Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's Been Awhile...I Think

Despite not having visited these pages in something close to five weeks -- for which I apologize -- I've been a busy Boogie. Between work, the weather and weekend entertainment -- which three categories frequently blend together in part or completely -- it's been increasingly difficult to stop by these pages for introspection and extroversion.

However, in a nutshell, what's been happening is significant -- as per usual -- so I'll try and piece together some of the past five weeks in rapid-fire mode so as not to self-induce sleep and to ensure you, the reader, manages to escape these pages unscathed.

First and foremost, work has been intense. The intensity of which I speak isn't a bad thing, mind you -- I like having a lot of balls in the air, so to speak. The problem is it's increasingly like running up a down escalator (or is that running down an up escalator?). It feels, at least after some days, that more was piled on than I was able to address and resolve.

I 'spose that's relatively worrisome, except that there are days -- and even weeks -- that typically feel like that. But I don't worry as I do catch up. The large majority of my clients are pleased or -- at the very least -- know we're doing all we can to keep their interests front and center. Several of our clients are unhappy with things we're doing for them but not with our service per se. Unfortunately, if only it were as easy as snapping my fingers, I'd have happy clients all over the place. Most of our clients aren't unhappy, but they're under pressure and relying on us to help alleviate that pressure. And we do everything we can to do so. The problem is city bureaucracy isn't as cooperative and eager to get things done as are we. Thankfully we're making progress on our most pressing matters and getting things done. And despite the fact we have many happy clients, it's our resolution of the hardest situations that pleases me the most. Put another way, it's not enough to get the little stuff done; it's knocking the most challenging stuff out of the park that is the most rewarding.

Meanwhile, I've been spending weekends trying to catch up with work and avoiding the weather. NYC in July is typically hot; this summer has been well beyond the simple hot and is approaching scorching. There's nothing wrong with a few days over 90 degrees, especially given the fact that the City dresses down on these extraordinarily hot days. However, the problem is when the subway platforms approach 115 and there are homeless guys violating public indecency codes and the waft of urine and garbage coincide with said public indecency; that makes it hard to justify the age-old "I Love New York" jingle. Further, when walking out of the apartment feels as much a chore in this weather as it does in late, frigid February, the same cabin fever sets in. Friends of mine have houses in Fire Island, the Jersey Shore, the Hamptons and elsewhere; but inasmuch as I'd love to escape the City for a weekend, it's just easier staying put, getting stuff done and moving forward...as long as the A/C is cranked, my PC is humming along without feeling like a full-tilt, illuminated space heater and I don't feel the need to get a cold compress as my first order of business for the day.

Technology-wise, I acquired two very nice items which I'm sure will be completely worthless in a year's time but -- for the time being, anyway -- make me almost as happy as my significant other. The first is the Western Digital media player known as WDTV Live +, and the other is the new Motorola Droid X.

The former is a small box that allows one to hook up a hard drive or computer to an audio/video receiver (or a TV) via HDMI, USB and/or network cable. The bottom line, of course, is that with enough cable and know-how, one can connect a hard drive filled with BluRay movies to a home theater system...which I've done. I've amassed about 600 or so DVD's and I've been loathe to reacquire these films on BluRay, so what I've done is sign up for Netflix -- every couple days they send me two of the 500 or so BluRay films I've got in my queue and I fire up the goodies and enjoy. I actually came across a site that allows one to exchange DVDs for BluRays of the same titles (eg send them The Shining DVD and, $5 later, receive a copy of The Shining on BluRay), so I have about 30 or so BluRays. I also managed to get a copy of a favorite of mine on BluRay from Amazon.com.uk called Who Dares Wins. That film is not high-brow or high quality, but it rocks me each time I watch it. It's about the SAS, so if you enjoy spy thrillers with anti-terrorist, military-esque films that kick ass and pull no punches -- and are willing to fire up a Region 2 disc -- have at it. Or give me an hour's notice and bring a six-pack of Blue Moon Ale.

The nice thing about the combination of the WDTV Live + Netflix is that one can get Netflix On Demand streaming movies. That means that anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 Netflix films can be viewed at a moment's notice. The whole enterprise is simple, quick and painless, and for $20 a month, I'm planning on cutting my Time Warner premium channels in half.

And the other benefit of this particular device is being able to stream 1080p (HD) media with instant and immense gratification.

The second item in the two-part list, the Droid X, is a fairly significant acquisition not because of what it is but what it isn't.

I've been using Blackberry phones for five or so years now, and while they are relatively vanilla, boring and unsophisticated except when it comes to rock-solid email delivery, they are all of these things. Seeing a complete dearth of interesting Blackberry models and the increasing capability of Android phones, I finally decided to switch lanes and get one. Enter the Android operating system and the Motorola Droid X.

If you have no familiarity with this device, swing by this page at your earliest convenience. It's a relatively basic look at what this thing does. And without mimicking the campaign advertising this bad boy, the truth is these phone do everything. They handle email well -- but not as well as Blackberry -- and they do everything else as well if not better than the iPhone. I'm only really concerned with email delivery and the ability to access data sites, eg the NYC Department of Buildings (you asked). The Blackberry was woefully underpowered with respect to web access so this alternate path makes lots of sense. But much more importantly, this thing does everything else. It helps you find an address and gives you a 3-d navigation option (turn by turn), whether you're on foot, a bicycle, in a car or even underground. It serves as a book reader -- whether you're a Kindle, Nook or free-form ebook reader -- and can stream iTunes playlists fairly simply. It can find and download recipes, news, sports scores and all kinds of other data -- just like the iPhone -- except it does so quickly and without the shortcomings of a built-in battery or the ineptitude of an underpowered AT&T network. And it does all of this stuff incredibly well.

The downside, of course, is that it offers a large learning curve; however, each day I realize I was foolish to wait as long as I did to jump. If my prediction is right, Blackberry will be relegated to a corporate-only third-bit player in the smartphone market within five years if they don't do something -- quickly. And the fact that Android OS-capable phones have increased sales over the past six months at a staggering 350%, I'd be shocked if they don't overtake the entire market, including that of the iPhone.

Yes, I know the iPhone is landing on Verizon's network in January; yes, I know the iPhone has 750 million different apps, whereas there are only about 100,000 apps for the Android OS. And yes, I know the iPhone is simple. However, the Android is awesome, impresses me each day, and coupled with the software I've installed on mine, is really a solid business tool.

In short: part of not fearing technology is mastering it and using it to your advantage. Not so short: you need to know when to make changes so you're ahead of the curve rather than behind it.

Finally, I've found myself spending more and more time reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War -- it's relatively trashy and not going to challenge the reputations of Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway or Jackie Collins, but it is solid, well-written, entertaining, engaging, uber-creative and a far better distraction for bus commuting than the typical sounds, odors and sights common in public transportation. As should be obvious, I highly recommend it.

I also recommend "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" -- in both book and film form. I am about to begin reading the book, and the film -- which has a foreign-language (Swedish) soundtrack with English subtitles -- was amazing. It's not an easy viewing -- gritty, intense, and somewhat disturbing -- but it's really memorable and worthwhile. The fact it's being refilmed (in English) means that you should probably see the original version now before the same people who green-lighted "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" destroy this masterpiece.

More later -- if not sooner -- if you promise to try and stay awake.