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.