Project Management

Several years ago I watched a series of PBS specials about the development of the Boeing 777 airliner. Some searches on the internet found the title to be 21st Century Jet: The Building of the 777. It isn’t available on Amazon, but can apparently still be purchased from the Boeing Store. The film makers had an amazing amount of access as they filmed meetings, talked to engineers, suppliers, etc. It was a perfect case study in project management.

Boeing’s goal was to develop a long-range plane to fill a niche just below the capacity of a 747. With a 5-hour series the documentary was able to go into detail about certain issues (for instance the difficulty in getting a 2-engine aircraft certified for trans-ocean flights or how they test turbine blades). It was fascinating to watch the pieces come together. One way to save money was to do virtual testing of the engine instead of using a flying test platform. The engineers thought they wouldn’t even need to do the real-life tests because their models were so good. But the decision was made to do the test on a full-scale prototype anyway and on the first flight the engine flamed out (they used a 747 so they still had 3 other engines). The engineers went back and found a flaw in their computer model.

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A great article by Robert Samuelson of Newsweek about President Bush’s plan to decrease gasoline consumption. While it is a great goal, the means is via huge government subsidies, when all that is really needed is requiring vehicles to get better mileage (rather than just passenger cars like the proposed scheme):

I would propose that any vehicle (car, truck, SUV, whatever, no exceptions) that gets less than 25 miles per gallon should have a $3,000 tax assessed. Any car that gets over 45 miles per gallon should get a $3,000 tax credit. Those numbers would have to be adjusted to make sure that the two balance each other out, but that’s probably a decent start. It would cost the government nothing and instantly result in people buying cars with 80% better mileage.

My post in 2003 on Green Cars

DVD Kiosk

About a month ago I noticed a DVD rental kiosk at Kroger promising $1 per day rentals. I kept meaning to look at it more closely, but someone was either already at it, it was offline, or I was in a hurry to get out of the store. Yesterday I finally stopped by and rented a movie that I had kind of wanted to see but knew Susan would never want to watch (Talladega Nights: The Story of Ricky Bobby, C+, probably worth a dollar).

I guess the machine (about the size of a large coke machine) is filled with disks. They seem to have almost all of the releases from the last year, probably over a hundred movies, and with multiple copies there are probably 500 disks inside. There is a computer on the front with a touchscreen that lets you browse movies by genre and they seem fairly current with new releases. They take only credit cards and give you until midnight the next day before you are charged another dollar. After 14 days they charge you $35 plus tax to keep the movie.

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Palm TX Review

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Palm TX on Amazon for a while. After writing a brief review of a replacement Palm stylus, I decided to write up the TX too. Here it is:

4 stars

Very Good

I have had my Palm TX now for about 3 months. I have had a Palm Vx, m515, and now this one, and its capabilities blow the others away. The screen is fantastic. I love the extra space and resolution, plus the landscape mode. Having wifi is a huge plus even though I don’t have a wireless network at home or work. With the better processor, this is also super fast. It sorts through 300 records in Smartlist in about a second.

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Sick iPod Well Again

A guy at work was having trouble with a 4G iPod that his son didn’t need anymore. He said he couldn’t sync it with his PC because it was formatted for his son’s Mac. I told him to bring it in and I would try to fix it. I didn’t have a problem syncing it (it was already formatted for Windows). I had an old program that was an iPod Updater that I tried to use to restore the iPod (wipe it out and completely reformat it, using the latest iPod software for that model), but that capability has now been built into iTunes. But iTunes wouldn’t download the update for the restore even after I uninstalled the obsolete Updater. I gave him his iPod back and said it should work fine even though I hadn’t restored it.

A few days later I was trying to make my first iTunes purchase since November and they wouldn’t download either. I played around with my firewall settings in McAfee (even turning it off completely), but decided the problem must be with iTunes timing out before a dial-up connection could bring a song over (about 10 minutes for a song). It didn’t help that iTunes was now trying to download three songs at a time instead of one like it used it to do. I tried some different settings in iTunes, but couldn’t fix the problem.

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Timex Watch

The band on my watch is getting very frayed, so I figured it was about time for a new watch rather than spend money getting a new band. I’ve had fairly good luck with Timex watches so I went to their site to see what they had that would be similar to my current watch.

timex-t56731.jpgDuring the search I came across a Timex Ironman watch that has the interesting feature of having analog hands over a face with an LCD display that can be turned on or off. In the comments for the watch at Amazon people mentioned the Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction. According to Wikipedia the watch practically co-starred in the movie (I haven’t seen the movie yet). That article also identifies the watch as being a Timex T56371 model. I guess Timex paid a bunch of money to have their watch in the movie, but it would still be kind of neat having the same watch as in a movie.

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This weekend I downloaded the podcast of Steve Jobs’ iPhone presentation at Macworld. I had never seen one of his speeches, but had always heard great things about them. iLounge said this about it “Despite the fact that it clocks in at a feature film-length 1 hour and 45 minutes, Jobs’ keynote is unquestionably the most engaging public speech iLounge’s editors have ever seen, introducing the company’s new iPhone with a level of oratorical mastery that deserves academic study.”

Having downloaded it (at Susan’s and then loaded onto the SD card I keep in my Palm; over dial-up it would have taken 53 hours) and watched it today, I don’t know if I would agree. But I will say that instead of including instructions, they should just give you a video of his presentation when you buy the phone. Since it really is a small computer, I think they will be able to work out any problems with the software and add all kinds of new capabilities. And the price should come down over time as well (currently $500 for a 4 MB version, $600 for a 8 MB version after signing a 2-year agreement with Cingular). And although Steve had one that appeared to work just fine, it won’t be available until June.

I think they will have a phoneless version that will be a widescreen iPod which will include wifi and browsing capabilities. So rather than get a 5G, I think I will continue waiting for that new thing. In the meantime I am still enjoying the widescreen Palm TX, even though it’s software certainly lags what is loaded on the iPhone.

Roth Direction

Last year I was debating about whether to put my 2006 Roth IRA contribution into one of three Vanguard funds: Total International Stock Market Index (VGTSX), S&P 500 Growth Index (VIGRX), or the FTSE Social Index (VFTSX). I ruled out the international fund because 2005 had been such a good year and I didn’t think it could hold up. That led me to the latter two and I chose FTSE because it was pretty close to the S&P 500 index, but also had a social conscience. As it turns out FTSE outperformed the growth index, getting an 13% gain vs. 9% for the growth index while the S&P 500 was just under 16%. But the international index blew them all away, with a 26% return in 2006. Meanwhile the small cap value index that I had contributed to the previous two years did pretty well again with a 19% return.

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Fourth Quarter Results

Happy New Year!

This is a special edition of quarterly results because it also marks the end of the year. At the end of each year I reset my web site’s counter. Last year I had 159,227 visitors to my website compared to 81,763 the previous year, almost double. Some of that was due to the big peak in June and July when the battery pack was mentioned on Make, Digg, and Hackaday. After that traffic leveled out to about 400 hits per day, higher than the 300 or so a day I had been getting before that.

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