Thursday, December 31, 2009

Computer Viewing vs the Family Room

Although nearly in the Baby Boomer demographic, I like to view myself as fairly leading-edge in regard to technology utilization. But I have to admit, as far as YouTube usage goes, I'm not. For me, there are three reasons why I don't give YouTube much of my time:

YouTube, the video site owned by Google, is about 10 times more popular than its nearest competitor. But Hunter Walk still thinks of it as an underdog.

For Mr. Walk, director of product management at YouTube, the competition is not other Web sites: it’s TV.

“Our average user spends 15 minutes a day on the site,” he said. “They spend about five hours in front of the television. People say, ‘YouTube is so big,’ but I really see that we have a ways to go.”

1. Content is not compelling. Most of the viral videos are amusing but trivial curiousities. It's like eating donuts or potato chips--briefly enjoyable, but in the end, largely a waste. In other words, different from, but intellectually and spiritually comparable to, broadcast TV. And I happily gave up broadcast TV about the time I started driving.

2. Production values. I love HDTV. Love it. I pretty much won't watch anything in low-def, there is just no reason to. So why would I want to watch ultra-low-def YouTube?

3. Living-room factor. I spend SO much time in front of a computer, I really don't want to increase that amount. So when I read, I would prefer not to read on-screen (I often print articles for off-line reading). Same with watching stuff--I really much prefer to watch on my nice, big-screen, high-def TV in my comfy family room.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Microformat

Jeff Atwood on microformats, and their use for a standard resume format. Since the dawn of XML, I have been wondering when there would be an accepted resume format, and as far as I can tell, there is still no real movement toward structured resumes.

I think my ideas for the expansion of Android intents, to things like addresses for consumption by GPSs, or Bible verses, would be a good use of a microformat.

Smartphone Accessories

Newsfactor Business Report: Eric Migicovsky had his a-ha moment while biking along the canals of the Netherlands. The Canadian engineering student kept missing calls on the BlackBerry tucked into his pockets. So as soon as he got home, the then-22-year-old entrepreneur began work on an accessory that would help him know when he was getting a call.
His brainchild, the inPulse Smartwatch, relays text messages and caller information from the BlackBerry onto its owner's wrist, reducing the chances of missing an important call. Migicovsky says advance orders for the $149 device are twice what he expected and that he's already devising a similar gadget for smartphones that run Google's Android software. "No one is building intelligent accessories" for smartphones, Migicovsky says.
Two points. One, this highlights a different problem. Although I don't get nearly as many texts as the average teenager, I get quite a few emails. I don't want to be notified every time a routine email, or routine text, arrives. The problem is that there is no convention in POP3 or SMS to signifiy a high-priority message. Two, for myself, the accessory I want for biking is just a nice custom mount! How hard can that be?!

Easy-Access Mute Button

A small UI nicety in the Drivesafe.ly app that I just reviewed is the large, floating ON/OFF button. When I went to an Android phone, I was really hoping there would be an app that provided this kind of implementation for the mute button--to make it very, very easy, during a conference call, to mute and un-mute one's self.

Colts v Vikings

I think my two favorite teams are going to be in the Super Bowl. Since Week 5, I've been telling Seth it is a distinct possibility. He has a pessimistic nature, so he has dismissed the idea up until the a couple of weeks ago. We've really been enjoying this season. I took the plunge and got Directv, and they threw in Sunday ticket, so we've seen every Colts game (though they have been on TV so much, we would only have missed about 4 w/o it!). I'm totally addicted to DVR'ing games.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Drive Safely Review

I've written before about the problem of teens texting while driving, and solutions to help control it, by preventing texting when the phone is moving fast. Drivesafe.ly takes a different approach. It reads the text aloud, and auto-replies to notify the sender that the recipient is driving and unavailable (or whatever you want it to say).

I don't actually get many texts while driving, so I had to contrive to have a few sent to me to have it tested. It does seem to do a good job of speech-synthesis for texts. It also supposedly reads email, but that hasn't worked for me--maybe because I only have the trial version.

So in addition to the core feature of speech synthesis, the key features are:
  1. Status bar icon for quick access.
  2. Large toggle button for on/off. This, combined with #1, make it easy to turn on while driving--in case you forget to do so in advance.
  3. Cutomizeable, auto-send of a reply, to explain your current status (e.g., "your text was read aloud to the John, who is driving and can't reply right now.").
#3, the auto-reply, is the feature that seals the deal. It fills in a gaping hole in texting technology--the need for status notification. It drives me CRAZY when my kids (say they) can't stop a texting conversation pronto, because the people they are texting won't understand and will think they are being rude. This feature solves that problem. So I actually see it is as being applicable outside the case of driving--any time when you aren't in a position to reply to a text.

So the bottom line is that, based on my very limited testing, this seems like a well-conceived, useful app. At $13.95, the price is grossly excessive, however. As far as missing features, I would like to see in the future:
  1. Ability to select from a customized list of pre-set auto-replies.
  2. Ability to read already-received messages. The typical use-case I can think of is you are driving, you forget to turn it on, and you realize you just got a message. Now you want to turn it on and listen to that message. I would think the way it should work is based on a customizeable default for "read messages received in last X minutes app is started".
  3. Ability to re-read a message if requested.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mobile Gmail Annoyance

Doesn't auto-complete email addresses, doesn't even seem to offer the ability to pick a recipient from your address book! Really deficient, I can't believe that the reviews haven't hit this point. The built-in messaging app does auto-complete pretty well, though not quite as well as full Gmail.

I guess the work-around is to start by pulling up a contact, and then select "email" as the activity. That is not nearly as natural to me as starting with email, and if sending successive emails, it is quite cumbersome. The other problem is that I don't have email addresses for most of my contacts--I usually just rely on auto-complete, when using full Gmail.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Genesis of An Urban Legend

I hate urban legends (though I sometimes enjoy writing about them). This article was interesting in that it traced the origins of a UL--something you don't see very often.

Mobile Form Factor I'd Like to See

I'm seeing more articles about the proliferation of Android hardware, including different form factors--eReaders, tablets, media devices. A form factor I would like to see is a two-screen folding device. No physical keyboard. So for routine phone and texting operations, you could use it unfolded, in single-screen mode. But if you wanted to do heavy internet browsing, or email, or other stuff, you would fold/flip it open. The extra screen would offer a few possibilities:
  1. More real estate, for reading.
  2. A "dedicated" virtual keyboard, for heavy typing. (Bonus points if the design is like a clamshell computer, allowing for the screen to be tilted at an angle from the keyboard.)
  3. Split-screen functionality, for various forms of multi-tasking.
(Possible bonus points if the two halves were detachable. That might be asking a lot, and I'm not sure of the value, but something to think about.)

3 Key Features for Google Voice

  1. Consistent outbound calling number--so it works with my T-Mobile Faves!
  2. Ability to set all configurations within the Android app. Including critical, frequently-toggled things such as DO NOT DISTURB and CALL PRESENTATION
  3. And when using CALL PRESENTATION with the Google Voice app, don't make the user rely on accessing the phone's keyboard for the options--present a nice, custom screen with big, fat buttons with labels such as 1-Answer Call; 2-Record Call; 3-Send to Voicemail.

Google Search Option I Would Like To See

Google search is great. However, more and more often, it is somewhat polluted by the predictable results:
  • Wikipedia
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook and LinkedIn imitators
I would like a search that gives me the top links for my search term, where the domains are outside the set of domains that frequently turn up as top domains for all searches. In other words, I want a way to get sites that are authoritative because they are specialists in the topic, not because they are the internet equivalent of mainstream media.

Drivethroughs

This article briefly reviews the history of drivethroughs, and claims that their popularity has peaked, though I didn't find it very convincing.

My cousin Cliff had a good rule, which was--skip the drive through, park and walk in. It's usually faster, always more reliable, and you have much more control over the time. What amazes me is the Dairy Queen in town--people will wait 10 minutes or more in the horrible drive-through line, when they could park, walk in and be served inside of 4 minutes. (Yes, I know, there are special cases involving newborn babies, but that isn't what is driving 90% of the people in the line.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Single-Issue Politics

Historically, I have despised single-issue politics. But I am beginning to think it would be good to have more single-issue politicicans. Only thing is, not the same, tired handful of issues that traditionally generate the single-issue mindset.

Nuclear energy, for instance--I want a politician who declares "we must build the national storage facility at Yucca Mountain" at the end of every speech.

PS--I loathe Harry Reid the politician.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

DoggCatcher Podcatcher Review

I have been using DoggCatcher for 4 months, on my Android phone. It is pretty good. Nothing about it really irritates, for a start. They have an unusually sophisticated set of preferences for a mobile app, including such niceties as when to auto-synch, and how many seconds for the skip button. They also have good UI details, such as “long press required for skip button”. It does a very nice job downloading feeds Over-the-Air, but you don’t have to download at all–you can stream if you want.

Probably the most obvious improvement I can spot is having default user preferences for the Feed Options–rather than having to set manually for each feed you add. In the same vein, I think the set of system defaults could be better--it wasn't immediately obvious to me why feeds were not auto-downloading.

My other, really big idea for them would be to have a web page where you can add feeds. The main benefit would be just to ease of data-entry. But a nice secondary benefit would be to maintain a history of all podcasts you have ever downloaded.

Note that it is a paid app. At $6.99, it is by far the most expensive Android app I have purchased. However, considering its quality and utility, I would say it is well worth it.

Last point--consider a different name...I get the pun: DOG-catcher / POD-catcher...but it seems like a "false pun"--what does "Dogg" have to do with anything podcast-related?

SIM Cards Rock - Why Doesn't T-Mobile Say So?

After years of being a Sprint customer, we recently switched to T-Mobile, and discovered the magic of SIM cards. And thank goodness we did--3 of my 5 family members lost or damaged their phones at some point, and had to make do with a cheapie "go-phone", which can be had for $20-30.

Their primary phones have since been replaced, in the upgrade-renewal cycle, but the go-phones are handy backups. Not just when you lose/damage your main phone, but when you travel in hazardous conditions. For instance, maybe I really don't to take my smartphone that would cost $400 to replace camping...why not just take the go-phone? Same thing for my son skiiing, which he does frequently.

What I don't understand is--why don't T-Mobile and AT&T market this angle more??

(Hint: while you are at it, push the designers. software and hardware, to make the best possible use of them.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

QR Codes: Interesting Idea

But, if these really take off, the hardware needs to be better--instead of taking a picture and OCR'ing the code, it needs a real scanner, like in the supermarket. (The way it is done in Japan, as this article notes.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"Hell to Pay" - the shattering vindication of Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb

Review of the book Hell to Pay - "the shattering vindication of Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb". The article is interesting, and I'm sure the book would be too, if I had time to read it (right now I just don't). But it is a little ironic to me--although there are more details, this sounds like all the same arguments that have always convinced me that the atomic bombing was unquestionably the right decision, most humane of awful alternatives, for Japan as much as for the United States:
  • Estimated 1 million American casualties
  • Many, many millions more Japaneses casualties
  • Japanese civilians pressed into service and otherwise used for war aims
  • A general willingness of the Japanese military leadership to suffer a glorious, heroic final defeat, rather than surrender
  • The disastrous potential of an incomplete defeat
It is scary to think that these lessons are so soon forgotten, in the United States, and in Japan.

Tuition Inflation

Full article: http://pundita.blogspot.com/2009/11/rethinking-usa-breaking-up-college.html
...colleges have learned they can charge whatever the traffic will bear for tuition, even during a deep recession, because they know the government will keep increasing financial aid for low income students. As long as the aid spigot is turned on for the poor, the colleges can get away with gouging middle income families because those are the ones that traditionally put up and shut up.

The upshot is that the college cartel bleeds middle income parents dry, keeps their children in debt for years after graduation, and inexorably drives the USA toward fully socialized higher education...
My father told me, years ago, that college tuition only got out of control when government got into the aid business.
Is there any way to break up the cartel? Yes, but it would take a revolt against the university system, which started out as benign and progressed to a tyranny that is wholly supported by society's inertia,
15 years ago, when my daughters were born, I was sure that by the time they were college-aged, the system would have been up-ended, by some combination of technology and revolt. The technology disruption has been slow in coming, and the revolt non-existent.

Cellular Carrier Marketing Strategy Memo

Android is something of a double-edged sword for cellular carriers. It is a hot, new platform that is driving some consumer interest. But it is in no way exclusive, nor for the most part, are the apps available for it. So there is some risk that Android could actually lead to increased commoditization for cellular carriers. T-Mobile did go down the path of trying to create differentiation, through a semi-exclusive app, Sherpa, but as far as I am concerned, that was pretty much a flop.

So here is my idea. Carriers need to work harder to leverage Android's flexibility and openness, to create differentiation and branding. Note however, this takes real work--it is not primarily about advertising, marketing or throwing some development funds at Android developers.

The big marketing campaigns from T-Mobile and Verizon have been somewhat successful in moving handsets, but have been very expensive, and have been rather hazy in regard to the overall benefits of the Android platform and the carrier of choice. Thus, they have done little to build a strong brand for the carrier--all they really say is "right now, we have a really cool handset you should buy".

I have a number of ideas, here is one multi-step strategy for enhancing carrier brand via Android.

Part 1: Solution for Teenage Texting-While-Driving

First, make a big splash by taking on the texting-while-driving problem. I imagine cellular carriers are a bit squeamish about facing that issue, but I think it is coming sooner or later, so why not be proactive and address it head-on.

Modern, GPS-based phones offer the opportunity to deploy technology to restrict texting while driving. The technology is already there, for any carrier to take advantage of. But nobody seems to be moving on it. Advertise yourself as the mobile carrier that puts parents in control. Then pre-install the software on your phones, and make it un-removable (short of admin access). If done right, a carrier would reap major, long-term brand enhancement from the trinity of: game-changing software; hardware value-add; strong identification of the benefits with the brand.

As I noted, I think the time is right, the meme is planted in regard to the dangers of texting, this would make a big splash. And would drive a lot of phone sales, sales that include profitable data plans. So that's the first step.

Part 2: Follow-Up with More

Follow up by executing the same tactics for two other very useful, high-value-add features:
  1. GPS
  2. Find-your-phone
Smartphones all have GPSs now. Google has just released a new version of mobile Maps that offers turn-by-turn directions. It's all there, it's all free, it's just crying out for a carrier to take it and run with it, from a marketing standpoint. Advertise yourself as the carrier that provides a GPS with every (smart)phone. A GPS that is always with you, and always up-to-date--unlike stand-alone GPS devices.

Note that none of this is remotely original thinking. There are already plenty of articles already predicting that Google's latest nav software will be highly disruptive to the GPS market. But that knowledge hasn't diffused to the average phone user. So there is still a window of time where a carrier, with good marketing, could make it seem like this capability was uniquely theirs. But no carrier seems to yet have woken up to this fact. So this opportunity won't last long. Again, advertising and marketing is necessary but not sufficient to build the brand. You have to offer some value-add differentiation. In this case, make sure to include a good very good phone mount, along with a car adapter USB power cord, free with every purchase.

Now the find-your-phone idea. Apple has this for the iPhone, but it is part of a $100/year subscription. Resist the temptation to charge for this feature--you want it in every product, so that it is built into your brand. This helps the value-add integration:
  1. Pre-installed find-me and lock-me software
  2. Not removable
  3. Your software can be better than anything in the market, because you will work with Google to make sure it has root access to turn on GPS--something that apps aren't normally allowed to do.
If a mobile carrier were to execute on this strategy, it would be like taking a page from Apple's book, but re-writing the page in a way that leverages the Android platform, and a non-exclusive environment. Over time, a series of successful campaigns such as this could go a long way to creating distinctive branding.

Android Call Readiness

The software (Google's Android plus apps both from Google and from other developers) doesn't work and is unacceptable on a mobile device. First, the operating system doesn't work well enough to be considered a mobile OS. A mobile phone needs to have an OS that is really tied down and ready to perform at all times, like for receiving phone calls. This one isn't. The process management in the OS stinks. Press on an app icon; maybe it will come up and maybe the phone will just not respond. Who's to know why? Try pressing on the phone icon at 70 mph and have it not respond. Then try pressing again. And then get a message something like: "Activity Home (in process android.process.acore) is not responding." Force Quit or Wait. Oops! I just drove into the guy in front of me when he slowed down and now I'm dead!
I don't agree with all of this article, but he does have a point. When your cell phone is also a computer, it is also subject to the flakiness of general-purpose computing devices. To me, the occasional incidence of computer-like glitches and lockups impeding use for standard voice calls has been the Android's achilles heel. I have experienced it a few times. Then in the past few days, my phone has spontaneously re-booted 3 times. There is an app I suspect may be the culprit, so I uninstalled it; too soon to report any results.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Doing things the expensive way

This article talks about how the Motorola Droid Android phone has sold well. But it seems insane to me to incur that kind of cost-per-customer. That high cost has to be reflected somewhere. One place I expect it to be reflected is in continuing high prices for mobile data plans. Also maybe it means they can't afford to prevent or fix simple problems, like the battery cover falling off. I have had a similar problem with the back of the myTouch Android phone--the back cover seems very prone to fall off.

However, the success of the Droid is coming at a cost to Verizon. They are spending in excess of $100 million on one of the largest marketing campaigns I have ever witnessed. Over the past month I have seen non-stop television, radio, internet, billboard, and print ads. Verizon also has about a $350 subsidy on each phone ($549-199).

When you add up the advertising costs and subsidy, Verizon is paying almost $450 to acquire each Droid customer. I guess when you are the largest United States carrier, you can afford to do that. Verizon also knows that each Android phone is attached to a data plan so the influx of customers should help increase their ARPU (average revenue per user). In an order to offset the high subsidy costs, Verizon recently raised (doubled) their early termination fee to $350.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Appreciating HD

We have the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on. In past years, I have had almost no interest in it. I can't say I am raptly watching this year--just too many other things to do. But as I pass through the room, or hear my kids exclaiming about one thing or another, I glance at it. And from a sheer aesthetic viewpoint, the HD experience makes it far, far more interesting and enjoyable than old (NTSC) TV.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Want to See this Stat on Football Penalties

In general, a team or player is never happy to receive a penalty. However, getting a penalty seems like only half the story. In some cases, the penalty may be a wash--if the offense was not committed, the result might have been the same. For instance, a 10-yard holding penalty that prevents a 10-yard loss on a sack is not a bad deal. In a few cases, the penalty may be a positive good--defensive pass interference that prevents a catch that could have been advanced for a touchdown.

I suppose those are still a minority of cases. But what bugs me is when the announcers make a big deal of a big play being called back because of a penalty, most often holding. In my view, in most of these cases, without the hold, the play would have gone nowhere.

Then there is the subtler analysis...even if a particular penalty is a bad deal, is it just the "price of doing business"? That is, for every 1 time caught holding, is the player getting away with it 4 times?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Google Ads More

Google doesn’t spend a dime on fancy TV ads, but the way it has designed its products represents a huge marketing cost. One example is the money it is leaving on the table by putting fewer ads on its pages than users would put up with, which helps build up its Zen-like brand.

But now, times are getting tough. Making quarterly numbers is getting harder. And Google is changing how it decides which ads to place in the yellow box above search results.
Seems like a baby step toward evil-ness. Undermining that "zen-like" brand just a hair. Those little things accumulate, though. Google has a great thing going, which is that most people are so satisfied with the Google brand that they don't even think of switching. In fact, they don't even think about thinking about switching. The thought literally does not enter the average user's head that maybe there are some serious defencies with Google, where competitors might do better. Eventually, though, the annoyances can add up enough to break through that "Google is perfection" zen-spell.

On the other hand, I continue to wonder about the limits of an adveristing-based revenue model.

Cellphone Apps

Cellphones over eReaders, for many users--I totally agree. Although I have, for various reasons, been somewhat disappointed to-date in my Android phone as a reading platform. Speed of access being the biggest problem

Start Load

During the keynote, he showed demos of how computer makers were able to make computers faster by not loading so many applications at start up time.
If this means what I think it does, it's a great idea. I used to have a bunch of stuff that started automatically, but that killed me on startup, so I went to the other extreme. A good middle ground might be to leisurely auto-load stuff, but not put it all on the critical path to the user's immediate access to the machine.

Of course with the trend away from fat-client apps, this may become less important over time.

DirecTV Mediocre

We've had DirecTv with HD-DVR for a couple of months. The selection of channels, the DVR and the HD are all wonderful (we upgraded from basic cable and no DVR). But I would rate the DirecTV software, and the experience it delivers, to be quite mediocre. Some complaints:
  • Scheduling via web doesn't allow adding extensions (most of what I DVR is sports).
  • I have been struglling to figure out how to get "Channels I Get" custom list to work. I have selected it, but it still keeps presenting me with channels I don't get. I had the supremely irritating experience of missing a football game I had set to tape on Sunday Ticket, because I selected the HD channel, but I don't have the Sunday Ticket Superfan, so I don't get the HD 704-1 HD channel--I just should have used the plain 704 channel.
  • The above brings another complaint--Sunday ticket is a super-premium add-on, but those greedy bastards want to squeeze even more money from you to get HD. Outrageous.
  • Speaking of Channels I Get--why isn ot that the default?? I mean, do they really think the typical user wants to see all the stuff on channels they don't receive? Of course not--DirecTV is showing their contemp for the customer, by forcing them to see all those unvailable channels. Why are they doing that? Because some marketing exec thinks that will drive users to upgrade to more expensive tiers. Never mind the vastly greater impact it has on every user, every day, by annoying them (at best) and sometimes causing them to DVR the wrong channel!
  • The UI in general is just kind of clunky, and response is a bit sluggish.
  • It doesn't all suck. The prompting to add extensions to sporting events is nice. Likewise for the helpful notices when you have scheduling conflicts.
  • Feature suggestion: un-delete.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Windows Scroll Box--Why So Small?

In a really long scrolling screen/page, Windows helpfully makes the scroll box extra-tiny:


as compared to the normal size:



I believe the idea is to give you a visual cue of just how long the scrolling contents are. However, it has the very unpleasant side-effect of making "target acquisition" much more difficult. Just one more little example of how Micro$oft never improves anything unless it will drive upgrade revenue, or there is a gun to their head.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Marketing Coup for Somebody

I think the wireless carriers have an increasing commoditization problem. One way to combat that is adroit marketing. For example, Verizon's Droid campaign has probably made a lot of people think that Android is synonymous with Verizon. It's pretty clever, seeing as T-Mobile had a 1-year head-start, being the only carrier with an Android offering.

So for the life of me, I can't understand why one of the carriers isn't pushing, hard, on the ability to allow parents to exert control to prevent texting while driving. Wait, maybe I can--they don't want to draw attention to the issue? Okay, then one of the handset manufacturers should push that angle.

Heavier Americans Lobby Group

I fall in the middle on this article. Valid point: it certainly not right to disparage people for being fat, and it probably would not be fair or right to penalize someone in terms of heatlhcare premiums solely for being overweight. On the other hand, the likely tendency of this lobby will be to decry any references that cast overweightness[1] in a negative light. And that would definitely be going too far. Because while they are correct in asserting that the real social goal is fitness and health--not thinness thinness' sake--the fact is that overweightness is very strongly correlated with health problems.

Which brings me to my next objection to the article: like almost all articles I read on the subject, it almost completely glosses over the importance of exercise. Yes, there is one nod to the importance of "movement" (movement--talk about euphimisms!), but that's it.

Overlooking exercise is a very unfortunate omission. Because unlike dieting--which is very, very, very hard to sustain because it feels like permanent deprivation--exercise is a positive good. So exercise is far more sustainable than dieting.

In my 20+ years of regular gym attendance, I have very, very rarely seen a confirmed, dedicated exerciser who is severely overweight. Some of us exercise addicts may be bulkier than others, but almost all have weight reasonably under control.

____________
[1] Using the term "overweightness" rather than, say, "fatness" would be the kind of thing that an interest group might push. I typically detest that sort of euphimism-promulgation by the langage police--detention center for jail, landfill for dump--and would normally resist it. But in this case I think it is justified. "Fat" is a pretty loaded, pejorative term. Likewise for obesity, and anyway, it only properly describes the extreme of fatness. So awkward as it sounds to the ear, "overweightness" seems like the best term available. (Heaviness doesn't really cut it, because it is absolute, not relative--Yao Ming for instance is quite heavy, but hardly fat.)

Texas vs. California

None of this happens by accident. California's interlocking directorate of government employee unions, issue activists, careerists and campaign contributors has become increasingly aggressive and adept at using rhetoric extolling public benefits for all to deliver targeted advantages to itself. As a result, the political reality of the high-benefit/high-tax model is that its public goods are, increasingly, neither public nor good. Instead, the beneficiaries are the providers of the public services, and certain favored or connected constituencies, rather than the general population.
This is the kind of insight that conservatives contribute, or should contribute, if they were doing their jobs, and not conspiracy-mongering about death panels and "this guy". This is the vital corrective to liberal naivete about the perfectability of government, humans and institutions. It positively dumbfounds me that California can still retain its "stranglehold" on high-tech employment, yet have so many terrible problems, including a really bad public-school system. I would think that would be the kiss of death for attracting and retaining smart employees. Maybe they all send their kids to private schools?

Here's my question, though. If the right can believe that the not-for-profit powers in California can develop such a dysfunctional, self-dealing arrangement, why is it such a stretch to believe it can occur in the financial services industry?

Android GPS

...especially appreciate the fact that you can just pop your Droid into a cradle in your car and it will go straight into the navigation and mapping environment.
That is the kind of little touch that is key. I was VERY disappointed with the phone as GPS unit when I got it. Screen too small, okay I could have predicted that, but no GPS-oriented version of Google Maps, no cradle, no text-to-voice without a subscription. My $70 dedicated GPS is way better.

Now if they can also make it super-easy to enter your target destination....

Android Carrier and Handset Commoditization??

While I am a big supporter of Android, and skeptical of Samsung Bada (see below), I can sort of understand the motivation. As this article says:
I can see why mobile marketing execs are struggling. They’re selling the same handsets as everyone else, using the same app stores as everyone else, all the content innovation is happening on the internet.
I could easily see Android significantly commoditizing both businesses. It's already poised to destroy the GPS market, it's pretty much eliminated any reason at all to buy stuff from your carrier at $5 per game and $1 per ringtone (not that there was much reason in the first place). So long-term, as much as I think Android and openness are great, I wonder if the carriers will ever be the same.

Samsung Bada, Really?

It seems clear that the Smartphone OS market is already due for a thinning of the herd. Windows Mobile seems most endangered, Palm OS maybe even in worse shape, and Symbian and RIM losing ground to iPhone and Android. And in the midst of this Samsung wants to launch a new mobile OS, the Bada?!

Death of WinMo

This is a great lesson to Micro$oft. Neglect product improvement and you pay the price. I wish it would happen more often--to SharePoint and Internet Explorer for instance.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Healthcare Reform Risk Obama Should Have Taken

If Obama wanted to swing for the fences, to have a chance to really make a difference, to leave his mark, here's the speech he could make on healthcare reform...

America has a healthcare crisis. This healthcare crisis has a moral dimension, and an economic dimension. The moral dimension is that our great and rich country does a poor job of providing 'health security' for its citizens. Many lack coverage, many more can barely afford coverage, and others face medical bankruptcy. In the meantime, almost all of us worry about our coverage.

Then there is the economic dimension. Healthcare costs claim one-sixth of our nation's output. And this number only continues to rise. This is simply unsustainable. For a full generation, we have seen that healthcare expenses are devouring our standard of living, but we have continued to postpone the day of reckoning. Fellow Americans, that day is fast approaching. As President, I plan to do something about it.

For too long, as a nation we have stuck our head in the sand, looked the other way, pretended the problem wasn't getting worse. The failure to face up to this problem and attack it has been disastrous. It has led us to the place we are now, where most families have seen zero or negative real wage gains for two decades, because healthcare inflation has consumed everything. It has led to all but the very richest Americans living in fear, fearing that one major illness could bankrupt them.

The healthcare crisis is a national problem, and to an extent, the entire nation shares in the responsibility for letting it grow un-checked for so long. Political leaders have increased expenditures without asking hard questions about the value being delivered, and have allowed ideology get in the way trying new ideas to bring down healthcare expenditures. Physicians have not been good stewards of the resources entrusted to them--too often, they have chosen expensive treatments which are not effective, when patients would have been better served by less invasive treatments. Insurers have not been good gatekeepers--while they may scrutinize individual claims, they have been happy to allow premiums to skyrocket, because their profit margins tend to be fixed, so the larger the premiums, the bigger the profit. Drug companies have spent far more resources on marketing and patent protection than on R&D, resulting in too few breaththroughs, and far too many "me too" medicines at high prices. Finally, patients have not been good stewards of their own health and healthcare dollars--as long as insurance paid all or most of the bill, individual patients had little motivation to pay attention to costs.

So we are all part of the problem, and we all have a part to play in a solution. But it is the elected politician's job to lead, and as your President, that is what I intend to do. So tonight, I am going to lay out a simple plan and proposal that can halt, and start to reverse, the endless upward-slope in healthcare expenditures.

I said the healthcare crisis has two dimensions: coverage, and cost. My party has traditionally been focused on the coverage crisis, and rightly so. It is indefensible that a country as rich and blessed as ours rations healthcare by letting it become unafforable for the working poor and, increasingly, much of the middle class.

However, this crisis has been a long time in the making, so if a real, lasting solution requires giving up a short-term goal, no matter how cherished, then I am willing to make that sacrifice. So I am going to propose a program that attacks the twin heads of this crisis. But as I said, we are all in this together, and a real solution requires real cooperation between both political parties. In order to reach out to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I am willing to offer a plan that I think puts two of their biggest concerns ahead of covering the uninsured.

It has been often asked by Republicans where we will get both the money, and the healthcare provider capacity, to extend coverage to uninsured Americans. My plan addresses both of these concerns. Numerous studies show that 1/3 of all medical procedures are unnecessary, and sometimes even harmful. While it may never be possible to bring that number down to zero, if we could cut it by 60%, that would free up dollars and resources that could productively be transferred to providing care for the currently uninsured.

Our opportunity is to create an environment that encourages and allows doctors to practice evidence-based medicine. Evidence-based medicine means selecting the right treatment, based on the best available medical and economic research. It means not ordering extra tests and procedures, out of fear that in the event of a lawsuit, the physician will be endlessly second-guessed, if they omit any test, no matter how weak the medical argument for the test may be.

This is where our greatest single opportunity lies. If we can eliminate "defensive medicine", we can unlock vast cost savings within the system. The reduction in malpractice insurance--currently $80,000 per physician--is only the tip of the iceberg. For every $1000 spend on malpractice premiums, $10,000 are spent in unnecessary, unjustified tests and procedures, pursued for the sole purpose of protecting the physician in a lawsuit.

So here is what I am proposing. My program will be 100% revenue-neutral. We will only provide subsidized heatlh insurance to the poor, once we actually produced the savings through our reforms. Therefore, in the first two years of my program, there will be no coverage changes. The complete focus will be on achieving radical malpractice reform. Damage awards will be capped, and will be set according to uniform standards, applied consistently, fairly and reasonably. In short--we will start by cutting the trial lawyers off at the knees.[1]

At the end of two years, we will measure the savings, and will begin to apply those to extending coverage for the uninsured.

___________

[1] Of course Obama can't say it exactly that way. But his words should leave no doubt as to his intentions.

**********

In making this proposal, Obama would be risking almost everything, including fratricide from fellow Democrats. The trial lawyers are the biggest contributors to the Democratic party. They would oppose him ruthlessly. But by taking on one of the Republicans' biggest bogeymen, combined with his offer to save first, spend later, Obama would be making an offer that would be very, very difficult for Republicans to ignore, both politically and--if they actually care about governing--morally. And if he did this soon (ideally, 4 months into his term), he might, just might, hang on long enough to actually reap some of the benefits and get re-elected. Maybe then he could apply his political capital to taking on global warming.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Gestures for Android Speed of Access

I keep harping on speed of access. Especially for need-it-fast utility apps, such as Alarms, Timers, Calculators, Notepads. What I would like is a Launchy-style app launcher. The way I would like to see it implemented would be for the Home Screen to accept Palm graffiti-style gestures. For example, swipe out a "C" and you get your Calculator. Swipe a "T" and get the timer, and so on.

For bonus points: allow the lock screen to register the gesture, then execute it after you perform the unlock.

Speed Of Access Is the Key for Smartphone Apps

Today's smartphones are amazing in many ways, but in other ways, they aren't as useable as a turn-of-the-century Palm III. I've already written about the glaring lack of a PageDown key--a real miss, since they already have the hardware space, in the form of a pretty useless, or at least grossly under-used, trackball. Or better yet, maybe the volume rocker could do double-duty in reading apps.

What the Palm excelled at was speed-of-access. Just a couple of taps, and you could jot a quick note and attach a timer to it. That was one of my favorite uses for the Palm.

In contrast, have probably spent over 1 hour just downloading and evaluating alarm and timer apps for Android, and I still haven't found one that is very good.

Take Alarms, for instance. It is a fairly nice-looking paid app, but it just misses in terms of ease of access. Problems:
  1. 3 clicks to access an Alarm-creation screen. Should be 1-click from a home screen icon.
  2. This is really stupid--the datetime defaults to (I believe) the day I installed the app, rather than the current date.
  3. Setting Date and Time are different pop-up screens, thus requiring double the clicks.
  4. This is no surprise, since it is a common flaw in almost all Android apps, but the only way to set values are tedious up/down keys--no ability to key in the numbers of select from a list.
  5. Another stroke to scroll down, past infrequently-used options, so that you can access the SET button, to finalize your alarm.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why I PREFER Virtual Keyboards

There are some definite advantages to a virtual keyboard. One is that you can choose among customized versions. In terms of customizations, there are some interesting features you can get. I have had TouchPal for a while, and I like it pretty well. Being able to up-swipe to get a capital, and down-swipe to get a symbol is very nice. Also, I think in many ways soft buttons are more forgiving of big fingers. And if that isn't good enough, you can use TouchPal's hybrid, compact Qwerty, 2 letters per key keyboard, with very good word prediction--those buttons are almost huge! And, if you don't want prediction, at any point, you still have the option of left and right-swiping. Did I mention that you can slide back and forth, to exchange the compact Qwerty for full Qwerty, on the fly?

One big problem with virtual keyboards, though, is that the keyboard frequently covers up the fields in a form. There has got to be a way around this. One idea would be to give the keyboard some transparency. Another would be auto-scrolling through the fields.

It seems like with Android 1.6, my other big, fixable virtual keyboard gripe has largely been fixed: the keyboard is much more likely to auto-launch in many obvious contexts: compose a Gmail, compose an SMS (ChompSMS), launch a Market Search. That all points out the core benefit of a real mobile platform--it gets better.

The one thing I don't understand is why Google, device makers and carriers don't ensure that the high-quality basics (TouchPal, ChompSMS, Quickdial) aren't pre-installed with the phone. Would greatly improve the mean user experience.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Facebook Needs A "Strictly Business" Posting Type

To me, Facebook is largely Face-Bore. Most of what anyone, myself included, would post just does not interest me much (I know, this may well be a male-female gender-difference thing), and even it it did, I just don't have time for it.

But I do like the idea of leveraging my social network for "Angie's List"-type feedback from local and known sources. So I would like to see Facebook implement a "Strictly Business" type of posting. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, opinions and experience to help people solve problems, so I actually would be willing and interested to spend a modicum of time doing that via Facebook.

An example would be the one I just put up:

Does anyone have any feedback on Xcel Energy's HomeSmart Appliance Repair program? $13/month to cover repairs on 5 major appliances. Normally I NEVER go for extended warranties or service programs, they are a rip-off and typically the most profitable item i n the store. But the price here seems very appealing. What I am trying to figure out is--what is in it for Xcel?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Disruptive

Google Maps Mobile Nav feature (for good reason) is being touted as crushing for the incumbent (usually over-priced) nav companies. So would it have been legal for Google to have foreseen this, and shorted the stocks of those companies?

GPS for Android

This is great. Undercut the ridiculous TeleNav $10/month subscription. Although for the time being, I think that a dedicated GPS unit (and they are SO cheap) is more functional for the car. Over time, however, I think the functionality of the Android platform can far outstrip dedicated GPS's. One key step--phones have to start being packaged with custom mounts, just as exist for GPS units. The mounts should actually be custom on one end (the end that the phone clips into), but standard on the other end (the hole pattern that allows it to attach to existing, standard suction-cup GPS mounts).

If that happened, maybe I could FINALLY look forward to a good, bike-friendly GPS.

Android Apps

For Android to really live up to all the hype it is enjoying, and be a serious mainstream competitor to the iPhone, I think the out-of-box experience has got to be made into a slam-dunk for the average user.

In my opinion, one great way to do this would be to ensure the basics are well-covered, right out of the box. I divide these into 3 categories.

Tier 1
Great Tier 1 apps will make the new Android user productive from Day 1, and will provide a daily reminder of how useful their hand-held computer really is.
  • Speed dial
  • Great texting (Chomp)
  • Great virtual keyboard (TouchPal)
  • Email
  • MP3 player
  • Browser--the current one, the only one available, just doesn't seem that good. Not that fast, not that functional.
Tier 2
Great Tier 2 apps will delight the user by letting them discover new, less obvious but valuable uses for their mobille device.
  • Alarm clock--see my other posts on how curiously hard it is to find such an important, simple app.
  • Timer--ideally, should be part of the alarm clock.
  • Calculator
  • GPS--based on recent announcements, it does sound like Google is working hard to cover this one.
  • Note-taker

Tier 3
Tier 3 apps will leverage the power of the device and platform to provide excellent functionality for more specialized apps:
  • Podcatcher--DoggCatcher is pretty good, but still could be improved.
  • E-Reader--lots of opportunity for improvement here. I want the functionality of a Kindle, but on my phone. The key is not to have to rely on a slow, mobile connection to read stuff in streaming mode--I want substantial chunks of reading material to be pre-downloaded, for very fast access.
Conclusion
Between Android, the device makers and the carriers, if they could make certain that the lowest common denominator for the Android brand were this high, Android would be in a much better position to compete with the iPhone. It seems to me like it wouldn't take all that much. Most of the apps necessary to get half-way there are available free or cheap. If some money were thrown into polishing them, and they were pre-installed, that would about do it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MT3G Performance Much Better Post-Android 1.6

I almost returned my Android phone because it was lagging so much. Then I did a master reset, and it seemed okay for a while, but it eventually started to lag significantly. I was resigned to it, but it was a drag. Then along comes the 1.6 release (aka, Donut), and the problems absolutely disappeared. Gone. Performance is terriffic.

At first I though that Donut must have a number of performance tweaks. But now I think it just fixed one, big, bad bug related to Google Latitude and location services. What a difference.

Anyway, that is one example of the platform paying off. With a typical cell phone, what you buy is all you ever get. It never improves. If there is some really bad problem, you might get a firmware update, if you go after it. But with a real platform, such as Android, there are ongoing updates. In fact, there will have been 3 updates in about 8 months for Android. And they come automatically, for free, over the air, so it is totally painless.

On the other hand, this was a nasty bug, bad enough to really ruin the user experience. I don't think we should have had to wait for an upgrade for a fix to this to have been publicized (at a minimum, don't use Location Services for any extended period).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

T-Mobile "Project Dark" Ho-Hum

T-Mobile is making a big deal out of a new plan structure. It has a few components, but a centerpiece is lower rates for unlimited talk. For instance, $99 for a 2-phone family plan with unlimited talk and text. This really just does not impress me all that much. I am currently paying $89.99 for a Family Plan with 1000 minutes and unlimited texting. With myFaves, 1000 minutes is nearly the functional equivalent of unlimited [1].

So I'll compare one of the non-unlimited plans to what I have. My $89.99 price was a specially-negotiated deal, the "rack rate" is (was) more like $109.99 for 1500 minutes. Now T-Mobile is offering 1500 minutes and unlimited texting for $79.99. That is $30 cheaper than the rack rate, $10 better even than my specially-negotiated, contract rate. So I guess that is pretty good, IF you didn't really care much about myFaves. myFaves is crucial for me, though, because I use the local version of my AT&T conference number as a fave, so when I work from home, I can make all calls from my cell phone, and not tie up the land line.

So I would have to go with the Unlimited plan, which is $99.99 for the family. I guess that is not a bad deal, it's only $10 more than my contract prices, with unlimited minutes. But still not worth it for me and my family.

[1] Google Voice puts my myFaves program "over the top", to be 100% equivalent to unlimited. But Google Voice is non-maintsream, and so outside the scope of this discussion.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nook eBook Reader - Kindle Killer?

I still have a hard time seeing the e-reader as more than a niche product for now. For me, it is just too specialized a device. If I am going to carry something around, I want it to have full capabilities. I think the sweet spot will be when the e-reader is just a specialized netbook--one with a form geared to reading, but useable for general computing. One key might be a built-in virtual keyboard, with the option of course for a plug-in or wireless, for home-bound usage. So the Nook sounds like about a 1/4 step in this direction.

Android Alarm Clock

I spent a fair amount of time looking, and checking out a few freebies, and I have not found a really good alarm clock for Android. Right now I am using Alarms. It has a nice feature in letting you set multiple, concurrent alarms and displaying them in a list. But that is an advanced feature. Advanced features should only be implemented after the basics are perfected. And in Alarms, the big thing I want is a FAST-set.

There are likely a number of things to do to create a fast-set. But to pick on one obvious item--like most apps, it uses the + and - buttons to set Hours and Minutes. If you are developing for a computer, why emulate a simple, mechanical alarm clock? Give me a large keypad, like the Dialpad, to key in the time.

One the other hand, it does one thing right. Something that almost no other Android apps or built-in features I have encountered does. It makes the very reasonable assumption, when you begin to enter a new alarm, that you will want the keyboard for the label. Nothing else seems to do this. Although now that I check on this, I see the new version of Android Market does also exhibit this behavior.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SMS Backup Reinstall

A problem with Android App updates (which seem to come pretty frequently) is that they tend to re-set your app preferences. Usually this is just a mild nuisance. But it can have somewhat bigger implications. For example, I use--and love--SMS Backup to automatically copy my SMS strings to Gmail. Very nice. Set it and forget it. Except--for some reason I happened to look at my SMS-tagged emails, and was surprised to see nothing backed up for 4 weeks! A little poking around relvealed that the auto-backup option had been re-set, and I am pretty sure that happened when I updated the app.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Agile: Fail-Fast vs Perfect

One of the benefits of Agile software development is, quite simply, that it allows you to fail fast. If you assume that most first efforts are going to be failures, this becomes a very attractive feature. Build something, get very concrete feedback that shows you why your creation is a failure, and then incorporate that feedback into version 2.

Fast-fail saves immense resources. Because in software development, perfecting, polishing and productionizing takes a TON of work. With Agile, you don't go on to make those investments in a version that is going to be thrown away. You only undertake that very heavy lifting when you have something that sticks to the wall.

An incidental benefit to this arrangement is that the results the 3Ps will be higher quality, and probably more efficiently achieved, because you are documenting something concrete and complete, as to something that is an evolving work-in-process.

Other embedded emails

I mentioned before wanting to be able to email directions and have my email program automatically parse and pass those directions to my mobile GPS. No manual cutting and pasting or re-typing required. I have thought of some other types of information that I would like to have treated similarly: Podcasts, and Bible Verses.

The way I think this would work is using the concept of "intents" that is implemented by Android. Intents, as I understand them, are pre-defined activities, which different applications can register their interest in. For instance, my preferred Android speed-dial app, Quickdial, registers its intent to respond to the "initiate phone call" button. Then, when that button is pressed, Android responds by telling me all the apps that respond to that intent (Quickdial, Dialpad, Contacts), and letting me choose which one should respond at the present time.

So the email would include some marker that defines its intent. Something like: BibleVerseJohn 2:5-16. Then, my Android-based email program would parse the message, find the BibleVerse intent, and direct it to all BibleVerse intent-receivers. There are different ways those intent-receivers could react. They might immediately try to open the verse while I am reading the email. Or they might create a bookmark corresponding to the verse.

Similarly with Podcasts...the Podcast intent receiver might offer a choice of:
  • Stream now
  • Download now
  • Add to download queue

Monday, October 19, 2009

Flyscreen Android App

I've been dabbling with Flyscreen for Android in the past few days. I'm not sure how much I like it. But one thing I really do admire is the fact that it syncs with a web page. I heard an interview with a principal from the startup, and he acknowledged that while it is nice to be able do manage an app from your mobile, if you have the option, it is a whole lot more convenient to do it from a web page.

I have really been missing this functionality in DoggCatcher, a not-inexpensive Podcatcher for Android, for instance.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Too Bad Google Is In California

I've long lamented that the electronics and software industries are so over-concentrated in California. If only Google had started somewhere else, it would have been big enough to create a software ecosystem in a new location. Much like Microsoft did in Seattle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Facebook vs LinkedIn

I thought Facebook would eat LinkedIn's lunch. Then I changed my mind--they seem to be serving two very different purposes, even in cases where their audiences do overlap. LinkedIn is strictly business, while Facebook of course is more social. So a lot of professionals, such as myself, have no interest at all in having our colleagues and professional acquaintances as Facebook friends. I think this is really helping keep LinkedIn going.

But it also seems like a barrier that Facebook could easily overcome. They just need to implement a strong typing of a Friend, where the choices are business vs personal. Posts would only be visible to Business Friends via an explicit opt-in approach.

myTouch Trackball

This is a point that all the reviews miss...it is hard to do fine, single-character editing with your fingers. I try to use the trackball for this, but sometimes it doesn't work. I think that is just a flaw of the myTouch 3G implementation--it sounds like the Cliq has implemented this better: "some early reviews questioned the use of a D-Pad, but after spending some time with the Cliq, I found that it was much easier to fix a typo or manipulate text with it than using your finger, like on the iPhone."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Safer Ground Beef

Thoughts on making ground beef safer:

1. They should not mix it from so many places and so many animals. Couldn't they process 100 cows' worth of ground beef, then sanitize everything before the next batch? I'm sure that would increase costs a little bit, but would it be that much?

2. On that note--Irradition. I have been reading about its benefits since I was a teenager. It has the word "radiate" in it, so people instantly are petrified.

My UPS

I just got the following message from UPS:
Our records indicate that you have not taken advantage of My UPS recently. To keep your registration active, simply log in to My UPS before Tuesday, November 10, 2009. If you no longer have a need for My UPS, do nothing and your registration will expire on Tuesday, November 10, 2009.
Seems pretty clueless to me. I have used My UPS. I haven't had a reason to use it lately. I would use it again. Why try to force me to log in, just to keep my account alive? I just don't get the thinking behind it. I suppose that there is some marketing executive at UPS who would really like to get a sense of how many My UPS accounts are still being used. And getting all active users to log into their account sure would help her/him get better statistics for that. But that kind of inwardly-focused, UPS-centric thinking just doesn't work. Seems really dumb, unless I am missing something.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Another Entrant in the Texting-While-Driving Problem

iZup. Name is dumb ("eyes up", get it?), will be interesting to see if this category catches on. Others are ZoomSafer and TextEcution.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Key feature: Email with GPS

I have two GPS options. One is a stand-alone device that I keep in my car, the other is built into my Android phone. The stand-alone is better, and the only safe option when driving solo, but the phone option is nice in that it is always with me.

I am not good with directions, so I originally thought I would rely on the GPS for finding any new destination. But I have found that they are just a bit tedious Both GPS options share that trait, even though the data-input strategy for each is quite different. So for very quick, simple new destinations, I still often it more expedient just to print the map, and navigate conventionally. But that is definitely a disappointment, especially when complications ensue, where a GPS would help--missed turns, detours, etc.

So what I would like is an easy way to feed my destinaton to the GPS, one that doesn't involve typing on a tedious little device. I would like to email my destination to the GPS. Similar to how I can email a posting to my weblog. The difference is that a weblog is based on free-text, whereas the email-to-GPS would require a standardized schema, and encoding via XML. Along the lines of the "semantic web".

Of course I don't actually want to type in an XML schema. So it would be nice if directions would include a "send to GPS option", which would generate the email with encoded address. And for free-text submissions, there could be simple, comma-based standards that would infer the schema.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Re: NYT planning to charge for web access

Interesting. They have been through this so many times. I do think it is probably the right business move. I agree with the hybrid part. Per article charges are a loser. I think they should offer an all-you-can-eat model for $50-100 / year, and a limited but reasonably high number of articles per month for $5/month or $35/year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pseudo-Cartestian Products

A Cartestian Product is what you get when you (accidentally) don't specify a where clause in the join between two tables in an RDBMS. It is the product of all rows in T1 times all rows in T2. You only get them if you completely forget to join two tables. It happens, but rarely. What is much more common is a flawed join, where you get a product between a subset of rows in each table, because you aren't using enough columns in the join.

We need a term for "imperfect join which results in a large number of rows, some of which are 'synthesized' and carry data which does not actually exist in the base tables".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

T-Mobile Family Allowances

About a year ago, T-Mobile introduced this Family Allowances feature, for $2/month. It lets you control things like how many minutes and texts family members. It was a good start, but needs to be enhanced. In particular, there are only pre-set blocks of time that you can toggle on and off. That just doesn't work, they need an option for arbitrary time blocks (or at least the nearest 1/2 hour). Unfortunately, in 15 months of using it, I have not seen one single, solitary improvement made. I think it falls into the frustrating category of abandoned software, software that never gets improved. T-Mobile hasn't done much to market the feature.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DirecTV Football Features

Got DirecTV with the HD-DVR a couple of weeks ago. Great for football games. They really need a couple of football-friendly features:

First and foremost, the option to jump ahead in only 15 second increments, instead of the standard 30 (watch the first replay, skip the rest of the huddle).

It would be nice if there were a hack built into the guide/recording interaction, to identify sports events, and let you default to record an extra 30 minutes beyond the scheduled end time. We almost missed the last 4 minutes of a very exciting Monday Night Football game (Colts v Miami). The only thing that saved is that just about the time the recording gave out, we had caught up to real-time.

POSTSCRIPT: It seems like that second feature request exists. I was prompted to extend the recording by 30 minutes. Not sure why I didn't encounter that before.

Android Performance on myTouch - Could Be Better

The lagginess that has developed in my myTouch 3G Android phone is a real disappointment. Most disappointing of all is the fact that the virtual keyboard is often laggy--that is a killer. It seems to me that there are a few things that contribute to the lag that should be fixable:

1. The keyboard should be ultra-optimized

2. Ram Consumed by Installed Apps
The G1 and G2 phones don't have all that much RAM, and installed apps eat into it pretty quickly. I don't know why they can't be installed on the SD card. I do know that is one of the things that rooting your phone allows, so it can't be too much of a showstopper.


3. Multi-tasking

Everybody knows that a great advantage of Android over the iPhone is its ability to multi-task. That's great, I agree, but I think it is being taken too far. Android seems to try to keep open WAY too much stuff. I open the web browser quickly in the morning to check traffic, don't use it again all day, and it is still active 12 hours later. How about dialing back the attempt to keep so many things running, just a little, in favor of performance?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Most Americans Satisfied with Their Health Insurance?!

The claim is being made that most Americans (who have it) are satisfied with their health insurance. I don't buy it. Most people I know are, with each passing year, more unhappy with it. They may be grateful to have it at all, but that is really not the same thing as a collective sense of "my insurance ain't broke, so don't go fixin' it". It's a little bit like me saying that I am satisfied with Minneapolis rush-hour traffic...I really kind of dislike it, but it sure beats Los Angeles.

Slate: The disappearing boundaries of cigarette prohibition

"[If we are going to ban outdoor smoking because we don't want children to even see someone smoking], can we please ban public lotteries? Because I don't like my kids having to watch people gamble, particularly under the auspices of the state. Gambling is addictive and destructive. I want the tickets out of convenience stores and the results off television." Can you say "tyranny of the majority"?


Friday, September 18, 2009

How They Do It At Google, Per Cringely

Google isn’t organized like any tech company I’ve ever worked in, that’s for sure. Peer review seems to be at the heart of nearly everything. Yes, there are executives doing whatever it is that executives do up in the Eric/Larry/Sergeysphere, but down where the bits meet the bus most decisions seem to be reached through a combination of peer review-driven concensus and literal popularity polls.

Interesting.

Monday, September 07, 2009

USPS Scheduled Pick-Ups Are Free

It is a great convenience to be able to print postage online. It is also incredibly convenient to schedule a home pickup. And in this category, the US Post Office has a HUGE advantage over UPS. UPS charges something like $10 for a schedule pick-up. Although understandable, that's more than double the cost of my typical small-box shipment. Whereas the US Post Office charges NOTHING, zero, for a pick up. This obviously exploits the fact that they are going to be stopping at your door every day anyway.

If they were even a remotely entrepreneurial organization, they would be trumpeting this advantage all over their website, and probably in paid advertising.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Blu-Ray May Fail

All the reasons Cringely gives for Blu-Ray's potential failure make sense to me. To me,the bottom-line is that Blu-Ray delivers only incremental improvement. It's a nice increment, sure, but not enough to justify all the costs and headache of a format switch. In contrast, DVD vs. VHS offered improvement on multiple fronts:
  • The primary one of quality--huge. Resolution, audio and, perhaps more importantly, aspect ratio.
  • Functional improvements--random access, higher storage capacity.
  • Physical improvements--much more convenient form-factor.
  • Economic advantages--cheaper to produce, and bonus of backward-compatibility with CD form factor.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Resumes with "Lead" for "Led"

It seems like more resumes than not will include, somewhere, the word "lead" when they really mean "led". It's such a common, easy to make mistake that I don't really hold it against the candidate, but it does amaze me how frequently it occurs.

Android Market

Interesting comments on this post about the lack of profitability in the Android Market. Even though there are several distinct points of view, they are all mostly correct. It does seem like Apple could have an almost unassailable position. It seems to me like their biggest vulnerability is their exclusive tie to AT&T--that is what gives everybody else motivation to fight them. It will be interesting to see when/if other carriers get the iPhone.

Of course, they might learn a lesson from the recording industry, and have a care about letting Apple become too powerful, and become too cozy with their customers.

Tried, Ditched Vonage

I absolutely hate paying $40/month for a landline. At this point, I could even do without Caller ID, but with a family of 5, I just can't risk not having free long distance. As with cell phone minutes, all it takes is one overrun to offset all the savings from a bare bones plan.

So I decided to try Vonage. A very respected geek friend had nothing but good things to say about it. Well that turned out to be a disaster. It was easy enough to set up, but after that, it was all downhill:
  • My first 2 calls over 1 minute dropped 5-10 minutes into call
  • It caused massive bandwidth interference--my cable connection dropped from 10-15 Mbps down to 3 Mbps with a phone off hook. I experienced similar, qualitative symptoms while using VPN and making calls.
  • It also seemed to interfere horribly with VPN, even when not making calls. After losing VPN 5 times in an hour this morning, while working from home, I had to take time out of my workday to disconnect the Vonage box.
  • On top of all that, call quality questionable--not awful, but seemed fairly crackly.
  • Finally, I found it quite inconvenient having the cordless charger in the basement--which is where my inbound cable lives.
So, I am ditching Vonage and heading over to Qwest. I really wanted their $85 bundle, but I also wanted HD and an HD DVR, so they talked me into a $110 bundle (still cheaper than Comcast, though 7 Mbps instead of 15-20) that includes NFL Sunday Ticket. Normally I would never pay for that, but it will be really nice to have.

I will cancel Sunday Ticket after this season. Not sure what I will do about phone service in a year. Maybe by then we will really be ready to ditch landlines. Or maybe Comcast will be trying to lure me back and will treat me as a new customer. (I've been a Comcast customer for 7 years, and they really didn't try very hard to keep me from leaving, even when I told them/threatened them with my plans.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Feedback on the Texting While Driving Video

The NYT has an article about "Some Doubts About Scare Tactics on Drivers Who Text". Several key points stand out.
A violent ad must also instruct people on how to change their behavior, otherwise, “to erase the fear quickly, you say, ‘That’s not me,’ ” Professor Tay said. And just because an ad is popular does not mean that viewers will change their driving behavior, he said. One reason that violent ads may not work as well is that teenagers are already well aware that some activities are dangerous, said W. Kip Viscusi, who has studied risk for decades and is a professor at Vanderbilt University.
My son watched it. Although he did not take issue with the implications--texting could easily cause a fatal distraction--he also did not dwell on them. What immediately got his attention was the relatively poor production values--he said "that looks so fake". He was right of course. It was not bad, for a $20,000 budget, and was certainly gory enough, but by today's standards of special effects, it was quite unconvincing. The result, I think, was that a subtle equivalence was quickly set up in his mind--fake effects, so dismiss the whole message.
Cheryl Healton, chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, a group that specializes in antismoking efforts, suggested that cellphones could show a prompt on their phones, reminding people not to text and drive.
A boring, boilerplate warning--really??. When does it display--every time you re-start your phone? Every time you start a text? I'm afraid this is a hoary chestnet from the classic school of good intentions, but poor results.
Kelly K. Browning, executive director of the advocacy group Impact Teen Drivers in California, has suggested an idea, Star 65 to Stay Alive, to AT&T, in which the company could set up a code of *65 to disable incoming calls and texts, and send automatic response messages like, “I’m driving right now. I’ll get back to you when I’m off the road.”
This has a little bit of merit. But just a little--it takes a lot of motivation and forethought for the user to use it. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the "Do Not Disturb" feature, and not just for drive-time. But as a major cure for driving while texting, I deem it unlikely to have any significant impact. (There is another product that does something like this, ZoomSafer.) However, if you combined this feature with GPS-based texting de-activation--now you would be talking!

Online Appointments - What If I Don't Want To Provide Choice #2

Tires Plus, where I generally get my oil changed, offers the ability to make online appointments. That's kind of convenient. The only problem is, they require you to specify at least 2 appointment requests. Well, that doesn't work for me. I want an appointment tomorrow around 5 pm. If that doesn't work--well, I have to go back to the drawing board. So I can understand that they might gently suggest providing a second choice, but why require it? All it does is force me to call them--something I assume they fine less desirable than a web appointment.

(I tried making 5:15 my second choice, and got a rejection saying the appoitment requests must be at least 2 hours apart.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Texting While Driving

6/24/09
Texting while driving seems as dangerous as driving moderately drunk. Very scary. As the parent of soon-to-be teen drivers, that got me thinking about counter-measures. In some ideal world, the texting feature on the phone would be disabled while the key is in the ignition. That's not happening any time soon. So here is the best thing I can think of...I would like software to automatically correlate time-of-day texts are sent with the speed of the car at that time. If a text was sent at 14:42:07, and the car was going 32 mph at that time, and my child was driving at that time, then that is a problem.

This is a very reactive solution, but better than nothing.

8/30/09 Update
When I wrote the above, I was overlooking the fact that most phones have GPS built in. That would make it pretty simple, I think, to build this functionality all into the phone ( I was thinking it would require in-car software). So, searching around a little bit--here we go. For Android, we have Textecution. $9.95 though--rather pricey, and seemingly no trial or Lite option. What a great idea though. This company, and maybe the mobile carriers, need to find a way to partner with anti-texting-while-driving-advocates to get a regulatory push for this stuff.

(Google Market search note--no apps found when using the obvious search of "texting", "driving".)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Digital Dopamine

As John Ratey, the Harvard professor of psychiatry who specializes in the science of attention, told The Times's Matt Richtel for his chilling series, "Driven to Distraction," using digital devices gives you "a dopamine squirt."

Observing my children and texting--and probably, to be truthful, my own habits with email--I suspected there was a significant element of stimulation to the short-term reward system going on with receiving texts, email, etc. I think probably we should have a sabbath day from electronic communication.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Farmer's Market Broccoli

Is really good. Much less bitter than normal. Easy to eat raw.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fell for a UL

As one who prides himself on being able to spot an urban legend at 50 paces, I feel like I should fess up on the rare occasion when I fall for one. So, here it is--I fell for this email claiming that "On August 27...Mars will be as big as and bright as ourmoon. It will be that close to the earth. Anyone alive to see it will not be alive when it happens again." I made a point of putting it in my calendar, and brought the kids out to see it that night. Not as big as the moon, but there sure was a bright evening star (aka, planet) in the sky. The next night, I told Beth about it, and took her out to see it. She started to put something about it in Facebook, then thought to check first and, sure enough, found it here in Snopes.

In hindsight, there is always at least one or two signal UL clues. In this case, the "as big as the moon" part is the giveaway. In rapidly reading the email, I did remark that, but semi-consciously dismissed it as modest hyperbole (like maybe as much area and brightness as the crescent moon).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Super-Cheap Toner Cartridges

I base my choice of home laser printer primarily on cost per page. I am on my second Brother printer, for that reason. But the prices I am seeing for TN350 cartridges on Amazon are setting new records for low-cost toner. I actually bought a couple 2 weeks ago for $10/cartrdige, from JR I think. I installed one yesterday, and have probably printed 50 pages. So far, so good.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I Thought This Kind of Mob Behavior Was the Specialty of the Left

Health Debate Turns Hostile at Town Hall Meetings

Members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds at town hall meetings on health care.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

$10 Month for TeleNav

As noted, I just acquired an Android-based smartphone. One goal is definitely to have an all-in-one, electronic swiss-army-knife device to carry. And it does include GPS capability, along with Google maps. But if you want turn-by-turn navigation, apparently you have to sign up for TeleNav, at the hefty cost of $10/month.

I just don't see the value proposition there. I bought a very nice, widescreen GPS unit for a mere $70. So I'm supposed to pay that much for half a year to get navigation on my phone? That's crazy--it is bad enough to have to pay $25/month for a data plan.

Now you might say that hardcore travelers will pony up for the cost. I don't think so--a smartphone navigation is definitely a make-do proposition, compared to a dedicated unit.

But people seem to be paying it, so I must be missing something.

Electical Outlets should have USB connections

...for charging only, I mean. USB chargers for cell phones are wonderful. If electrical outlets accomodated USB, that would even more cut down on the number of chargers one needs to carry. Definitely a feature for a place like Starbucks to implement. (Actually, the shorcut would just be to provision the newer power strips, that have USB hubs included.)

Outlook PTO Feature - Prevent Calendar-Blocking

People are constantly messing up, and sending out their Outlook calendar PTO notifications with "Show Time As = Busy". The result is many blocked calendars. While some might welcome this situation, it is nevertheless A Bad Thing. I think Outlook needs a switch to indicate "Allow Out of Office?" appointments...if you check No, then when someone schedules an appointment on your calendar as OOO, that gets converted into Free.

I don't know, maybe that is too much feature-itis, but it sure would address a problem. The nature of my calendar usage is such that nobody really ever needs to schedule something on my behalf that has me showing as OOO.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

T-Mobile Android myTouch Review

I received my pre-order myTouch (aka, G2, or HTC Magic) 5 days ago, and have been putting it through its paces since then. The myTouch (stupid, cutesy name) is the second Android phone to hit the market in the U.S. It is definitely a geek phone. I didn't have the thing in my hands for an hour before I was feverishly downloading (mostly free) apps. I spent hours the first 3 days researching and downloading (mostly free) apps. I honestly don't think the vanilla phone would be very satisfying, either to a power user, or to a tech novice. So I definitely don't think it is in any danger of being an iPhone killer.

Rather than re-capitulate the basics that I have read in any number of other reviews, I will focus on the things I haven't seen mentioned.

Virtual keyboard. Every review talks about the ergonomic considerations of the virtual keyboard. What they gloss over is the loss of keyboard shortcuts--to me that is a very big deal. Maybe that is because most people never learn the G1 keyboard shortcuts, just as they never learn the PC keyboard shortcuts.

No PageDown Key. This is a subtle one, and probably bothers me more than most people...a signifcant use of a smartphone for me is as an eReader. Years ago, I used the PalmPilot for this same purpose. The Palm had a nice PageUp/PageDown rocker key. You could one-hand the device, with a thumb on the phone, and read pretty conveniently. With the myTouch, you can try to use the roller ball for the same purpose, but you have to twirl it a lot more, and it is still much slower. Most people will just reach up and swipe the page down, which is a real inconvenience on a tiny screen, because you have to do it about every 20 seconds.

Muting Phone Calls. I use my cell phone a lot for conference calls. I spend a lot of time on mute. So it is very important to me to be able to switch on/off mute quickly and easily. That was one of the things I hated about my previous phone--3-4 clicks to get to mute. So I had high hopes that ideally the phone itself, but if not, a third-party app would provide a super-convenient mute button. What I really wanted was a great, bug toggle button that would fill up half the screen, so you couldn't miss it. No such luck--it is still too many taps to mute a conference call. And the new 2-second timeout to lock the keypad on calls (a v1.5 feature) makes it worse.

The built-in speaker is several cuts above average. It is actually tolerable for listening to music, fine for audio, and loud enough to work okay to play podcasts in the car on the highway.

The trackball could be far more useful...it seems to scroll the cursor really slowly. As it is, I wouldn't miss it if they removed it. What I do wish they had was a "soft button", that could be configured per applcation. If nothing else, that would address my mute problem, albeit not as elegantly as I have envisioned in an app.

Okay, every review talks about two things. One, the lack of a 3.5 mm headphone jack. That is annoying, but to me, over-stated, since anyone cutting-edge enough to have an Android phone also is going to have bluetooth stereo. The other thing is the case the phone ships with. Instead of a cardboard box, you get a zippered, well-constructed case. Everybody makes a huge deal about this. To me, that is pure marketing attention-getting fluff. Nobody is going to carry their smartphone around in a case. But this small, inexpensive differentiator gets T-Mobile lots of attention.

Instead of a nice, but useless case, I would way rather have them include a second battery and battery charger! I suppose one downside with that, besides the cost, is the implication--our smartphone is such a battery hog that we had to include a second battery. Still, that would be a really nice touch (and it's something the iPhone can't do, with their sealed battery). (If they really had to economize, include the second battery and skip the stand-alone charger.)

The dedicated back key works very well--it's applications are intuitive (not just in the browser), and the IU responsiveness is very, very quick.

There are many obvious times the keyboard should pop up automatically, but doesn't. You have to do the long press on the menu key to raise it, when it is very obvious from the context of the app (composing a text for example), that you need it.

I found that some kind of Task Manager/Killer is vital. First I downloaded Taskiller, which worked very well, until it didn't. I wound up un-installing it, and it still left a residue of failed "widgets". I found another one, Task Manager, and it seems to work very well, with the added benefit of being a very easily-accessed Task Switcher.

Scrollling long lists is a real problem. One or two finger swipes is fine, but after that, it gets old. One app, PhoneBook, has a significant improvement--it pulls up a Windows-style scroll box. I don't for the life of me know why this isn't a standard part of ANdroid. Of course that is the beauty and the consumer buy-in of Android. Unlike with a traditional, carrier-captive phone--where an upgrade will only come when you get a new phone--we can hope maybe such an improvmenet will appear in a near-future release.

USB charger. Not that the myTouch is unique in this matter (I think all the new BlackBerrys have it), but this is a key item. Failure to provide a standard USB charger deserves as much criticism as failure to provide a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Just think how simplified our lives would be if all hand-held electronics charged via USB (I am particularly thinking bluetooth headsets).

Note-Taking. I downloaded a nice, free Notes app, AK Notes. This one does have the right idea, it automatically pulls up the keyboard when you start a new note. But it defaults to the Note list, requiring another click to compose a note; it would be nice to control this via Settings. You still can't beat the Palm Pilot for jotting a very quick ink-as-a-datatype note.

Speed. Performance is adequate, but not zippy. If it were 3-4 times as fast, it would really rock.

All in all, I am impressed, and I will probably keep it (5 days into my 14-day grace period). But I am already looking forward to the next generation of hardware and software. Of course, that is part of the whole Android concept--the consumer can hope for pretty continuous improvement. Hopefully Android system updates will not overly tax older hardware, I'm looking at a 2-year contract.

Okay, that's it for the first rev of the phone review. I will add some updates in a week or so, along with a review of some Apps. That's another thing most reviews gloss over. They definitely mention that apps store, and maybe comment on a couple of apps, but I get the feeling that most reviewers haven't downloaded all that many non-game apps. I on the other hand have installed a good 40 apps. Some are true apps, many are phone customizations and enhancements, the things absolutely necessary to make the myTouch feel like an iPhone-competitive, first-class device!