Saturday, December 29, 2012

Screw Frisco!

Slate article: "San Francisco can become a world capital. First it needs to get over itself". What would make me happier is if the tech sector would wise up to all the drawbacks of California, and start looking for new pastures (Minneapolis-St. Paul for a larger metro, Bloomington, IN for small city).

I don't want to buy ANYTHING by sending a text

"Android Malware Creeps Into Cellphone Bill". The root cause of this one is easy to diagnose: it's a terrible idea to spend money simply by sending a text.

Liberal best intentions?

This article on NYC's findings on which buildings use the most energy seems rife with erroneous conclusions based on gross statistical over-simplification. Sounds like they must be using the most simplistic measurements of energy per square foot or energy per head count.

I view this as an example of (presumably) liberal good intentions, not anchored in solid science, that are likely to lead to waste, disillusionment and cynicism.  Deeply flawed data is much more harmful than no data. #Innumeracy

Combine all forms of textual messaging

I have always thought the distinctions between email, IM and texts were artificial. I would like to see them all integrated under one wrapper, with distinctions that preserve the conventions of the current usage. 
  • Text is an "immediate priority" email (more than ordinary "high priority" like in Outlook). Optionally, your client or email service can let you require a PIN or white-list relationship to accept incoming as immediate priority.
  • IM is exchanged in real-time, and optionally saved as email. 

"No One Uses Smart TV Internet Because It Sucks"

Got to agree with this article, but I would go further. The useability, even for the primary purpose of TV-and DVR-watching, of Comcast and DirecTV software is wretched. This is another industry that is ripe for disruption by Google or, more likely, Apple.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Corporate Punishment and Deterrence

Corporations are indispensable and vital in a modern economy, but let's not kid ourselves, they are utterly  amoral. Given the circumstances, almost any publicly-held company will eventually morph into a self-serving, competition-destroying, self-dealing monster. There is an old saying--every business person is champion of free market competition--except in their own industry, where they are more than happy to engage in special pleading, if that advances their interests by securing subsidies, tax breaks or best of all, regulatory barriers to competition.
So it is useful to think about the mechanisms for disciplining corporate excesses. Sometimes, the market and consumer behavior works. Certainly for routine matters such as incremental price increases, the market reaction is the best determinant, much better than any sort regulatory control. But in other situations, especially where uniquely defended market positions exist, such as created by network effects, the issues are more complex, and aren't addressed by a simple vote-with-your-wallet incremental buying decision.
So it is especially heartening to me to read about the backlash against Facebook-Instagram, for their recent gross over-reach. (Even if the NY Post report that "Instagram "may have shed nearly a quarter of its daily active users in the wake of the debacle" is likely way overstated.) 
For every one high-profile consumer-backlash issue, there are hundreds of cases of corporate bullying and self-dealing that go un-sanctioned. Therefore, we must hope that for the few cases that achieve a high profile to serve as effective deterrents, the punishment has to quite severe. If the transgressing companies don't pay a high enough price, on the rare occasion where they are tried in the court of public opinion, then there is little deterrence effect.
Hence, for a severe serial offender like Facebook-Instagram, netizens should all be rooting for major blowback. And hoping that even if (when) Instagram backtracks a little bit, users still stay away.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Gamification Skepticism

I want to go on record as being a skeptic of gamification for consumer products companies. 

I find this NYT article pretty accurately leaning skeptical. Just to be clear, I'm not saying gamification never works, I just think that the cases where it works will more likely be the exceptions that the promoters wish would be the rule, but aren't. Here's a choice quote:
"It's a concept being invented and mastered by speakers, conference organizers and business consultants in order to provide them with a short-lived burst of success," said Dr. Bogost, who last year wrote an essay that, in its off-color title, bluntly dismissed gamification. 
One mild example of gamification that I have been offered, and have no interest in, is riding against a virtual competitor when doing the exercise bike. It's artificial and dull, and I don't see other people doing it, either.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

eBook Search is great, but dangerous

When I was a student, I used to fantasize how powerful it would be to have online, searchable texts, especially when doing literature essays or term papers. You know: instead of spending 10 minutes hunting for that quote that you can remember in your mind's eye--just search for it.

Online books arrived too late for the above use case to apply to me, but I have been enjoying a small version of that. When reading a novel, sometimes I will forget some detail--most often, who the heck some minor character is. In such cases, it is very nice to be able to search, and usually go back to the first mention of said character.

My son, however, just encountered a glitch with that approach--his search inadvertently revealed key upcoming plot information. So I think the Kindle, etc, need a "no spoiler" option: a checkbox "don't show me any search results beyond my current place in the book".

(In general, I think everything about content needs to give thought to the "no spoiler" factor...)

Solution to deal with alarms in silent mode

Alarms in Android override the silent setting on your phone. 95% of the time, this is just as it should be. For instance, I use my phone as my alarm clock. I don't want notifications disturbing me at night, so I silence my phone when I go to bed. But obviously, I wouldn't want that to override the morning alarm.

Where this can become a problem is when, like me, you rely on alarms for reminders. For instance, I might set twice-daily alarms to remind me to take a dosage of an antibiotic. The problem arises when I silence my phone, as at a movie or, worse yet, a NYC Philharmonic concert, you go to silence , and don't realize I still have that reminder alarm set to go off mid-way through.

So what's the solution? I think it lies with an extension of the functionality of an un-silencer app (e.g., SilenceModeTimer). When you set your phone to silent, this app triggers a dialog that asks you how long to keep your phone silent. The app will then automatically un-silence your phone at the end of that period.

So the extension of that functionality would be:
  1. Un-silencer app looks to see if there are any alarms scheduled for the silent period you have selected.
  2. If there are any, it warns you.
It's as simple as that. I can think of more elaborate functionality--bringing up the alarm window, letting you choose whether to suppress the alarms, make them only vibrate, etc--but I don't think it is necessary. In fact, the warning could even be static text ("you have alarms scheduled, that will sound during the silent period").