Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cafe Pet Peeve - Wide Brimmed Coffee Mugs

Okay, this maybe indicative of the fact that I have waaay too much time on my hand. Then again, isn't that already apparent with the existence of this blog?

Anyhow, I'm not sure if this trend began with the TV show Friends, but it's basically where I remember it catching fire. That is the trend of wide brimmed coffee mugs at trendy coffee shops. Heck, I used to enjoy the novelty factor of them myself. However, as of late, hanging out Tryst here in DC these last couple of days, I've begun to notice a major drawback.

Let's face it, as I laptop nomad, I spend 6-10 hours a day in a coffee shop. If a coffee shop is going to charge a significant amount for refills on coffee (as Tryst does), I want to drink the coffee fairly slowly. Unfortunately, I've noticed these past couple of days that the coffee at Tryst goes cold very quickly due to the heat dissipating out of a wider surface exposure. I find that I don't even get half way through my coffee before it's too cold and bitter to drink.

Just a hat tip, if you're going to be spending any significant amount of time in an independant coffee shop, perhaps it's worthwhile asking them if they'll serve your coffee in a to-go cup.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Frappr - Good fun, join in!

So Frappr seems to be getting a good deal of attention today, and I thought it might be fun to make a group for Laptop Nomads across the country. See, even though we don't work in an office, and interact with officemates throughout the day, we're still real people!

Check out Frappr, then join in!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Blogging from the Flock

Well, the Flock has finally been set free as of yesterday. Infact, I'm using it right now to write this post. It's very nice. I experienced a bit of slowness with it earlier this morning, but that seems to have been a short lived glitch.

The one bit that sticks out for myself is how much they've improved on the standard skin of Firefox. It feels so nice that it almost appears to be a standard Mac application. I can only assume that the skin is the work of Jon Hicks, it really is beautiful.

I haven't played around with it too much yet, but plan to do so over the next couple of days and will hopefully write more as I get a better feel of it's overall "social" integration.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Vingles or Vodcasts, or how Apple finally got me on board.

There's alot of talk online about the release of Apple's video based iPod last week. A lot of the talk has revolved around the discussion of whether the video iPod will be a success for Apple, and whether they can do for video, what they've done for music.

I'll be the first to say, I don't think the video capability of the Ipod will catch mindshare anything like the .99 music singles of iTunes. But, then again, Apple doesn't need it to do so right now. As it stands the Ipod is now, basically, the best(or at least most popular) portable music player available, and it just so happens to play music.

What I happen to think is interesting about the Ipod right now is the accelerated release schedule that Apple's been following with it. I'm not sure what else they've got in the release pipeline for the Ipod, but pure speculation would lead to at least the following:

  • Networked/Wifi based Ipod. This seems to be the favorite speculation of the technorati, but knowing Apple, they won't release it until they feel they have the interface correct, which could take awile. Perhaps another 6 months, but who knows. I imagine a networked Ipod that allows for easy, integrated social behavior would be a popular release around Christmas time for kids, etc., but that would be a very aggressive schedule.
  • Nanos w/more space. Nano's are very popular still, but they're still a bit expensive compared to other models. I suspect will see an increase in storage as Flash prices continue to drop, meanwhile, I'm guessing Apple won't budge on the price.
  • Smaller, thinner, standard Ipods with more space. These will continue to be a big seller for Apple, and as demand video grows over time, they'll need to keep pace by offering more storage.
  • Finally, I think most people expect Apple will eventually release a true mobile phone Ipod, one that they design inhouse, and that is manufactured by a 3rd party. I'll put the odds of this at 50/50, as I suspect that they might forgo cellular technology altogether and skip straight to internet based communications. It would be great to see Apple team up with Google to enable a wifi based, video ipod that allowed you to use Gtalk, or any other Jabber type client for an internet based Ipod phone with built in video chat.

As for the success of Vingles (video singles), I hope they pick up, but am not terribly optimistic. It's strange, because I'm not terribly fond of buying music on iTunes, and I can count on one hand the number of songs I've purchased through the software (and no, I don't pirate music). Coming to an awareness on this inconsistency bothered me, and I thought I'd try to figure it out. I basically came down to the following:

  • My interests in music are eclectic, and fairly substantial. I also happen to enjoy getting a bit of the packaging when I pay for music. Paying .99 per song that comes in mp3, without any of the artwork, lyrics, etc just doesn't seem attractive.
  • I came to the realization awhile ago that I really enjoy the subscription model offered by Real Rhapsody, and the ability it offers me to enjoy literally hundreds of songs throughout a month for just $9.99. I've realized that as long as it's always available to me, I don't care whether I own the music or not, so paying a continuing fee doesn't bother me. It's much like paying for service such as XM Radio (not something I'm personally interested in), but with much greater control over contenet.
  • Prior to paying $10 a month for Rhapsody, I was averaged buying close to 200-250 CDs a year for the 2 years prior, which has been brought down to under 5 this year. That's a massive savings on my part, a savings which iTunes cannot offer.
All of that explains my disinterest in iTunes for music, but it doesn't explain my interest in video distributed in iTunes. That can be explained with the following:

  • Living and working in the city (and as a Laptop Nomad), I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of my laptop. Much more than anywhere else, infact. And as much as my interest in music is fairly vast and eclectic, my taste in TV runs fairly limited. When I have the time, I basically watch The Daily Show, Real Time w/Bill Maher, Iron Chef America, and maybe Meet the Press. I'll watch more if I'm bored, but honestly, I'd rather be in front of my laptop than my TV. $1.99 per TV show is a steal considering the convenience.
So, perhaps I make up a strange demographic, and one certainly not large enough to have the kind of positive effects that music did for Apple, but I think it's a demographic that will certainly grow over time.

In the meantime, I'm very happy to have a legitimate way to buy TV shows online that I can watch while I'm working outside the house. Perhaps it's just a side effect of having roommates, but I'm really prefering to work outside the house in the comfort of Starbucks, which right now has a fireplace lit keeping me warm.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Random Saturday Blogging Bits

Sitting out at Murky Coffee in Northern Virginia today, trying to get motivated to start translating some backend wireframes into XHTML/CSS based templates that I can start tossing Ruby on Rails code into.

So this is purely a procrastination post, which will probably be pretty apparent from the content.

First of all, Google updated their privacy policy yesterday, and it made me realize, Google is one of the largest, most successful companies in the world, and I trust them much more than any government I can name. Off the top of my head, I'd say the same thing about Whole Foods Markets, and maybe even JetBlue since they turned themselves around after an incident a few years ago. However, I probably wouldn't put Microsoft on that list, and there's an endless list of mediocre companies that I feel wouldn't be any worse than any number of governments, and then there are a few big companies that that I think would be just as bad, if not worse than a lot of corrupt governments.

Maybe I'm naive, but I think as information becomes more accessible, companies will be forced to become more transparent (Microsoft?) due to customer demand. Unfortunately, I have considerable doubts that this same transformation will happen in world governments.

Other tidbits:

  • Google Reader has already become my defacto news reader. Google gets a lot of praise for their well executed use of AJAX and other popular technology trends, but there's one area of the user experience that I feel they consistently hit right, and that's the use of timing (for lack of a better phrase) in their software. For instance, in the Google Reader, when I scroll to a new item, the timing on the scroll just seems perfect. It's not too slow as to jerk the user out of the experience, nor is so slow as to try your patience. It's perfect. It's this similar attention to detail in other areas, such as archiving an email in Gmail, that's really part of the Google experience, and part of the reason I'm skeptical of the new Yahoo email. As an aside, I actually think Microsofts Kahuna Mail looks more attractive than what I've seen coming out of Yahoo.
  • To continue on that thought for a moment, I would love to see links or reference to any user experience design research and data available on the effect of partial screen refreshes. Anyone?
  • The Microsoft Office user experience team working on the next iteration of Office (12) has begun to change my perception of my Microsoft towards one that is decidedly more positive than any time in the past. I'm heading from ambivalence, with perhaps a slightly negative view, to slight excitement. Judging from other comments I've seen lately on the web, I'm not alone in this change of perception. This can only be good news for Microsoft. As much as Microsoft has been monopolistic in practice over the past few years, I don't think it's that far of stretch too say that they're going to need to undergo drastic changes over the next 10 years if they're going to stay competitive in an ever more web focused world.


  • After bouncing around from blog software and various hosts trying to find an easy to use solution, I'm finding blogger to be fantastic for maintaining a simple site. It's been a slow turnaround, and my impression until lately was always of the blogger of old, with a slow unusable, and buggy interface. However, since the buyout from Google, they've created a few great standards based templates, as well as given the backend of the site a major overhaul. It's much faster, easier to use, and setup. Overall, I think it's the best turnkey solution available for blogging. It obviously doesn't have the power of Typepad, but then, you're not paying for it. And while they're are hosted versions of WordPress available for free, none of them are as easy to use, or offer such high quality templates such as those found in Blogger.
Oh, and Murky Coffee out in Clarendon can be summed up in 3 words:

Damn. Good. Coffee.

Of course, I could use a few more, if asked. Lessee, attractive staff, attractive clientele, comfy couches, and free wifi. A nice place overall.

Another interesting aspect of being out here in NoVa, as someone coming from a more traditionally multicultural environment in DC, it seems the young/artistic crowds are migrating more towards VA; I'm guessing in lure of cheaper ren, and it's close proximity to DC. It's odd to see a more diverse crowd hanging in the burbs than you would have in say, Tryst(DC) about 4 or 5 years ago. Of course, that's under the assumption that DC counts as a artistic / cultural hub. It certainaly seems lacking these days.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm not going to lie about it...

Part of my reason for wanting to start this blog was to test out Google Adsense. I want to test how much money can be made from keeping a journal about your hobbies, interests, etc.

So, after 5 days, and 9 posts, I'm reporting total of.... drumrolll please.... 32 cents!

I've struck gold!

It's obviously time to turn in my notice wiht my employer and embark on this journey full time. ;-)

In all seriousness, though. Adsense allows you to post the same ad code in multiple sites, and I think I'll be testing that out on a few upcoming projects. I've also signed up for an account with Yahoo's new ad system, and will probably test out whatever Microsoft and 37Signals have planned.

However, for the immediate future, I'm really not going to worry about it. Just thought it was amusing.

Subscribe to this Site

I'm utilizing this post as a subscription permalink for visitors who want to subscribe to the site via XML feeds. For those of you who want the link now, here it is:

http://laptopnomad.blogspot.com/atom.xml

For those of you who are not aware of what RSS is, below is a quick explanation of the benefits of RSS subscription feeds:

Let's say you have 15 sites you read on a weekly basis, maybe even more on a less regular basis. Let's also guess that it's taken awhile for you to adjust to the navigation on each of those sites, and perhaps on a few of them, even though you've adjusted, you still don't care for the decisions of the web designer.

Add to all of that, you probably forget to check a few of the sites on a regular basis, and probably miss good content. If you spend anytime going back and looking for that missed content, you're having to waste even more time.

Enter XML feeds.

If you've paid attention lately, you've probably seen all sorts of little orange buttons popping up on your favorite websites. In true technologist fashion, they've been labeled with 3 letter acronyms such as RSS, XML, or if possibly just as meaningless, ATOM. Don't let the acronyms scare you away, these are very useful. To use these links, you'll need to copy and paste them into a news reader. My two favorites are:

Bloglines
Google Reader

Once you've registered an account with either of these websites, you'll need to enter the feed address into their subscription section. Once it's in their, you're reader will be automatically updated with the latest news from that feed/site. Most readers will tell you how many unread articles you have per site, and most will allow you to save articles to read later.

At the end the day(or week), you'll end up easily finding, reading, saving, and archiving news from all the sites you used to try and read on a regular basis. It's a beautiful system once you get used to it.

Sadly, less than 10% of the web subscribes to these feeds. On the plus side, that means there's a large untapped market for those of us who want to market these feeds in the future.

Busboys & Poets - 14th & V St. NW

So, I'm relaxing here at the relatively new Busboys & Poets up in the U St. area of Washington, DC. I'm diggin' how comfortable the location is, and it's nice to have a free hotspot integrated with an exceptionally nice food and drink atmosphere.

The place is fairly swanky, with a full bar, a nice loungey type cafe with plenty of comfortable couches and a decent number of power outlets juice your laptop. Another nice plus is that food prices are totally reasonable. I haven't had anything today, but had sampled one of their small pizzas on previous trip. Great, fresh ingredients, and at roughly $7 a pop, one pizza is almost enough for two people, definitely one.

Other good tidbits: above and beyond the cafe, bar and restaurant, they offer a small bookstore in house. The selection is small, and sadly, doesn't offer any real technology related sections, but it's still a nice diversion nonetheless. They also offer regular events, so even though I've never been here at night, they seem to put effort towards involving the local community to bring in clientele.

If I had to make any criticisms, it would be that the place is still in search of a crowd, and it lacks the psuedo social atmosphere found in other nearby cafes such as Tryst in Adams Morgan. Of course, the plus side to that is, you're never long for an outlet to plug into, or a comfortable couch to plop down on.

Oh, and they definitely need to get some small baked goods on the menu(cookies, etc). Something to snack on while we're all here working.

All in all, a good place to sit down and work for awhile.


Recommended
Free Wifi offered in house
At least 1 more available, but untested.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I was wrong about Podcasts.

I initially brushed off podcasts as nothing more than a fad, partially due to the fact that I found the name to be a bit of a turnoff (I still do, to a point). I also wasn't very fond of them, because my last job was a very fast paced position where I was in constant communication with other team members throughout the day, and didn't think I had time the to dedicate time to finding a worthwhile podcast.

Well, now, as I embark on this laptop nomad lifestyle for the next few months, I'm finding podcasts to be a nice background while I get my work done at Starbucks throughout the day. I'm still searching for good podcasts, and I'm using Odeo to subscribe to them on my Powerbook(listening through iTunes). Odeo seems a bit limited in terms of their index, but I like the idea as well as their visual interface. The new Yahoo Podcast search engine seems a bit cluttered for my tastes, but I'll keep it in mind for the future.

As for recommendations, look for the following on Odeo:

Word Nerds
Ebert & Roeper
Radio Economics
ChinesePod(Yahoo Podcasts, learn Chinese from ChinesePod.com)

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy the concept of a Ruby on Rails podcast, I'm afraid I'm going to hold off on recommending the Ruby on Rails podcast for now. As it stands right now(judging from the Jamis Buck episode), it's the perfect example of a poorly executed Podcast. A lot of stammering, hemming and hawwing, and a general sense of a lack of planning.

For more on PodCasts, check out Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution:

Link

A few tidbits for today

First, Peter Merholz has a post up on his blog commenting on the recent Alert Box from Jakob Neilsen. It's a good read, but my main reason for pointing it out is that he links to another great new blog by a member of the Office 12 User Interface team.

I've added it to my blogroll (Jensen Harris). Definitely worth a read if you dig on interface design. Microsoft is doing a pretty good job (they could be doing more, though) getting the word out early in the blogosphere about Office 12. It's amazing what a just a little openness can do for Microsofts reputation. I think Scoble's video interview of the Office U/X lead a while ago was the first time I had been able to hear a Microsoft employee justify their decisions in the design process, and it was great! As someone who just recently gave up on Windows and moved to Apple, the Office 12 interface is one the few shining examples of how Microsoft can get it right sometimes.

As for other news, Google just recently added bookmarks for search. It's great to see them experimenting with this, but until they open it up and make it a bit more social, I can't see it impeding my use of del.icio.us anytime soon. Still, they're making headway.

Oh, and quickly, Yahoo announced their Podcast search engine yesterday. Nice to see a major player stepping into this realm, and it's interesting to see Yahoo give the site a distinct media feeling instead of a more information based(a la Yahoo Search) design. It plays into the fact that Yahoo sees podcasts as a more traditional form of media which can benefit from advertising, marketing, etc., in ways that blogs have not been exploited for thus far.

Well, that's it for now, more on my feelings on podcasts later.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Laptop Nomad Complaint(Starbucks/Barnes and Noble and Wifi)

This will be a fairly quick post, but I wanted to get it in writing. It's something that has been bothering me ever since I signed up for a Tmobile account. It's a simple really. Why on earth did Barnes and Noble partner with FreedomLink over TMobile? The B/N and Starbucks partnership was there long before FreedomLink or TMobile ever existed, so why would Barnes & Noble force it's Starbucks customers whom want to use wi-fi access to pay for an additional account with FreedomLink?

It's enough for me to not want to patron B/N anymore. It's shame too, because I'm fairly certain the ability to lookup books in the store that are recommended online while I'm working would force me to buy a few more books offline. I just don't get the FreedomLink bit, the only other place I've seen their hotspots are at Caribou Coffee, which while nice, are no where near as ubiquitous as Starbucks.

Anyhow, that's my rant. Bottom line: TMobile makes much more sense than FreedomLink for the Barnes and Noble customers. They really ought to switch as soon as possible.

Starbucks 3122 M St. (Georgetown)

Hanging out at the Starbucks in Georgetown today, and am enjoying the atmosphere. There's a whole upstairs area, complete with a fireplace, six comfy chairs, and plenty of power outlets for the traveling laptop professional. Right now, the fire is keeping me nice & toasty, while there's a nice mix of young Georgetown college students, as well as professionals from Georgetown/K St. area, all of whom are more busy studying than they are chatting it up with their cafe neighbors.

It's not quite as nice as the Starbucks on Capitol Hill (my favorite so far), but it's a nice change of pace, allowing me to further mix up my daily routine on a day to day basis. It's clean, and the staff is friendly, helpful, and efficient. Overall, highly recommended, especially for the area. With the added power outlets, and convenient access to great food in Georgetown, it's a definite add to the mix.

If I had one complaint, it would be that it's almost too popular. The close proximity to the Georgetown campus means that you have a lot of students who spend an inordinate amount of time(read: as much as I do) hanging out, and it makes snagging a comfy chair fairly difficult.

Starbucks
Washington, DC
3122 M St. NW

Tmobile required.
Other networks available intermittently, but untested.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Slightly Off-topic: Google Reader

This is pretty nifty, Google has released their entry into the RSS/ATOM feed reading software realm, and... it's okay. However underwhelmed the blogosphere was initially to the GReader, I bet in the next few months, we'll start to see it shape up nicely.

Oddly enough, this is one of the first applications Google has released in awhile that definitely requires them to label it Beta, and it might have hurt them a little bit. There are a few angles here that I see:

  • AJAX: They're using some AJAX in a way that is drastically different from any previous RSS/News reading software, but it's hard to judge yet whether it actually improves the user experience. This is going to cause a good deal of deserved backlash amongst the tech savvy users who already use a similar service. Gmail was a revelation in terms of user experience for webmail. Heck, it was relevation for email in general. I've yet to see a viable replacement for it. The reader, while well executed in some manners, seems like more of a pet project within the Google engineer crowd with a distinct lack of user experience design tied into it.
  • I consider myself fairly tech savvy, and yet after two days of using the GReader, and importing most of my subscriptions, I'm still not comfortable with the idea of trying to describe to someone how it works. While it introduces a good amount of new ideas, and the AJAX makes it just feel sexy, they really need to think about giving the user a bit more control of the sorting of posts etc. I don't understand why, after I subscribe to a feed, it continues to show up as a New Subscription. This is even after I click through the subscription, and ask it allow me to view all older posts within the subscription. The mind boggles
I understand the model they're trying to use, they want you to see the latest posts in your default(or Home) view. However, I wish an option was available to change your default view. In some ways, I think the view you have when clicking on the Subscription navigational button gives you a more useful view. And with just few changes, I think it(the subscription view) could become even more useful. Off the top of my head:

  1. Remove the grey XML link and replace it with more useful information. I would much rather see the number of unread posts, and perhaps the number of Starred posts with a link to a view containining all starred posts.
  2. Infact, just get rid of the Home view all together. I understand it might be a more friendly screen to introduce those uninitiated with the idea of feeds, but really, you already have the all label in the 'Your Subscription' view, so just get rid of the Home view. If users dislike the use of added screen space, offer them a simple -/+ button to minimize the subscriptions.
That's all I can think of right now. Despite all the criticisms, I do believe the GReader is a great tool. It's too early to tell if it's going to mature into a killer app, but I think it's going to replace my use of Bloglines for now, at least until I can test and compare it against the yet to be released FeedLounge.

Oh, I'm enjoying the Google Account/Blogger integration, something which never crossed my mind until the GReader. I hope they find an elegant way to tie the app into my Google Personalized homepage.

Cheers

Starbucks 22nd & K St NW

Working from the Starbucks near George Washington University this afternoon. It's my first time in this Starbucks, and I must say, it's fairly nice. Not sure what the foot traffic would be like on a busy weekday, but it might be good place for future weekend work.

It has a nice decor, with large floor tiling intertwined with brick walkways, and a nice mix of comfy chairs, a couch, a six seat table well suited for studying, as well as nice little 4 seat bar near the barista where you can comfortably read the day's paper. In addition, it's a nice bright corner location with windows fully spanning the 2 street facing walls, while still maintaining the nice Starbucks ambience.

The crowd, perhaps suprisingly, is a mix of 30 something types, possibly grad students. As I mentioned, though, I imagine foot traffic picks up substantially for the weekday crowd. It's close to a metro, across the street from GW Hospital, and has a no shortage of office buildings nearby.

One great item of note for the laptop crowd, sitting from my current comfy chair, I can clearly see 3 power outlets within reach of two comfy chairs, as well as the 6 person table. I haven't scoped out the rest of the store, but it would seem a good indication.

Overall, it's a great hotspot for the laptop nomad, and definitely a space worth a return. And when I do return, I'll be sure to update post.

Cheers

Other info:
Tmobile Required
Other Networks available, but untested.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Introductory post

Well, this is the first of hopefully many posts to this blog, the point of which is to review hot-spots that I find throughout my day to day life as a laptop nomad. I'm actually writing this first post on my PowerBook, from a hot spot in within a Borders Books & Music here in Washington, DC.

It's not one of my favorites. Why? Well, for one, there are no comfortable, cushioned chairs. Secondly, I don't see any readily available power outlets to plug into, which means, after a couple of hours of being here, my juice is about to run out.

On the plus side, it's fairly quiet, and the customer service from the counter is friendly and fast. A nice change from some of the Starbucks I've been to in this area. It's also bright, fairly clean, and doesn't have too many people coming in and stirring up trouble.

Finally the menu is decent, though not the baked goods do not appear as fresh as Starbucks, but I'll have to save that test for another day, as my battery is about to die.