Monday, October 31, 2011

More adverse effects on FriendFeed

This is a follow-up to my post How the Google Reader changes are adversely affecting FriendFeed.

In that post, I referenced a Jesse Stay Google+ item that predicted these adverse effects.

Well, when I shared my post on Google+, Stay offered this comment:

I mentioned earlier (on Friendfeed) that this could be the end of Friendfeed. That was the last thing that was populating the service for me.

So Stay said the same thing on both Google+ and FriendFeed. But I never saw his FriendFeed statement.

That says it all.

P.S. If you want to make sure that you continue to read posts from this blog, even if your Google Reader friends aren't sharing posts with you, go ahead and subscribe at

How the Google Reader changes are adversely affecting FriendFeed

It's finally arrived.

Not too long ago, Google announced some changes its segment-leading feed consumption engine, Google Reader. Google Reader was going to get a brand spiffy new look that aligned with some of Google's other products, and Google Reader users were also going to get the capability to share things with their Google+ buddies.

Oh, and there was (quoting Google's arch-enemy) one more thing:

As a result of these changes, we also think it's important to clean things up a bit. Many of Reader's social features will soon be available via Google+, so in a week's time we'll be retiring things like friending, following and shared link blogs inside of Reader.

And some people are not pleased about this. Here's something that Jesse Stay wrote back on October 20:

Dear Google Reader team, as one of your most active Google Reader users, I will no longer use Google Reader if you remove friends from the service. It completely loses its purpose for me. To me, it was a way to get news from my friends and guarantee I got it. There is no equivalent service on Google right now. Please don't remove my friends from Google Reader!

Now I'm a long-time Google Reader user, and I get a lot of my blog post ideas from things that I see in Google Reader. But let me let you in on a little secret - when I have over 1,000+ unread items in my feed, the shared items from other Google Reader users are one of the first things that I mark as "read." So most of my actual reading in Google Reader is from feeds that I explicitly selected on my own. And I don't know that I share as much stuff as I used to - frankly, when I shared items, I usually received more comment on FriendFeed than I did on Google Reader itself.

So I wasn't quite sure how these Google Reader changes were going to affect me. Early this evening, however, I was able to take the new Google Reader for a spin. Other than the change in appearance, it's almost identical to the old Google Reader - with one exception: instead of having the "Share" or "Share with note" buttons, there is now a "+1" button. I plus-one'd a few things (including some things from my friends' shared feeds from before the change). That's when I noticed something.

But I wasn't the first person to notice it. Over a week before the new Google Reader was implemented, Jesse Stay saw something down the horizon. Here's one of the questions that Stay asked back on October 22nd:

What think ye? With Google Reader native sharing leaving the service, is this the end of Friendfeed as well? I know that's one of the last things populating Friendfeed for me.

This is what I observed today. The things that usually would have shown up in FriendFeed are now showing up in my Google+ feed.

So then I began looking at the other things that I send to my FriendFeed feed. Some of them, such as Google Reader shares and Twitter tweets, no longer work. Nothing comes from YouTube, because YouTube permanently disabled my account and won't let me talk to anyone about it. But posts from all of my blogs still show up on FriendFeed, and my Disqus comments show up on FriendFeed, and the songs that I like on and Pandora still show up on FriendFeed (well, when I log into Pandora, that is).

Now what are the chances that or Pandora would change their systems so that you would +1 songs rather than sending your likes to an RSS feed? As far as I can tell, those chances are pretty slim.

But there is YouTube - well, not for me, but for you. Perhaps YouTube will be the next Google property that turns off the RSS feed capability and only allows +1's instead.

While I as a user might not like it, I realize why Google is doing this. Google's customers are its advertisers, and Google therefore has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders to get as many eyeballs in front of ads as possible. And to do that, people need to be directed inward toward the Google silo. Competitors are trying to keep people within the Facebook silo, or the Twitter silo, or whatever.

And this certainly affects Google+, because someday there will be some form of advertising on Google+. Maybe it will be on the side of the feed, or maybe it will be "sponsored" posts within the feed. My feed already contains the occasional alert to the really popular item, so it's really simple to use that same functionality to bring you the latest sponsored post from someone.

So don't be surprised if Google's actions inadvertently kill off FriendFeed. (And it should be noted that Facebook is doing its part to kill off FriendFeed as well.)

Is Grainger Games using the Bob Parsons playbook? (Sponsorship of the Games Media Awards)

When Andy C shared a Michael (heeed) Rimicans share of this Gizmodo UK story, I just ended up shaking my head.

Bulent Yusuf's story described the antics at this year's Games Media Awards in England. Now awards shows sometimes have antics from some of the people competing for awards, and sometimes there are antics from people just seeking free publicity. But in this case, the problems came from a different source.

Yusuf's article begins:

The first warning sign was at the entrance to the venue: Vinopolis, near London Bridge. Parked outside was a giant, orange-coloured Humvee, the words “Grainger Games” splattered all over it. Who’s Grainger Games? Why, they appeared to be the main sponsors of the evening’s festivities.

What does Grainger Games do, exactly? They’re a national games retail chain. Given that we’ve never heard of them before, sponsoring an industry event is a pretty savvy move, right?

Yusuf then describes some of the things that the sponsor did before the show even began. I'm not going to go into all of them here - read the article if you want to know more. I'm going to concentrate on what happened after the awards show itself began.

What really got everyone’s attention though was the table down at the front. Everyone on this table was pissed out of their heads, repeatedly interrupting [host Greg Davies'] routine for their own amusement. Someone shouts out “BUSTOP WANKER!”, in reference to a gag from The Inbetweeners. Who are these tossers? Why, it’s none other than the folks from Grainger Games.

Yusuf links to a JamSponge account:

Shouting loudly over the top of each and every award and speech, the lack of respect escalated from irritating to infuriating. Some kindly described the behaviour as heckling, but I’m pretty sure what you’re saying has be either amusing or decipherable for that distinction to be technically valid.

Expertly alternating between shouting whilst sitting down and shouting whilst standing up, at one of the particularly coked-up chaps even decided to jump up on stage and start thrusting his pelvis towards the audience. I think it might have been the award for Rock Paper Shotgun. I’m a big fan too, but still.

And it only got worse. Yusuf:

The pinnacle, or nadir, of the evening, came as Patrick Garrett stepped up to present a Games Media Legend Award for Colin Campbell. His speech, designed to honour and celebrate his colleague’s achievements, was slow-clapped and booed by the drunken morons from Grainger Games.

Also see Bitter Wallet and Nukezilla.

Stuart Dinsey of Intent Media, who organized (I mean organised) the event, penned a long statement which included the following:

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise wholeheartedly for this – and to make it very clear that Grainger will not be welcome back in any capacity to the GMAs, or any Intent Media events.

I'd also like to give you a little background, without in any way ducking the fundamental point that, as event organiser, we take ultimate responsibility.

Grainger approached us a few months ago and explained that their intention, through association with the GMAs, was to get closer to the games media. What they have done, in spectacular fashion, is alienate the entire games media in one night. Good work, guys.

I'd especially like to apologise to the nominees and winners whose big night may have been soured; to our host, Greg Davies, who battled through manfully (and spoke for all of us, I think, when he told Grainger Games exactly what he thought of them); and to our sponsors, old and new, who year after year provide the funds and support to make the GMAs such a great event but who, last night, justifiably, were angry and horrified to find their names associated with such shoddy behaviour.

For its part, Grainger Games issued an apology that Nukezilla characterised (see, I can un-Zed) as "weak." Judge for yourself:

The GMAs

We wholeheartedly apologise if we offended anyone at last night's GMAs. It was never our intention to upset anybody. We sponsored the awards to show our support for everyone involved in games media and we continue to value and appreciate all their hard work and commitment.

My suspicion is that they're trying to follow Bob Parsons' GoDaddy route - basically, to get free publicity by doing things that HBO and Showtime lovers characterize (or characterise) as "edgy." But that course of action will only work if your sales are so outstanding that investors will want to be associated with you DESPITE your boorish behavior (behaviour).

(You know, perhaps I need two blogs - one for the USA, and one for the rest of the world. Or perhaps I'll write all of my posts in French, and allow my readers to translate them with all the u's and s's and zed's that they want.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thoughts on Zed (courtesy Colleen Jolly) #APMP

I am a member of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), and therefore receive the organization's journal. The Fall/Winter 2011 journal included an article by Colleen Jolly entitled "Case Study: An American (a)Broad: The story of one small business expanding internationally." Jolly is one of the partners of the 24 Hour Company, a firm that provides high-quality proposal graphics to bidders who need graphics done quickly.


Jolly chose to expand the Fairfax County, Virginia-based business to the United Kingdom. Since she often markets to APMP members, she was encouraged by the fact that there was an APMP chapter in the United Kingdom. She also made several other assumptions, including this one:

Americans and Brits more or less speak the same language.

Five years have passed since Jolly launched the UK branch of 24 Hour Company, and she learned a number of lessons during those years. One of the lessons that she learned was that this assumption was incorrect.

Her APMP journal article includes an entire section entitled "Meet Zed, just another letter or something more sinister?" The term "Zed" encapsulates several differences between British and American people. First off, this is how British people refer to the letter Z. Jolly mentions another difference:

The British do no like "Zs." They use the letter "S" in place of most "Zs" (or Zeds as they call them), they add "Us" in funny places, and occasionally mess up the spellings of normal, little words like "centre" and "tyre."

Jolly noted that the British are somewhat tolerant when we Americans spell things incorrectly, but when we combine misspellings with cultural ignorance, we appear amateurish. Tip from Jolly: do not refer to a presentation in Britain as "Design 101" - the British number their educational courses differently, so Jolly's intention to describe the course as an introductory seminar was completely lost on her audience.

Jolly learned from this experience and other experiences, and now 24 Hour Company's marketing in the United Kingdom has been designed to meet that market. In fact, 24 Hour Company has two different websites - and Can you tell which website includes the text listed below?

24 Hour Company UK specialises in providing consulting and training services to support proposal development. Since 1992, we have helped companies win billions through our graphics and conceptualisation, desktop publishing, proposal editing, and instructional seminars and workshops. Increase your win ratio with our team of qualified consultants or let us train your own staff using our effective, bid-winning methods.

That was easy. Even if I had removed "UK" from the text above, you could probably identify the source after seeing "specialises" and "conceptualisation." Note that "billions" is not followed by either "dollars" or "pounds," by the way.

OK, let's try another one:

[DELETED] was founded as a traditional graphic design firm in 1992 by Dennis Fitzgerald. Realizing the opportunity to focus on an underserved niche market in the Washington, DC area, Dennis transitioned the company into one whose primary clients are business development professionals who bid on government and commercial contract work. To provide a growing client base with unique, new services, the company added three new partners: Mike Parkinson and Paul Kay in 1999, and Colleen Jolly in 2004.

Now here's similar text from the other website:

[DELETED] was founded in 1992 with Dennis Fitzgerald as managing partner. To provide a growing client base with unique, new services, the company added three new partners: Mike Parkinson, Paul Kay in 1999 and Colleen Jolly in 2004.

One more question. Jolly has different business cards depending upon whether she is in the US or the UK. She even uses a different title - on one card she is a "Managing Director," and on the other one she is a "Partner." Do you know which is which?

P.S. If you want another example of the differences between the various English speakers, ask Steven Hodson for his zip code.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kitchen Aid oven "remove probe" problem revisited

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post entitled Remove probe? It's hard to find a kitchen aid at The main point of the post was that when I encountered a problem with our Kitchen Aid oven, I found the answer to the question at a third-party site, rather than at Kitchen Aid's own site.

The specific problem? A message that suddenly pops up on the oven telling you to remove the temperature probe, even when you aren't using a temperature probe.

The solution, as documented at, is to dry out moisture from the oven. This takes care of the false reading.

Incidentally, I have subsequently found this same advice at two posts at

So why am I talking about a 2009 post? Because that post recently received a comment:

I found this by googling, and am grateful. We have had other issues with this oven--we didn't have an oven for 6 weeks while KitchenAid misdiagnosed a major problem, sent out the wrong part, took forever to send the right part, etc. We are tenants, but we do own a home elsewhere, and you can be sure I won't ever buy KitchenAid.

In my reply, I wondered if other brands were any better.

As it turns out, this very question was addressed in the second of the two fixya links that I found. After providing his advice, Norm Dickerson went on to say:

Also as an aside, I work on all brands of ovens and we find that the Kitchen Aid models have the fewest repairs and the greatest reliability, everybody has design defects and most of the other brands have deliberately built in these defects for faster replacement. The only advice on the Kitchen Aid units that I recommend is that when you do replace it that you buy a separate oven and seperate microwave oven. Most microwave ovens are only lasting 8 to 15 years before major repairs, yet the ovens last 30 to 40 years.

Granted that this is just one opinion, but it's interesting to note that despite the problems encountered by various people, at least Dickerson thinks that KitchenAid is still the most reliable oven around.

But we still have the issue of having to go to a third party, rather than KitchenAid's own website, for advice. Since a couple of years had passed, I returned to KitchenAid's website. There's still no discussion area on the site, so I ended up at the FAQs page. A search for the word "probe" yielded three results, one of which described the tempreature probe but did not address errors.

But I did learn the following:

The health of some birds is extremely sensitive to the fumes given off during the Self-Cleaning cycle. Exposure to the fumes may result in death to certain birds. Always move birds to another closed and well-ventilated room.

Remember this when you cook your Thanksgiving turkey. Cleaning the oven beforehand could kill the bird.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saving mistakes in broad daylight

When I logged in to a popular business website this morning, this is what I saw.

Over my lifetime, I have had a number of pet peeves. Gradually I've accepted that the world is imperfect and don't worry about them any more - theirs just no use in enforcing principals when everyone knows what your saying anyway. (I still laugh at people who call themselves "principle engineers" - you just can't trust the other kind, I guess.)

But for some reason, I'm still bugged by people who insist on quoting Standard Time during the summer, when (in most jurisdictions) Daylight Saving Time is in effect.

Perhaps I should move to Arizona - as long as I don't move to a Native American reservation.

Some examples of government slowness

Back in August, I wrote a post entitled More on the real CSI - there aren't even resources to solve the notorious cases which noted that it took decades for Ted Bundy's DNA to be added to the federal government's CODIS database.

But governments are slow all over. Take Azerbaijan:

Back in 2005, Azerbaijan proclaimed an ambitious programme to bring all its state institutions online, but six years on, the authorities are still woefully bad at responding to enquiries.

The e-government strategy was supposed to allow anyone open access to information about state institutions, public services and utilities, education and so on.

At present, though, just four services are available online – tax returns, entrance forms for university, utilities payments, and a system for complaining about state institutions. think that if the bureaucrats were protecting their own interest, the complaints web page would be the LAST thing that they'd get around to implementing.

But that's a former part of the Soviet Union. We're obviously more advanced in the United States, aren't we?

The theft last month of backup computer tapes containing the medical records of nearly 5 million military personnel was not reported to the public for more than two weeks, and active and retired personnel will have to wait another four to six weeks before finding out if their records are at risk....

In its own defense, Tricare says that the data on the stolen tapes is not easy to read. Not, apparently, because it was encrypted, but because it is written in government-ese that is so complex no sane person can get through it. Really good government-ese ranks right up there with AES 256 encryption as a way to protect data.

Of course, the dirty little secret is that private industry isn't much better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

(empo-tymshft) When words change their meanings - an example from the biometric world

While we sometimes think of language as a static thing, it is in reality constantly changing. This is especially true for languages such as English that are widely used - my language is always incorporating terms from foreign languages, and is always inventing new terms - and new meanings for terms. If you don't believe me, take a time machine back to 2001 and ask Ashton Kutcher to tweet.

I work in the biometrics industry, and in that capacity I subscribe to various feeds and mailing lists. Among these is a private mailing list that often speaks of the science of biometrics. Therefore it was interesting when one of the participants (again, since this is a private list, I will not state the name of the person, although I don't think the person would mind) shared this with us:

Innerscope uses biometrics to understand the full scope of emotional reaction.

Huh? I could go to a crime scene and look at a fingerprint, and chances are I wouldn't be able to deduce anything emotionally (unless the fingerprint appears next to a hole smashed in the wall).

The quote above is from a press release that begins as follows:

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Oct. 21, 2011) - The British Columbia Chapter of the American Marketing Association (BCAMA) is pleased to announce the upcoming presentation on the use of biometrics for advertising evaluation by Ipsos. The event will take place on Thursday, October 27th, 2011 at 7:00am PT at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. To register for this event, visit or call 604.983.6AMA (6262).

The essential part of marketing is research and testing, which is applied to almost every stage of the product cycle. Psychology tells us that emotions play an important role in how we make decisions. Yet much emotional processing occurs below our level of consciousness. So there are limits to what can be measured in a survey about emotions. By the same token, if we can reach deeper to understand these emotions, it will provide even greater insight into what makes great marketing and great advertising. To achieve this promise, Ipsos has partnered with Boston-based Innerscope Research. Innerscope uses biometrics to understand the full scope of emotional reaction. Biometrics is a fascinating field that measures and analyzes our biological reactions (heart rate, skin conductance, respiration, movement) to decipher the emotional response to any stimulus.

"Biometrics is a branch of neuroscience that takes the measurement of emotions to a deeper level," said Indivar (Indy) Kushari, Senior Vice President, Ipsos ASI Toronto and presenter at the BCAMA event on October 27th. "It allows marketers to understand second-by-second the unconscious consumer responses to marketing elements they encounter, ultimately leading to greater insight into how brands and advertising are connecting with people."

Read the rest here.

Now those of us who work with fingerprint or palmprint identification, or facial recognition, or iris recognition, or DNA, or vein recognition, or gait recognition, or whatever might be scratching our heads after reading that. (Hmm...I wonder if people scratch their heads in a unique manner?) Lately our industry has been criticized for making decisions based upon emotions.

But another participant in the mailing list reminded myself and others that the meaning of the word "biometrics" has evolved over time. The International Biometric Society has posted this definition of biometrics:

The terms “Biometrics” and “Biometry” have been used since early in the 20th century to refer to the field of development of statistical and mathematical methods applicable to data analysis problems in the biological sciences. Statistical methods for the analysis of data from agricultural field experiments to compare the yields of different varieties of wheat, for the analysis of data from human clinical trials evaluating the relative effectiveness of competing therapies for disease, or for the analysis of data from environmental studies on the effects of air or water pollution on the appearance of human disease in a region or country are all examples of problems that would fall under the umbrella of “Biometrics” as the term has been historically used. The journal “Biometrics” is a scholarly publication sponsored by a non-profit professional society (the International Biometric Society) devoted to the dissemination of accounts of the development of such methods and their application in real scientific contexts.

Recently, the term “Biometrics” has also been used to refer to the emerging field of technology devoted to identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition. Neither the journal “Biometrics” nor the International Biometric Society is engaged in research, marketing, or reporting related to this technology. Likewise, the editors and staff of the journal are not knowledgeable in this area.

So all of us fingerprint/face/iris/DNA/vein/gait/whatever people are Johnny-come-latelies to the use of the term "biometric." And I'm certain that some International Biometric Society members get angry every time they see a guy on a TV show talking about "biometrics" when there is no wheat field in sight.

For these people, the "CSI effect" is the effect of reduced rainfall on the corn sugar industry. And they probably get all emotional about it.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Empoprise-BI recommends Total Plumbing Services of Pelham, Alabama

Now the Empoprise-BI business blog doesn't make a habit of recommending businesses, so when I recommend one, you know that there's a special reason.

Now I'm not recommending Total Plumbing Services of Pelham, Alabama because I've used their services. I have not, and frankly, the chances of my needing a plumber from the Birmingham, Alabama area are slim to none.

And I'm not recommending Total Plumbing Services of Pelham, Alabama because it's listed on a United Methodist Church directory. (For those who don't know, I was a member of the United Methodist Church for over a decade.)

No, I'm recommending Total Plumbing Services because I like the plumber's name - John Bredehoft.

You see, I was doing one of my vanity searches, and I ran across some listings for Total Plumbing Services. In addition to the page on the Helena United Methodist Church website, Total Plumbing Services also has a (very nice) Facebook page.

You can see the similarities between the two of us. We both wear glasses. We both like short sleeve shirts. We both have hair that in color. (And no, I'm not using "transforming" in a Methodist sense.)

But the similarities pretty much end there. My plumbing expertise is, to put it mildly, extremely limited. The Alabama John Bredehoft is a master plumber.

Now I doubt that my recommendation will double John's business (although if you live in the Birmingham area, you may want to consider him). However, he has another recommendation:

Birmingham, Alabamas' best plumber! As voted by me!

Hey, if you can't recommend your own business, you shouldn't be in business.

Incidentally, this is why I take care to use my middle initial when posting online. I don't want this poor plumber to be blamed for stuff that I write.

And this not only applies to plumbers, but also to lawyers.

Patently incomprehensible (the Charvat-Letson patent)

As more and more information ends up online, it's easier and easier to find things. Recently I had to research some information on deceased family members, and I found it easier to use a very popular search engine (which doesn't rhyme with "zing") to get the information.

So I figured I'd look up a college classmate via the same search engine. I hadn't had any contact with this particular classmate since we graduated in 1983.

The first thing that I found online was his undergraduate thesis. Well, I already knew about THAT.

The second thing that I found was one of his patents. I didn't know about that. It turns out that he ended up working for Intel, along with another college classmate of mine. And apparently they worked closely together - both of their names, as well as the names of some others, appear on U.S. Patent 5,470,790.

Now I occasionally have to look at patents as part of my day job, but I don't really make a habit of it. The patents that I look at are those from our company and competitors; while I may not understand all of, minutiae that are associated with the patents, I at least have a general idea about what they were talking about.

This is not the case with this patent. Back when I was an undergraduate, I would have said that Thomas A. Letson and Peter K. Charvat live in space. Here's the abstract:

Via hole profile and method of fabrication

A novel high performance and reliable interconnection structure for preventing via delamination. The interconnection structure of the present invention comprises a via connection which extends into and undercuts an underlying interconnection line to lock the via connection into the interconnection line.

I should mention that Charvat and Letson worked for Intel - I don't know if they still do, although Letson was apparently still with Intel a couple of years ago. And if you know anything about me, you know that I'm a [CORRECTED 10:40 AM] software person, not a hardware person. And when I do work with hardware, I usually don't get down to the chip level.

But my former classmate Tom has continued to patent things - here's a 2008 patent.

Or, as the oilworkers in Froid, Montana would say, "If you ain't an Intel patentholder..." - well, I don't think I'm going to finish that sentence.

P.S. I have written about Peter Charvat back in 2004, telling about a time when he was an innocent bystander to my Devo addiction. Five years after that post, Charvat was quoted in an Oregonian article; he had since become a vice president at Intel.

Monday, October 24, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) (empo-tymshft) The multi-user phone?

First, a little personal history.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, I used a mixture of single-user and multi-user computers - dedicated BASIC machines, UNIX computers, THEOS computers, and Macintosh computers. While the BASIC machines and the Macs could be used by multiple people, they weren't really designed for this purpose. UNIX and THEOS (formerly Oasis) computers, however, were specifically designed with multiple user accounts, and could be used by several people at the same time.

Decades later, when I switched from Macintosh to Windows computers for home use, I always configured our family's home computers with multiple accounts. No, these computers could not be used by multiple people simultaneously. However, configuration of multiple accounts allowed setting of preferences for each member of the family. Each of us could have our own music libraries. Each of us could have our own Internet home pages. And, when our daughter was very young, we could implement parental controls on her account. (In the end, they were more trouble than they were worth, since some of the controls blocked religious pages; kind of tough when you're attending a Lutheran school.)

I was thinking about this recently when I read a thread on Google+. The thread, from Marvin Ryan Vista, was entitled Siri the Pimp. The thread alludes to the fact (also mentioned by Leo Laporte) that if you ask Siri particular questions, it will use its GPS capabilities and available cloud data to provide you with a list of nearby escort services.

On the Google+ thread, Chris Karson and I discussed some of the ramifications of this. Karson was disturbed by the ramifications of this feature, and noted that "kids will use these devices." I wondered, however, how Apple could draw the line between what information to present and what not to present - escort services, after all, are listed in telephone books.

Another participant in the thread, Wanda Hollis, also noted that children could use these devices, and wondered if anyone had made parental filters for phones.

At this point, I noted:

This would require the concept of a multi-user phone.

On the surface, it seems silly. A cellular phone is one of the most personal devices that you have. While there are families that share a single cell phone between family members, in most cases each member of the family (or at least those over the age of 13, or over the age of 7, or whatever) has his or her own phone.

But I'm sure that most of us have run into situations where we have to share our phone. This especially happens with smartphones. Maybe you're stuck in a waiting room with a kid, and all of a sudden the kid says, "I'm bored." If you had a multi-user phone, then the kid could play Angry Birds and not play whatever adult stuff you may have on your phone.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that this was not enough. Some applications, such as web browsers and voice-based services, tap into a variety of information sources, including some sources that you might not want your kid to view. Some people may choose to restrict access to these items altogether, but some would prefer some type of...parental controls.

In the United States, the cellular service providers themselves offer parental controls, according to Paul O'Reilly at the Online Mom. (Yes, I just referred to "Paul O'Reilly at the Online Mom.) Regarding content filters, AT&T and Verizon seem to have the most sophisticated ones for mobile phones. Even these services, however, do not appear to be customizable by the parent (how do I block Dallas Cowboys content?). In addition, the content filters apply to all users on a single phone - again, multi-user capabilities would be good here.

In the end, this is just another reminder that mobile phones are computers, and need to be treated in the same way that computers are. Although I'm not ready to buy an uninterruptible power supply for my phone just yet...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One of online purchasing's last disadvantages is going away - but not here

Throughout the history of online purchasing, there has been one big disadvantage to the online option. If I head down to my local Barnes & Noble, I can get a book right now. If I go to Barnes & Noble's online website, I have to wait days to get the same book.

But what if I could purchase a physical product online...and get it in an hour?

Mike Butcher describes such a system in England:

Shutl, the home delivery startup that offers speedier options for Internet shoppers, has now launched its service for Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool....

Retailers include Argos, Karen Millen, Oasis, Coast and Warehouse with other major high street names expected to follow suit shortly. It already operates in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester.

When you place an order, Shutl uses a local shop, gives the order to a local courier, and allows you to track the progress of your order online via GPS information.

According to Butcher, Amazon has a similar service, but it is in only two cities - London and Birmingham.

Could such a service take off in my country? Possibly, but the Inland Empire of California wouldn't be the first beneficiary. Even places such as New York City and Silicon Valley might face some issues due to traffic. How many courier services in New York could guarantee to deliver something in 90 minutes?

But if you live in a major city on the other side of the pond, visit

Friday, October 21, 2011

Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate, part two

Timing is everything.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post entitled Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate, and scheduled the post for publication this morning. So when my insanely great readers went to their RSS feeds this morning, they saw a post that talked about Steve Jobs' hatred of...John Sculley.

However, by the time the post actually appeared on Friday morning, no one really cared about Steve Jobs' hatred of John Sculley. (Sculley wronged again.) What they really cared about was Steve Jobs' hatred of Eric Schmidt:

Tension between the two companies escalated as Google used the Android operating system to follow Apple into the burgeoning market for smartphones. The rivalry forced Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, to resign from Apple's board in 2009.

"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product," Jobs said in the book, according to the AP. "I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

Now I acknowledge that no one is perfect, and that there were both good and bad things about Steve Jobs. But before you start eviscerating people for their bozo ideas, consider what Doug Hardy has to say:

•Temperamental is not the same as demanding.

What boss doesn’t savor the ability to judge people perfectly? Hey, if Steve Jobs got results by firing people in the elevator whose offense was not being able to articulate on the spot their value, why can’t I? Jobs got away with inexcusable outbursts because they were part of the whole (charismatic) person. If being temperamental isn’t absolutely necessary to your success, don’t give yourself a pass on common civility.

Hardy concludes:

If you must obsess over every detail, you’d better be right.

Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate

If you saw my post on the unreality of the social media world, you knew this was coming. In that post, I said (in part):

(Just try to remove the halo from Steve Jobs; you'll be crucified. Which is why I'm holding off on writing my post, "Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate." Yes, I'm unreal also.)

No one is perfect. I certainly am not perfect. But before we hold anyone up as an example, we have to decide which parts of him we want to hold up for emulation, and which parts should not be emulated.

And when you talk about Steve Jobs in this regard, you have to talk about John Sculley. For those who don't know the name, here's Sculley's brief account (he has a more detailed one in his autobiography, Odyssey) about how Jobs and Sculley met.

I was not the first choice that Steve wanted to be the CEO. He was the first choice, but the board wasn’t prepared to make him CEO when he was 25, 26 years old.

They exhausted all of the obvious high-tech candidates to be CEO… Ultimately, David Rockefeller, who was a shareholder in Apple, said let’s try a different industry and let’s go to the top head hunter in the United States who isn’t in high tech: Gerry Roche.

They went and recruited me. I came in not knowing anything about computers. The idea was that Steve and I were going to work as partners. He would be the technical person and I would be the marketing person.

But there was an inherent conflict in the arrangement:

Remember, he was the chairman of the board, the largest shareholder and he ran the Macintosh division, so he was above me and below me.

And we all know the popular version of this story - Sculley forced Jobs out of Apple, and the company tanked until Jobs returned. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced. Andy Hertzfeld:

As the new year [1985] dawned, Steve Jobs seemed oblivious to the slowing sales, and continued to behave as if the Macintosh was a booming, unqualified success. His lieutenants in the Macintosh division, which had swelled to more than 700 employees, had to deal with a growing reality gap, reconciling the ever-changing audacious plans for world domination emanating from their leader with the persistent bad news from the sales channel....

The weak sales were beginning to put pressure on the relationship between Steve Jobs and John Sculley for the very first time. They had gotten along fine when everything was going well, but hitherto they never had to deal with much adversity. Unfortunately, in early 1985 the personal computer market was descending into one of its periodic downturns, and even Apple II sales were starting to falter. Steve did not take criticism very well, and sometimes reacted to suggestions for improving Macintosh sales as if they were personal attacks. Their relationship began to sour as John put pressure on Steve to address the Macintosh's problems.

Steve Jobs had never suffered fools gladly, and as the pressure mounted, he became even more difficult to work with. Employees from every part of the company began to approach John with complaints about Steve's behavior, including some of Steve's direct reports in the Macintosh Division. John felt especially strongly about building more compatibility bridges with the IBM PC, an approach which Steve disdained. John began to view Steve as an impediment toward fixing Apple's problems, and the board of directors were urging him to do something about it....

The conflict came to a head at the April 10th board meeting. The board thought they could convince Steve to transition back to a product visionary role, but instead he went on the attack and lobbied for Sculley's removal. After long wrenching discussions with both of them, and extending the meeting to the following day, the board decided in favor of John, instructing him to reorganize the Macintosh division, stripping Steve of all authority. Steve would remain the chairman of Apple, but for the time being, no operating role was defined for him.

John didn't want to implement the reorganization immediately, because he still thought that he could reconcile with Steve, and get him to buy into the changes, achieving a smooth transition with his blessing. But after a brief period of depressed cooperation, Steve started attacking John again, behind the scenes in a variety of ways. I won't go into the details here, but eventually John had to remove Steve from his management role in the Macintosh division involuntarily.

I quote Hertzfeld at length because even Hertzfeld, who believed that Jobs was the heart and soul of Apple, noted that this was not just a push by Sculley. Steve's own direct reports were complaining, and the board of directors was pushing Sculley to act. In fact, Sculley actually held off on implementing the reorganization, which resulted in even more trouble.

So what did Sculley say, in retrospect?

The reason why I said it was a mistake to have hired me as CEO was Steve always wanted to be CEO. It would have been much more honest if the board had said, “Let’s figure out a way for him to be CEO. You could focus on the stuff that you bring and he focuses on the stuff he brings.”

Sculley, the one derided by fanbois as a vision-less bean counter, was able to step back and look at the whole episode with perspective, despite his pain at a relationship lost. Sculley's autobiography describes his discovery of something that Jobs had left in his office. It was a picture of Jobs and Sculley together, taken in happier times; the picture was shattered.

And what of the proclaimed visionary Jobs? This is what he said in Triumph of the Nerds:

Jobs: What can I say? I hired the wrong guy. –
Question: That was Sculley?
Jobs: Yeah and he destroyed everything I spent ten years working for. Starting with me but that wasn’t the saddest part. I would have gladly left Apple if Apple would have turned out like I wanted it to.

From all accounts, Jobs carried his hatred of John Sculley to his deathbed.

So who truly had the vision?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Up on the roof at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim's Downtown Disney

I am not attending the APMP Southern California chapter training day tomorrow, but some of my co-workers are. I wanted to give one of my co-workers driving directions to the Grand Californian Hotel, so I went to the Disney website to find a suitable map. When I did, I noticed that the map showed a baseball diamond in Downtown Disney. I don't remember seeing a baseball diamond down there before, so I looked at the map more closely. The "baseball" diamond was in the location of the ESPN Zone.

I then investigated via Google Maps, and found that the roof of the Anaheim ESPN Zone looks like a baseball diamond.

View Larger Map

(Also see Virtual Globetrotting, as well as trivia question 9 at Laughingplace.)

Interestingly enough, this view shows that Disney's map (PDF) is inaccurate. The map shows home plate at the southeast corner, when it is actually at the northwest corner.

(I ask my readers from Finland and India to bear with me. Take my word for it; the map's wrong.)

But a Micechat commenter noted:

Whoever would be playing center field would probably hate where they were playing of course. That satellite dish presents somewhat of an obstacle.

I know that baseball is somewhat lenient with stadium eccentricities (take Boston's "Green Monster"), but this might be too much even for baseball. And the field dimensions (less than 100 feet from home plate to right field) might be a little troublesome also.

The connection between Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs

In a recent TechCrunch post, John Biggs said the following:

I think it’s valuable to look back at [Dennis Ritchie's] accomplishments and place him high in the CS pantheon already populated by Lovelace, Turing, and (although this crowing will be controversial, at least until history has its say) the recently-departed Steve Jobs.

Talented people always make use of things that other talented people have done, and Jobs was no exception. There is a direct link between Jobs and Ritchie, since Jobs' NeXT computer ran UNIX under the hood:

NeXT's system software was designed to rival the best offerings of the Macintosh and PC: NeXT used the rock-solid UNIX operating system and added its own elegant, proprietary graphical user interface.

Eventually Apple acquired NeXT, and as a result the current Macintosh operating system is a derivative of UNIX.

The flavor of unix on Apple computers running Mac OS X is called Darwin, and it is closely related to BSD, from which it has evolved. Unlike Cygwin, a unix emulator that can be grafted onto the Microsoft Windows operating system, Darwin is the fundamental core of the Mac OS X operating system. The whole of Mac OS X is thus a superset of unix; the Aqua graphical user interface (GUI) of OS X provides an aesthetically pleasing and functionally elegant mechanism by which the user can control the computer via the underlying unix operating system using mouse clicks in application windows rather than typing cryptic unix commands.

I do not know if Jobs and Ritchie ever met, but the link between the two of them is clear. And I don't mean to elevate Ritchie over Jobs. After all, Ritchie himself was probably influenced by his father, Alistair Ritchie, who had preceded him at Bell Labs. And I can't find any pages devoted to Alistair Ritchie.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Do we know too much?

So you go to school, and then you go to college, and at some point in there you start working. Maybe you go to graduate school, and maybe you switch careers a time or two, but all of this time you're learning. And presumably you'll reach a stage where you've learned a lot.

However, perhaps the most important thing that you can learn is that you don't know all that much.

Jason Cohen at Building 43 shared a post that illustrated how important this lesson is. The title of the post? "When being an 'expert' is harmful."

[EXPERT] “I talked to a bunch of the mentors and they all told me the same thing about pricing, but I’m telling you, they’re wrong. I know our industry, I know how our customers think, and in our industry …”

[COHEN] “OK, so when you talked to the last dozen potential customers and proposed the pricing scheme you just described, you’re telling me they all said, ‘Heck yes’?”

“Well, I didn’t actually ask them, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know what they’re going to say.”

“Great! So, next week you’re going to a convention where you’ll talk to dozens of new potential customers. Do me a favor — humor me! — and include your pricing scheme in the pitch. I’m sure you’re right and they’ll be thrilled, but since you’re so sure it certainly won’t hurt to include it. In fact, it will strengthen your pitch because it will match their expectations and therefore mitigate any worry that you don’t ‘get it.’”

“OK, I will!”

Since Cohen blogged about this experience, you can probably guess how it ends. Cohen concludes:

We’re all plagued by this defect of human nature — thinking we know more than we do — which then causes us to miss opportunities to actually learn something. I still struggle — in every customer call I have to consciously restrain myself from pitching and instead ask questions, and really try to understand what they mean instead of mapping their words onto what I want them to say.

But the best word on this subject was spoken by noted, expert Al Yankovic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

(empo-tymshft) I was wrong - Google+ may surpass Twitter in live events coverage

Normally when I use the "empo-tymshft" label, I am talking about things that have changed over the course of decades.

For this post, I'm talking about something that changed over the space of a few months.

For the last several years, I have used Twitter to cover live events, such as Oracle OpenWorld and Rose Parades. And I have consistently maintained that Twitter, because of its simplicity, is ideally suited for coverage of live events. As I saw it, if something were happening at a certain point of time, it would be much easier for someone to tweet about it than it would be for someone to blog about it, or to write a Facebook wall post about it.

Or to write something in Google+ about it.

You can see where this is going. Yes, I'm having another Jim Bakker moment.

The latest episode started about 18 hours ago, when Thomas Morffew started a thread that related to the article Twitter and Google 'just can't agree' on Realtime Search deal. Morffew's comment:

Who cares?

Google+ realtime search works for me.

This launched an interesting thread, in which the majority of commenters stated that Google+ realtime search worked for them also. My view was the minority view:

No, Google+ search isn't enough for me. I prefer access to all available realtime information. If Sparks included the entire Twitter stream, as well as online updates from other non-Google services, then Google+ would be fine (although Sparks results don't present as well as Google results).

And then I made this comment:

Twitter still excels during major events, such as natural catastrophes and major conferences such as Oracle OpenWorld. If there's an earthquake, people aren't going to run to Google+ and launch into detailed conversations about it.

Paul Brocklehurst didn't agree with me:

+John E. Bredehoft realtime search was only launched a week or so ago. Give it till Christmas, many more will be using G+ to follow along, certainly with techy events. Take tonight (your timezone my vary). I would imagine much better coverage would take place for the ICS/Nexus Prime launch on Google+ than on Twitter. What does everyone else think?

This is something that could be checked, and I said so in a thread of my own.

Time for a test of the real-time reporting capabilities of Google+ vs. Twitter.

+Paul Brocklehurst has stated (see the comments in the attached +Thomas Morffew thread): "I would imagine much better coverage would take place for the ICS/Nexus Prime launch on Google+ than on Twitter."

I'll grant that the Google+ posts will be much more in-depth, but my personal suspicion is that the number of meaningful tweets at the time of the announcement will exceed the number of meaningful Google+ entries.

What do you think?

As it turned out, I was not online at the time of the ICS/Nexus Prime launch, which occurred at 7:00 pm Pacific time. When I was next online, at approximately 8:10 pm, I searched both Twitter and Google+ for occurrences of the hashtag #ics.

As I expected, there were many, many tweets with the ICS hashtag, many of which included short comments on the announcement. I originally planned to look at all of the tweets since 7:00 pm PDT, but there were so many tweets that I had to stop after a few minutes.

I then went to Google+, and was surprised to find that in that same 5-10 minute period...there were many, many Google+ entries. Perhaps not as many entries as there were Twitter tweets, but it was awfully close. And, of course, as I had even conceded before, the Google+ entries were much more in depth.

So, in the words of Jim Bakker, "I was wrong." It appears, at least for technical events, that Google+ can give Twitter a run for its money.

Perhaps I'll go listen to some music. Anyone have a copy of Brian Eno and David Byrne's "Mea Culpa"?

I guess they'd call it a "Handy 2.0"

A week ago, Jake Kuramoto wrote a post entitled "Smartphones All Look Alike, Are Boring." This prompted me to write a post entitled "How about a cell phone with a giant display?" In my post, I mused upon a potential smartphone that would project its screen on something such as a wall. After finding such a projection device, I then said:

Now if you combine this projection capability with something like the Kinect technology that Steve Ballmer successfully launched, then you can use a very small device to work in a very large area. Perhaps you can't eliminate the screen - after all, as I noted above, you can't always find a wall on which to project - but you can certainly rethink the design of your portable device to optimize its projection capabilities.

It turns out that my concerns had already been overcome, as you can see in Jake's latest post, "Turn Any Surface into a Touchscreen? Yes, Please." Kuramoto's post describes a concept called OmniTouch, jointly developed by Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University. Kuramoto's post includes a video which begins as follows:

OmniTouch uses a depth camera-driven, template matching and clustering approach for multi-touch finger tracking on everyday surfaces, including walls, doors, tables, notepads, books, and even one's own body.

Well, that takes care of the "no place to project" problem - most of the video shows a person using his own hand as a touchscreen surface.

Kuramoto also links to a TechCrunch post that discusses OmniTouch.

And on his own site, researcher Chris Harrison explains why the OmniTouch concept was explored:

Today’s mobile computers provide omnipresent access to information, creation and communication facilities. It is undeniable that they have forever changed the way we work, play and interact. However, mobile interaction is far from solved. Diminutive screens and buttons mar the user experience, and otherwise prevent us from realizing their full potential.

Again, the team is trying to overcome the size limitations of small devices.

Coincidentally, in Switzerland and other German-speaking countries, a mobile phone is referred to as a "handy." Does that mean that if this concept is eventually incorporated into production technology, the result will be called a "Handy 2.0"?

On job mismatches, part 2

On Monday, I wrote a post entitled "On job mismatches" that described the problems that a Colorado farmer had when he tried to hire local labor (rather than legal foreign labor).

If farmer John Harold had lived a little northwest, in Idaho, he could have used American labor. Robert Patton linked to this Wall Street Journal article.

"This is the first year we're doing a harvest," said Steve Little, warden here at the minimum-security St. Anthony Work Camp. Prior to this season, he explained, inmates worked mainly in processing sheds and kitchens, not open fields. But farm labor is so scarce, Mr. Little said, that prisoners now pick as well as pack potatoes.

Despite high unemployment across the U.S., many farmers are struggling to find hands willing to labor in their fields. From Arizona to Alabama, states are cracking down on undocumented migrant labor with legislation that gets tough on employers. One result: some "illegal" farm hands are being replaced by criminal ones.

More here.

Everyone has special terminology

If you talk to any professional, you'll find that he or she uses a number of terms that you may not understand.

And I mean ANY professional. Not just the computer scientists - I bet that the fry cooks and janitors have a bunch of terms that mystify most of us.

You'd think that with the advent of modern word processing, a number of terms related to document formatting would be generally known. But, according to Clients from Hell, that's not necessarily the case.

A client did not like the fact that a block of text was evenly aligned on the left, but was not evenly aligned on the right. The vendor then asked a question to confirm what the client wanted.

Me: “Justified?”

Client: “I don’t have to justify anything for you. I own the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] company.”

If you want to see the expletive, go here. And be sure to subscribe to Clients From Hell - it's always an enjoyable read.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Possible solution to my LG env3 phone shut-off issue

Back on October 4, I wrote a post entitled Don't envy me (emerging shut-off issues with my LG env3 phone). Here's an excerpt:

LG env3 phones have a reputation for shutting themselves off. In some cases, people would notice the problem immediately, take it back to Verizon, and get a replacement.

In my case, I have had the phone for nearly two years and never had a problem until recently.

I had been reading about various possible solutions, but nothing that I had read at that time seemed to work.

Finally, on October 15, I happened across this thread in the LG Forum that offered another possible solution. Nelson Highley offered the following suggestion:

One possible cause of random shutdowns is bad contact between the battery and the phone. Try this:

1. Closely inspect both the battery and phone contacts for anything like dirt or contamination.
2. Also inspect the contacts for anything like mechanical damage that might cause less than perfect contact.
3. Even if you don't see any contamination, it may be present. Clean both the battery and phone contacts:

- Use a new cotton swab just slightly damp with clean water (distilled if you have it). Be careful not to moisten the swab to the point where water comes out of it and gets into either the phone or battery. Don't use any other solvent!
- Clean the contacts with this swab. Use a little force but not enough to bend or distort anything.
- Dry everything completely.
- Inspect the contacts and remove any cotton fibers that may have come off of the swab.

There is no guarentee this will help but it's a good and simple first thing to try.

Well, my usual paranoia kicked in, and since I was afraid to get too much water into the phone or the battery, I took a DRY cotton swab (the kind that is on the end of a tip) and LIGHTLY cleaned both ends of the connection. Seeing no cotton fibers, I put the battery back on the phone.

That was on Saturday afternoon. As of today (Monday afternoon), the phone hasn't shut off since.

The "clean the battery contacts" suggestion can also be found here and here and elsewhere.

Now this might not be the cause of ALL of the LG's reported shut-down problems, but as Highley suggests, it's a good first step to test.

Unfortunately, it sounds like many people are not getting this suggestion when they call in about the problem. For example:

The man was very helpful and said the issue is actually a "power cycling" issue that occurs when the user puts in a 16GB card and loads it up with downloaded apps and files from the web.

He said it's partly a problem with the phone trying to access the data, and partly that the things downloaded from the web may contain spyware/viruses/etc.

So in order to try and access the data the phone starts to shut off on its own.

I wonder how many people have worried about spyware, or about firmware upgrades, or have actually swapped out their phones, but haven't tried this basic step.

On job mismatches

The math sounds simple. If x people are unemployed, and y jobs are available, then if y > x, the unemployment problem is solved.

Those of us who love dashboards (simple ways to represent complex data), we track macro figures such as the unemployment rate and figure that explains everything.

Not so fast.

Outside the Beltway linked to a New York Times story that should have had a happy ending for Colorado farmer John Harold. He participates in the H-2A program, which allows him to legally bring in seasonal workers from outside the United States to work on his farm. However, this year's crop of regulations required him to pay these workers $10.50 an hour, which is above the minimum wage. So Harold decided to bring up fewer workers from outside the country, and hire the rest locally. Sounds great, right?

“It didn’t take me six hours to realize I’d made a heck of a mistake,” Mr. Harold said, standing in his onion field on a recent afternoon as a crew of workers from Mexico cut the tops off yellow onions and bagged them.

Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard....

Mr. Harold usually hires about 50 local workers for the season — regulars who have worked summers for years — and most returned this year, he said. Finding new employees was where he ran into trouble. He was able to recover after the season started, he said, by rushing in another group of H-2A workers from Mexico.

This is just one of the many issues regarding job mismatches, but it just goes to show that creating jobs, either by private initiative or by public initiative, does not necessarily solve unemployment problems.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The unreality of the social media world

I seem to have accidentally hit on a theme in this blog.

Take my September 27 post, entitled "How 'real names' creates the unreal me." This post discusses how we have to watch out about the things that get attached to our "real name" persona.

A few days later, I wrote about the empty symbolism of the one dollar annual salary. It LOOKS good to claim that your compensation will be based upon the performance of the company, but at the end of the day it seems that the "one dollar" people get rewarded even when their companies perform poorly.

On October 5, I wrote a fairly popular post about Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman. Shechtman made a new scientific discovery - and was criticized for it because it conflicted with others' view of reality.

And just this morning I wrote a post about a video in which a woman was talking to Steve Wozniak. People assumed that the woman was a TechCrunch interviewer, and she was vehemently criticized for not acting like an interviewer.

Now some of these items really don't have anything to do with social media, but I'll use them anyway to make my point. Here's how I closed out my post from this morning:

I find it highly ironic - and disturbing - that when we all insist on being real and social, this woman is being condemned for acting like a normal person.

The truth is that reality is boring. What if a video camera were pointed at me while I was writing this post? You would see a person, half-lounging on a couch, netbook propped on a TV table, typing.

But even before social media revolutionized life as we know it, people realized that reality was boring. Think about it. You take a bunch of good-looking people, put them in a remote wilderness area in a foreign country, stage some fake competitions, point cameras at them - and then call it "reality TV."

We create systems that purport to let advertisers know what real people are doing - but we do it in a way that guarantees that the advertisers will only find out the information that we want them to find out. Do you think I'm going to go to my Google+ profile and post every time that I eat fast food? Or watch Fox News?

Stockholders invest in companies, and certainly want those companies to succeed. Yet stockholders abrogate their responsibilities regarding their investments, and allow people to be paid tens of millions of dollars for doing nothing. (And we do the same when a new startup emerges that has no hope of making money, other than selling themselves to the highest bidder.)

We champion the scientific method and ridicule those who advance "unscientific" theories. But when someone actually uses the scientific method, then they'd better get the results that the community expects them to get, or they'll be condemned. (Just try to remove the halo from Steve Jobs; you'll be crucified. Which is why I'm holding off on writing my post, "Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate." Yes, I'm unreal also.)

And finally, we all blab about how social media is supposed to enable us to have real conversations. And one day, a woman has a conversation with the co-founder of one of the leading technology companies. The woman understands real conversations. Woz understands real conversations. But most everyone who witnessed the conversation (via video) hate it.

QUESTION: If we don't want reality, then why do we claim that we do?

Why we don't like it when people are real (negative reaction to the TechCrunch Woz video)


I happened to see this tweet from @TechboyUK:

Woz on Apple. Rubbish interviewer, but respect to Wozniak

The link goes to a StumbleUpon entry. The StumbleUpon entry is for a CNET post. The CNET post includes video from a TechCrunch post. And once you dig all the way to the original source, you can read the following note, which was apparently added to the original post:

Editor’s Note: The woman who is asking most of these questions was one of the many members of the public who gathered outside the Apple store. Wozniak was happy to talk to anyone who had a question or comment.

I suspect that @TechboyUK's negative reaction to the woman was due to the fact that she didn't behave as a professional interviewer would. [9:55 - PLEASE SEE THE COMMENT FROM @TECHBOYUK, A/K/A PAUL RICHARDSON, IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. HOWEVER, MY STATEMENT STILL HOLDS TRUE FOR THE TECHCRUNCH COMMENTERS.] A professional interviewer would have a carefully prepared list of questions, or at a minimum would try to structure the interview to get the maximum information from the interviewee. But this woman? She was just chatting with Woz.

And I suspect that Woz kind of liked it that way.

Years ago, I saw a comic that purported to show what Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters REALLY sounded like. When you read Schulz's comic, the characters - especially Linus - are saying things that no kid would ever say. The version of the comic that I saw was much more realistic. The kids were speaking in short sentences, and Snoopy was chasing Woodstock.

In the TechCrunch film, the woman asking the questions is being criticized (see the TechCrunch comments) because she acted like a normal person. I find it highly ironic - and disturbing - that when we all insist on being real and social, this woman is being condemned for acting like a normal person.

Goodbye world - Dennis Ritchie on UNIX and Consent Decrees

Andrew Binstock at Dr. Dobb's No Longer a Magazine quoted the following in his obituary of Dennis Ritchie:

[UNIX] is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity.

And Ritchie himself had commented on the many corporate owners of Bell Labs over the years:

Bell Labs has remained a remarkably good place to do work that has enduring impact over the long run, no matter what the company, the courts, the PR types or upper management decide should be our name and logo on a given day or year.

I'm glad that Ritchie could C the humor in that.

For further reading, see what Dave Winer had to say.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Unsuggest-a-session - the things we didn't know back in the summer

Someone recently sent me a link to Greg Rahn's June post about this year's "Suggest-a-Session" for Oracle OpenWorld. You may recall that after Jake Kuramoto and Brian "Bex" Huff wrote about this, I ended up writing about it myself.

In retrospect, one of the definitive statements that I made in my July post turned out to be not-so-definitive. When describing the various ways in which you can present at Oracle OpenWorld, I included the following:

Pay a ton of money to be an Oracle sponsor and get a keynote slot.

As we now know, this does not guarantee that you'll get a keynote slot.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Welcome to my world - the physics of writing about data

In a recent proposal, I had the need to refer to the word "data," and therefore had to decide whether the word "data" is singular or plural. In other words, should I say "data is bla bla bla" or "data are bla bla bla"? Neither - I shouldn't be using the phrase "bla bla bla" in a proposal.

Grammar Girl has pointed out one of the underlying issues that must be addressed to answer this question:

Count nouns are used for objects that can be counted; that is, they're distinct objects that can be numbered. For example, in my refrigerator there are eggs, apples, and lemons. These are all count nouns. Count nouns can be singular or plural, and when you use them as the subject of a sentence, the verb must correctly reflect that number, as in The last apple IS on the bottom shelf or The eggs ARE fresh.

Mass nouns, on the other hand, are used for things that don't have a natural boundary and can't be counted. Also in my fridge are butter, iced tea, and bacon. These are all mass nouns. Mass nouns always take a singular verb, as in The iced tea IS already sweetened and They say bacon IS bad for you, but I love it.*

In a sense, we're entering into the realm of physics here. Now we could take things too far and claim that one could count the number of molecules in a particular drop of water, but common sense should prevail here.

Based upon this distinction between mass and count nouns, we can now ask whether the word "data" is singular or plural. Grammar Girl gives us the definitive answer to this question:

[B]oth usages are standard.

Depending upon the circumstances, either of these sentences may be required:

Much of this data is useless because of its lack of specifics.

Many of these data are useless because of their lack of specifics.

This disconcerts those of us who want definitive answers to questions. Shouldn't grammar provide such definitive answers? Perhaps, but we're not dealing with grammar here, as Ian S. Fraser and Lynda M. Hodson note.

Each language has its own systematic ways through which words and sentences are assembled to convey meaning. This system is grammar. But within the general grammar of a language, certain alternative ways of speaking and writing acquire particular social status, and become the conventional usage habits of dialect groups.

Grammar is the list of possible ways to assemble sentences: usage is a smaller list of the socially preferred ways within a dialect.

So how do you determine usage? It's best to refer to some source document which consistently provides guidance. There are a variety of style and usage guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style and the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications.

And yes, Apple fanbois can turn to a PDF called the Apple Publications Style Guide. (I was unable to find the word "insanely" in that style guide, by the way.)

P.S. Be sure to read what Grammar Girl says about fish.

How about a cell phone with a giant display?

Andy Rooney may be retired, and Steve Jobs may have passed away, but people are still asking questions. Take Jake Kuramoto, who recently complained that smartphone all look alike and are boring:

Recently, I saw several smartphones laid out at my gym, and I was struck at how much alike they looked, despite being produced by different manufacturers and rocking different carriers and OSes. It’s all black bricks with big screens anymore.

As I read his post, I thought to myself, what else can you do with the smartphone design? Once upon assume a touchscreen, and include some size touchscreen on the device, there isn't much more you can do with the product, is there? You can't make it much smaller. If you want to add a keyboard, you can introduce a slider model (my phone is not a touchscreen, but the keyboard does slide out).

But what if you weren't constrained by the screen size? I commented:

The screen itself can only get so small - unless the screen were projected onto something else, such as a nearby wall. Incorporate some touch capability and you've got it.

But then I said:

Unfortunately, it's not that practical.

(In my brain, I was wondering where you'd project your phone screen if you were in the middle of an airline terminal, or some other crowded location without a flat surface handy.)

To which Jake responded:

Yeah well, back in 2006, touch screens weren't for phones either so a guy can dream.

So I began wondering if anyone was projecting cell phone screens for a larger viewing size. It turns out that this has been done for at least three years now - since 2008. Here's a description of a Microvision product - a description that incorporates words like "dream."

The MicroVision SHOWWX+ laser pico projector can project pictures, movies, streaming video and presentations from an Apple iPod, MacBook, windows-based laptop, digital camera, and more.

MicroVision is also working with business partners to enable better viewing experiences for users of mobile devices. Sharing photos, watching movies, and giving presentations using the small screens of today’s devices limits our ability to imagine, entertain, and share.

Here's how it works.

Now if you combine this projection capability with something like the Kinect technology that Steve Ballmer successfully launched, then you can use a very small device to work in a very large area. Perhaps you can't eliminate the screen - after all, as I noted above, you can't always find a wall on which to project - but you can certainly rethink the design of your portable device to optimize its projection capabilities.

Here's to the crazy ones, indeed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#occupychickhearncourt Should the NBA be shut down?

Occupy NBA?

Chris Kim A on Google+

The comment above was prompted by a National Basketball Association press release, which reads in part:

"Despite extensive efforts, we have not been able to reach a new agreement with the players' union that allows all 30 teams to be able to compete for a championship while fairly compensating our players," NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said.

Even those who are NOT part of the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd are not all that sympathetic. The general tenor of the coverage on sports talk radio characterizes this as a dispute between millionaires and billionaires. But if you start looking at this via the "Occupy Wall Street" lens, things look very different.

The minimum NBA salary for a rookie last season was $473,604. With six years in the NBA, the minimum salary is over $1 million. Average salaries, of course, are much higher - definitely in 1% territory.

Needless to say, the owners themselves are not necessarily champions of the working people. The teams play in stadiums with corporate sponsors, sell luxury boxes to corporations, and - to put it mildly - regular seats at an NBA basketball game are not a purchase option for someone making minimum wage, or even someone making a "living wage." And, of course, the NBA also depends upon national and local television revenue, which puts them in bed with corporations such as Disney and News Corporation.

So if various "Occupy Wall Street" people (at least those who haven't been co-opted by the Democratic Party institutions) and various "Tea Party" people (at least those who haven't been co-opted by the Republican Party institutions) are arguing that Big Corporate Business is Evil, then why aren't they demanding that the NBA shut down? If the owners are losing money, and if the players can't make money, then shouldn't the NBA cease altogether? If this were to happen, government funds used to subsidize stadiums and lure teams can be used to bomb Iran - whoops, I mean to provide a quality education and health care to every child in America, regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, citizenship status, gender identity, or preferred web browser.

Hey, picketing the NBA makes as much sense as picketing Wall Street - especially if you're a union worker who is counting on a pension plan to fund your retirement. ff

P.S. Since the Google+ thread at the top of this post has evolved into a discussion of "Chick & Stew" refreshments, perhaps it's appropriate to share this.

Moving too fast? (Qwikster is stillborn)

In a literal sense of Monday morning quarterbacking, sports radio talk show host Colin Cowherd provided his quick analysis of Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders head Al Davis, who died over the weekend. In Cowherd's view - a view that is not disputed by many - Al Davis was forward-thinking at the beginning of his career, seeing things that other owners did not see. Unfortunately, after 1988 Davis stopped innovating, and as a result the football that proclaims its "commitment to excellence" now seems to have a commitment to mediocrity. Cowherd contrasted this with Steve Jobs, who (according to Cowherd) continued to innovate to the end of his life.

Both Davis and Jobs have taken leading-edge stances in their industries, often at great risk to their companies and to themselves.

Davis entered into a deal with the devil with the then-dominant National Football League, agreeing to merge the American Football League and National Football League together. If it hadn't been for the success of the New York Jets in Super Bowl 3, it's likely that the old American Football League teams would have been perceived as the junior partner in the merger, losing everything that they had gained. But after the merger, teams such as the Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders held their own in the combined NFL.

Jobs, of course, got thrown out of his own company and started a new company called NeXT. But NeXT did not become a second Apple, at least initially. Regarded by some as a failure, NeXT was available to be acquired by another company. That company turned out to be Apple, and Steve Jobs therefore rejoined Apple, incorporated NeXT technology into Apple's computers, and began a process which admittedly (even to this John Sculley fan) rejuvenated the company.

In both cases, things could have gone terribly wrong, and both the Raiders and Apple have faced adversity throughout the years. But at the end of the day, neither organization was killed because of the bold actions of its leaders.

Which brings us to Netflix and Qwikster. Reed Hastings, in a forward thinking way, decided to bet the future of his company on streaming video, and to split off the older DVD technology to a spinoff company, Qwikster. Oh, and by the way, this was accompanied by an effective price increase. Dan Evon of the Inquisitr describes the reaction:

Qwikster was not a good idea. From the moment it was announced Netflix has lost customers and gained criticism. So much so that the company has decided to abandon its plan to separate Netflix into two services and will revert back to having both its DVD rentals and online streaming services on one website.

Evon links to a New York Times article which quotes Reed Hastings:

"Consumers value the simplicity Netflix has always offered and we respect that. There is a difference between moving quickly -- which Netflix has done very well for years -- and moving too fast, which is what we did in this case."

Now in some quarters, I'm sure that Hastings is being called a st00pid l00ser d00d. After all, Hastings made this big gargantuan move, and then (except for the price hike) had to completely retreat.

But did Hastings really lose in the long term?

Does Facebook lose when they push the feature envelope, only to (sometimes) pull back due to customer anger?

Did Coca-Cola lose over the whole "New Coke" fiasco?

Well, in the short term, Netflix did well:

Netflix Inc. rose as much as 9.6 percent after retreating from a three-week-old decision to split its mail-order DVD and Internet-streaming services, a move that had angered users.

Netflix rose $6.97, or 6 percent, to $124.182 at 10:11 a.m. New York time after touching $128.50 for the biggest intraday gain since Jan. 27. Before today, the stock had tumbled 24 percent since the announcement of the separation.

And in the long term, I'd bet that Netflix will continue to do well.

Yes, they wasted money on preparing to implement a company spinoff that they never implemented. And I'm sure that there are a bunch of Qwikster bumper stickers in a warehouse somewhere, gathering dust.

But Netflix has let the world know that they aren't going to commit to the status quo.

In tech and tech-related industries, your company doesn't want to get the reputation of being stodgy.