.  While I hesitate to say that this year was revolution, it was certainly more than the evolution of last year. So why don’t we get started?

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4. Religion


I’ve talked about the heavens, and I’ve talked about the Earth – so now, lets talk about one of the ways humans have linked the two together.

Religion is a topic I could discuss at great length, as there are a lot of interesting aspects to it.  The core of all religions hold a framework that explains the universe.  Usually it involves some supreme being — a God who not only presides over Earth, but all of existence.  Usually this God is a mysterious figure, whose intentions are made known through occasional mystical interaction with the creatures of Earth.

There are two main avenues of discussion in religion.  The first is the aforementioned existence of a supreme being. The second is organized religion itself, and its role in formalizing and publicizing specific beliefs.

(Just a side note: in the interest of keeping this blog post manageable, I don’t go into too much detail. But please, if you’d like to discuss a particular point more, feel free to comment.)

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3. Life

History of Life on Earth

Up to now, my ramblings about everything have been rather tame. While there is a lot to discuss when it comes to the universe, and our little neck of the woods, it’s nothing that most people will get into heated arguments about. (Unless it’s about Pluto. In which case – watch out!)

But life is different.  Life is all around us, and it is what we are.  So we tend to get rather passionate about it.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  As I discussed in the last post, Earth is amazing – if for no other reason than the variety of life that has been able to grow and flourish here.  First it was the age of dinosaurs.  Then, after their mass extinction and an essential reboot of the planet, mammals took the throne – eventually leading to the dominance of humans today.

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2. Earth


Out of all the planets in our solar system, Earth is the only one we know of with life. Artifacts on Mars hint towards a planet that might have been hospitable in the past.  There are also theories about a couple of Jupiter’s moons having conditions suitable for liquid water – a crucial component to life, in our experience.

But, as of writing this, Earth stands alone as the only place where life not only exists, but thrives.

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1. The Universe

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
– Carl Sagan

No conversation about everything could start without a discussion of, well, everything. We are all born into this universe, and it is, without a doubt, the most compelling mystery we are presented with.

There are many things we don’t understand — life, nature, quantum mechanics – but ultimately these are all byproducts of the infinite expanse that surrounds us.

Well, all right. Technically, the universe isn’t infinite. But I’m sure you’ve seen one of those videos where the Earth is shown in all of its large, beautiful, blue and white glory.  But then it starts to pull back, showing Mars nearby, and Venus off closer towards the Sun.  Before the camera even manages to pull back from Jupiter, the Earth has become an insignificant speck.  But the camera keeps going – the solar system, the Oort cloud, the Milky Way, the local group of galaxies – and so on, until the Earth is nothing more than a dream, lost in a sea of stars. While eventually there would be an edge to the universe, it feels like we’ve reached infinity already.

And we’re stuck somewhere in the middle of it all. It’s difficult to observe our actual location, and our actual situation, because we’re fixed on this tiny grain of sand, trying to see to the other side of the Sahara.  And to make matters worse, the distances are so large, that it’s even a strain for light. By the time it reaches us, it is millions of years old. As a result, the images we see in telescopes are not only showing us things that are far away in space, but also far away in time.

This interests me greatly, but it’s also a little disconcerting.  On the one hand, our unique circumstance allows us to peer deep into the universe’s past and see how things existed in the early era of the universe.  But on the other hand, it means we don’t really know what’s out there.  We know what used to be out there.  What is likely still happening out there.  But we won’t know what’s happening right now until the light reaches us in another thousand, million years.

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0. Introduction


What is the symbol at the start of this post? Some would consider it a core part of the Western alphabet. Some would see it as a representation of a musical note. Yet others would take more abstract views – perhaps it’s the single hair atop a baby’s head.

But what everyone can agree on is that it is possible to derive meaning from an otherwise simplistic stroke of ink (or pixels, as the case may be).  That’s what makes humanity, the Earth and the Universe so amazing.

I’m a curious person. If there is something I don’t know much about, I will strive to become more familiar with it.  I don’t always have the time to go into great depth on a topic, but I like to learn what I can about its foundation.

This also means I form some rather strong opinions. It would be ignorant for me to say that my opinions are “correct”, but I do my best to form opinions that are logically consistent – or as logical as a human can be, anyway.

I am working on a series of posts that lay bare my opinions on various general topics. Why? Because I like to rant, ramble and discuss. While I know that people won’t agree with me, I’d like to outline some of my thoughts on this crazy existence we find ourselves in.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Part 1: The Universe >>

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The Trendy Food Cycle

Have you ever noticed how popular foods move in a predictable cycle?

It starts with a wonderful, tasty flash of inspiration from a chef. Experimenting in the kitchen, they come up with a new combination of flavors that works phenomenally well together. At this stage, the ingredients are fresh, sometimes hand picked by the chef. Each part of the dish is lovingly crafted to the artist’s strict specifications, using knowledge gained from preparing the same ingredients before.

Guests to the chef’s restaurant try the new dish on the specials menu, and immediately recognize the skill and effort that went into the innovative creation.  It seems so obvious, they’ll say. But they never thought to do it, and now that they’ve tasted it, it’s all they can think about! They tell their friends, and their friends tell their friends.

If this is sustained long enough, then it usually catches the attention of one of those food channel specials.  You know the ones.  The programs titled, “Amazing Foods that You’ll Never Get to Have” or “The Best Restaurants in the World that are too Exclusive for You”.  But, as a result of being on one of these shows, and exposed to mass amounts of people, there is at least one other cook who realizes the potential, and takes it a step further.

Now it moves into the next stage. Brave home cooks will seek out the ingredients needed to recreate the dish, given the information that they have.  It may not be a faithful representation, but they’ll either settle for what they’ve been able to cook, or keep iterating the recipe until it gets as close as possible.  At this point, higher end restaurants might catch on, and also add it to their specials menu, and will usually get pretty close to recreating the dish.

This stage is a gradual progression downward to respected, but not quite as high-end restaurants. This usually consists of smaller chain restaurants, where some of the quality of the original recipe is lost, but the integrity is still solid enough that the flavors, textures and sensations continue to amaze the diners.

But then, inevitably, it all falls apart.

Everyone realizes how popular and amazing this flavor sensation is, and folks trying to make a quick buck dumb it down to the simplest elements to attract the lowest common denominator.

Low cost, chain restaurants take whatever ingredients they have on hand that approximate the original idea, and add it to their menu.

Multinational companies create processed foods based on the original idea, but usually end up being only a salty approximation. In the case of potato chips, it usually ends up tasting like Sour Cream and Onion, Salt and Vinegar or Barbeque – regardless of what it actually says on the package.

At this point, it would probably be good to list some examples of once-great ideas dumbed down to oblivion. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Anything with Roasted Garlic
  • Something Tex-Mex with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes
  • Italian food that has either Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes or a specialty Mozzerella – often simply referred to as “Tuscan Style”
  • Buffalo-style flavoring, which strangely does not always involve chicken.
  • Chipotle-marinated meats, or Chipotle mayo.
  • Balsamic reduction over fruit or ice cream.
  • Loaded Baked Potato flavored anything
  • Anything on small buns, commonly referred to as “sliders”.

A lot of these are great if done right. But they’ve been iterated and overdone so much that they’re tired and exhausted, and it takes something truly unique and lovingly crafted for these ideas and flavors to make your mouth water again.

And that’s when a strange thing starts to happen – in an act of desperation, chefs will “re-discover” one of these overused flavor tropes, and reinvent it back to its original glory. Usually it’s too late to change any of the mass-market crap derivatives.  But if you’re lucky, you’ll find a chef who truly cares, and reminds us all what made the dish so popular in the first place.

And the cycle begins anew…

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