Thursday, February 4, 2010

Microsoft Implementation Fail

I found this article about Microsoft's corporate culture enlightening.

I've often wondered why it is that Microsoft is able to come up with interesting ideas and then botch the actual implementation. They never seemed to have fleshed out the actual application of the idea or the markets they would target (or create, which only Apple has done since the GUI).

I used to think that they were just announcing things too early, testing the reaction and then discontinuing the then-too-abstract idea. Like their table (oh I'm sure that's going someplace) or, like the article said, the tablet. It's too bad the article doesn't speak of MSFT mobile, which they have multiple implementations of.

I'm certain that these projects just get eaten by the top brass. I've seen my share of managers who like to try and eat up as many staff and services as they can.

It reminds me that it's so import to systematize these types of projects and everyone needs to be onboard. They need to be given these resources and they especially need a top-top sponsor who can tell the resisting troublemakers to stand-down and get to work. Projects with multiple stakeholders such as new platforms (tables, tablets, phones) require all the software and hardware integration the company has. The tablet team should be able to talk to Balmer or someone else who might actually realize the strategic importance of the project.

Really that's just it, they don't take their own multi-million dollar research seriously. Apple's been apple go full-power in a strategic direction because they run it more tightly. They have a strategy to make a phone and everyone works together to design the hardware and have all the base software in place for the release.

It's likely that Cook or Jobs are overseeing these projects, and if the manager of iLife doesn't want to make an App or to do it the way the then-smalltime iPhone manager wants... he gets a talk. I don't mean to make it sound like it's a mafia, but I do think there is a little bit less autonomy at Apple when it comes down to it.

Unfortunately, this doesn't explain why their marketing is so terrible, but it might explain why not even MSFT products interwork very well.

MSFT just can't create markets, it barely enters them. They have literally always needed Apple or other companies to make the market for them. With the Zune they needed the iPod, with the xBox they needed decades of Sony, Sega and Nintendo, with the phone they needed Rim and probably even Palm.

And the only way they've ever tried to control markets is brute force. They threaten vendors to keep hardware with preinstalled Linux marginal or they pour on the money with loss-leaders that make them gain market share because they can afford a human life-time of loss. I'm not saying that's unique to them, or even morally a problem. But they've never really gone ahead and just simply made a vertically integrated product that just works. The products try to expand to absorb the entire market. Not just the young, not just the professional, not just designers but everyone, and they end up pleasing none of them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cognition Enhancing

I'm moving from underabunant.com
This is a draft I never completed based on an article which I read. I'm not sure I'd read it again. So I post it now.

Stanford Magazine has an interesting article about cognition-enhancing drugs becoming common place.

Wireless : State of the Art (Or how Wireless I learned to love ethernet)

I'm moving from my old site underabundant.com
July 3rd 2009

This is a response to Rob Landley July 2nd, 2009.

Networking requirements are like computers, they need a killer-app to drive demand for faster speeds and capacity. I work at a University that uses VOIP technology. This has really driven us to standardize our network (cabling and speed minimums) at pretty high bandwidths in order to maintain voice quality. Old cabling (cat5) is generally inadequate for many applications and right now we are standardized on Cat6 (a higher grade variety which I won't go into) for all of our new installations. But why? We generally use only 100 Mb networking, and cat5e can actually support gigabit anyways so that seems a little insane. Why would you pull cable that can handle 10G to offices that won't likely see true gigabit for years?

The reason is that you have to cable everything on the assumption that it will last for 10-15 years. So we pay extra now assuming the future will bring technologies that require this cabling so we don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to redo everything. In our current position we are stuck with several buildings which weren't really cabled with the future in mind, who's connections are cat5 in ulgy little ethernet panels that were designed to fit into mounting brackets for analog lines! But either way these places were cabled correctly, it's just been 10 years, and they were originally cabled with 10Mbit hubs in mind. This didn't really even concern us until 5 years ago when we actually cared more about the client's speed and not just whether they were connected.

Secondly, wireless really generally sucks beyond having one in your apartment. Even two in a house starts sucking pretty hard pretty fast. It really does. User-based logins, proper management of radio channels, QOS and managing coverage holes are more than challenges, they're impossibilities. The wireless standards started from the idea that you might have one AP in an area and expanded from the bottom up. So now there are a lot of people trying to bolt on their own solutions to a really short-sighted development of standards.

As of last year we had old crummy stand alone APs and the system was extremely complex and managing it was a terrible pain. Even now we "modernized" to Cisco's wireless controllers and I have to say I am not impressed. The controllers ability to see issues or even record network activity is so limited that when people ask if x user was in y location, we just don't know. These are basic requirements that just haven't been met. Not to mention the number of bugs in the system, wireless is just nowhere near being an essential service that we can hope to have functional with any reliability.

Note: There is a location appliance by Cisco, but it's shit, it requires every AP be with 10-20 feet of each other ($$$), or to have little sensor devices installed everywhere in the ceilings ($$$+$). None of Cisco's ideas really appear to scale when you have more than a floor of a building. In fact they seem downright retarded in the long-run. I find that generally at the University, projects operate on whether management can be convinced that's it's easy so that they can get carte blanche to shovel as much equipment and services onto the PO.

Also, dense wireless is kludgy, you can have an AP a few feet from you, but connect to a different AP in a building across the street for no reason. Or stay connected to an AP 100 feet away as you pass 3-4 closer ones while on the move. Once you have more than one AP on the same SSID, you get problems. As an aside Meru networks has a supposedly standards-compliant fix for this. They have controllers that decide where clients connect instead of the clients deciding. This is good because clients are usually stupid and selfish and the controllers can more easily negotiate the users and tell them where and when to connect. But they are not number 1 and they are the only ones to have this solution. I hope that it gets out though.

For wireless you require site surveys to ensure coverage, which are pricey and granularly anal, and you might be surprised how easily a moderately dense area can max out an AP so of course lots of areas need two somehow. The max is really something like 10-15 people per radio for a regular network connection. God forbid they were all VOIP phones or doing streaming. Not to mention the fact that you still have to purchase cabling for these devices anyway. I've lost count the number of times my boss said we can just throw up an AP in an area that can't be cabled. If it can't be cabled, it can't be wireless either unless you want to hire electricians for a power plug and setup a wireless bridge to provide the network (you don't). Wireless is full of possibilities, but it's really not much of a solution yet, regardless of how people see it.

My bosses dream of a captive portal for all wireless users but I don't think they realize there really isn't a _generally_ secure medium for that yet either. There really isn't anything at all for securing a connection through a HTTP page. So everyone putters along with their complex enterprise configs and all our service areas are loaded up with. Everything needs to be patched in order to work because all the standards are designed assuming it's in your living room, and all the companies are just expanding on that and slowing adding the convenience of enterprise solutions. Just recently we turned on wireless-N capabilities and the new configuration (thank god 90% of the 20,000 students didn't need to change it) caused a number of "legacy" cards and platforms to no longer work.

I have seen one university that just sets a trivial static WPA password and then forced people to log on using captive portal. This is kludgy at best because you still have to get the word out for that password, so the efficiency of a captive portal is diffused somewhat. It's a hack!

Also, wireless is expensive and doesn't cover a majority of the clients on our network. For 1500$ per AP, one AP every 30-40 feet depending on obstructions and bandwidth needs and you might realize how much cheaper it might be for 100$ ethernet jacks and a well managed telecom room. Even with some wireless coverage in the same area. Not to mention services like copiers, faxes and most desktops, ethernet has a lot of time left.

So I think you can understand a little better why mandates for wired cabling is still happening. Especially when it comes to building construction. My boss told me once that our jobs will be defunct in a few years because of wireless, but it's just not there yet, not even close. Wireless will become the new switches when they become practical and wide-spread, but as of now I think Apple is the only computer maker that puts wireless N cards in everything (not just as an extra, but everywhere).

An Apple eBook Reader should be a large iPhone

moving from my old site underabundant.com
June 29th 2009

I love to read but I know I read immersively somewhat less now -- and I'm in the publishing industry,

-Evan Schnittman, vice president of global business development at Oxford University Press

I don't know if it's coming, but if it is, the Apple eBook reader should be like an iPhone and not like a laptop. What I mean specifically, is that it should be as simple an OS as the iPhone, with single apps running in the foreground and no windowing. I realize that this is detrimental to it as a hand-held computer, and this does somewhat ruin its flow. Likely a table sized computer would be powerful enough to handle Mac OSX and likely that it would be beneficial for it since it would likely be a closer to a macbook (air?) in specifications.

Keeping that in mind though, as an eBook reader, people are going to have as much trouble reading books on the Apple Tablet as they do on their laptops. There would just be too much attraction to go to another window, check emails or Facebook etc. With the iPhone your lack of focus would cause you to pay a tax. It's not a lot, because most apps remember what you last did, but application switching costly time-wise and it makes you think twice. This generally a good thing in most cases. I usually bounce around on my computer, from iTunes to Safari, move files around until I usually can't remember what I was doing.

I usually can read one or two pages of a New York Times article until I feel like I should check my Twitter account. I think this would be a killer for a paid ebook reader. Books are only books, and can you sit and read them with concentration. The Kindle is a single-use device so it pans out to the same thing. However, if Apple is going to come out with its own version I think it might be surprised after people quickly stop using that function of their tablet. This isn't to say that they won't sell, or that people will regret them. It's just that it seems like it wouldn't be able to capture a large-enough percentage of book sales because people might quickly realize they aren't getting any reading done.

iPhone : Metric

Moving from old blog underabundant

JUNE 26th 2009

Just surprised to find out that the iPhone's Core Location feature is based on the metric system. This is a really good job on Apple's part in regards to keeping it international. They're an American company making phones for the world, and they're using the real multi-national measurement system.

Is Microsoft Copying Bang-Bus?

I'm moving from my old blog underabundant.com

April 12th 2009

Is there something wrong with Microsoft? They must pay billions of dollars on ads, but the only ad from them that I've ever enjoyed was the Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld epic. But even that should be leaving a bad taste in peoples mouths. Bill Gates acts arrogant and aloof with the mega-rich Jerry Seinfeld (who, in character, is generally an anal sociopath). Is this what Gates thinks is charming? Perhaps he decided that the most-rich celebrity would be the most charming person?

Marketing is something that is generally untruthful, of course we don't expect either Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else to be genuinely objective about pitching their brand. But I think they people should at least expect to be respected by the company who is pitching. Apple's ads are direct pitches that are respectful to peoples' taste and intelligence (they take it for granted that the target audience have both). "I'm a Mac" is an campaign where comedians play proverbial computers in amusing scenarios, which exhibit the stereotypical characteristics of a Mac and a PC. Yes, they Mac doesn't have kernel panics and the PC gets loads of Blue-screens-of-death, it's surely biased. But the fact is that these ads charm us with characters, stories and jokes which sell their idea at the same time.

You Find it You Keep It

Microsoft has an even worse ad campaign that the Seinfeld series, and I have to say it's a lot like BangBus. Bangbus is a porn website whose premise is that a bunch of guys drive around LA and pick up women by flashing large wads of money to exchange for sex-on-camera. The emphasis that these girls next door are paid for their services is something somewhat unique, mostly these things aren't highlighted and sometimes there are plots which revolve around obscuring the fact that they are paid porn-stars. Microsoft is basically doing the same thing as Bang Bus. Pay people cash-money of 1000 to 1500$ to go computer shopping and make the right decision. Which is obviously to choose a Windows based computer. The mission statement below sums it up rather nicely "You find it you keep it" with a big Windows logo in the center of the screen. I can't imagine the subjects (if they were real at all) would be confused in regards to what exactly what "it" could be. They state in the commercial they're looking for a computer that has a big screen and is fast or what have you; but Microsoft is not referring to them finding what they want.


This is like a new graft of skin on the dead-lame "I'm a PC" campaign. An ad campaign that had mostly regular people, and sometimes people in "exotic" professions stating that they were "a PC." Their statement was not so much that creative and unique people use PCs, or that people who should know what a good computer is uses PCs; but that everybody uses one, even people who don't really use a computer much in their profession or however else they are identified in the ad. But yes, shark divers use PCs.

In these new ads they get the same "real people", some of which are apparently in the actors guild, to buy the PC of their dreams within a budget. This is such a sad tact, instead of making the argument that their platform is more reliable or easy to use, they have resorted to just saying everyone uses it, and that the price is lower for a PC than a Mac. Totally removing the platform from the argument is as if they admit it's just not a selling point anymore. Now it's just a question of nut's and bolts? Microsoft so generously pays them the money to pay for the computer once they have enough footage of them fawning over the PCs and farting on the Macs. 1500$ is waved in their faces once they've done right by Microsoft.

Isn't this kind of obscene though? Shouldn't they have some sort of integrity? I don't understand how Microsoft can't afford to buy better marketing. They really appear to be unable to pay out enough money to buy charm and delight. Of course their companies practices did away with the carrot years ago anyhow. It's much easier to hit partners and competitors with a stick instead of using charm to get them on board. That's what it's like when you're on top, no one if big enough to tell you otherwise.

Their superficial ads are so thin that it's an insult to the people they are trying to appeal to. At least with Apple they have a little humour instead of gleaming "normal folk" characters and histrionic gushing at the camera followed by a wave of bills in their faces. Do the people viewing the commercial really think the people are happy they bought a PC? Or do they realize it just might be because they get a thousand dollars if they do? Why not have some pseudo contest that obliquely compares their products? Why are we supposed to believe that comparing the products of dozens of PC manufacturers to a single (Apple) manufacturer will be coherent and objective a task?

Others have written about the slight of hand that is actually going on here. These commercials aren't even doing what they say they are; they aren't comparing the meat and potatos of the hardware. They're comparing narrowed specifications because the myriad manufacturers and the myriad specs allow them to angle the attack to make it seem as they're the same products as the Macs.

The strangest point of this ad is that Giampaolo didn't get the portability, battery life, and power he was looking for, he just ended up with a cheap-appearing machine that obscured its real technical limitations under a flashy layer of misleading, specification-oriented marketing, the very thing he thought he was avoiding with HP: buying a brand rather than a computer. And that's exactly what Microsoft wants people to do: buy its brand rather than a computer that does what they want it to do. --Appleinsider

Personally I love how the Mac organizes its SKUs, two of every product type, pro and consumer. They take those two different products and give them the latest greatest hardware within its domain by determining what level of hardware it should have. Every year the old model is retired and a new one is introduced with new specs and sometimes a new design. They don't have some third one that uses last years technology, or different branchings of the product for sake of adding wireless or using a different sort of RAM one that is less compact or what have you. You just have the one type and you can change some of the parts around or go up from consumer or down from pro.

I would hate to have to compare everything about all the models of every manufacturer. I tried this with cell-phones and got a headache. Even looking at one company's phones I realized that some would have a better camera, others would have better music support, others had a better form factor or battery life. The SKUs were basically made so that there was never a "best" phone that I could get, none of them had common features done well so I had no base set of features or specifications to compare each phone with. As a first-time cell phone buyer I didn't even know which baseband compatibility I should look for. Instead I had to look at each one's dozens of qualities and dozens of faults and make a compromise on it.

This quite frankly is shit. The iPhone 3g had everything the 2g had PLUS more, and I expect to see the next model be the same scenario. I would lose a lot of faith if they introduced some iPhone that with crippled features (or at least within reason, if they introduce a new parallel SKU for cheaper...). I want to see the products constantly improve and not just vary. I certainly don't want to have to compare RAM speeds or anything else so nitty gritty as that. I'd rather just depend on the company to use the whatever the latest greatest specifications there are so I only have to break it down by quantity of RAM, Hard Drive and maybe laptop screen size. This keeps the vectors of what I'm looking at firmly in two-dimensional where it's easier to make decisions. I'd rather not spend an entire day choosing a computer as the people in these ads have, regardless of how much fun they pretend it is.

The title cards are so funny in these ads. "They agree, it's a PC" -- well of course they agree, you just waived 1500$ in their face. I agree too, that's more than two weeks worth of pay for me. So why not make an ad with me already, I'll choose a Lenovo or something, whatever you like. and yes it's "Nice work. It's a PC" -- that sounds like a very supportive pat on the head. As in "Nice (days) work, it's a PC (just like we promised we'd pay you for if it was)."

Why I don't like Watchmen

I'm moving from my old blog underabundant.com
MARCH 18th 2009

I read Watchmen a long time ago. I had borrowed it from a friend who recommended it highly. I believe I was between jobs at the time (or bored) and was more or less just passing the time. I had already read V for Vendetta and passed on 300 (on first glance). Watchmen was a pretty interesting read, at that time, and I had a pretty high regard for it as an interesting piece of comic-bookary.

However, on second reading I was not so impressed. Now, I've already read the argument that it's hard to adapt Watchmen because it so perfectly works inside the comic-book format. This is correct, but not at all in the way these reviewers actually mean it to be. The comic book form encompasses a format that meanders, where a series (especially Watchmen, which is a finite miniseries) is drawn out as long as possible. Comic writers try to extend the length of a story-line ad infinitum. Also, most every comic book is so generically written that the dialogue is really impossible to act out as a live actor. Comic books also never really care about timing, which film is ALL ABOUT. The flaws of comic books certainly create a big problem for adaptations for cinema because of its flaws and tropes, not the format.

The Comedian

The fact is that film is concise and comic-books are not (ever). Cinema can show 1.5 hours are someone's life in real-time, or show snippets of action over the course of several weeks. It can show you 1 character with huge character development, or dozens of interrelated ones more superficially. But one thing cinema can't do is all of that at the same time. Watchmen, like many comic books, has no pacing to speak of, and does not really move along in a classic drama fashion. Comic books are serialized, you know like those by-gone film series before they invented the talkie. They come out in issues and every issue has to have some plot development, some action, some laughs etc. Every issue might have a typical story-like arc and then it starts over again. This is what goes on in theWatchmen, it's not like a novel adaptation because it is so much more jaggedly arranged. The screenwriter had to take all the character introductions (peppered around the series), all the plot arcs, resolutions, and have them all make sense together somewhere within 3 hours. Comic books are just trying to peak your interest until the next issue. It just has to be so interesting without giving anything away to quickly.

Overall, I really do think there is enough interesting content in Watchmen to make an interesting story. But the problem is that there is a lot of everything else too. Thanks to the fanboys the filmmakers are expectations to cover everything, because it's all canon. You can't cut out Rorschach eating beans, or even his dialogue when he's eating them. You're recreating history and it should be to the letter. This is a bigger problem for Watchmen because it was a miniseries. It's overall story is finite and perhaps it's just short enough to have people imagine it might be covered by one film. If you make a Spiderman story you can pick and choose between the numerous battles that he had with the Green Goblin or make a new one up; it's been done over so many times (and at this point, mediums) that there isn't too much issue with changing it. But for Watchmen, New York was only destroyed once, and not by the vague John-signature thing, it was destroyed by some ridiculous squid monster that was only vaguely referred to in some distant sub-plot.

Like many comics, Moore blew a lot of air into the story, comics can do this; in fact they have to do it. Making your story arc cover so enough weeks so he had to introduce myriad characters like the news-stand people, the pirate-comic sub-plot, the detectives subplot, the actors on the island subplot, etc. They are easily removed from the story without affecting the outcome or understanding of the story itself. They link in superficially in the sense that they never interact or effect the characters; but they are witness to things that effect the ending of the story, but they are so vaguely inferred that they don't really give and hints or mood. They just confuse and distract. On my second read of the book, I actually was so frustrated by the fake-newspaper clippings and the lame-pirate tale that I just skipped over them all. Some of the story is unique and interesting, the rest is just chum. I'm sure lots of people remember the pirate story or the detectives, but it's really not as interesting as the core story and it doesn't move the plot along either.

Novels are difficult to adapt because they tend to be so abstract that it is difficult to communicate them visually. Character's fantasies or thoughts have to reach some kind of compromise with the directors and actors performing them. Comic books are not so poetic and abstract, but are still difficult, often they are mostly dialogue and complex action. To me it seems as if many of these dialogues where never read out loud or acted out by the authors themselves while they were writing it. There are countless times in Watchmen where you can see actors struggling with dialogue that doesn't fit or who's mood is hard to pin down. John, the invisible demi-god sounds like an emo-teenager for the first half of the film. The characters' constant depressive moping is like heavy like a weight on the actors; it's just TOO depressive to really emote without having the actors blowing their brains out soon after.


It's pretty curious to see the moments when in the comic, really fast action is paired with a minute or so of dialogue. It's normal in the comic book world to have someone say "I'm so fast that I'm severing your spine with this one strike..." while at the same time showing that action. Now, doesn't the explanation take a lot longer than the action? I thought that cinema was a medium that used exposition as a crutch, but practically every graphics box in a comic is full of text explaining what is happening at that moment.

It's Zack Snyder that has had to keep these details in as if he's adapting a holy-book. This is not an unreal limitation. Many of these types of comic-book movies live and die by what the fan-boys say about it. You could practically sing along to the movie if you've read the comic. It also impacts what he can do visually too. I noticed that the film is more or less a panel for shot remake of the comic. Case in point is Night Owl's abandoned subway lair. The lair is always shown from the same angle, and the 4th wall is never ever depicted (just like the comic book). Snyder does not have to opportunity to imagine any other angles or surfaces that are represented in the comic book already. It feels rigid and hacked together, as if they couldn't afford the other half of the set.

Isn't this kind of sad? The only way that Snyder could have escaped these traps would have been to just do a re-imagining of the story, taking the best parts and not bothering with the worst ones or the parts that don't fit. Working with a comic book you have to try and cut as much dialogue as you can and work hard to get the plot actually moving. Spiderman is cartoon and gets away (well not with me) with retarded dialogue, Watchmen's self-important seriousness makes it retarded when it keeps those tropes. He tried to remove bits like where Night Owl and Silk Spectre served the victims of the fire coffee but it's still there, still there just enough for the fanboys. Snyder can be blamed for the music though, it was ridiculous, 70's hits and Bob Dylan songs belong in vietnam movies and feel very out of place in this film. It's rather cheap way to try and contextualize things, and it misses it too. If you read Watchmen, it's and all eighties comic book.

Quebec Housing: Biased Towards Tenants, Landlords or Neither?

I'm moving my posts off my old blog underabundant.com

MARCH 11th 2009

I have been looking at real estate lately and have been thinking about moving, and I have to talk about this subject. I don't think that the housing laws in Quebec make any sense, I don't think they are really advantageous for anyone and I think it affects how people live a great deal. Whenever you talk to anyone about Quebec rental laws, they typically say that it is tilted towards the renter (especially compared to Ontario). Montreal is generally socialist and typically does tilt towards the subjects with the least power. However, I don't think this is entirely true for Quebec housing. I believe that the housing laws are just a lot more rigid, and not particularly biased towards lessor or lessee.

Montreal is a city that, until a few years ago only allowed people to move out on July 1st of the year aka moving day. All leases had to abide by that date and everyone scrambled to find an apartment like some massively coordinated game of musical chairs. Even though leases now float, a majority of people still move out on July 1st. When looking to buy rental property, I noticed that a majority of the existing leases were for the 1st of July, and the 11 other months were the exception. I don't really see this as something which is very good for anyone. People who want to find a place at any other time get shafted and get a slim pick, while people moving out in July get a huge amount of competition (is this a paradox or an annoying fact?). It would be unfortunate if you somehow have to move in or out at this time, because it will be nearly impossible to find anyway out of that situation. Apparently the Quebec government thought that people should only need to move there in July. This is not good for anyone. Landlords are hit with waves scarcity and abundance and it's likely there are many vacancies during the off-months. For tenants, it's all about timing, and if you're stuck on the wrong month it may take forever to get to the "right" timing.dsc03485

The worst part about this is how Quebec deals with tenants who wish to break their lease in advance of the end date. In short -- they don't. There are three possible reasons to leave a lease early: you are moving to low rent housing, you are moving to a retirement home or if you cannot live there anymore due to a handicap. Any other reason is completely invalid and the lease is immutable. There is no way to get out of a lease early unless you "reach an agreement" with the landlord or sign the lease over to another party. This puts you into very grimy waters. I have several times asked different landlords about this. Typically they "graciously" offered to receive 2-3 months rent as payment for leaving early. I would say that 2400$ is not really much of a favor, and it's not very helpful of the government to wash their hands of the situation.

The rule is that leases are a trap. It is really hard to get out of them even with a plan.

To end a lease the tenant has to notify his landlord two months before the close date. If he does not do this it auto renews and the tenant is liable for another year's worth of rent. The worst part is that if the landlord can send a rental increase form as early as 6 months before the end of the lease; and if he does this you have one month to reply as to whether you are taking the increase or moving out. This means that you might have only been living somewhere 6 months before you have to decide about what you'll be doing six months from that time.

Your one option is to try and assign your lease to another individual. This way you can move out whenever you wish, and they take over your lease (which is possibly set at the wrong "cycle" time). The problem for tenants is that they really have to work at getting a lease assigned, and they couldn't have told the landlord that the lease is not being renewed at the end of the term; because then the person who is assigned the lease could only stay for <6>

One time I tried to assign my lease to a nice couple from Houston Texas. My landlord said that he wanted to meet them first. I ended up finding out that he took them around and showed them OTHER apartments he had for rent. I think he was possibly the biggest douche I have ever met. Edouard, if you are reading this, fuck you.


In Ontario you can give 2 months notice for leaving and the landlord has to take it. I think 2 months is time enough for the landlord to find a tenant. No one is really going to move every 2 months just for the hell of it; moving to another apartment is already inherently difficult and stressful. So why lock in tenants so tightly?

Every year in Ontario, the government issues the maximum increase percentage that rent can increase. The landlord can only increase the rent to that amount and no greater. This year is is 1.8% for Ontario landlords. In Quebec, it is 0.6% ... HOWEVER the landlord can also increase it much more than that if they do renovations on their property. I almost rented an apartment downtown for 750$ until I found out that the rent would be increasing to 840$ in one year due to their renovation work on the parking garage and elevators. This is an increase of 12%! I don't believe many people want to live in a place that has such unpredictable rent values.

Quebec's solution is that you can always grieve to the Regie Du Logement if the landlord is acting illegally or unfairly. Is this really a solution? It really isn't. If you received a notice of increase of 12% and you think it's not valid, you can to renew your lease with that landlord, and take them to the Regie. It makes the renters into a gamblers. You have to gamble that you will win your case that you shouldn't have to pay so much, and if you lose, you've already signed a lease to stay there another year.

In short I don't really think that Quebec has any bias towards either the renter or the landlord. I think that it just has a very crude, bureaucratic system that is not flexible enough for anyone.

Buying Real-Estate in Montreal

I'm moving from my old blog underabundant.com
MARCH 04th 2009

I am sort-of considering buying a house these days. So far I am extremely disappointed with what I see in the real-estate world. The information on many houses is less than a typical eBay auction, and it's near impossible to get anymore from the agents.

Looking through myriad of different posts the information on each property would be totally unpredictable. Every house that is with a registered real-estate agent is posted online at Realtor.ca. Everything is fairly well standardized and even works with Microsoft (bleh) Virtual Earth and each property is marked on the map. These posts would sometimes have a photograph of the house, just one... from across the street. Other times there wouldn't be any at all; and perhaps just as often there would be an actually helpful number of photographs that actually peak my interest. I can't imagine how real-estate agents get away with this.

It doesn't even stop there. When comparing houses you can never really depend on getting the same information for each posting. Sometimes there would be no address, others there would be no photo, tax information etc. You need all these points of information to determine whether you can afford a house, which is exactly what you want to do BEFORE even looking at it. When looking at multiplexes it's even worse, often there is no financial information given for the units or even necessarily info on the number of room. Real-estate agents fluctuate between giving you only lot-size, to giving you only building dimensions, to only giving you foor-square living space (which would include all the floors). Even the description sections are ridiculously sparse:

Plateau Mt-Royal,immeuble situé près de la rue Mt-Royal, actuellement le rez de chaussée est libre pour un propriétaire occupant. Propriété avec beaucoup de style et cachet.

Which translates to "Situated in the Plateau area, the first floor is free to be occupied by the buyer. Property with lots of style and cachet." This write-up means essentially nothing. I knew what area it was in already, the state of the first floor is nice... That's it? The only real information is that it has "cachet" which is real-estate code for dilapidated. If it wasn't for the single image provided, I wouldn't even know it had a second floor.


This building is in really bad shape BTW; I think that it was no mistake the photo was taken from across the street. Is this supposed to be acceptable? I think it's crazy. Real-estate agents are supposed to be professional people who are helping people sell their homes. I have a feeling there's been more than one posting written in all CAPS. I get the impression that it doesn't really take much to be a real-estate agent, or that the quality varies greatly.

The Problem With Midibox

I'm moving my posts from my old blog underabundant.com.
FROM MARCH 2nd 2009

I have finally setup my blog. Typically they are half-assed attempts at writing about different subjects that interest me. Unfortunately I usually peter out after some time. I'd like to think it will be different this time.

Before, I tried to make my own blogging software; where I would obsessively build and test the system, where by the end of it, I would not really not care much about the content (writings). In fact I would more or less abandon the project once it functioned within whatever requirements I determined at that point. I'd say that's my general MO in regards to a lot of development stuff that I've done.

Case in point : For years I have been building different Midibox synthesizers with varying success. Midibox is a DIY project for making MIDI compatible, PIC based, synthesizers and MIDI controllers. People who build one download schematics and board designs, buy the parts and proceed to build and debug their own unique and custom hardware. Many of the parts of Midibox are user configurable and have numerous options which I will neglect to go over here. The fact is that to build a Midibox takes months or years of dedication and though I did do this, when it really came down to it I haven't knuckled down and tried to learn how to use the device that I so painstakingly built.

Midibox FM - Case

This is pretty much the problem that I have with Midibox projects. I put a lot of effort into them and it took a lot of monkeying, but you don't really get much out of it. As of now I have two synths: the Midibox SID and the MIDIBOX FM. They are good synths that surely have a great deal of capabilities, but I have come to realize that I have lost my creativity and become more interested in building electronics than I am in creating music.

I walked down the path of discovering more about electronics assembly. I learned about getting scrap parts from the university that happens to throw out a lot of aluminum cases, switches, buttons, cables, power supplies and other components. I have boxes of stuff that I harvested for numerous projects I might do in the future. My mind was consumed with troubleshooting and debugging for years now and at this point, coming back to it with two synths in arm; I don't remember much about the music.

Midibox FM - Internals

Currently, I have about 60 tracks that I made over years of experimenting, but the last time I touched any of the files was actually May 2007! I even think that it has such a RECENT date because I might have copied them off a network drive when I got my new computer recently. I think it could be more than 3 or so years at least since I really hunkered down and worked on music. This is bad, because when I go back to Reason or Logic I get frustrated that I don't know what to do. Not just the controls but I really don't even know where to start.

I have come out of the Midibox journey with less than what I went it with. I could have 200+ tracks by now if I just learned to use soft-synths better or if I decided to just purchase a synth from Moog. I could have started learning how to manipulate a synthesizer immediately instead of taking up such a long-term project of assembling my own from scratch. I can't say which would be cheaper, but if I had opted for the former I think that I would have been able to continue on with my artistic endeavors instead switching gears and working on Midiboxes.

This is the problem I have with Midibox is how restrictive a community it is.

Let me preface this by saying that I don't have any problem with anyone in the Midibox community individually. The forum users there are probably some of the most helpful and friendly people I have ever dealt with. Thorsten and the other admins have always been almost overly willing to look into any issues and to help with troubleshooting. Generally as a community they are the most helpful and considerate people around. They help troubleshoot, organize group-buys and might even send you unused hardware gratis.

However, they are extremely restrictive in regards to allowing people to build Midiboxes for other people. Resales are discouraged and there is even a forum section where the any person selling any Midibox hardware must ask for permission. Whether it be some half-complete module or a complete unit they have to request permission. This hinges on the belief that anything that goes for sale has to be sold for the base price of the parts and no more. People even report eBay auctions and the forum members then contact the sellers and demand they pull it off the site. Everyone I have seen have agreed to repeal their auctions; so I can't really be sure what Thorsten would do in cases where someone refuses to take off a posting. However I can only assume there would be some kind of ex-communication and possibly even legal proceedings.

I'm not going to argue that TK (Thorsten) doesn't have the rights to do this. Apparently there is a license guarding the software (I believe) that is on the Midibox which restricts any kind of resale. This is unfortunate for pretty much everyone, I don't even think it's entirely crazy for the Midibox community to want to prevent such a thing. As stryd_one said:

as it is about respect for TK's work - because he does all this for free, it's not really fair for others to make money out of it.

This logic is tantamount to something like "Thorsten owns the land where he himself found a silver. It's his mine and he can mine it if he so chooses." With that reasoning you can only agree with stryd_one. Thorsten has done so much to design and implement so much in regards to the different Midibox projects. Generally the community works in a "Open Source" manner where all new information is shared and posted.

Truly, if anyone wanted to build a Midibox project, all they would have to do is read the instructions and build one themselves. However, as an open source project (of course it is not GNU licensed so the generic "open source" term is used) all the information is there and it only need be applied. It's as if he opens to silver mine to anyone who wishes to come, where they can take as much as the like. However if they do anything with the silver, like sell it, they are banished from the mine. So really it's not like a silver mine, it's more like teaching someone to fish. The Midibox community it teaching anyone who is interested to fish, but if you want to fish so much that you can sell your fish -- it's game over.

Midibox SID - Casing

But at the end of the day a Midibox project is no small task. A typical Midibox project involves building 4-5 different circuit boards with 20-30 individual parts per board. These Input boards, Output boards, CPU boards and Synthesizer boards all have to be assembled and interconnected together in order to make a working unit. They need a power-supply (which usually has to be built) and typically a control surface with an LCD and numerous buttons, LEDs, encoders, etc. Even for someone with intermediate experience these projects are a handful that would take a great deal of time and dedication to build.

Even with the skills to build a Midibox, a user has to navigate multiple pages of schematics, board diagrams, wikis and most importantly the forum. No information is particularly centralized and things are often unclear and clarified in some obscure forum post of wiki entry. I myself was frustrated several times when I could not get anything to work where sometimes it was recognized as a bug. This sort of thing struck me often enough, and work-arounds/fixes were only available in the forum where you had to be very active to really get anything solved.

But I get it. The community is designed in line with two separate beliefs:

  1. It is interesting and constructive to build your own custom electronic synthesizer made from retro synth microchips.
  2. The synthesizers are particularly well designed and built that they offer a unique and interesting sound as well as great interface.

The fact is that those two wishes are easily completely separate. I personally was interested in both at one time, and this got me into the scene so much that I delved into building a synth and had to leave behind my previous interest in music. I started my first Midibox project with a fairly low level of knowledge in electronics, and over the years I think that I've learned a lot about them; but I've also burned a lot of time on them too. I somewhat knew that it would be fairly painful and difficult to get it working and I expected to learn a great deal about along the way. I did not expect it to be SO time consuming as it was though. If I did, I hazard to say that I might not have started down that road, and would have moved on to do something else with my time that was more along the lines of the creative.

Midibox SID - Side

The fact is that it is no easy feat to build a Midibox. The type of person who might really use one (ex:artists) are not necessarily going to be able to do this type of work themselves. If they are smart they surely COULD learn how, but as an amateur it's going to take them a tremendous amount of time to get a project going. Midibox community members gloat that they are some of the best synthesizers around but their requirements that everyone be able and willing to break into it the hard way is going to cut out a lot of potential users. These users could contribute with suggestions and perhaps programming changes to the synthesizers.

The fact is that a lot of people just aren't willing to delve into this universe, for many people it just isn't inline with what they want to be working on (music!). So I think there is a large demand for people who build complete Midibox kits or complete Midibox units for users who are just are not able or interested in building one themselves. These types of skills are scarce have a steep learning curve. I myself assembled my Midiboxes on my desk in my one bedroom apartment, I did not have a lab and I guess I do now, but I think I'm the exception in terms of people who are willing to cram so much equipment in such a small space; we don't all have basements or attics to setup in.

Also, the Midibox community excludes those people who are very capable at building and exploring electronics and are perhaps not interested in making music. As it stands I don't even think that someone could build a Midibox in its entirety and be able to charge the cost of building plus the shipping from the electronics suppliers. Not to mention that small groups or companies would likely be interested in making short runs of these devices for the sake of having a really interesting project to do. For me personally I am very interested in electronics assembly and it would be very interesting to get the opportunity to make a business that would allow me to live off of putting together my favorite thing. Not to mention that a few experienced techs building Midiboxes could probably even come under cost compared to what amateurs building one from scratch come to.

Midibox SID Internals

I don't even know what's the loss for the community. Thorsten already approves several people making PCBs (circuit boards) and PCB kits with parts, they just don't assemble the boards, interconnect them, or install the final unit into a case. This makes it much easier as it does not force people to produce their own circuit boards or have to search out the parts. This might help out many people, but ultimately it's just not going to be so inclusive that everyone who's interested can contribute. If the Midibox is so great, shouldn't everyone get a chance to have one?

The problem is that the community expects a level of dedication which blocks many people who would otherwise become enthusiastic users and contributors. Thorsten is not in it for the money, none of the members of the community are either, but they could allow some builders to make adequate compensation by building Midiboxes for people who aren't going to do it for themselves. Or possibly he could allow people to make a few extra Midiboxes that they can then sell. This would even help a poorer Midiboxer build two units and sell the second to help pay for the first.

So even though the license is there to protect the Midibox platform from being used and abused by uncaring capitalist interests; it ultimately caps the size of the community of Midiboxers by forcing any and all users to be technically competent, musically inclined, and with plenty of time to dedicate to a complex electronics project. People who are just interested in the technical, or just interested in the musical, or who just don't have the time or space to do it need not apply.