Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Driving big trucks

I recently bought an antique Mack tractor trailer, and in order to be able to drive it, I went to truck driving school. I now have a California Class A commercial license, and can drive just about anything except hazardous materials and tankers.

One of the main things about driving a tractor-trailer is knowing where your trailer is, and making turns so it doesn't crunch the stop sign and bicyclists along the way.  A long trailer is tricky to manage, and you have to swing wide on the turns, as I'm sure you've seen drivers do. And backing up a long trailer is no small thing.

Yesterday a "hook and ladder" fire truck turn left in front of me and I watched the guy in the very back skillfully driving the back end of the engine around the turn. This is not so easy to do, as you might imagine. But I found myself thinking about the guy driving in the front of the truck.

I can drive a truck with a 50-foot trailer, but the game changes, it seems to me, when there's another driver swinging the back end around. Much of it is good, since you don't have to take the turns so wide, but it also seems just downright weird, to take a corner with a 50-foot trailer and not have to worry about the back end of it! They call these "tiller trucks".

There must be an amazing amount of communication and trust between these two drivers.  I can't think of anything else that has two active drivers piloting the vehicle together as a team. Co-pilots of airplanes take turns, for example; it's not as though one of them flies the back end of the plane while the other flies the front.

Just another reason to admire fire fighters, I guess!

Thursday, July 24, 2008


A friend in Australia used the phrase "nuts-and-bolting" to describe what I'm doing now, and I love it: .  There are a surprising number of nuts and bolts in the real world, and I've been using wrenches a lot.  In fact, a wrench slipped in my hand and I hit myself in the face the other day, and it made a perfectly semi-circular cut on my cheek bone.

Compared to the software world I've been immersed in for 20 years, this is quite a different world. If you have some bolts that are 3 inches long but you need 3-1/2", you actually have to drive to the hardware store and buy some.

I think what I miss most is multiple Undo, though!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Issues with iPhone

I bought an iPhone 3G yesterday.  Mostly because I may be doing consulting for a VC firm that likes mobile technologies and I wanted to know more about it. But despite having blogged before about how I don't need one, I do recognize the excellent technology in the phone.

There are a few things that totally bug me about it, though.

1. [This is a major flaw in Apple too] when setting up a new Mail account, it insists on everything being perfect before allowing you to save the Account. I didn't remember the exact user name for my POP mail account on one of my mail accounts, and my only choices were to get it right, or cancel the whole thing, and lose all of the data I had already entered.  I have now entered this email account a total of four times, using the cheesy iPhone keypad, because of this ill-considered feature.  It should save whatever data I've entered, and let me fix the mailbox retrieval parameters later.  Or never.  Why should I have to be able to retrieve mail to set up a Mail account?  What if I want to send mail from my iPhone, but read the responses on my other computer?  Apple always thinks they know better than you/me/us, but sometimes they're just wrong.

2. I am a .Mac (now MobileMe) subscriber, and have been for years.  It all works fine, although on my iPhone it doesn't give me enough choices.  For example, I subscribe to a lot of calendars in iCal.  My family publishes and uses a bunch of calendars, mostly because iCal does not support multi-user calendars (e.g. a Family calendar that multiple people can edit).  Anyway, only the calendars that I have created show up in my iPhone calendar, and I have no way to subscribe to others, or Sync the ones I'm already subscribed to.  Makes the entire iPhone calendar *useless*.  I have looked through all the preferences I can find, on MobileMe, on my Mac, in iCal, and on my iPhone.  I don't think this can be done.

3. Sync from Address Book to my iPhone seems not to work very well.  It synced my list of contacts initially, but a lot of fields were missing (such as phone numbers).  No amount of pushing, cajoling, or Preference-setting seems to fix this.  It kind of makes the Address Book *useless* too.

I did find the preference  in the iPhone to change my signature, and dutifully changed it to "sent from my schmyPhone" :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

iTunes missing features

iTunes has evolved for about 8 years now since it was acquired from Casady & Greene.  For some reason, it has almost no new features for enjoying music.  I can't imagine why this is the case.  I'm sure the authors have seen the movie High Fidelity, which came out in 2000. Classifying and sorting music is a primary part of the experience.

I still can't sort my music by artist's last name in iTunes, which seems like the most basic and most desirable feature you could put into a program like this. It is how almost everyone sorted their music before computers came along. Why is this feature not available?!.  I'm sure the reason is that the underlying CDDB database doesn't have separate fields for Last name and First name, instead having only Artist.  But come on, for something this important, with many hundreds of millions of dollars of market pressure behind it, this is a very easily solvable problem.  Get on the phone, call up Craig Palmer over at Gracenote, and get it done.

There are no user-definable database fields. For example, imagine if you could use Genre for your own purposes, to put something like "mellow" or "road trip" or "dance" or "memories" other classifications that mean something to you, but aren't necessarily generalizable. This would be about 3 hours work for some programmer to add some fields to the database, and let you use them for searching, organizing smart playlists, etc.

There should be a "similar" axis that can be used to relate songs to each other.  Imagine a play similar menu.

Play all versions of this song.  I happen to have almost every recorded version of "Georgia on my Mind", and short of making a playlist, I can't play all of them one after the other.

Play songs I like but haven't heard for a while.  iTunes knows the most-listened to songs, and ratings; seems like this should be easy enough.

All in all, I think iTunes is a big disappointment for organizing and listening to music.