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Where’s Waldo?



Just a couple updates on activities the past few months- I relocated from Baltimore, MD to the San Francisco bay area, CA earlier in the year, got a new job as a computer consultant (at Avanade), and settled into the lovely California weather.  I won’t miss those blistering, sweaty Baltimore summers or shoveling snow while freezing my butt off 🙂

Unfortunately, the process of selling houses, moving, finding new places to live, and getting a job is still pretty old school and I was constantly amazed how inefficient some of those activities are in today’s computer age.

Things move pretty fast here in Silicon Valley (although I’m actually living in Oakland) and I found the skill level of people and the technology people use beyond what I’m used to.  Time to accelerate the training videos and reading.  Already the .NET 4.0 Microsoft exams are being retired around July 2013 and I’ve found myself scrambling to figure out the best direction to pursue- say focused on web technologies or Windows 8 development,  then there’s all the tablet and mobile platforms to consider.  There are tons of meet-up groups and start-ups in the area and hard to decide on how to allocate precious time.

I’ll post an update on how my Windows Phone 7 app PickFlicks is doing soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Gadget Envy (CES 2010)

It’s geek Christmastime now that the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in Las Vegas has arrived (cnet coverage)…time to drool over the cool new gadgets and buy those lottery tickets!  It looks like 3D TV, tablet computers, and e-book readers are the big things  I wonder what makes humans crave and go crazy for these shiny new products?  Here’s a few things which I thought were interesting:

  • Toshiba Cell TV: How about a TV 10X more powerful than your desktop PC, 1 Terabyte hard drive, wi-fi, integrated blu-ray player, video conferencing and 2D-3D conversion capability?
  • Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid Notebook:  Converts from laptop to superslim slate PC by popping out of the case.
  • The Boxee Box: This cute “submerged cube shaped” hardware device allows you to watch streaming content on your TV using the boxee service or any non-drm media content.

Website Tools Summary

Part of the purpose of writing this blog and starting the website was to learn about how to build, host, and maintain a site and explore the issues revolving around those technologies. Here’s the various tools and decisions I’ve made:

  • Domain registration and hosting:  They’re cheap and convenient.  They also have lots of low cost modules available for adding on functionality.  Being a Microsoft guy, I chose the ASP.NET environment with SQL Server but they actually have more modules available for the Linux/PHP environment.
  • Content Management:  Microsoft Expression 3 (html and asp).  I considered and researched drupal, dotnetnuke, and wordpress but in the end did not trust their somewhat closed systems.  With Expression I create simple html and asp and just copy the files up to the website.  I don’t have to worry if something misconfigured at the hosting site or they go away.  With a CMS, I’m just not comfortable I could get my content out easily and quickly if needed.  There’s something sort of comforting about having total control over how content is created.
  • The Expression suite of software along with copies of SQL server, Visual Studio and other software was supplied for FREE by Microsoft. I participate in the Microsoft Websitespark (details here) program which helps small businesses get on the internet and publish web content for minimal cost. Microsoft provides a lot of free software to help out and I’ve found it very easy to participate in and use the program.
  • Blogging software: Google’s Blogger platform. Usability is very good and easy to add analytics and adsense modules.
  • Traffic analytics: Google analytics.  Just put a bit of code in your webpage (I put it in my master template file) and you can use this excellent analytics program to slice and dice who’s visiting your site, and which search terms generate traffic.

Let’s Make a (new car) Deal

Buying a new car hasn’t changed much over the years, and still remains a frustrating, time intensive experience.  You have to physically go to a dealer, take a test drive, and then sit down for some negotiations with a salesperson.  Then, this information from the buying step is re-done for financing, titling, and registration.  Has technology smoothed this process any?

honda carThe internet and technology has relentlessly killed inefficiencies in travel, book buying, music purchases, and real estate but surprisingly doesn’t seem to have affected car buying much.  We recently needed a new car and decided to lease a new Honda Civic. Of course, there’s lots you can do now online in terms of dealer cost data and incentives ( and test drive/safety reports (Consumer Reports).  The dealership even had an “Internet Manager” who I emailed what we were interested in.

The internet efficiency came to a screeching halt once we stepped onto the dealer lot.  All our information had to be reentered into multiple forms (some handwritten and not computerized), and all told took three hours to complete….that’s with little negotiation!  90% of that time was spent waiting around and redoing forms.  The internet manager simply funneled us to a regular salesperson.

Here’s a process that would work for certain customers like myself, who have already done research and don’t need schmoozing.  This would be heaven…

  • Let me rent the car for a couple days with no sales pressure for $100 (applies to deposit if I buy).  Drop the car off at my house, with a short demo of car features while I drive you back to your dealership.
  • Capture all information upfront which may be needed for credit checks, loan information, titling, registration, etc.  If I don’t buy just delete the data.
  • If I want to buy, give me a quote.  At this time you’ve had time to determine my credit score and such, and I’ve had time to research the dealer cost and incentives….so save time by quoting me your dealer cost minus incentives (which I already know anyway).
  • We have a deal!  I’ll drive to the dealership where all the paperwork will already be ready and waiting for signatures.  It would be nice to wash and fill up my car (or swap for actual model) while doing the signing, but this step shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
  • I’m driving away with a new car and everyone’s happy 🙂

What do you think…what other processes could be streamlined to improve and speed up the car buying experience?  Are there other tools available now which achieve these goals?