Microsoft has Awoken

Microsoft has been a mess for years. Windows 7 was a solid, but decidedly dull operating system. People that needed to use Windows liked its stability and security but I think it would be a stretch to say that anyone was excited about it. The next version of Windows took a lot of chances and really tried to change some things up but Windows 8 ended up being a bit of a disaster for them. It was too big a change and unfocused. I’ve heard very few positive reviews from users. Even the people that do like it took a while to get there. Microsoft also really missed the boat on mobile. While their phone OS has gotten really good reviews, no one seems to use it and the app ecosystem just cannot seem to get any traction. They now represent low single digit percentages of users in the smart phone world.

Compared to Apple and Google, Microsoft has had a real image problem with consumers. Aside from the Xbox, there was no sizzle from Microsoft, no sexiness. Yes, they still had a lock on the business world but it was difficult to find anyone as passionate about Microsoft as people are about Apple and Google. On January 21st, Microsoft had a special event around Windows 10 and some other technologies. History may show that event as being when consumer sentiment started to shift in Microsoft’s favor.

It’s been a while since a new version of Windows was exciting and yet that’s what Windows 10 seems to be. It shares a lot of similarities with Windows 8 as far as how it looks but Microsoft has learned some lessons. They have fixed a lot of the things that people didn’t like about Windows 8. No more charms, the start menu is back, and there seems to be a better way of switching between desktop and touch interfaces. The phone and tablet interfaces look really good. I’ve always thought that Windows phone had an interesting approach and I think that Windows 10 has taken more steps along the path to being really good. I’m not as convinced about the desktop, nor am I sold on the switching between tablet and computer mode but maybe that’s my Apple bias showing…

The big news is that Windows 10 will be on computers, tablets, phones, and even the Xbox. I’ve always wondered why Microsoft hasn’t made more hay with their Xbox branding. That is one aspect of their product mix that people were actually passionate about. Better late than never I suppose. Of course the big excitement of having the same OS on all of the devices is that the same programs should be able to be on all of them. That could be a huge deal for the phones. If Windows developers could easily port their computer apps to the phones, Windows phones might start to close the app gap it has with other platforms.

Combine Windows 10 with all of the cross platform services Microsoft has and it looks like they have a focused, unified company for the first time in a decade. Windows 10 plus Skype, OneDrive, and Office on everything is a compelling product. Microsoft as a unified product, I never thought I’d see the day. As a certified nerd, I was impressed with the way Microsoft was able to seemingly get its act together all at once.

The best was yet to come though. People that follow Microsoft already knew all about Windows 10. What nobody saw coming was the announcement of HoloLens. It’s an augmented reality headset that projects “holograms” into your field of view. It’s not a virtual reality headset that completely replaces your environment, it adds objects to your environment. The video at the top of this post gives you some idea of the possibilities. You could throw screens into your field of view either to watch TV or to carry on a video chat. You can project images onto real life objects. That could be used for fun (like the minecraft example) or for real life modeling. It really reminds me of scenes from Ghost in the Shell. Microsoft is claiming that the things you build as a hologram can be sent directly to a 3D printer and become actual objects. Yes, there are all sorts of nick knacks you could build but think about the possibilities in the construction, medical, and maintenance fields.

Members of the press were allowed to use the prototype HoloLens. Going by what they said, the video doesn’t really do it justice. They say it is absolutely, jaw droppingly amazing. They were given a real time tutorial of how to replace a light switch, complete with 3D annotations to the switch that was right in front of them. Apparently the Minecraft demo was amazing. They did something similar to what they did in the video, blow a hole in the wall of the room and see into another world. They were also able to walk on mars, just like on the video. Do watch the video to get an idea of the possibilities. Incredible stuff. Even more incredible? It’s going to ship this year.

This could very well be the next step of computing. It certainly has the possibility of completely redefining how we interact with technology. How excited am I about this? If Microsoft were the only company that offered this and you needed to use a Windows computer to use it, I’d buy one. Yes, I am that excited about this. The good news is there is talk of at least one other company making similar technology. It’s also hard to believe that other big tech companies like Google and Apple aren’t working on something like this as well. I anticipate having some choice in providers as this technology becomes mainstream.

I never thought I would be interested, let alone excited, about what Microsoft does. It’s awesome to see a massive tech company flex its muscles and give us a view of the future. It’s even more amazing to have them bring it to us. Well done Microsoft.


In Defense of Debby Boone

I am astonished at what was happening with music in 1977. That was the year that punk broke into the mainstream with The Sex Pistols and The Clash both releasing classic albums. Disco was cresting in popularity with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Seminal albums by Television, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Bob Marley, Kraftwerk, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Billy Joel, and even Meatloaf were released that year. Other albums like Aja from Steely Dan and Rumors by Fleetwood Mac epitomized the state of mainstream rock in 1977. Hip Hop was taking its first baby steps in parties in New York City. So what was the biggest hit of the year? You Light up My Life by Debby Boone held the top spot on Billboard’s chart for 10 weeks.

These days, any mention of You light up My Life to music connoisseurs is bound to elicit eye rolling and possibly a sneer in response. “That’s why punk music had to come around, crap like that is unforgivable.”

Before I explain why I don’t share that sentiment I just want to make sure everyone understands that I know that it is pure pop cheese. It is maudlin, it is syrupy. I don’t have a problem with Boone’s dedication of the song to her, “Lord and Savior,” but for many that just adds to the cringeworthyness of the song.

If I think all of those things are true, why do I not think that this is exactly what punk was made to combat? Surely it’s easy to see how Debby Boone and the Sex Pistols are on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Well sure. Stylistically, politically, and personally they don’t have anything in common. I do think that what saves You Light up My Life is that it is honest. There is an authenticity to it that comes through. She believes it and absolutely nailed that performance. Most of us are hardwired to detect phonies. Debby Boone wasn’t one and that resonated with the public.

No, in my mind punk was musically rebelling against the likes of Captain and Tennille, Pablo Cruise, and all the other countless acts that peddled similar soulless, contrived material. There’s no question that You Light up My Life was made to be sold but Boone’s performance is what made it hit the stratosphere. That honesty is what it has in common with Anarchy in the UK.

I firmly believe that if more pop music had been made with the same honesty as You Light up My Life, the punk movement wouldn’t have been as necessary from a musical standpoint. Hate on Debby Boone for what she represents if you must but don’t saddle her with reason that punk had to come and bloody some noses…


MA Recordings; Wonderful music but frustrating


Here’s a new audio blog! It’s been a long time I know… This one is mostly about some new music for me. MA Recordings continues to amaze and frustrate me. The music is amazing but their insistence on publishing to CD only is making me a bit crazy.

Begoña Olavide has a variety of things available on iTunes and Bandcamp, including an album named “Mudejar” but it doesn’t sound like the same recording. I managed to find a track from album Calamus on YouTube. I think this is the best album to get if you’re new to this kind of music.

That’s medieval Spanish music with Arabic, gypsy, and even Sephardic influences in it. I love it completely.

Vlatko Stefanovski and Miroslav Tadic are a guitar duo with a unique sound. There are all sorts of influences in there from Eastern Europe, Spain, and even American blues. Here is a live performance of one of the songs on the album.


Sound of Da Police

I’ve expressed my admiration for this song before but goddamn, I can’t think of a more appropriate song considering recent events. It does a great job of showing the ongoing problems black folks have had with the cops. It’s sad that the song is just as relevant today as ever…


Are you really for peace and equality? Or when my car is hooked up
You know you wanna follow me, your laws are minimal
‘Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
‘Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police




Film Photography reality Check

Noticed my Horseman VHR system in the corner. Again. It’s the last big film rig that I own. The Horseman VHR is a mini press camera (think press photographers from the 30s and 40s) that has interchangeable lenses and removable backs. It also has a rangefinder and framing window, so it works kind of like a really, really big Leica.

Horseman VHR

Anyway, I’ve got it, three lenses (all set up properly for the system), 5 backs, and seemingly every accessory ever made for it. That includes the custom hard case and another soft case. I originally bought it with the idea of taking it to Yemen. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons but I’ve had it ever since.

I’ve been meaning to sell it for years. Just haven’t gotten around to it. Looking at it last night I shook my head and realized that I should have sold it years ago. I’m not likely to get much for the system these days. Sigh.

Then a little thought popped into my head. “Why don’t you use it? If you won’t get much money for it, why not? That’s why you bought it in the first place Isaac…”

That had a lot of appeal. I bought the camera system because I really liked it. I loved shooting with film, did it for years. I found a light meter app for the phone and downloaded it for free. Ilford is still going strong making film for the camera. Plus, the lab I liked using is still around and is now doing scanning too. This was starting to look good…

OK, time to get serious. How much would this cost? Added it up and it came to almost $800. Wow. Er, maybe I don’t need the super fancy processing. I’ll do negatives instead of positives. OK, 18 rolls of film (they are done in batches of 6) came up to just over $500.

Five. Hundred. Dollars. Keep in mind that there is no guaranty that I’d get anything I liked, or possibly anything at all. Never mind that this is how we used to do photography. You’d pay lots of money and see if you got anything useful. Digital photography has totally eliminated all of the guesswork, the time, and reduced shooting to a costless activity. Actually considering spending money to take pictures seems a bit crazy these days since the normal thing to do is free.

So I was left wondering what I’d gain by spending the money. It isn’t clear to me what the benefit would be beyond some (expensive) nostalgia. I could imagine the possibility that the negatives could be enlarged more than what my current camera offers but that doesn’t seem like a likely limitation. I don’t have any real complaints about my current camera and lenses. I’m pretty sure whatever I could do with the Horseman I could do digitally. $500 would almost buy me the newer version of the camera I have now or go a long ways towards a really sweet lens. Or something else, anything else.

Yeah, I can’t justify that kind of money on taking pictures. I was happy paying for and shooting film when that was what photography was. I have some ideas of what I’d like to shoot. I’m going to try with the digital camera. I reserve the right to go back to film if I think it’ll help but I think the Horseman is destined for eBay. Eventually. One day…

The real reason to study mathematics

Had a quick discussion on about studying higher mathematics and what the point was. I got a lot out of studying mathematics. Now, when I talk about higher mathematics I’m talking about things like multi-variable calculus, matrix algebra, and advanced statistics. You real math folks would scoff at those being “advanced” but they are just a bit more than most undergrads study I think. In any case, this is how and why I studied those thing. Oh, and what I got out of them.

I think the first actual mathematics I did was in 9th grade. What I mean is that it was the first time I had to think mathematically instead of just following an algorithm. It was an intro to geometry class. We started with basic logic, truth tables, basic proofs. I loved the entire course. The rest of high school slowly drained me of any interest I had in mathematics. By the time I limped through my analysis class in 11th grade I was done. It had stopped making sense to me. Like most kids my overwhelming question was, “Why in the world do I need to know this stuff? I’ll never add an infinite sequence or find out what the limit of something is.”

I proceeded to major in film and photogtraphy in college. Was not required to take any mathematics and I didin’t take any. Why would I? One thing I did take as part of my religon/philosophy minor was logic. It was an intro to symbolic logic course and it brought back all of the warm feelings I had in my geometry course. I did really well in it and have made good use of it all through the rest of my life. It was there that the then arbitrary sounding rules of association that were covered in 8th grade made sense to me.

I got my BFA in ’94 and proceeded to join the working world. The most complicated thing I did mathematically was to calculate sales tax. 4 or 5 years out of school I began to read voraciously again. Mostly nonfiction. Read several books on the history of mathematics. I have no idea what prompted that. There could have been a very good reason for it but it was probably just a whim. In any case, I really enjoyed them. There wasn’t actually any mathematics in them, they were really histories of thought. How thinking about things like the Arabic number system, zero, negative numbers, and imaginary numbers came about and how folks tried to make sense of them.

My next purchase was volume 1 of a three volume set entitled Mathematics; Its Form, Content, and Meaning. Why in the world would I buy that? I read the introduction while sitting in Barnes and Nobles. Those 30 pages were able to make sense of my three years of high school math courses. All it took was 30 pages. I’m still a little bitter about this. Who knows what I might have done if I managed to understand and enjoy mathematics in high school… I was never really able to connect the dots between algebra and geometry and into mathematical analysis. 30 pages was all it took.

That was the last thing I did with mathematics for 7 or 8 years. When I decided to go back to grad school for architecture I knew that I would need calculus. When I decided to go for an economics PhD instead I knew that I would need a lot more math than just a calculus course. I took pre calc, calculus 1 and 2 (8 credits worth all told), matrix algerbra, and statistics 1 and 2. I eventually took an intro to econometrics course (basically a little more advanced and applied statistics course) and I learned multi variable calculus on the fly in a graduate econ course.

I did pretty well in all of them. Well, that last course where I had to learn multivariable calculus and the course’s content at the same time almost killed me but the rest were fine. I can honestly say that I have never had to use any of the mathematics I learned since I got out of school. I’m still really glad I took those courses though. Why? What changed between high school and grad school?

One of my guiding principles in life is that the more you know, the more you can know. True to form, it really wasn’t possible to learn the economics I did without knowing the math as well. So there’s that. Mathematics can open up new fields of knowledge for you. On top of that, mathematics can open your mind to things that you wouldn’t have thought were related.

For example, studying infinities made some spiritual and philosophical concepts easier to grapple with. Learning that some infinities are constrained while others aren’t, learning that there are some infinities larger than others, and learning that anything divided by infinity was equal to zero all blew my mind. More importantly those lessons loosened up some mental blocks I had when it came to understanding eternity, quantum mechanics, and some other tricky philosophical issues.

My econometrics course was the culmination of my statistical studies. We spent a lot of time agonizing over the importance of truly random samples, how safe your assumption over how the underlying data fell across a normal distribution was, and how to minimize likely errors in estimating the central tendency of a data set. All great statistical knowledge to be sure but it also taught me so much about assumptions we make when making decisions, the value of realizing that things may not be the way they look at a casual glance, and the importance of starting with good data.

There are tons more but basically it was very easy for me to generalize the lessons I got from my mathematics courses to many other aspects of life. Usually it wasn’t the minutia of the problem solving that were important but rather the underlying principles that made all of the mathematics possible. Turns out they make other kinds of thinking possible too. Mathematics has really enriched my life in ways that nothing else could. While I’ve never had to find the second derivative of anything in real life, and I doubt I could do it now, I’m so very glad I know what it means.


It’s been a while…

Wow, my last post was on July 4. Funny how time can get away from you. I’ve had it in the back of my mind to get back to blogging at least and maybe even audio blogging again. Just have not been in the right frame of mind for it. My creative impulses come and go and they’ve been gone for a while now. Think I’m getting some sort of impulse. Hopefully I’ll follow through with it. Anyway, stay tuned. I hope to get some stuff out sooner than later…

“American” songs

It’s the 4th of July again. This time around I want to talk a little about songs that I think are uniquely American. Well, that’s “Proud to be American,” or maybe something by Sousa right? No, not what I mean. Those types of songs could be written or performed anywhere. Paeans to nationalism are always welcomed by whoever is in power. The 4th of July always reminds me of rebelliousness and I want songs that typify that. I’ve lived in a country where these sorts of songs would not be allowed to air, but they are considered classics here. Now that’s American…


First up is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This song seems to be misunderstood as often as “Every Breath You Take by The Police and “The One I Love” by R.E.M. I have no idea how though. “Fortunate Son” starts with the line, “Some folks are born, made to wave the flag. Ooh they’re red, white, and blue.” Seemingly this is as far as most people listen. It was played a lot for the 4th of July and other patriotic holidays. That lone line was also featured in a Wrangler ad complete with a waving American flag. Somehow the meaning of the chorus “It ain’t me!” eludes people even though they sing along with it. I’m pretty sure it came out in 68 or 69 and is clearly an anti-war, anti-powers that be song.

I ain’t no Senator’s son.

I ain’t no military son.

I ain’t no millionaire’s son.

It ain’t me…

It’s the kind of song that governments everywhere would ban, especially during wartime, but not here! Given the times, it was quite a bit edgier than it sounds now but is still a powerful song. Check out this performance from 1970 at the Royal Albert Hall. Can anything be more American? The look, the sound? The message?



The next song is also a protest one. There’s no question that black folks have had a rough time at the hands of the police over the ages. That’s the basis of “Sound of Da Police” from KRS-1. He weaves an amazing line between modern police forces and the overseers on southern plantations. He doesn’t allude to slavery, he doesn’t suggest that there are parallels, he says that the same thing is happening today. Once again, a direct confrontation of authority, all centered around the legacy of American slavery. Now that’s American! Can you imagine some of the founding fathers penning something similar? OK, maybe not but the same sentiment was there!


Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Stand clear! Don man a-talk
You can’t stand where I stand, you can’t walk where I walk
Watch out! We run New York
Police man come, we bust him out the park
I know this for a fact, you don’t like how I act
You claim I’m sellin’ crack
But you be doin’ that
I’d rather say “see ya”
Cause I would never be ya
Be a officer? You wicked overseer!
Ya hotshot, want to get props and be a savior
First show a little respect, change your behavior
Change your attitude, change your plan
There could never really be justice on stolen land
Are you really for peace and equality?
Or when my car is hooked up, you know you want to follow me
Your laws are minimal
Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police!
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Now here’s a likkle truth
Open up your eye
While you’re checking out the boom-bap, check the exercise
Take the word “overseer,” like a sample
Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example
Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation
The officer is off patrolling all the nation
The overseer could stop you what you’re doing
The officer will pull you over just when he’s pursuing
The overseer had the right to get ill
And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill
The officer has the right to arrest
And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest!
(Woop!) They both ride horses
After 400 years, I’ve got no choices!
The police them have a little gun
So when I’m on the streets, I walk around with a bigger one
(Woop-woop!) I hear it all day
Just so they can run the light and be upon their way
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Check out the message in a rough stylee
The real criminals are the C-O-P
You check for undercover and the one PD
But just a mere Black man, them want check me
Them check out me car for it shine like the sun
But them jealous or them vexed cause them can’t afford one
Black people still slaves up til today
But the Black police officer nah see it that way
Him want a salary
Him want it
So he put on a badge and kill people for it
My grandfather had to deal with the cops
My great-grandfather dealt with the cops
My great grandfather had to deal with the cops
And then my great, great, great, great, when it’s gonna stop?!
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!



Both of these songs were made in order to resist overbearing authority, I think that’s a fitting legacy. Happy Independence Day everyone!

Audioblog #22 Spending money. Econ, audio, sous vide

I hope to do some economics based audioblogs soon. No, they won’t be the final word on anything but I hope to spread some ideas about thinking in an economic way. Also, I’m plotting my spending ways. Looking forward to a new audio receiver and possibly a sous vide appliance. Since I recorded this, I have gone ahead and ordered a Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC). No, this will not replace the receiver, don’t be silly… With any luck both audio blogs and regular ones will start becoming more regular. Stay tuned…



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Audioblog #21 Podcasts

Every once in a while I get asked what podcasts I listen to. If you’re not familiar with podcasts you should be. There are hundreds of thousands of recorded audio programs available for free covering every topic imaginable. My list has changed a bit over the past year. Here is the current list:

Radiolab. A show that shows up on public radio. Very well done. They pick an interesting story and tell it talking to a variety of people and interviews. Highly recommended.

This American Life. A well known Public radio staple. Ira Glass’s show, they pick a topic and tell multiple stories revolving around that topic. They mix in true stories and fiction around the topic. Highly recommended.

The Talk Show. John Gruber talks (at length) with a guest about tech stuff in general and usually revolves around Apple. I do think he has a lot to say about excellent products. I’m only listening once in a while these days but still enjoy it.

The Critical Path. Horace Deidu from Asymco talks disruption, innovation, and competition in the tech and entertainment worlds. A high level view of different industries and how they evolve. Great if you’re interested in tech and/or econ.

Stratechery. This one is also a high level tech podcast with an economic bent. He talks about economic issues in the tech world, business models, and choices that need to be made by those companies. A new one, only three episodes old.

Econ Talk. Russ Roberts talks economics with a different guest every week. I don’t listen as much as I once did but still a compelling show. Russ is very good at talking to people that he disagrees with so you get a wide variety of guests on the show.

Free Thoughts. This one is put on by the Cato Institute and is part of I’m sure you can guess what this is about. Cato tends to be less strident and more scholarly. This is a great show if you are interested in libertarianism of course but also great for anyone interested in politics. There is a lot of discussion about political economy on there.

Discover ADN. This is a show made by Jason Irwin. He interviews people that are using, a social platform that is a little different than the rest of them. What is great about this is that it shows how interesting regular folks can be. Everyone has a story to tell. That thought gives me hope for us all:)

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