Thursday, December 29, 2011

Office 2010

Besides the overall confusion of having all the commands scrambled up and re-arranged, seems like there are many specific, little things to dislike:

The whole ribbon context thing may--may--make it simpler for a new user to absorb. It amounts to applying the old computer science dictum--there is no problem that can't be solved by adding a layer of indirection. The problem is that it also inserts a layer of navigation for many common operations. Things that used to be just a click away require first moving to the right ribbon, before being able to access the function. One example: switching windows in MS-Word.

What is really bad--many keyboard commands don't work, or at least don't work from all contexts (though some do). For instance in Outlook, I was accustomed to Alt-O to get to today. Very useful, very frequently used. No longer works (at least not the way I expect it to).

Went and returned to default a lot of things that I had set--sort order, group by. It's been so long since I upgraded Office, I can't remember if all versions have done this with upgrades, or just this one..

As far as I can tell, there is no option to make updates to a meeting, save but not send. Yes, I understand the logic behind prompting you to send after making updates, but there ARE use cases for updating, saving and not immediately sending. As far as I can tell, that is now impossible!

Then there is the "To-Do" bar, which might be okay in the Calendar pane, but I really don't need in my email window. So the good news is you can minimize it--the bad news is--it doesn't minimize all the way (or down to a vertical bar a few pixels wide)--it still takes up significant space, and the first few events are displayed horizontally. I think the M$ UX people were high when they designed this one.

Things I like:

  • Finally, >9 recently-used files (this one is so overdue it almost seems like M$ doesn't actually deserve any credit here)
  • Outlook--meeting updates that don't require a response and re-set all response-tracking



Tax Burdens Tilt Coastal, and System’s Fairness Is Debated - NYTimes.com

Definitely interesting to think about, but definitely politically unviable and undesirable--imagine the gamesmanship it would drive in congress, if taxation could be adjusted for cost-of-living. West Virginia, in the Robert Byrd era, probably would have been rated up there with NYC as a super-high-cost area!.

Disruptions: The 3-D Printing Free-for-All - NYTimes.com

Fascinating if a bit overoptimistic. I didn't see even a single example of anything significantly useful and novel made. Still, anything that might help with repairability, especially of plastic, would be welcome.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Idea: Amazon Late-Present Promissory Notes

As a gift buyer, when I can't come across with a present in time, for one reason or another, I typically resort to printing out a picture of it and wrapping that up, with a promise of near-future delivery. That gave me an idea for an e-tailer  feature. Provide a one-page, printer-friendly "promissory note", describing the product that has been ordered, and maybe sprinkling in some humor about why it may be late (It our fault! We ran out! But we are rushing one to you now!), as the best possible proxy for the actual gift item. For good measure, include the tracking bar code. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm pretty sure Ed Morrissey and I are not the only people who are sick and tired of the outsize influence Iowa and New Hampshire exert on the presidential nominating process. It's wrong, malign, sick and evil, in so many ways. To name some:

  1. Influence way out of proportion to population.
  2. Not playing nice--Iowa and New Hampshire, always wanna be first, and act like spoiled children if anything threatens their cherished status.
  3. Distortions due to scrambling to be first have pretty much already ruined the system, and caused us to endure high-cost, two-year election cycles (not all the fault of IA and NH, but they have not helped).
  4. Annoying comments by residents about how they "like their politics retail". 
This need to be PUNISHED. So let's hit them where it hurts. How about if all of us residents of the other 48 states agree to a boycott. Namely, let's agree, that we will absolutely, positively not vote, in our state primaries, for a candidate who won either NH or IA?

It seems like the easiest, best way to deal a mortal blow to the out-of-control influence these two states have over the whole nominating process. 

(Note that this applies to both parties.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fails Safe Is Such A Great Engineering Concept

[When] a properly designed system fails safe, you can't blow it up remotely by cycling it on and off. 
Fail-safe design has more mundane applications, too. Electronic controls, for example (one of my pet peeves), should fail, wherever possible, leaving the appliance usable in a simple, default mode (which surprisingly often may be just fine).

Auctions Are Passe

This article pretty much expresses my own sentiments regarding online auctions. For any kind of commodity item, they just don't make sense. I do not believe I have ever successfully bought anything in an online auction.

India Eye Care Center Finds Middle Way To Capitalism

"Pursuing efficiency the way Goldman Sachs pursues profits." Love it.

Latest Case for Smartphone Hard Buttons

I recently bought a Logitech Revue (Google TV). It's okay, not a bad buy for the fire-sale price of $100, definitely not worth the original $300 asking price. One interesting thing is that it supports a remote control app for  your Android device. It's pretty good. But anyway, it brings to mind another use for having a configurable hard button, or two, on phones.

The biggest downside to using phone as remote is having the screen go off and so having to go through the lockscreen to get to your remote. I think my first-cut at perfect implementation would be:

  • When you first use Google TV Remote on your device, it activates the hotkey.
  • Hotkey brings up remote immediately, bypassing lockscreen.
  • Hotkey remains active so long as the phone's location remains the same.

I know hard keys are not in favor (flagship Galaxy Nexus being the first smartphone with zero hard keys, not even a home key), but still...

--
Best way to fight terrorism: refuse to become terrorized

Next Feature for MS-Word: Idiom-Checking

It isn't until you start paying attention that you realize just how prevalent idioms are in ordinary professional writing. There are innumerable sports metaphors and analogies, of course. The one that inspired me to write this post was "motherhood and apple pie".
Anyway, I think a really useful, fairly easy and obvious feature for MS-Word would be an idiom-checker. It would cut two ways. First, it would call attention to one's perhaps unthinking use of idioms that are well-known to native speakers, but not to ESLers. Second, it would offer convenient, in-line flagging and translation of said idioms, for the benefit of said ESLers.
(using "said" in this way is a bit idiomatic, isn't it? That would be a harder one for the idiom checker...)

I actually think this could be done really well. In many ways, it seems easier than a grammar-checker. I can see how it could leverage, on an opt-in basis, multiple wiki-style references (somewhat like Urban Dictionary).

For bonus points, maybe eventually--just as grammar-checkers tell you the reading level of your writing--the idiom checker could grade it in different ways. Idiom density, idiom topicality (based on a graph of the age of the citations of the idioms in an internet crawl), and obviously the sky is the limit, depending on how good the tagging is (e.g., "North American English", "all native English", "sports", etc).

This would also make a great open source project. Both for the code--hopefully a plug-in that any text editor could adopt (e.g. Fargo), and for the source content (wiki-style, like Urban Dictionary).

Google should promulgate secure email

PKI, the whole deal. Good way to draw non-Gmail-users into the fold, too. Way overdue for someone to make this happen.

One of the Most Novel Smartphone Apps: White Noise

Relax and Sleep: Not really white noise, but many different sounds to drown out any background noise.

App Idea: NFC for coat-check-style receipts

Bump your phone against the NFC reader, get an instant receipt...that would be kind of convenient.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Problem-Solving in Large Organizations

Instead of starting with Policy and working forward to what needs to be done, start with what is sane and pragmatic, and work backwards to figure out how it can be achieved in compliance to Policy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Catchy Name

I've written a couple of posts observing the value of a catchy name in branding. Here are a couple more examples:

Ruby on Rails
This one is particularly good. It marries nice, moderate alliteration with an extremely compelling, easily-understood image: anything "on rails" is rock-solid, and won't go astray. As in "we've got the latest project on rails...if anything, we are going to be done several weeks early."

Camel-Bak
Whereas most catchy-name examples involve a significant element of style over substance, this one is pure...the name perfectly captures both the form and the function of the product.

Future of California

Long, fascinating article. I don't want to dance on California's sick-bed, but I still have to keep asking--when will the tech industry decide that California is not the only place to be? What an irony that the industry dedicated to making things virtual is itself seemingly obsessed by place.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What the Steve Jobs profitability paradox reminds me of

I wrote about the paradox of Apple's profitability, under Steve Jobs--maximizing profitability (or shareholder value) seemed to take a backseat to product excellence. Paradoxically, though, through the relentless, uncompromising, somewhat messianic pursuit of profit excellence, in about a decade, Apple grew from being a mid-cap company to vying for the largest market cap on the globe.

This makes me think of the "paradox of happiness". Those who dedicate their life to the pursuit of happiness usually achieve the opposite--a sad, unfulfilling life chasing empty pleasures. Those who dedicate their life to a higher calling--duty, faith, honor,  service--often find consistent, lasting happiness as a byproduct.

Android Fragmentation--Improving Slowly, but Could Be Much Better

Great article. The Android fragmentation issue is an utter disgrace. Google needs to get on the ball, especially now that the iPhone is so widely available. Making Galaxy Nexus available on all carriers simultaneously--instead of a Verizon exclusive--would have been a nice start. :(

This is almost enough to make me as anti-Android as I am anti-Apple. (I'm exaggerating)

Grid or Flow Layouts for Windows and Browser

I have this belief that computer users are not getting nearly the full benefit they could from the ever-increasing monitor space. What has bugged me for years is the difficulty of arranging windows. It is SO tedious to do it by hand.

I know recent versions of MS-Office have arrange-compare features. I haven't used them a lot. They seem ok. But a lot of the arranging I want to do it ad-hoc. I haven't thought deeply about it, so don't claim to have the answers, but I definitely feel an itch.

One idea I have is guidelines, like in PageMaker. So maybe I draw a vertical guidelne 2/3 of the way across my screen. Any app I drop to the left of it fills the left 2/3. Any app I drop to the right fills the right 1/3.  Further refinements, such as tagging one of the panes to be "always on top". Maybe others, like drilling through the panes, or each pane having tabs. Complexity, I know.

I have come across a few utilities that try to do some of this, but none that accomplished much for me. I know there are virtual desktops that might do some of this, too. I tried one years ago.

The other thing I would like to see implemented in certain apps is a form of a flow layout. For instance, we make heavy use of Office Communicator. I have my auxiliary laptop monitor devoted to OC sessions. I would like these to auto-arrange themselves, tiling sideways across the screen. (Actually, there is a lot more organizing OC should be doing for the user, with or without OS-level enhanced window arrangement--but that's another story).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

TV is better, yes, but it still has a fatal flaw

The linked Slate article discusses how HBO revolutionized the quality of television shows. As someone who pretty much quit watching TV in 1980, it took me a while to notice that TV was actually getting better. To that extent I agree with the article. Commercial TV c. 1980 was simply un-watchable. It has improved since then.

But, there is a point that all television Criticism seems to miss. There is a fatal flaw that is fundamental to the species. It's a small thing, but it always kills within a few years. The problem? The need to keep the viewer "hooked", and the unwillingness to "leave money on the table" (retire something before it starts to stink), distort any natural dramatic arc, and quickly render the vehicle unsatisfying.

Apple's Re-birth

Post-Steve Jobs death, there have of course been many articles that discuss Apple's comeback. They tend to date it to the introduction of the iMac or the first iPod. I think they are overlooking an important event.

The thing that is amazing to me is that in the last 10 years, the Mac went from being viewed as the sissy computer, to the darling of the geeks. I remember when that happened. It was an overnight phenomenon. It occurred when they introduced OS/X. OS/X was based on the venerable, and venerated, BSD Unix. It was a gigantic, amazing leap. It gave the Mac a terrific technical foundation on which to build all the cool stuff and eye candy. Getting all those thought leaders to embrace Mac was, in my opinion, an essential ingredient in the Apple comeback.

Ironically, even this part of the story does loop back to Steve Jobs. The transition to OS/X was by far the smoothest new OS rollout I can recall. The likely reason? OS/X was created from NextStep, the commercially unsuccessful, but widely praised, OS that had been created at NEXT Computing--where Steve Jobs went after he got booted out of Apple.

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) - NYTimes.co

I don't think science is intrinsically more challenging than any other curriculum. I suppose it is harder to fake proficiency. But ultimately it is all a question of degree of difficulty and standards. And that is where the liberal arts have shot themselves in the heart.

Liberal arts grading is much more generous, and the curriculum can be even more so. A savvy student can duck hard classes, since there is not much of a core curriculum any longer. So as a credential--and that's 90% of what a degree represents, a credential--a liberal arts degree is a much less reliable marker than a science/engineering degree.

Doesn't have to be that way, but it's how things have evolved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Paradox of Apple Profitablity

Dave Winer suggests that products need egos to reach and maintain their potential greatness, of course pointing to Steve Jobs as the premier example. This got me thinking about the paradox of Apple's mega-success.

What is so rare is a consistent, eternal, unyielding devotion to product excellence. That was Steve Jobs. I am pretty confident that he would not release what he thought was a sub-par product, even if he thought it could be very profitable. Who else would do this? He aimed for greatness, not merely rich-ness.

Contrast this with Bill Gates, the embodiment of Microsoft. As Robert X. Cringely observed some years ago, Bill Gates has always been about winning ("a graceless win is still a win"). In business, this translates to profitability, not excellence. No Micro$oft product is ever improved unless there is a clear line of sight to the bottom line.
None of this matters to Steve Jobs. It took me a long time to figure this out, but he is quite content with the status quo [my italics]. That's because Steve's definition of success is different from Bill's, and from that of most other people in the computer industry. Success to Steve means getting his own way. That's all. Forget about market share. It's all about longevity and personal dominance.
So here comes the paradox. I remember reading Cringely's article at the time it was written, early 2002. At that time, the status quo was: Microsoft is huge, rich and dominant; Apple is off life support, and assured of a secure, profitable niche as a boutique computer maker. 10 years later, and how things have changed.

The paradox is that Steve Jobs uncompromising devotion to excellence was eventually rewarded with commensurate financial success. All it took was patience, lots of patience. Unfortunately in the business world, that kind of long leash is unheard of, unless your name is Steve Jobs.

Netflix Karma

Like I have said, there is a lot to like about Netflix, but I will always rejoice when price-raisers are punished. I myself downgraded to stream-only immediately.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Branding is Default

I think branding is all about leveraging default behavior. Consumers would be well-advised to train themselves to have a reflexive "anti-" reaction to branding. Instead of passively internalizing a brand as the default, reflexively assume that any product involving a heavy branding investment is probably over-priced, and seek the low-cost alternative.   

In decision-making, examples of the default preference abound: Workers are far more likely to save in retirement plans if enrollment is the automatic option. And the percentage of pregnant women tested for H.I.V. in some African nations where AIDS is widespread has surged since the test became a regular prenatal procedure and women had to opt out if they didn’t want it.
A study published in 2003 showed that while large majorities of Americans approved of organ donations, only about a quarter consented to donate their own. By contrast, nearly all Austrians, French and Portuguese consent to donate theirs. The default explains the difference. In the United States, people must choose to become an organ donor. In much of Europe, people must choose not to donate.
Defaults, according to economists and psychologists, frame how a person is presented with a choice. But they say there are other forces that make the default path hard to resist. One is natural human inertia, or laziness, that favors making the quick, easy choice instead of exerting the mental energy to make a different one. Another, they say, is that most people perceive a default as an authoritative recommendation.

Friday, October 07, 2011

M$ Never Improves: Printing an Email

I have a personal list of annoying functionality flaws (not code defects) that have been in Micro$oft products forever. They are little niggling things, not showstoppers, but the failure to do anything about them, year after year, speaks volumes about Microsoft's lack of craftsmanship, and contempt for their customer. Here is one item in the list: M$ Outlook doesn't let the user specify the number of pages to print. The typical use case is that I want to print the most recent 2 paragraphs in a long, long email string. If I just hit the print icon and let it go, I will get 10 pages.

There are simple work-arounds of course. Mainly, pasting the snippet of interest into a Word doc. That's not the point, though. This is a pretty basic thing, it should have been fixed a decade ago.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Yes, Quit "Writing What You Know", So Much

I like the drift of this Salon article on why Americans aren't winning any Nobels for literature. Especially laying much of the blame on the pervasive conventional wisdom that teaches authors to "write what you know". That might be okay advice for a first work--so long as it is coupled with "and have lived enough to know something beyond the quotidian features of middle-class life shared by every other young, educated aspiring writer". A career of writing what you know becomes boring quickly.

I am thoroughly sick of books about writers--one very common manifestation of the syndrome. Apparently it is even worse in the world of poetry.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Deal Fatigue

I'm pretty skeptical of Groupon, so I liked this article on Groupon and daily deals in general:

[Groupon's] Competitors are dead or dying… [so] where is the bright side? Nowhere. Consumers are fatigued. They now hate getting a dozen emails every morning offering 10 different Yoga classes at 50% off—over half of Americans have stated they're overwhelmed by the quantity of deals available. 
And that's not all. Running Groupons is all about exposure right? Turns out, it's the wrong kind of exposure: merchants who run Groupons suffer hits to their reputation. And this was the only benefit for businesses—they certainly don't do it for profit. Adding consumer fatigue and merchant wariness, you come up with zero.
Like I keep saying--give me everyday low prices.



Dynamic Email

I have long thought that MS Exchange should make an email more into a dynamic thread...so for instance someone could put in an "I will reply" status--but without having to blast out another email to do it. Would help alleviate Inbox-overload.

Another feature would be "subscribe to this thread" or maybe (depending on how defaults are set up) "unsubsribe to this thread". So if you don't think you are interested, it quits overloading your Inbox. But, by the same token, if you later get interested, then you can go access a thread view of the whole thing.  Sort of like Twitter.

I hate M$. They don't improve anything, unless either a competitor is nipping at their heels, or it is functionality that will make it easy to sell an upgrade. Their karma sucks, I hope they continue their long, slow, Sears-like decline. They have brought it on themselves.

Has NetFlix Lost Its Mind?!

When they say "this storm may pass"--like comparable consumer uprisings against Apple and JetBlue--they are missing a key point. NetFlix has already announced significant revenue impact, due to cancellations from the new pricing. So it is already more than a "passing storm". Now, they are making things even worse. So if (when?) they get more cancellations from the Qwikster side (nothing about this should make a pure NetFlix streaming user care), the impact is that much greater.

This point is also interesting to me:

“People love Netflix,” said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. “What other media distributor adds two-plus million subscribers each quarter? Only Netflix and only because people are thrilled with it. But once you arouse such passions in people, you have to expect that they’ll be equally passionate when they feel betrayed. And that’s what has happened.”
I do feel somewhat sympathetic to Netflix. I was drawn to them for foremost for their rock-bottom prices. Usually, the innovation in consumer content is like McDonalds--providing much more food, for a little more cost. Too rarely is it focused primarily on driving down current cost (the ARPU mentality at work).

So I feel sympathetic to NetFlix, because I know they have had a hard time attracting more content, and renewing what they have at the current low prices, and I think their prices are still very low. Nevertheless, I like the implied message from consumers--a big, fat middle-finger to higher prices.

And the latest Reed Hastings move with splitting of Qwikster is just dumb. 1+1=3 and 2-1=1.5 is the logic of the M&A Wall Street crowd--not the consumer-focused company.

(See Cringely for a less fault-finding of Netflix different take.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tablet Use Case: Voice-Activated Reader

I like to read a lot. I like to eat a lot. I really like to read when eating, if not eating with a companion(s). But I don't like getting books and magazines and keyboards messy, flipping pages while eating. I am thinking that a voice-activated tablet, with a stand, might be the perfect solution. Instapaper, Read It Later, are you listening?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Stay Signed In - NEVER!

Remember in the early days of 802.11 home wireless, how the out-of-box option was no security? Then, finally, the industry came around and made the default behavior the safe behavior--security on? Well websites really, really need to do the same thing. I hate the "stay signed in" option defaulting to yes. Bad for the innocents, and even dangerous for the paranoid--I have overlooked it once or twice.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Found--Size 12.5 Shoes!

My latest discovery for a reason to love Amazon/eCommerce: odd size shoes! Just TRY finding a 12-1/2 EE in a store. Of course the web page let's you pre-filter for your size--no need to get interested in a model, only to find out it isn't available in your size. First time in ages I have had a shoe that fits perfectly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Payment Systems Must Increase Efficiency


Although it would perhaps be nice not to have to carry a wallet, that’s pretty low on my personal hierarchy of wishes. In general, my personal payments system works just fine. Almost every store I shop in accepts my two preferred means of payment: cash, or bank cards. Thus, as a consumer and technologist, I am only interest in new payment methods if they meet the following two tests:
  1. They take cost out of the system. I don’t want new for the sake of new and cool. The new thing has to be inherently more cost-efficient.
  2. They have to cut costs for consumers. I want lower swipe fees (or maybe “wave fees” would be the more appropriate term ;) ).
#1 is a necessary but not sufficient condition for #2. I am tired of stuff that is new, but more expensive. I am particularly thinking of service charges to ticketing, such as Ticketron. Or having to pay extra to file your taxes electronically.

POSTSCRIPT: If it sounds like I am a skeptic, it because I am. Just saw this article from the current Consumer Reports, which tends to bear out my skepticism (digital wallet's won't save you money).

Idea: "Not to Exceed" Field on Checks

Sometimes my kids will need a check for something at school, and for one reason or another, they don't know the exact amount. The solution, of course, is to make the check out but not fill in an amount. On principle, I dislike giving out any form of the proverbial "blank check". So why can't checks have a "not to exceed" field? 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Micro$soft Outlook email doesn't let you print only a range of pages!

No option to just print pages 1-2, for example. I don't know about you, but I have plenty of endless email trails where I don't want to print the whole thing, only a few pages or a selection. Just another example of how M$ doesn't improve or even fix much of anything, unless:
  1. They have competitors nipping at their heels.
  2. They think it will drive upgrade $.
I hold the brand in contempt, for this attitude.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Another Amazon Attaboy: Frustration-Free Packaging

I know this is hardly a news flash, the frustration-free program is at least a couple of years old, but I hadn't thought about it in a while. I know it has gotten some mixed reviews, but my point is--at least Amazon cares! This is an old problem that gets worse, not better, each year, as clamshell takes over like an invasive species. So, tip of the hat to Amazon, again.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

No, I Do NOT Want Podcasts Added to My Music Collection!!!


Text of email I just sent to Google:
The Google Music app for Android suffers from the same problem ALL music apps do. Namely, it is too aggressive in automatically adding MP3s to your collection. Specifically, for those of us who are aggressive podcast listeners, we probably don't want our podcasts intermingled with our music. I mean, I love This American Life, but I really don't want it to be part of "Favorite Workout Songs", you know? 
A few ways to solve this. At a minimum, have Advanced Settings that allow the user to exclude directories from auto-discovery.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Changing Retail Landscape

A really remarkable amount of my household expenditures goes to Amazon, and Sam's Club. Just interesting to think about how much business has migrated away from traditional outlets, in particular electronics retailers (half or more of the Amazon purchases) and grocery stores (3/4 of the Sam's purchases). Not saying it is good or bad, just interesting. (Well, actually it is good, for me as a consumer, obviously, or I woulldn't be shopping there.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Decision Fatigue

I am just fascinated by this kind of stuff. Especially the sleep connection. I am a strong believer that adequate sleep is one of the four pillars of good health (along with diet, exercise and healthcare). With sleep, there is a big feedback loop into two of the other pillars. I have seen speculation that a factor in the obesity epidemic is lack of sleep. I connect that to the fact that I read the average adult American--in 1900, before the advent of widespread electric lighting--slept an average of 10 hours in the winter. 10 hours, can you imagine!


It also seems clear to me that there is a connection between feeling rested, and having the drive/willpower to exercise. Unless you are confirmed, "addicted" exerciser, it is hard to drag yourself to the gym, or wherever, and put yourself through the paces, when your brain is whimpering "sleep, rest".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No, I Don't Want To Leave Feedback!

In general the Amazon customer experience is simply off-the-charts great. Beyond belief. I have almost never had to call them, but I did the other night for a Kindle order on my son's phone. They have a "call me" button, and they call you. No wait!! Fluent, helpful, smart CSR, problem solved very expeditiously. Like I say, off the charts.

The one thing that irritates me are all the sellers, begging for feedback. I'm sorry, unless they do something exceptional, I'm not taking time to give feedback. Just not interested. Most laughably, I ordered a $2.38 battery, and they wanted feedback! Maybe Amazon already has an "opt me out of feedback" option, and I haven't found it yet, but it's annoying.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Negate NH, 1 Iowa and SC

I am sick of their outsize influence. How about a Facebook group to pledge never to vote for the primary candidates who over focus on those states?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Groupon Follow-Up

Going out on a limb a little bit...I'll predict that 3 years from now, Groupon will rue the day they turned down Google's $5-6 billion offer. 

ACSOI, mentioned nearly 50 times in the document, showed that Groupon made $82 million in the first quarter of the year. But ACSOI left out the hundreds of millions of dollars associated with marketing the service, acquiring other businesses, and bringing in new subscribers. So it left out very real costs of growth—not one-off investments or unusual charges, but expenditures core to the company's expanding business.
Investors noticed—and howled. The Wall Street Journal termed the filing "magic." Tech blogs declared the company a sham. Many commentators hearkened back to the worst days of the late-1990s tech bubble, when out-of-nowhere dot-coms with cloudy revenue streams got billions from IPO-hungry investors. Forbes pointed to one especially salient piece of commentary from 1998. "Certain internet CFOs are pushing investors to look at EBITDAM," Silicon Valley investor Bill Gurley wrote. "The 'M' represents marketing, and is an attempt to get Wall Street to ignore what has become the single biggest expenditure for internet startups. This only makes sense if you truly believe that marketing costs will one day go away, which should be considered unlikely. Perhaps we should make it easier and skip straight to EBE (earnings before expenses)."

Marketing of Vodka: A Case Study

I think that kids, of various ages and up through high school, need some enrichment classes related to personal finance and consumer behavior, to arm themselves against the shysters and charlatans they will encounter, on a daily basis, throughout their lives. By shysters and charlatans, I pretty much mean every company under the sun. There may be exceptions, but they are precious few.

This article about the marketing of premium vodka would make a heck of a case study.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Google+

I've spent my first 10 minutes on Google+. I have my doubts. I think the usability might be better than FB--seems like the usual Google clean-and-lean. Or maybe it is just because it is too new to have grown cluttered. But as far as achieving real success goes, I just don't see the compelling reason to use it. Just like Bing has not been able to interest me in switching away from Google search (and in that case, the switching barrier is far lower).


Like I said, Google shoulda bought LinkedIn. Since that ship has apparently sailed, I think their only other chance is to meticulously identify every single weakness in Facebook, and fix it in Google+. Even then, they will probably need FB to stumble at some point. Some things I am thinking of:

  • Security. Facebook hasn't been so strong here, including lack of HTTPS and the Firesheep vulnerability.
  • Channels. Circles is a good start. I think I am a somewhat typical middle-aged male techie--I think FB is Face-bore. I just don't want to know what my good friends--let alone vague acquaintances--did over the weekend. I want interesting, and I want useful. So the channels I would like to see are:
  • "I need advice..."
  • "I need to borrow" 

Friday, August 05, 2011

Bills that ask for CC Security Code

The CVV2 code is that little 3-digit code you usually have to provide when ordering stuff online. The PCI security rules prohibit storing it, which is a good security feature.

Lately, I have been getting some bills that can be paid by credit card, mainly from healthcare providers, that ask for the CVV2 code. While my reading of the regs indicates that this is not an actual violation (they are forbidden from storing the CVV2 once the individual transaction is authorized and completed), it still seems like a bad idea to have it written down. So I never provide it. I've never had the billing party object.

Should require re-insurance for companies that self-insure

I had a friend whose employer went bankrupt in the midst of a family member undergoing surgery. Because the employer self-insured, he got stuck with the bill when they went bankrupt. This just seems wrong to me. Maybe companies that self-insure should have to have some form of re-insurance as a backstop. Or, alternatively, healthcare providers that accept third-party payment  should indemnify their patients in the event the paying party goes bankrupt.

Only recently employed need apply

This seems cruel and wrong.

Lifetime ROI of Once-Thriving Companies that Go Bust

Just 15 years ago, Borders was growing nationwide. They were wiping out the independent booksellers. Now they are going bankrupt. That reminded me of something I have wondered about, each time I hear the story of a relatively young, successful company that goes bankrupt, or is acquired on the cheap (e.g., Borland).

That questions is--if you invested in the company from "Day 1" of its going public[1], and held your investment through bankruptcy, what would your lifetime ROI be? It seems to me it would most likely not be very good. Most high-growth companies pay little or nothing in the way of dividends. So there wouldn't be much time between no-dividend growth company, and falling star, in which you might get nice dividend payouts.
__________
[1] I want to define Day 1 in a way that factors out any IPO bubble hype. So let's say that is defined as 30 days after IPO.

Pork? Earmarks? What Do You Mean? - NYTimes.com

No surprises here, same as it ever was, but that makes that hypocrisy no less appalling. Does not a single one  of these congresspeeps aspire to the chance for greatness, by vigorously denouncing and disavowing the pork in their own backyard? It might cost them re-election, but what credibility in a run for higher office! (Not to mention just doing the right thing and being true to one's ideals.)

Complexity Is the Enemy

From my Android phone, when I click on a NYT link sent to me via email, I eventually get a "Page Not Found" response. Pretty sure this is what is happening:
  1. Clicking link invokes the mobile browser.
  2. Mobile browser fires up, proceeds to try to open (standard) NYT site (nyt.com).
  3. NYT site sees access is from a mobile devices, and automatically substitutes their mobile site (m.nyt.com).
  4. The link is different, so the result is instant linkrot-type breakage.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The 3 Dirty R-Words

In business and IT exercises, there are 3 dirty words that all begin with "R":

  • Reconciliation
  • Retroactive
  • Reversals
Reconciliation can be tedious under the best of circumstances. The best of circumstances being situations that were expressly designed, a priori, for reconciliation (e.g., balancing your checkbook). But often we find our ourselves performing reconciliations post-hoc, where there are many factors, small and large, that make it hard to reconcile. 

Retroactivity is a problem because it just completely messes up baselines, timing and common-sense assumptions. It is also one of the things that makes reconciliation hard--those sneaky retro transactions can throw your compares off. [Date Warehouses may have very sophisticated timelining strategies, to allow reliable reporting of "as is" or "as of" (incorporates retroactivity) and "as was" (reproduce snapshot of the situation, as of a given date) states, from the same recordset.]

Reversals are a sophisticated and often complex form of logical delete. One reason they are challenging is just thinking of all the situations that require them. Then there is the question of what data has to accompany the reversal, in order to create the same state that would have existed had the transaction never happened--while still preserving a clear audit trail that the transaction did, in fact, happen. It is usually a quantity that is being reversed, but what related meta-data goes with it? And how do you make it clear that a given transaction is a reversal, while also trying to ensure that any computations or reports pull in all reversals? Reversals are one contributor to retroactivity. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Old Rituals, Undone by Information Age


  • Letters and mail-call started disappearing more than 10 years ago, with the widespread adoption of email.
  • The family phone--its competition for the line, knowing who your kids are talking to--started disappearing 7-10 years ago, as it began increasingly common to get cell phones for increasingly young children.
  • In my case, at least, the venerable bedside alarm clock--with its need to be set every evening--has been replaced by the multi-alarm flexibility of the phone.

I wonder how long until we don't need to carry a wallet?

Flaw in Smartphone Keyboard Auto-Correct (Don't Fix If It Ain't Broken)

Auto-complete and auto-correct can be very nice. Swiftkey for Android, in particular, can feel like it is reading your mind. However, I would propose that auto-correct should never change a word that is already a valid dictionary word. At best it gets in the way, at worst, it creates weird and occasionally embarrassing results.

Smartphone and Farsightedness: Google Maps Is *The Worst*!

I've complained before about smartphones and farsightedness. Google Maps is positively the worst offender. The street labels are tiny. Not just small (8-10pt) but tiny (4-6pt). And no matter how much you zoom the map--they stay tiny. It is awful. Of all the apps to have this problem, this is the most inopportune one.

Need Better Hyphenation

Reading is one of my major uses of a smartphone. Obviously, screen real-estate is at a premium. There is no room for waste. Thus, as noted, one feature that is crucial, but often lacking, is full-screen mode. Here's another: better hyphenation. Especially in portrait mode, a huge amount of screen real-estate is lost to whitespace, because words don't get divided.

Tablet Use Cases

I suspect #1 is watching movies. #2 may be games. My use case, reading, is probably farther down the list.

As to tablet popularity, I wonder if some of it is attributed to the resolution and beauty of the screen. I find reading on my 4" smartphone not enough words per page, but the phone's resolution is very, very nice. Now, when I use my regular monitor, I find it washed-out and grainy. The crappy screen of our family netbook is even worse.

One more thing to think about...the more a computer activity uses brain-hand interaction, the more we may be drawn to it. I don't have the links at hand, but I have read research in the past about how deeply the human hand-brain connection runs. Such articles have included some degree of finding computer interaction problematic, since it undermines that connection (I don't think mere typing "counts" as hand-brain). So maybe part of the "subliminal" appeal of tablets is stimulating that deep, ancient neural connection.

Feature Idea: Transient Twitter Subscriptions, Driven by URLs

Twitter is a great way to follow breaking details (like a weekend soccer tournament, where the games keep getting re-scheduled due to weather). But the overhead of following, then especially UN-following, is a little tedious. Like Glympse, I would like Twitter subscriptions that automatically expire.

The whole other problem is the slow uptake of Twitter in the non-techie population...we are still a few years away from widespread usage of this type. Currently, posting on Facebook is considered pretty much cutting edge. Not trying to be sarcastic, that is not a bad thing, but Twitter is ideally suited to this use case.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't Twist the Facts, Even in Service of Good Policy

The findings from this so-called "pragmatic trial" may change the way British doctors prescribe drugs for the prevention of asthma flares. Patients may be told that it doesn't really matter what controllers you take, although intensive clinical trials suggest otherwise. In effect, the recommendations will be dumbed down, because some (or even most) patients simply aren't very good at following directions. Even savvy patients—the ones who are perfectly able to handle the more complex and better treatments—would be treated the same as everyone else...Should patients be separated by ability groups, as some students are in schools?
I can sympathize with this viewpoint from a pragmatic financial and clinical perspective, but I have a couple of problems with it. One is personal--the dumbed-down, lowest-common-denominator, one-size-fits-all perspective sacrifices too much for those who aren't dumb. For instance, if you don't have high blood pressure and aren't salt sensitive, there may not be much reason to deny yourself the gustatory delight of salt.

The second is more a matter of philosophy, and its long-term implications for public policy. In a nutshell: in the long-run, no good comes from deceit, even deceit borne of the best intentions. People will start to figure it out, sooner or later, and that will breed distrust at best, conspiracy theories at worst.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Samsung Is on the March

I think Samsung is poised to be the a combination of the next Sony, Panasonic and maybe Maytag. In the past few months, we have purchased a Samsung smartphone, a Samsung refrigerator, and a Samsung laptop.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Lead Generation Sites

This NYT article explains a new (to me) form of internet-based scams, Lead Generation sites:
By that, the Haggler means that there actually is a guy named Bob Strom, who is a bonded locksmith. And he owns a business, which you can visit, at 7352 15th Ave NW. This might seem too obvious to note, but it sets Mr. Strom apart from more than 90 percent of his local competitors. According to Yelp, there are — no joke — nearly 3,000 locksmiths in Seattle, though with relatively rare exceptions these operations aren’t in Seattle at all. 
They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and they’ll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.
That is another example of why social recommendations could be very useful.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Idiom checker

Next frontier for word prcessors and text editors: an "idiom checker". Purpose, in multi-nationality work teams, to point out to writers that they may be using idioms unfamiliar to those nationalities. And also to offer right-click translations.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hate Facebook Email

Third, Google+ conspicuously lacks its own person-to-person message system. It uses its members’ existing email accounts, which don’t need to be on Google’s Gmail system. So if you join Google+, you won’t be saddled with yet another inbox that you need to monitor, and you can reply to messages without having to go to Google+ to do so.
That is a Very Good Thing. Google is doing it this way for obvious reasons which play to their advantage, just as Facebook wanted to bypass normal email accounts, for their own advantage. However, what is good for Google, in this case, is much preferable for me. For multiple reasons, including convenience and control, I detest messaging via Facebook.

(Note: LinkedIn at least makes it easy for its messages to travel via email. If someone sends you a message via LinkedIn, and you have it configured to notify you via email, the notification email is a real email--it contains the full contents of the message, as well as your connections valid email address. So you can immediately take the conversation out of LinkedIn, into email.)

Google Shoulda Bought LinkedIn


Google is taking yet another pass at a social networking product, with Google+. I'm not really up on it, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of buzz about it (pun intended). So I have my doubts about whether it will succeed, at all.

What they should have done--instead of offering $5-6 billion for over-rated Groupon--was to buy LinkedIn. Ideally, back when I told them to, but even if they had done it around the time of LinkedIn's IPO, they might have picked it up for $7 billion or so. That would have given them a winning platform to extend.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Something I Wrote 10 Years Ago

Something I wrote 10 years ago, in a comment on the website of usability guru Jakob Nielsen's. Very interesting to look back, and see where I was way off-base (cell phone's only purpose is voice!), and the areas where I was closer to the mark (PDA size about right; battery-life concerns).


Merge PDA and Phone or Keep Separate?


Erik L. Neu writes:
I am a Palm user. I have read any number of columns recently predicting the demise of the Palm/PDA in favor of cell phone internet access. I think this is ridiculous! The form-factor of the Palm, though great for what it does, is already enough of a usability challenge. I make an analogy between the Palm and a laptop. For the most part, the form factor of the laptop was established nearly a decade ago. Rather than getting smaller, they stay the same size, with more power, functionality and screen area being crammed in the same space. I think the Palm size is about right, it fits reasonably comfortably in the pocket. Now we need the useable screen to expand to fill the footprint of the machine.
As for the cell phone, it has one purpose: voice conversations. So smaller is always better. I would never want to take my Palm jogging, but I just might (usually not, but it is conceivable) want to take my cell phone with me on my run. I am amazed at how small they have gotten already. Besides not being usable, cramming PDA features in them will interfere with this design goal.
Longer-term, yes it would be nice if the cell-phone functionality can reside in the PDA. But I don't see this as being desirable with today's technology--it's not that big a hardship to carry two devices, esp. given the shrinking size of the phone. Plus, their battery-life styles are in conflict--people will be forever finding their PDA out of juice after 2 hours of phone conversation! 
Jakob's reply: Completely agree that we need to recapture the entire surface of the Palm Pilot for screen space. One of the things done right on the Pocket PC. 
I tend to prefer a single, converged device that will be both a PDA and a telephone, especially since the PDA will need to connect to the cellular network anyway in order to get live data. However, as you noted, there is also much to be said in favor of separate devices that can be optimized for their individual features.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Modern Family

Is the first mainstream sit-com that I have mildly enjoyed in, oh, about 3 decades. And I more than mildly enjoy it--I think it is very, very funny!

Android Notifications

Android gets a lot of praise for its notifications, which iOS has recently more or less copied. I'm here to tell you that Android notifications are fine in the simple case, but they have a problem when there are too many--you run out of real estate for the important ones.

Basketball Effective FG Percentage, and Other Statistical Modernizations

Backwardness offends me, especially when there is absolutely no reason or justification for it. Happens often with popular "statistics". I'm not talking about mildly complicated statistics, as might be taught in an intro stats class. I am talking about very basic numbers and metrics.

Basketball Field-Goal Percentage
The 3-point field goal has been part of mainstream basketball for about 30 years. It is an important aspect of the game. Yet the ancient statistic of field-goal percentage--originating before the 3-pointer had been dreamt of--is still the common yardstick of shooting performance. Why?! The more useful statistic would be the "effective field goal percentage", which simply weights the 3-pointer 50% more. It is SO obvious, I do it mentally whenever they flash a players 2 and 3-point stats.

GPAs
This has got to be one of the silliest traditions. Typically, grade-point averages (GPAs) are calculated using a scale where A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, with possible interpolated weights for + and - grades. With ranges for each letter: A=90-100, B=80-89, C=70-79. So let's see...students take tests, and get numerical grades. Those numerical grades are summed and averaged. That result is then placed in a rough range that translates to a letter. Then, those letters are re-translated to a GPA. Crazy stuff--lots of extra computation, all the while removing resolution! The thing that drives me crazy is that this system is universally accepted by very smart people!!!

Stock Quotes
This is a bright spot. For years, stocks were quited in binary fractions--down to sixteenths, or perhaps thirty-seconds. Ridiculous stuff, especially in the age of the digital computer. Yet it persisted. This may be a special case, because I think part of the reason it persisted was entrenched interests--brokers and dealers  benefited from the rounding. Nevertheless, at some point I think in the 1990s, the practice was eliminated. So, progress is possible!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Small Design Pattern: Status History

Where a table has a field for status lifecycle (e.g., New, In-Process, Pending, Complete, Void). You have a couple of options. One is to keep updating the Status field each time it changes. But if you want an audit trail of that  history, you can have a child table that captures each snapshot of history. It would be nice to have it one-click automated.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arab Spring


Crime Wave in Egypt Has People Afraid, Even the Police

Mounting disorder, from jailbreaks to sectarian strife to soccer riots, is causing economic and political worries in post-
revolutionary Egypt.


This kind of societal breakdown is/was one of my fears. After so many decades of repression, pent up passions exploding and chaos ensuing. I'm afraid the "Arab spring" is blooming much faster than optimal.

Never Oversleep Again

I've been using my Andoid phone as my alarm clock.

PROS:
  • Nice, mellow, slowly loudening wake-up sound. Much less jarring than the buzzer on my 20-year-old alarm clock.
  • Can have multiple named alarms, set in advance. Greatly lessens the chance of forgetting to set your alarm. For those easy-to-forget extra-early Monday meetings--set the alarm on Friday.
  • Battery backup, of course!


CONS:

  • Hard to snooze
  • No visual time-check when you wake up in the middle of the night
  • Small reliability risk, relative to tried-and-true alarm clock technology

Smartphones Need Bigger Standard Batteries

I predict that at some point, maybe a couple of years out, very long battery life will "suddenly" become a sought-after feature, more important than the last few millimeters of slimness.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Android Usability Glitch: Suppressing Incompatible Market Apps

The Android Market has functionality to allow apps that are incompatible with the device in question to be suppressed. In principle, that is very good functionality--don't let me install an app that at best won't work, and at worst will mess up, my phone. However, the way this is implemented creates a usability flaw. You search for something you know is in the market and don't find it. You keep searching, trying different terms and spellings, and are completely mystified.

The solution would be to display the incompatible apps, but flag them visually as incompatible. This would both cure the usability flaw, and provide the bonus benefit of helping the user develop their mental model of how things work.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mental Toughness

Howard Wasdin, former Navy SEAL:

I can take just about anyone and make them physically strong. A lot of people showed up at [training] who were much more physically capable than I was, football players and athletes in phenomenal shape, and they were the first to quit. Mental toughness is a must to make it through training, much less through combat.
I've always believed this was the case, for this kind of hardcore work. I remember reading that the survival rate for torpedoed British merchant marines, during World War II, was higher for older men than for young, and they attributed it to their mental seasoning. It also kinds sorta supports my view of why it is perfectly okay to have proportionately less severe pushup standards, for females in the military. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Flaws in One-Size-Fits-All Dosing

 It is about time! I have wondered about this topic for decades! This seems so obvious a consideration! Is it due to--for lack of a better term--laziness, on the part of prescribers? Too much trouble to punch some numbers into a calculator, then round to the nearest available dosage?
A subscriber to our Health After 50 newsletter asks: I'm taller and heavier than the average person. Should I be taking a higher dose of antibiotics? ... as an editorial in The Lancet recently pointed out, a 6- foot, 198-pound male with pneumonia will likely be prescribed the same dose of antibiotics as a 5- foot, 123-pound woman. Some research suggests that one-size-fits-all dosing of antibiotics poses a distinct disadvantage for heavier people. Why? Large -- especially obese -- people have comparatively larger blood volumes than their normal-weight counterparts. Consequently, the concentration of an antibiotic in the bloodstream is lower in a large, obese individual than in a smaller one, making it harder for the antibiotic to fight infection. In fact, some experts theorize that insufficient dosing relative to body size may help explain why obese people tend to recover poorly from infections. Insufficient dosing may also push physicians to prescribe more antibiotics for longer durations, thus contributing to the alarming trend of antibiotic resistance. Ideally, antibiotics should be individualized to age, gender and liver and kidney function as well as height and weight. But clinical trials on individualized dosing have yet to be conducted. It's not clear if this would be cost effective, as drug manufacturers would also have to make changes to match individual patients' needs. For now, talk to your doctor about upping your dose if your current one isn't helping

Programmable Applliances

Yes, yes, YES! I have been after this for years.

Looking to the future, the team foresees a world where accessories can work with all Android devices, regardless of manufacturer. To that end, Google is introducing the Android Open Accessory API, which will allow universal accessory compability. While initially designed around USB, they look to Bluetooth. One example they give is having an exercise bike recognize your phone and launch a corresponding workout app automagically. Google is committed to giving developers a path to making great accessories, in a program that's completely open with no fees. Google would "like to think of your entire home as an accessory," and sees a future where your appliances communicate with you Android devices, designing an open wireless protocol to let anything electrical talk to Android.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Smartphones have majorly changed the way we deal with daily matters and these devices have even become a necessity for many of us, but there are those that simply don’t need such a strong phone and would prefer a WiFi-only device to use as a PDA/multimedia device. Finding a good “phoneless smartphone” is not an easy task right now, unless one goes for the Apple iPod Touch, of course. Last January at CES, Samsung announced the Samsung Galaxy Player, finally bringing a worthy competitor to the iPod (more specifically, the iPod Touch). At last, Samsung has officially launched the Sasung Galaxy S WiFi 4.0 and 5.0 devices, which are the equivalent versions of the Galaxy players outside of the U.S.
Finally! I've believed the Android ecosystem really needs this. Though I'd keep my fingers crossed on price--it can't be any more expensive than an iPod touch, and ideally, would be cheaper.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This article pretty much nails the Trump "candidacy"

The developer has put together epic deals, but several of his companies have endured bankruptcy — the latest just two years ago — and he's a front man with just a slender stake in a significant number of the casinos and buildings that bear his name. This particular messenger is a showman at heart.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Spare Battery for Every Smartphone

We have 4 Android phones in the family now, and they are all battery hogs. No surprise there. It usually troubles me the least, since I work from home. But while traveling on vacation, I have found it convenient to have a spare battery (which I lucked into via a warranty return). All of which leads me to propose that every Smartphone should come with a spare battery. Or, better yet, with a spare extended battery. 

Serif Fonts Acceptable on Smartphones

Serif fonts, like the Times family, look great in print, but not so great on computer monitors. That is because even very good monitors pixel density falls far short of the minimum print standard of 300 dpi. I have noticed, though, that Times looks just fine on my Vibrant smartphone, whose pixel density very closely approaches 300 dpi. I imagine the same is true of the iPad, though in a much larger form factor. I think that, almost as much as the form factor, helps explain why the iPad has been such a successful reading platform. Same for Kindle, sans color.

Macro Buttons

In our conversation, I told him that so little information could be displayed on the watch's face - there is a small, scrollable window at the top and another one at the bottom - that it seemed nearly useless. But he said it would be enough for alerts, able to notify the wearer, for example, "when you've got 4 more e-mails, 3 Facebook updates and 10 Tweets." He said buttons on the watch could be programmed to dispatch canned responses. Mr. McKinney, who is 50, said that young consumers who are unaccustomed to wearing watches would still find the MetaWatch appealing. They'd use it, he said, for purposes other than timekeeping. "I hit a button and - boom - I'm checked in at Foursquare," he offered as an example.
I started this article totally skeptical, but the one touch button, to perform certain well-defined functions is an interesting concept. I've written before about the need for a physical button to perform macro-like functions.

Florida Toll by Plate

I thought Smartpass tolling was advanced, but in Florida we experienced toll-by-plate

Yelp Found Moderately Useful

I've been a bit of a Yelp skeptic, but I did find it mildly useful for looking up local restaurants and the like while traveling.

Open placebo

While Sandler and Ted Kaptchuk, lead author of the irritable bowel syndrome study, say that while their so-called "open placebos" don't hinge on deception, they do employ some sleight of hand. A doctor who uses an open placebo is like a magician. The trick is performed with full disclosure that it is, in fact, a trick, but it still requires a subtle form of deception to execute. For the placebo to work, the patient must suspend disbelief at the doctor's urging. Kids in the ADHD study were told that, "the mind and body work together in interesting ways and placebos are known to work sometimes but no one knows why"


Very clever. The placebo effect is surprising, the "open placebo" effect is dumbfounding.

A Sharing Society

I really like the sentiment of this time article, "Today's Smart Choice: Don't Own. Share". In fact, I've written about this topic several times . There is also a book out: What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. (In that spirit, I have just reserved my copy from the library.)

This could be nice

Polycom teleconferencing app for the iPad...could be a step in the right direction toward robust teleconferencing software, as I have wished for.

Asus Transformer: Tablet + Keyboard

I think this is the perfect form factor. I just bought my first netbook, for my wife, because she travels to client sites during the day, and takes a lot of notes. MS Office support and good keyboard input was a must. I know you can get an aux keyboard for an iPad, but lugging those two things around and connecting them defeats the point.

I am guessing the first iteration price point will be too high. To me, a good price point would be no higher than the current iPad. Given that the competing tablets have had trouble achieving that--without the fancy transformer capability--that may be a challenge.

Outlook Communicator

We use Office Communicator at work. In typical M$ fashion, it is minimally adequate to the task, it is conveniently available and it is free, but it really is quite lacking.

I have a wide screen monitor. It offers more width than I need, most of the time. I would like to use the right-most 5" for OC. I would like it to be tabbed. I would like the newest conversation to pop to the top. Is that so much to ask for? No, of course it isn't. But with no serious competition nipping at their heels, of course M$ does nothing, nada, zero to make the product incrementally better. Blech.

Credit Cards and Traveling

How annoying. I've noticed in recent years that I get more "fraud detection" messages left on my home answering machine, when traveling and using credit cards. And I know when traveling overseas, you need to give your credit card issuer a heads-up. But during our recent vacation to the Florida Keys, our cards were flat-out denied. Not because of a big purchase, or lots of use, but the very first time we tried, for $40 in groceries.

Such a minor pain to call and get it authorized. And, for Wells Fargo at least, no way to do that on the web. Dumb.

Smartphone Marketing Idea: Attack TI Calculator Franchise

TI has a lock on the school calculator market. It's ridiculous--a big, bulky, low-res-display TI graphing calculator costs $100. The price has been stuck at the same level for years. Why? Because they are an entrenched, de facto standard. Sure, you can buy a functionally equivalent Casio for half the price, but TI is what the teachers will "support".

Because I hate all things that are over-priced, I abhor this situation. I think it might be a good angle for a smartphone vendor to attack. Provide subsidies and seed units to get your hardware and calculator softare out into the education market. Make it really good, so the teachers and students like it. Provide good support. Undermine TI before they know what hit them, and before your competitors catch on. Establish your brand as the education brand. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Really?!

I weep for my country, that some would, even for a moment, consider Donald Trump to be presidential material.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Problem of the Rifle


I just re-read the poem "The Highwayman"  for the first time in years, helping my sophomore daughter with it. I enjoy the poem, but I found myself wondering--exactly what is the deal with the rifle?
They had bound her up at attention, with many a sniggering jest!
They had tied a rifle beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say, 
Why specifically did the soldiers tie it beneath her breast? It is certainly instrumental to the plot that it be there:
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers! 
The tip of one finger touched it, she strove no more for the rest; Up, she stood up at attention, with the barrel beneath her breast. She would not risk their hearing, she would not strive again, For the road lay bare in the moonlight, Blank and bare in the moonlight, And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain. 
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear; Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear? Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, The highwayman came riding-- Riding--riding-- The redcoats looked to their priming! She stood up straight and still.  
Tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot tlot, in the echoing night! Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath, Then her finger moved in the moonlight-- Her musket shattered the moonlight-- Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him--with her death. 
But it seems way too contrived. It just doesn't add work for me. The best theory I can come up with is that the soldiers thought The Highwayman would embrace her and cause the rifle to discharge. But that seems less than half-baked. Am I missing something? Because I hate to be a spoil-sport[1], but to base such a central plot element on such an illogical circumstance just undermines the whole enterprise.

(I think Noyes could have achieved the same plot effect with more plausible details...she could have tried to wrest a gun away from one of the redcoats, and been shot in the struggle.)


___________
[1] Okay, those who know me will realize that I don't actually hate being a spoil-sport in questioning things this way, it is probably more fair to say I thrive on it...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Beating the NYT Paywall

There are so many ways to defeat the NYT paywall. Some common ones are:

  • Use multiple browsers, on multiple computers
  • Read via aggregators
  • Find the article you want, then go search for it

But I think I have just found the best one. All I have to do is add an article to my beloved Read It Later (or use Readability, pretty much the same thing), and it bypasses the limit. Oh yeah, and it also bypasses the ads! Talk about self-defeating...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Groupon Inefficiency

But, in what seems to be an increasing number of cases, customers come for the deals and then leave for deals offered by other merchants through Groupon. So the number of "new" customers attracted by cheap prices increases, and the number of loyal customers decreases as shoppers prefer to become "new" again for whomever offers the best. deal.

'Ya think? While I am not above deals, in my quest for cheapness, I am also sick unto death of all the time, energy and attention absorbed by deal-hunting. It's the electronic equivalent of coupon clipping, totally inefficient. I really prefer everyday low prices, like Sams, Walmart and Amazon. Much more sustainable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wave Cuts Or Layoffs

I agree with the ideas here, at least in situations of severe recession. Interestingly, the very concept that there might be an alternative to layoffs is foreign to most people I talk to.

o it seems bosses are smart not to cut wages. It's bad for morale, which is bad for productivity. Sending out pink slips might seem similarly demoralizing, and thus bad for productivity, but layoffs have a more complicated effect on the lucky employees who hang on to their jobs. Layoffs can even boost productivity by giving workers a bit of extra motivation to prove their value, in the same way that Ford's high salaries encouraged hard work. And it might not be so crazy for workers to respond to wage cuts with suspicion—in the current recovery, corporate profits have sprung back, even as wages have stagnated. What could be more unfair, from the worker's perspective, than a cut in wages accompanied by higher profits? Yet this aversion to pay cuts isn't good for workers or the American economy more broadly. More people end up losing their jobs than if wages were more flexible, and there are serious long-term consequences for the workers who lose their monthly paychecks. The negative impact on a worker's earnings, health, and even the earning prospects of his children lasts decades beyond the pink slip's arrival. Creative solutions—like the furloughs that cut government salaries in California and elsewhere—might help to make lower pay more palatable, by presenting the cut as a temporary measure and by creating at least the illusion of a lower workload. If we can find other ways of overcoming the simmering resentment that naturally accompanies wage cuts, workers themselves will be better for it in the long run.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vacation

Sleeping on the beach
Slathered fully in sunscreen
Hat shading my eyes

I Want to Short Groupon

At $25 billion, Groupon's valuation would top Google's $23 billion market value when it went public in August 2004.

I don't normally mess around with anything other than index mutual funds, but I would be sorely tempted to heavily short Groupon, at anything approaching that kind of valuation.

Japan's Call to Strength

Prior to the quake, Japan was a timid nation worrying about its eventual decline. People expected nothing from the nation, and the mutual help across generations and the trust in local communities was beginning to crumble.

Maybe this disaster will serve as Japan's Call to Strength. 9-11 should have been America's, so maybe we can use this event as our national wake up call, too.

The Last Trace of Vaudeville?

Normally I would equate "Street Performer" with "occasional, undesirable feature of modern urban life". But in Key West, Florida, it means something much different. We watched four different acts in Mallory Square, and they were all quite good. It made me think this must have been a lot like what Vaudeville-something I am much too young to have firsthand knowledge of-must have been like.







Apple vs Pear: Doesn't Matter?

This is the kind of "nevermind" reversal that causes so much confusion and cynicism amongst the general public. I wonder if the original belief was a correlation problem: more women are pears, and for reasons having nothing to do with body shape, of course, women have fewer heart attacks. That correlation might have confounded prior studies?

A major new analysis challenges the long-held idea that obese people who carry their extra weight mainly around the middle - those with an "apple" shape - are at greater risk for heart disease than "pears," whose fat tends to cluster on their thighs and buttocks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grade Point Averages

Converting a numeric test score to a letter, only to convert it back to a number in order to calculate GPA--how dumb is that?!  This is right up there with the (not so) old practice of quoting stock price in sixteenths! Seriously, doing it this way makes zero sense, but since it has always been this way, nobody questions it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Computer In Your Hand

Although I am an Android smartphone fan, my normal routine doesn't actually involve prolonged heavy use, since I spend most of my day in front of, or very near to, a computer. But now we are on vacation, and while we do have a netbook to share amongst the five of us, there is obviously a lot of competiton for time on it, so I am using the phone much more heavily. Verdict is pretty favorable

My phone is a Samsung Vibrant, aka Galaxy S, so a good, fast, large-display 2nd-generation Android phone. The combination of capable hardware, large screen, steadily improving OS and apps, and the wonderful SwiftKey virtual keybord, all combine to make it a very pleasant, productive experience. I have even started making shorter blog posts from the phone--not bad at all. Also,  Read It Later continues to delight. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Apple Is The Exception That Proves The Rule

DAVE WINER: Meanwhile it's the stuff that doesn't get the hype that has a chance to go through the iterations needed to achieve market acceptance, off on the side, without millions of users showing up Day One. Almost every product we use was like that. (Recent Apple rollouts are the exceptions. Don't know how they do it. They must have quite a testing process going on behind the curtain.)

Gorilla Glass - Branding Case Study

Corning's Journey From Cookware To Gorilla Glass: http://www.npr.org/134240989

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Slugging Form of Ride-Sharing

This is a great phenomenon. I have always thought that if we could just induce half the rush hour drivers to carpoolbwith just one other person, that would instantly reduce traffic by 25%. Thanks key is the finely balanced system of rewards that the article describes for Washington DC slugging.

Longform: Beautiful, Curated Blogroll of Long Magazine Articles

A great source of material for Read It Later is Longform.org. The really nice part is that Longform has recognized this synergy, and offers specific versions of its SAVE button, that implement the Read It Later bookmarklet. So it is one-click effortless to flag an article that looks interesting, simply based on its caption. (Arts & Letters, are you listening :) ?)

As A Reading Platform, Smartphones Finally Achieve

I've complained before about the disappointing shortcomings of Android phones as a reading platform. One of the very biggest limitations was speed-of-access--article weren't cached. I am happy to say that I now consider those limitations fixed. The new Read It Later app is just terrific, and sells for the extremely reasonable price of $1. Another competitive option is the Everpaper client for Instapaper.

Both these apps meet the minimum for solid competence:
  1. Offline access--very fast, and can use when you don't have data (e.g., airplane).
  2. Ease of adding content.
  3. Auto-formatting for mobile-friendly reading layout (very, very important)
  4. Good reading client, including the very important configurable font-size.
  5. Web browser bookmarklets--for flagging articles on your computer, and having them auto-synch to the reading app.
  6. Good, sensible mobile configurability--lock orientation, specify when to synch.
The extra features that set Read It Later apart:
  1. Auto-saves your place in the article--this is very critical.
The minor polishing that it still needs:
  1. Full-screen option, to make full use of limited real-estate.
  2. A scrollbar on touch, so that you don't have to swipe page after page to fast-forward or scroll back.
  3. Tied in to the above, browser-style forward and back buttons.
  4. Page-Up, Page-Down tied to the volume rocker switch, of course! (Or a tap-to-turn, like the Kindle app)