Asterisk is the new LAMP

I met with a startup today that does some interesting work bridging web services APIs with telephony, and I stopped them early in their presentation to ask what their voice platform was. The discussion was purely about their service, not the backend nuts-and-bolts, but I just had to ask: “Are you using Asterisk?” They were, of course. (I became interested in Asterisk and wrote about it just over a year ago in one of my last InfoWorld columns. There’s also an O’Reilly book on Asterisk that was published last fall).

I suspect that the “yeah, we’re using Asterisk” answer will become as commonplace and unremarkable as the “yeah, we’re using the LAMP stack.” Very cool. Expect some amazing things in this space as developers dreaming of new voice applications start playing with Asterisk more broadly.

The road to shaving nirvana goes through London

Anyone who knows me (or my dad or brother) knows that managing the Dickerson beard is a near-Sisyphean task. The Dickerson beard is absolutely relentless (as I sit here writing this on Sunday afternoon, I haven’t shaved since Friday, and I could easily be cast as someone who has been stranded on a desert island for months). I seem to recall my dad telling me that long ago when my grandfather approached the barbershop in small-town Bunn, NC, the barber groaned and began sharpening his straight razor furiously. A “5 o’clock shadow” late in the day would be a wondrous gift to any of the men in my family. For me, I’m pretty sure the shadow sets in as I’m rinsing my face after a shave. For this reason, I’ve taken an unusual interest in the search for the perfect shave. By pure excellent happenstance, I stumbled into one of the most hallowed halls of shaving on my recent trip to London. My shave will never be the same.

The topic of shaving seems to pop up in the blogosphere somewhat regularly. Merlin Mann’s Shaving tips, or, “how I remain Gillette’s bitch” is a must-read in the genre, as is this MSNBC article (which Merlin references) that pushed me down the path of old-school shaving with a badger brush and a tub of shaving soap early last year. Like Merlin, I tried the Merkur safety razor, but after a couple of tries, I decided that bleeding so profusely early in the morning just didn’t sit well with me, so I went back to the trusted Mach 3. The badger brush/tub of shaving soap/Mach 3 combo is a winner, I tell you.

razorI’ll admit that along with the functional appeal of the new method of shaving, there was a certain aesthetic satisfaction I got from doing it the new (yet old) way. It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated, but the morning is just better when you lather your face up the old-fashioned way instead of rubbing cold Edge gel on your face. While the Mach 3 made my shaving ensemble complete functionally, its $5.99 drugstore aesthetic appeal never quite rose to the seriousness of my shaving task. The Merkur safety razor caused a facial bloodbath, but it sure did look good in the bathroom.

Fast-forward to the London trip. . . I was walking down St. James Street in London (a swanky area — we were just cutting through on our way somewhere else) when I noticed an entire display of beautful old-school shaving gear in a shop window. I swear that the clouds parted and God himself spoke to me. I had stumbled upon Truefitt & Hill, home of the Guiness-certified oldest barbershop in the world. Their tagline is “grooming men for greatness.” Truefitt & Hill claims that its barbers have given shaves to Sir Winston Churchill, John Wayne, Charles Dickens, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, and Danny Kaye. I was quite possibly at ground zero for shaving in the world. (Ask Nancy, it was all I could talk about for the rest of the trip)

Now, I had shaved just a bit earlier, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to go into the world’s oldest barbershop (!!) to get another shave, but that didn’t prevent me from having an immensely fulfilling half-hour conversation about my shaving needs with a nice woman behind the counter there. This was a long way from sitting in my PJs piecing together an order on classicshaving.com (fine people there, no doubt). I quickly found out that the fine folks at Truefitt & Hill sold absolutely beautiful and elegant Mach 3 compatible razors. Sold! They weren’t cheap (~$90), but all you need to know is that the shipping weight for these things is one pound and the look is timeless (see the photo with this post). I was so totally sold that I had to get a new matching badger brush and stand to complete the set. I even bought some new Truefitt & Hill shaving soap (and the tub I already had will last at least until 2010). The packaging says “Many of our fine preparations have been formulated for almost 200 years and are still sold to the nobility.” (Classic shavers: Truefitt & Hill was on Old Bond Street in 1811, perhaps even preceding Taylor of Old Bond Street!) Somehow, I didn’t feel like nobility in my Austin City Limits t-shirt, but I’m glad they were willing to so generously share their shaving excellence with a plebe like me. Generations of male Dickersons to come will henceforth receive a package from Truefitt & Hill at birth.

I have been shaving with my new Mach 3 compatible Truefitt & Hill razor for a couple of weeks now, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. The combination of the Mach 3 blade with the quality heft of such a well-made razor is unparalleled. My Mach 3 has never felt so classy.

E-commerce is about the little things

Over the past several years, I’ve bought cars over the Internet, financed my house over the Internet, and made many relatively high-dollar electronics purchases, but I have never had such a satisfying e-commerce experience as I had today.

dryer knobFirst, a little background. This morning, the plastic on/off knob on my dryer broke and I had to use a set of pliers to turn it on and off. (Of course, this is this sort of minor annoyance that can threaten to tip a challenging day into negative territory). I punched the model number of the dryer into Yahoo! Search and quickly ended up on partselect.com, where I quickly found a useful page with a diagram of the “control panel” for the dryer and clear options to order the needed part, and a few clicks later, I had placed an order for a replacement.

Thank you, Internet. After all these years, you continue to thrill me in wonderful little ways.

Update 07/21/06: To finish the story, the parts arrived at my desk yesterday (Thursday) after my Sunday order — just in time for the weekend laundry (and I ordered with regular ground shipping). Fit perfectly.

IBM does Hack Day

I was pleased to see that the folks over at IBM recently ran their own Hack Day modeled on the ones we’ve been doing at Yahoo! (which had its own inspirations, of course). IBM is still one of the giants of American business — #10 on the Fortune 500 list — so this is significant.

Kelly Drahzal reports on what happened. Be sure to check out the Hack Day participant map and more on how they are handling their presentations. From what I can tell on Kelly’s blog, she totally nailed the spirit: Looking forward to seeing where this goes next, but my message is … Just DO it. Nice work, Kelly and IBM.

I’m just back from vacation so I don’t have time to write much more now, but in the quiet U.S. holiday period last week while most folks in the states were kicking back on the beach or enjoying backyard BBQs, Yahoo! had two more large-scale Hack Days: one in London for the entire EU (which exceeded all expectations. . . I was in London to see the presentations from all over the European continent) and a second in Bangalore, India. Amazing stuff.

I'm engaged

I’m engaged! Check out these Flickr photos. I didn’t mention it on my blog before, but I’m in Paris for vacation (my first time here) and I had been planning to pop the question for quite a while now. My apologies to the many friends — even close ones — who I didn’t tell. I wanted absolute air-tight secrecy! Special apologies to those of you whom I flat-out lied to when you asked me if I was going to propose on this trip. Nancy is an absolute gem. I love her so much, and I have never felt so loved and cared for. That’s what life is all about. We are having a great time celebrating, mainly by walking around and sitting in cafes all day talking. We are both very good at this.

My fianceeOur engagement made yesterday an extraordinary day all by itself, but that was only the beginning. Later on in the evening, we watched France beat Brazil in the World Cup in a cafe with some new French friends (new friends mainly because we offered our enthusiastic American support for the French team, which they graciously accepted), then joined the throngs of people who rushed to the Champs Elysèes to celebrate. I had always read about the U.S. forces marching down the Champs Elysèes in August 1944 when Paris was liberated from the Nazis and could only imagine what that must have been like. This party went on until about 2am. Even before the match last night, we had been seeing people driving through the streets of Paris waving large (i mean, really large) flags of their respective countries, beeping and yelling out the window. World Cup fever has been a real bonus of this trip. We are definitely going to be watching France vs. Portugal in the semi-finals on Wednesday night — can’t wait.

All the stereotypes of the French have proven to be outright wrong. Both Nancy and I have been speaking French whenever possible (though we’re both a bit rusty) and everyone we’ve met has been really kind despite our limited vocabularies. A simple bonjour upon entering a shop or restaurant before asking for something, merci when appropriate, and au revoir when leaving is generally sufficient. The stereotype of French snobbery and aloofness is really just them leaving you alone to think, eat, drink, or whatever. I love Paris.

Now, back to the woman I love. . . .