Saturday, January 24, 2009

Auto-summarizing Steve Ballmer's mail

Microsoft Word has an auto-summary feature that supposedly allows you to extract the most important information from a document and highlight it or generate an "executive summary".

For fun (and based on {R} mentioning this last night), I thought I'd see how Word does on Steve Ballmer's recent email announcing layoffs at Microsoft. Here's a link to his complete email.
With the default settings to extract the most important 25%, this is the summary you end up with:

In response to the realities of a deteriorating economy, we’re taking important steps to realign Microsoft’s business. Today we announced second quarter revenue of $16.6 billion. Our products provide great value to our customers. Our financial position is solid. We have made long-term investments that continue to pay off.

Our response to this environment must combine a commitment to long-term investments in innovation with prompt action to reduce our costs.

As a result, we reduced operating expenses during the quarter by $600 million. We
must make adjustments to ensure that our investments are tightly aligned with
current and future revenue opportunities. Our leaders all have specific goals to
manage costs prudently and thoughtfully.

To increase efficiency, we’re taking a series of aggressive steps. We’ll cut travel expenditures 20 percent and make significant reductions in spending on vendors and contingent staff. We’ve scaled back Puget Sound campus expansion and reduced marketing budgets.

Our priority remains doing right by our customers and our employees. The decision to eliminate jobs is a very difficult one. Thank you for your continued commitment and hard work.

WTF? No mention of any layoffs until an oblique reference at the very end. I guess the sentence from Steve's original email was too buried for Word to find it... The term "shit sandwich" comes to mind when reading Steve's email - positive-sounding wrapping around the tough message in the middle. For some reason, doing this when you're communicating with executives is frowned on - they want the juicy details bubbled up in the first paragraph. Might be nice if they did that when they communicated "down" to the company too...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NYT: South African wines step onto the stage

I recently came across this article on South African wine from the New York Times. Here's a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

Forgive me if I’m excited, but I can’t help it. I want to tell you straight out that South Africa, of all places, is one of the greatest sources for moderately priced cabernet sauvignon on the planet today.

I suspected this before, but after the wine panel tasted 25 South African cabernets recently, I can say it unequivocally, without the usual hedging and qualifications.

Well, almost, but I’ll get to that later.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Great Ken Levine quote

Ken Levine has some thoughts on the inauguration, including this great zinger aimed at Cheney:

"We always knew Dick Cheney was Dr. Strangelove"

Happy Inauguration Day!

It's done - the USA has a new president! I missed hsi speech, but will watch it tonight. From the snippets I heard on NPR, it sounds like he did a great job (as usual).

Here's a screenshot from the Photosynth mash-up I mentioned previously:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Inauguration countdown!

I haven't been this excited for a US presidential inauguration since, well, forever! It looks like we will have the event screened in a large conference room at work, so I will try to sneak away to watch part of it.

It's also quite cool to see that PhotoSynth will be used to create a "mash-up" of everyone's photos of the event. CNN will feature a live fly-through of the photos on their "Magic Wall".
Read more about it here, and be sure to send some pictures if you are there!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Watching BSG webisodes on your XBOX 360

I've been playing around with ways to watch online movies on my PC and XBOX, mainly due to the new Battlestar Galactica webisodes which have been released on I thought it would be cool to watch them before the new episode airs this coming Friday, and since we will have a few people over at our house, I wanted to get them up on our TV screen instead of watching them on a PC.

There are several tools available to grab movies (which in this case are Flash .FLV files) from a website and save them locally. The one I used is Orbit Downloader, which works OK but seems to make Internet Explorer 8 very unstable. (I uninstalled Orbit as soon as I had the files I wanted). Another option (not tried by me) is Keepvid which seems to not require any software installation.

Anyway, once you have the .FLV files locally, you might want to watch them. My system didn't have a codec to play these files, so I installed the current version of the K-Lite codec pack. Depending on which tools you use to convert the files (see the next step), you could skip this.

Finally, you need to convert the .FLV files to a format that the XBOX can play. I chose to use a tool I already had installed, Handbrake. (Handbrake is also great if you want to transfer videos to your iPhone/iPod Touch)

In Handbrake, simply select the files, and choose the XBOX profile. I chose to increase the video size to 1024 wide so it would look better on a large screen. (The XBOX can also stretch video to fit the screen, but it looks more blocky). The resulting MP4 files that Handbrake creates can be put on a USB storage device and played on the XBOX easily.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lupper and déjouper

This great post from the "French word a day" blog introduced me to the word déjouper, a meal that stretches from lunch time to dinner time and cover lunch and dinner. (Kind of the same as the made-up English word lupper that we used to use when I was growing up).

Usually lupper was what you had when you forgot to eat lunch at the usual time, got really hungry in the afternoon, and had an early dinner. Déjouper on the other hand seems to be more of an informal dinner party with friends and family that starts around 1:30pm and stretches on into the early evening. It sounds very civilized, and like something I need to do more often!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

S&M Dining in Seattle

This article in Seattle's The Stranger newspaper caused a flurry of mail on the food & wine mailing list at work. While many people tool exception to the overall negative tone of the article and got very defensive in response, I tend to agree with a lot of what is said and didn't think the author was being unreasonably cranky.

I've not yet been to any of the restaurants mentioned, although Poppy is high on my list of places to try in the first few months of this year. I wonder if the communal dining thing is a fad, or whether the hard economic times will force restaurants to be more accomodating and offer a la carte menus with cheaper options? Time will tell...

Have any of you been to communal, fixed menu restaurants? What's your take on them?

Spot the defect!

From this zuneboards post, the Zune New Year's bug. Can you spot what is wrong? :P

year = ORIGINYEAR; /* = 1980 */

while (days > 365)
if (IsLeapYear(year))
if (days > 366)
days -= 366;
year += 1;
days -= 365;
year += 1;