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of Bill's Rosswriting Curiousity

March-July '06


" Items of interest "

Way Cool Stuff, our $.02 on Technology and Business...

Bill Ross

& ,
Are we paying enough attention to what effect all this Cool Stuff and business is having on us?
(Have to ask, right?)

Our weblog -- the nifty, official version -- is here:
"Bill's Rosswriting Curiousity"

All the new stuff goes in there, for all the trés moderne touches like comments, links-to, etc., thus hurling us head-long into the Blogosphere! (Does it have an atmosphere that supports human life? We're finding out.)

Here's the index of the archived items --


How About an iTunes "Pro"?


Quoted again on

"The whole problem with the world..."

Quoted in WebInno Podcast


We're quoted on
- updated 6/29

WebInno event

Pogue's Favorite Tools 

1st Let's Get Web 1.0 Right

Dean Kamen's Energy Inventions

Award for Best Green Invention?

the "Pre-Blog"
  (For all those great ideas from before we started.)


Writing for Fun 

New Pieces:

How about an Award for The Best New “Green” Technology?

Skit: Our Company's New Innovation Committee

Warm Up To The Police State


Write us at --


(July '06)

This is now the archive,

since we are now doing all new "blogging" (still don't like the term) via Blogger. Some day soon we'll get all the color and design issues consistent, but hey -- this'll do for now.
Since we started HTML'ing this "by hand" and it's too much trouble to copy all this into the Blogspot, we've just left all the early posts here and turned it into the bottom drawer.

(6/28, & *7/4/06)

How About an iTunes "Pro" version?

Speaking of iTunes, again, I've often wished someone would create a souped-up version of the iTunes software with some of the functions I’m accustomed to from other standard applications. Simple things, like Fill Down, or being able to move around more easily using the keyboard; in fact, more independence from the mouse, all the way around.

Having employed all sorts of software in pursuit of various tasks, there are a range of abilities that I’ll admit I expect to be there (and get annoyed when they're not). When I select a sequence of tunes to hear from a playlist, I’d usually like to know how much time they’ll take to play, for instance. This would take, what, 15 minutes to program? There couldn't be a much more standard a function in software than adding a string of numbers and displaying the total; and of course the total time of the entire playlist you're in is already shown.

On the other hand, the FileMaker database, for example, seems ready to do whatever I hope it can do. Using the tab key with others, you can move around freely without needing to reach over for the mouse. When you create a new report layout, you just drag a Field icon to the place you want one, and a dialog pops up to let you select which field you want there.

In Word, I’ve got a few macros set up for special tasks (eating double spaces, zapping line feeds within paragraphs, etc.), programmed command/option/shift keys to do all the normal ones, and added another group of often used commands to the format bar.

The point of all of this is that it saves time, in the form of less keystrokes, mouse-swipes and -clicks, and makes the whole experience feel more smooth and therefore appealing.

Okay, they don’t want to confuse the new people, who just want a nuevo Walkman, which let you just slap a tape in and hit Play. There’s always a lot to be said for straightforwardness and simplicity.

But what about we who have been spoiled by this very same company, with software that gives you tremendous control over its operation while still having that elegant flow to it? They've already created the standard for interfaces that look downright gosh-that’s-easy, while hiding the more versatile, “Turbo Pro Plus”-type functions in the bushes for the curious and impatient to find (i.e., those who understand the wisdom of the injunction to RTfM: "Read The Manual").

Given the immense popularity of all the Apple iThings, you'd think someone could make a nice business out of this, at least, until they’re successful enough that Cupertino copies all their best stuff into their standard app. (That's how it's always worked: OSes slowly digest all popular add-ons.)

* However, just as with Internet Explorer, the fact that the software is "Free!" means that we're pretty much stuck with the dumbed-down version that its maker is content to have out there. No competition, no initiative to keep working on and improving it. (Oh, yeah, now you can watch movies with the hiccups in a matchbook-sized window -- whoo hoo. We're talking about adding depth and utility to the overall user interface, here.)

Not that iTunes isn't fundamentally brilliant in its design, and real purty, too. It just doesn't go far enough; it's easy to use, but forces you do far more mousing and typing than is necessary, given all the examples in mature software that are out there.



Trader Joe's is one of our favorite stores, and not just because of the specific products we return for again and again (like the Goat Gouda, or the excellent guacamole-in-a-box).

It's because as soon as there's more than two people in each of the open checkout lines, one of their people leans over and gives a hearty ring on the ship's bell mounted at each station, which promptly brings the designated checker over to open another line. (They say to the person who looks like they've been waiting the longest, "I can help you over at this register." Those in line all smile with relief.)

That's putting into action this radical new concept called "Customer Service," and there are a whole lot of companies who would do well to pay attention to this strategy. How many times have you thought of going into a store but decided against it, because you knew you'd have to wait on line too long?  

We first were attracted to Trader Joe's by the all the neat products, their bulk-bought, private-labelled prices, and their great sense of humor, but now it's the Ding that seems the most significant attraction. Hey, we're all (way too) busy to be willing to stand in line if there's an alternative!

(Have to acknowledge Southwest Airlines here, another customer-focused company, who certainly did their part to put "Ding!" on the map. Like the man says, "That 'ding' just cracks me up."  Would love to know who the agency was -- y'know, that old "giving credit where credit is due" thing.


(Echo Chamber)

The Boston Globe's Business Filter mentions our mention of the very same Business Filter in the WebInno podcast.

>>Bill Ross writes that Mark Withington posted a podcast of the May Web Innovator's Group meeting. In it, Bill gave Business Filter a nice plug. Thanks Bill!
Bill has now taken the dive and launched his own blog. Good luck and don't become too much of a Blog Rat.

Maura Welch's daily Business Filter blog on the Boston Globe's


"The whole problem with the world...

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
 - B. Russell

(No, Bostonians, that's not Bill Russell, it's Bertrand.)


Podcast of WebInno event

Mark Withington has posted his podcoast of David Geisel's WebInno event on May 8th. We had a good conversation with Mark during the event, which he included eight minutes of in this podcast, starting at 19:00.

Mark is the champion of and the PHP Web scripting language.

(The entire podcast is 30 minutes long. We'd like to say that we would have edited our bit down considerably.)


A little iTunes playlist trick:

Multi-genre playlists on the fly

The playlists in iTunes are a great way to group musical bricks into walls of our own choosing. But what about when you want to hear this tune from Hard Rock to that tune from Hip Hop to that crazy old jazz tune? They’re probably each in different folders, and you don’t want to have to make a new playlist for a spur of the moment selection.

The biggest little shortcut in iTunes is to Command-click on the box next to a song name to turn all songs in that playlist on or off, Play or Don’t. So start by going to the Library and Command-click in a box once or twice, as appropriate, so all the boxes are empty, no tunes selected to play.

For(ge) Spontaneous Combinations

Next, go into your individual playlists and click on what songs or pieces you want to hear in each. When you go to the Library, they'll all be there, selected and ready to be heard.

The only drawback is the limited sorting options available in the Library: you can sort from the top or bottom by whatever columns you’re displaying, or just dance to the good ol’ Shuffle.

But it certainly opens up the possibilities of spontaneously combining very different forms of music. (Fun for its own sake, and a real bargain on emotional rewiring and developing new, healthier neural pathways.)


(A couple of plainly self-aggrandizing items here, if you'll excuse us. But there's lots of real-live Content too, we promise.)

We were quoted on today

We are happy to have been quoted in the Boston Globe's excellent Business Filter column, the e-business blog on

"Faithful Biz Filta reader and writer in his own right, Bill Ross points out a Boston Globe story about the crusade against overwork...
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"Bill decries the "Chew 'em up and spit 'em out school of management" and points out the power blogs are having in our society."

Friday link harvest, May 12, 2006

(Disclaimer: What follows is plainly your traditional Rant, however factual it may be.)

This article brought some positive news, for a change, on the dodgy subject of work-life balance. Or, put more bluntly, about the systematic cannibalization of their workers that seems so very common with corporations today: the "Chew 'em up and spit 'em out" school of management. It reminds me of all the times I'd get home from a job'n'commute and literally wonder if I had the energy to eat dinner, or should I just go straight to sleep. (Too often it was the latter.)

As I used to say when people would ask howya doin', "Either you've got a life or a job... and I've got the job." I know many, many "successful" people with "good jobs" who can relate to this. (Of course, fall for the siren song of Be Your Own Boss!, and you'd better believe that becomes equally obsessive. The only difference is you get a little more flexibility with your scheduling.)

Talk about short-sighted: just one way to look at the cost to society is people wondering what's up with kids these days. Isn't it so much because they don't get nearly enough time with their parents!? So instead they're getting raised with the wise guidance of TV, and they hunger for all these electronic devices that make them feel "connected."

Hey, we all expect to work hard, but this is not merely "over the top," this is double over, as you'll see if you read the article. Whatever happened to "a fair day's work for a fair day's pay"? Then everybody's happy.
("But nooo-oh..." picture early Steve Martin here.)

Here's a brief extract of the article:

"Frustration against video game firm grows into crusade against overwork "

By Nicole C. Wong, Knight Ridder | May 7, 2006

"A wife who hardly got to see her overworked fiance, a video game software engineer who was laboring 85 hours a week at the industry's premier company, Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif., poured out her frustration in a November 2004 Web log, or blog. It resonated so strongly with other video game developers that it helped spark an employee uprising inside EA and several of six lawsuits for unpaid overtime against three of the industry's most prominent employers.

"Hoffman wrote on her blog that EA's attitude toward its workers was: 'If they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion-dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.'"

(Note, 7/4: With that byline, I can't help but observe here almost two months later that as of last week, Knight-Ridder is no more. I worked for them for a couple years early in my career, on their Viewtron info-service experiment, and they were once one of the handful of major newspaper publishers in this country. My, how times change.)


Web Innovators Group "WebInno" event

David Geisel's Web Innovators Group held another networking event at the Hotel@MIT on May 8th where, for what seems like the first time in years, there was a hopeful and expectant buzz. A half-dozen developers and teams demo'ed their products.
One reads that techhnology oriented venture funds are being formed again, and just the presence of VCs come out of hiding, with name tags giving away their affiliations, was a hopeful sign.

That's Andy Singlton on the right. That would be Bill pointing at Andy's Assembla Breakout, a social software platform for distributed software development teams. (Photo posted on on Flickr by Brian Del Vecchio of the Web Technology Forum.)

(March 23, 06)

David Pogue's favorite tools

Talk about your user-generated, or in this case, user-inspired content, a reader wrote David Pogue, the New York Times' Personal Technology columnist, prolific author, and former MacWorld reviewer and essayist with an inspired idea:

"It would be great to see what someone as plugged in as you uses personally. Everything tech -- watch, laptop, TV, car, digital camera, film camera, like that."

So Pogue put together his list, with his usual generous and insightful observations about the tools he lists.

“OK, man, you're on. (Gotta love a topic that requires no research whatsoever.)

"The Pogue house is a veritable Circuit City, with something like 200 high-tech products passing through every year. I don't get to keep any of it--but when something comes along that's truly fantastic, I fire up my Web browser, pull up to find the best price, and buy one for myself.

"Camera. When the baby's doing something adorable, I grab our Nikon D50, a small digital S.L.R. (that) takes jaw-droppingly beautiful pictures. Like magazine-quality. Can be had for $625, lens included.
"Second camera. Trouble with an S.L.R., of course, is that it's bulky and it doesn't take movies. So we also have a Canon PowerShot SD550. Small, slim, easily pants-pocketable, it takes phenomenal pictures."

"Car. Toyota Prius. Wow, what a great car."

"VCR/DVD burner. Our sole high-tech purchase of 2006 so far was a Panasonic DMR-ES40 ($250). It's a combination VCR, DVD player and DVD recorder, , which we use to offload movies from the TiVo onto DVD's."

"The gear I've described here is not flashy, top-of-the-line or even recent. But it's gear that works well, is well designed and makes me happier about the money spent with every additional month of service."  

full column
(Requires free registration for

With links to all his New York Times columns and so much more, as befits the output of such an insanely productive gentleman (in the noble Mac-ish tradition of "insanely great.")

(March '06)

First Let's Get Web 1.0 Right

A wise column in PC World magazine, February 2006, by Contributing Editor Stephen Manes: Web 2.0? First, Let's Get Web 1.0 Right!--

"Web 2.0" is a promising idea--and there are plenty of sites that reflect its innovations in this issue's cover story, "New, Improved Web." But you know what I want to see this "new" Web deliver to prove the brilliance of the concept? Fixes for what Web 1.0 keeps doing wrong.

"I'm tired of lame sites that force me to do their bidding in some particular, arbitrary style. In 2006, well-behaved sites should Work our way. The worst thing on the Web: forms that can handle input only if you type it in precisely the way they want it. Exhibit A is the awful Web site of FedEx...”
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(March '06)

Dean Kamen's renewable energy inventions

He's invented a device that generates electricity via dung, and others as potentially micro-revolutionary.

(We heard about this in the Business Filter blogcolumn on

(March '06)

How about an Award for the Best New Green Invention?

An article (or hyperventilated Letter to the Editor) written in a blaze of inspiration upon reading again about the largest annual award for inventors, and wishing they'd make inventions to help reclaim the environment a priority.

(Since I wrote this and continued reading on the subject, I've discovered a lot of great activity exactly along these lines. I'll be updating the article as I learn more; it could wind up more like a modest encyclopedia entry.)

We begin...

Alright, I give up, I'll blog, already! Having a weblog on a site has moved from accepted to expected. (Plus, it just occurred to us, it's a demonstration of commitment to the site -- it shows it's not a Ghost Site, that there's somebody home, always tinkering away and adding to it.)

I just had to figure out the subject and the mode: which is, as of this writing, an awkward, maybe slightly schizophrenic blend of light, Cool Electronic/Internet Stuff links with the somewhat heavier topics, like What's Going On, and we don't just mean Marvin Gaye's musical plea.

Things like the present and near-future implications of our lives becoming so thoroughly digitized, and the preservation of the natural world against the mass destructiveness, both made possible at that scale by technology.

However, we believe it's best to focus on solutions, even just building blocks, because there're already enough other people ringing the four-alarm bells, aren't there? Please tell me something I can do about it... or at least tell me about people who are.


I'll tell you the truth, I find most blogs to be blah, a big, unending deposit of unedited blah, blah, blah. But it is a medium that has its appeal and advantages -- it's a conversation, isn't it? And we're all attuned to that, and people kind of expect it of a site these days, so why not? It's just pouring the same juice into a different shaped glass.

It's not like I have any shortage of opinions on what's interesting and worthy of attention, of all the phenomena that stream by in the e-news and the real world. So, I'll occasionally pitch in paragraphs and links here to Cool, Crucial, or Useful Stuff that catches my eye.


the "Pre-Blog"

( Items we stored before the actual start date of the 'blog, but for just such a purpose. S'okay?)

On Teamwork

Al Jefferson talking about him and his buddy Kendrick Perkins, 2nd year teammates on the Boston Celtics (both straight from high school):

"When he scored, I felt like I scored. When I scored, he felt like he scored."

The “Do the Right Thing” Business People:
John Mackey's Whole Foods Market

from Fast Company, July 2004, by Charles Fishman

"...a man who has done more to improve the quality, sustainability, healthfulness, and purity of the food Americans eat -- from farm field and barnyard to kitchen table -- than anyone else in the past 25 years."

" Mackey's ongoing experiment in battling the industrialization of the food supply, in making apparently ordinary work engaging and rewarding, and in running a large public corporation in radically new ways. At a time when grocery chains treat food as just another SKU in the supply chain, Whole Foods has succeeded with exactly the opposite strategy."

(And, trying to do the right thing can work out very well:)

"The company cleared $188 million in profits in the last two years. Food Lion, with seven times as many stores as Whole Foods and five times the revenue, made $150 million in the same period. Safeway lost $1 billion.
As for consistency, Whole Foods has five-year performance numbers that are little short of incredible. Whole Foods has even tromped the nation's largest grocer, Wal-Mart. In each of the last four years, Whole Foods beat Wal-Mart in both overall and comparable-store sales growth."

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July, 2006