Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Uninterruptable Power Supplies: The Good, the Bad, and the Loud

The Redmond area is notorious for frequent power outages. The combination of above-ground power lines, tall trees and frequent wind storms is just a recipe for problems. Actually, the power doesn't completely fail very often but it often flickers just enough to make computers reboot.

I've had a couple different UPS models and although they work great at keeping the computer running, they all seem to have one really annoying feature: they beep loudly when they are running on battery.

Now tell me, if I'm sitting in a dark house, do I really need something beeping to tell me the power is out?

It's particularly annoying when it happens in the middle of the night and rather than just sleep through the outage, I have to trudge downstairs to turn off the UPS so I can get some sleep.

At work it's even worse. Every office has a UPS and the server room has several. The computers will all automatically turn off after a few minutes running on the battery but we still have to go around and turn off UPS to avoid the unbelievable racket the beeping makes.

The other problem with the beeping comes from my Golden Retriever. Years ago we trained her with an invisible fence system. Those systems work with a collar that gives the dog a little zap if they cross the boundary. But first, they beep if the dog gets close. So when the UPS beeps, our dog suddenly thinks she's about to get zapped and just goes crazy trying to figure out where the "safe" place is.

Does anybody make a UPS that just silently switches to battery as necessary without the need to remind me of the bloody obvious fact that the power is out and that won't freak out my Golden Retriever?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Apple news and incrementalism

The thing I found most interesting in the Apple announcement yesterday is Apple's incremental approach--something more often associated with Microsoft.

The conventional wisdom on Microsoft is that 1.0 products are very rough, 2.0 starts to be usable, and 3.0 is great. Well, yesterday Apple effectively announced Front Row 2.0. Of course, it doesn't even try to do everything that Microsoft's Media Center Edition does. But that's a difference in tactics and strategy, not in the goal they are pursuing.

There are many problems to solve to make the HD home media vision a reality. We need wireless networks with usable bandwidths at least twice as high as the current 802.11g. We need CableCARD 2.0 (and it's equivalent for satellite TV) so consumers can plug a cable or satellite line directly in to a PC without having to go through a separate tuner box. We need the movie studios, cable operators, and networks to come to grips that some people are going to want to skip commercials and stop trying to hobble technologies to protect their current business models. And Apple seems content to let Microsoft slog through those issues with Windows Media Center Edition while it slowly adds capabilities to the Mac as the infrastructure falls in to place.

On the business side, there are glimmers of hope. I've been surprised with the degree of experimentation by TV networks on the iTunes store. What started out as one model--sell TV episodes the day after they air--has turned in to many. NBC, in particular, deserves credit for trying new things. The one that leaps out to me is NBC's putting the pilot episode of its new Law and Order spinoff on iTunes before it airs on TV. This is so much smarter than the music industry approach of trying to stop the technology.

What approach will the movie studios take? Will they side with the TV networks and begin to experiment or will they stick their collective heads in the sand and hope the whole thing goes away? As someone who loves movies, I hope they follow the TV networks' lead.