Whatever happened to SGI

Wirednews has a nice article on the decline and once worship of SGI

I just saw this article on SGI on wirednews.com. SGI was my first job after college and so I’ll always have a bit of a soft spot for them. At the time working at SGI was like being a rock star. It was the early days of computer graphics really becoming a big deal in movies and SGI’s marketing was so good that most people thought that we had done Jurassic Park or Terminator 2.

Alaska Airlines sucks

Railing against the modern travel industry where the customer comes last.

If you’ve flown on an airplane in the last few years, nothing I say will come as a shock. Consider it yet another rant from an Andy Rooney wanna-be.

So, I haven’t posted anything to the blog in the last week. This is because I was on vacation to my home town of Chicago. Sure, I had my laptop and an internet connection, but I didn’t really feel like Blogging… until last night when we flew home.

Now, this is maybe my third or fourth plane trip this year, but mostly I’ve been flying for business which means I’m on partly or mostly empty planes. It was on the return trip from Chicago that made me realize how little Alaska Airlines cares for their customers. Now, I’d boycotted them for a while over those stupid new testament prayer cards they were handing out, but then they’d discontinued them and I started flying Alaska again. It turns out that it wasn’t that they’d discontinued them, but I just hadn’t been on a flight with a meal in a very long time. So sitting on my tray with the truly crappiest food I’ve ever had was a little message from the evangelical assholes at Alaska Airlines. Additionally, they are now doing their digi-players instead of an in-flight movie. At first I thought that it was kinda cool, the movies were usually bad anyway and I didn’t like having them going in my peripheral vision as I read or whatever. Then I found out that they are now charging $15 to rent them! I thought that the $4-5 headphone rental of the old days was bullshit. How’d you like to have to rent three of these things for the family?

The seats on Alaska are smaller then they were before and they are more rows than there used to be. On the flight out, I got stuck between two other guys. Neither was very large, pretty much normal sized adult males. Yet the three of us were literally shoulder to shoulder the entire trip. Even if the person in front of me hadn’t lean back, I needed to be yoga master to reach my bag under the seat in front of me. On the way back, I was much luckier in my row-mates, but the person in front of me leaned their seat back the second they were able and left it that way for the entire flight. Now, it is their right to lean their seat back, but it made the flight nearly impossible. I couldn’t see my book if it was on my tray table. I had to rest it on the top of their chair, which I’m sure wasn’t any joy for them. I found myself hating that person’s guts and the person behind me who kept pulling on my chair to get to their stuff. It wasn’t either of their faults that Alaska was trying to wring every dollar they could out of their customers.

I’m really surprised that we aren’t hearing about a lot more fights breaking out on planes. Between the new security rules on the ground and in the air and airlines trying to fit as many people onto a plane as they can everyone around me looked as miserable and pissed off as I was. While I had a great time in Chicago, the plane ride alone made me question how soon I want to fly again, if ever.

Why you should care about H1-B visas

If you’ve heard about them, but haven’t given them much thought, I give a trench level view of why H1-B visas are bad for everyone involved (except corporate management)

Congress is trying to raise the cap on H1-B visas again. This is very bad and shows how the government is losing touch or just doesn’t care about their constituents.

What is an H1-B visa? It’s a mechanism by which a company can bring in a skilled foreign worker to fill a position that they can’t fill using an American worker. It was very popular in the tech industry during the boom of the 90s when almost 200,000 H1-B visas were granted per year. The visa lasts for 6 years. Having worked with many recipients of this visa, I can give some ground-level reasons why this bad for both US workers and foreign workers as well.

For foreign workers, they are essentially tied to a company for 6 years. If the company goes out of business, they are deported. If they are fired, they are deported. This essentially makes them indentured servants for the life of their visas. It is possible for them to switch to another company, but it requires a lot of effort on all parts and is extremely difficult. Additionally, H1-B visa holders are paid a lot less than their US counterparts. If a US citizen is being underpaid for their work, they can try to find a new job. The H1-B visa holder is not nearly so lucky.

For US workers, they have downward pressure on their salaries given that they can be replaced by H1-B visa holders. Additionally, since H1-B visa holders are tied to their companies, a company might choose to fill a position with an H1-B holder, rather than a US citizen who can quit if they are being mistreated. There are thousands upon thousands of skilled US workers who are currently unemployed. Recent years have seen the highest numbers of unemployed technology people in history and yet tech companies are pushing the government to raise the H1-B quotas. It certainly isn’t because they can’t find the workers.

Many H1-B visa holders become US citizens or make the US their home permanently. This is good for the US certainly. However, many return to their home countries with US corporate training making their home countries more competitive with the US which is not good for US companies long term.

Here’s a related article on usatoday.


My full-tilt boiling over anger over the election had subsided, but now it is back.

I think my anger over the election was starting to subside. I’m not happy, but I just can’t stay so pissed off and continue to function. Then I rented, “Bush’s Brain” last night. It brought up a lot of stuff that was sort of settling to the bottom of my mind. I think that the filmmakers should do an update to cover the 2004 election. The Swift boat ads, questioning John Kerry’s Patriotism, dirty trick after dirty trick were all straight from the Karl Rove textbook. When you learn about some of the dirty tricks that this guy has been pulling for years, it becomes very easily to believe that the Bush team would out and out steal the election illegally.

I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened in this election, mostly because I no longer trust the government to police itself. I just hope that a small percentage of the dirty tricks pulled by the republicans become public and cause enough of an outcry to get them out of power for a good long time.

Off-shoring and the software industry, a coupla things

This is something close to my heart that I haven’t touched on in this blog yet, I was going to do write something today, but I haven’t got time, so instead here are a couple of interesting links…

Microsoft and other major technology companies are trying to get congress to bump up the indentured servant, er, I mean, H1B visa cap. This is at a time when Microsoft is secretly (and not so secretly) laying off a bunch of people and expanding their campus in India. There was a thing on Slashdot about it .

On the similar theme of high-tech companies treating their employees like crap, there is another post on slashdot about how EA might be facing a class action lawsuit for treating their employees like crap.

Finally for today is an article that I meant to post a link to earlier but haven’t had the change. News.com has an article about a company called Rural Outsourcing, which helps high tech companies reduce their costs without getting rid of American jobs. I really honestly don’t know what to think about that. I guess if we are going to use American corporate dollars to raise the standard of living for someone it is better for it to be Americans since the corporations are getting so much of our tax dollars already as government handouts. On the other hand, it doesn’t really do anything to control the slide of yet another solid middle class profession into a subsistence profession.

My dream gadget

Mini-summary of small multi-function video/photo cameras

I’m a documenter. Or rather, I’d like to be. I’m always seeing (or hearing) something and wishing I had my camera or mini-disc recorder with me. I’ve got a digital camera, a mini-DV camera, and a mini-disc recorder and microphone. So, I’m set, sort of. Except that they are too big to carry around. I want something I can slip into a pocket, the size of a cell phone or smaller. Luckily, technology has come to the rescue, although not completely. I’m waiting still for something with good quality, small size and not crazy expensive (because I know it will get outdated quickly). So still I wait. The outlook is getting better though. Here’s the current crop of portable devices I’m eyeing:

The Philips GoGear Digital Camcorder – This looks good, good enough that I actually visited a few stores this weekend to see if I could find one and see it up close. Unfortunately, the only place to actually buy one is on-line, which I’m not too happy about. I’d like to see it before I plunk down cash for it. I’m also a little suspicious because there aren’t any clips of captured video from it on the web. I know that it is QVGA MPEG-4 and I might be willing to accept that, but I’d like to see what the quality of the video actually is. Other cons are the fact that it is PC-only and my main machines are all macs. Also, it says that it records audio with the video, but I have no idea what the quality is. I’m willing to deal with no mic-in and having to record audio with video when I only want audio, but the audio better not suck. With this, I have no idea. Also, you can’t expand its memory through an SD slot. A big pro is that you can use AAs to extend its battery life (No more proprietary non-replacable batteries ever!)

The Fisher FVD-C1 – Feature-wise this looks pretty awesome. It addresses some of the things I don’t like about the Philips, it has an audio-only mode, for example. It uses Li-ion batteries, but you can buy extras and switch them if you run out. The cons: I can’t get any real specs off their website. They claim DVD quality video and CD quality audio, but then again so does everyone. I want sampling and data rates please. Also, I actually got to check one out at the Apple store and the form factor didn’t blow me away. Also, it is crazy expensive.

The Panasonic D-Snap Line – Panasonic has got a bunch of different cameras at different price points. There must be something wrong with their specs pages though, because their top of the line video camera, the AV-100 doesn’t seem to have a Microphone or a way of adding audio to its MPEG 2 video which seems moronic in a $1000 video camera, especially since their $400 models have them. I need to track these down in person and check out their boxes to make sure. Their AV-50 models make more sense, but tempted with MPEG2 in the AV-100, I don’t know if I want to settle for MPEG4 in a larger form-factor even if it does cost less than half.

Samsung just announced their Miniket, which might be the one for me if I could get some real specs or street price estimates on them. Right now they just have a tantalizing flash demo. I’m going to keep a watch on them for more info though.

Aiptek is the king of the inexpensive SD photo/video recorders. Unfortunately, I had one of their earlier models and had to replace it twice in two months because it kept falling apart. I gave up after the third time. I’m never buying from them again.

Mustek has the DV5500, which is too big and just doesn’t blow me away. After my Aiptek, I’m a little scared of anything in a plastic shell.

I was on a plane to LA with a well-known animator (name drop omitted) who swore by his Archos. It is true that with attachments, the Archos AV300 does almost everything I want, plus it is a decent media player too. The cons: it isn’t meant to do what I want to do, so with the attachments I’ll be spending a big chunk of change. With the attachments, I’m still only taking QVGA video. Also, it is big, bigger than I want.

Believe me, I’m watching this market, so when I see something new I’ll post it to the blog and if I can get more details, I’ll post ’em.

Here is my wish-list (in order):

  1. Fits in a pocket (a real pocket)
  2. Full NTSC video (720×480) at 30 fps with GOOD compression
  3. Real CD Quality audio (44 MHz, 16 bit STEREO)
  4. Mic input
  5. Replaceable storage media (anything but Memory stick)
  6. Replaceable Battery or Add on adapter that takes a STANDARD battery set (AA, AAA, etc)
  7. 2 Mega-pixel still camera
  8. Flash
  9. Viewer/screen (small is ok)
  10. Under $500

Sure, I’m probably not gonna get it for Chanukah this year, but I bet it might be available for next year.

Is Iraq another Vietnam?

The more land we capture the more land we lose… Are we going to be stuck in Iraq?

Our “coalition” is disbanding, the U.N. isn’t so sure they want to help us anymore. The Iraqi people don’t seem to excited to have us there either. Are we stuck in an un-winnable war that will continue to draw American lives and resources? It looks increasingly so to me and to anyone else with a brain. There is a good article on greenleft about it.

The Persuaders

This looks like an awesome show about how marketing is getting progressively more insistent.

I saw a link on wired this morning about a Frontline episode called Persuasders. It is about how marketers are becoming more and more insidious as we are becoming immune to their approaches. I missed it on TV, but luckily they are streaming the whole episode on the web. Check it out, it looks good.

Free media is awesome

Did you know that Dawn of the Dead is now in the public domain?
I found a link to Undead Art in one of my rss feeds today (sorry, I don’t remember which). It turns out that Dawn of The Dead is now in the public domain! Download it, burn it, and enjoy! Undead art is doing a sort of public domain remix content to support Creative Commons licensing. If you’re looking for more cool public domain content, check out The Internet Archive, they have tons of awesome public domain video and audio. It’s perfect for burgeoning culture re-mixer.