Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pulitzer Prize for Coding and Blogging?

I've debated whether coding is art.

Writing prose has a lot of similarities to writing code. Both activities require a lot of time spent inside a text editor. The key difference is the final product. When writing prose, the audience sees the final written letters. When writing code, the audience sees what the software does, not what it is in its raw form.

Coding seems more like a craft than an art when you consider that it's one key part of software engineering. This difference is even more pronounced when considering the Pulitzer Prizes.

The Pulitzer Prize board usually awards a prize in each category to a single person. Yet, there were a lot of people on the team who contribute to the winning book, news report, or editorial cartoon. Compare that to making movies or software which require large teams. Software released today is not written from scratch, like a book or poem. This is obvious when you consider the OS and code library dependencies.

Blogging, on the other hand...

The Question is Begged

Why is there no Pulitzer Prize category for blogging?

I wholeheartedly believe there should be a Pulitzer Prize category for individual blogging. After all, Pulitzer awards their prizes to individuals. Some of their prizes are for journalism and some are for art. Are the Pulitzer's about the content or the medium? Meta-blogs have won Pulitzer Prizes, such as the Huffington Post. But I would no longer consider Huff Post a blog, like, say, TechCrunch. Rather, HuffPo is an online journalism news source. There's a distinct difference.

Bloggers are doing important work. The Pulitzer Prizes should formally recognize this with its own category. When it is, I shall nominate the Scripting News blog. Not just for being around for 20 years, next month, but rather for defining what the true essence of blogging is.

If you agree, then please let the board of the Pulitzer Prizes know:
pulitzer@pulitzer.org


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Heads Up: Package Delivery

UPS: We Love Logistics.
I'm wondering why package delivery services don't offer heads up delivery notifications, out of the box. They already provide automated status updates, so this idea seems like a natural evolution.

Generally, when I'm tracking a FedEx or UPS package, I can provide my e-mail address or cell phone number to receive updates. FedEx and UPS are good about customer service. In my experience, they (especially FedEx) have frequently attempted a second delivery at my request. I realize that UPS is much larger than FedEx, but we're talking about moving bits, not boxes. Since I've already provided my contact info for tracking status updates, why not also send a heads up notification? UPS/FedEx Driver in your area. Please expect delivery within the next 90 minutes.

Today's UPS Story

After putting more thought into it, I realized that my heads up solution seems more than doable. Obviously, I missed a UPS delivery, today. I called UPS to hold my package at the local UPS facility. Then I tweeted them about my heads up idea. They misunderstood and tried to help me get my package, not realizing that I'd already arranged that. Ok, fair mistake – I appreciate the help.

UPS suggested I sign up for My Choice. I gave that a go, but the sign up process wanted to confirm my cell phone number billing address to verify my info. Unfortunately, I tried to sign up with my Google Voice phone number, so I gave up. Too much friction and not the best UX. Perhaps I'll try signing up later. In the mean time I had two options. First, I could wait for UPS to redeliver my package tomorrow. That option might cost the driver an extra five minutes worth of his time. Instead, I chose the second option and decided to go to the local UPS facility and pick it up. It's worth the 32 mile round trip drive rather than sitting around tomorrow.

Apple Pay Rejection Leads to Bigger Question

I read this article, Walmart, Best Buy Reject Apple Pay, earlier today, and it got me thinking.

I understand that scanning a QR code is a simpler payment process than NFC technology. It might not be as fast as  Pay, but it should be quicker and more secure than the current credit card technology. I also get the point that Walmart and Best Buy want to use their own joint venture technology, MCX. Their technology is like a stored-value card. But this article lead me to a more fundamental question. Why do companies like Target and Home Depot keep retail customers' credit card numbers?

POS

A customer swipes their credit card at the point of sale. The transation could be run as an authorization in the case of a restaurant or gas station. More likely, it'll be a sales transaction to capture the funds. To complete the transaction the merchant processor sends back an authorization number. That should be the end of the transaction. The merchant doesn't need to store the customer's credit card number. When my local cafe swipes my credit card with Square, they aren't privy to my credit card details. Reconciliation can be done via the authorization number. Returns and even recurring charges can also be accomplished using the authorization number.

So, I'm wondering what the advantage is for the big box retailers to keep retail customers' credit card numbers on file. I'm sure there's a good answer explaining why it's worth the risk.

Update: CNNMoney cybersecurity reporter, Jose Paglier, replied to some of my questions. He said retailers use my credit card number to figure out where I live. That's fine, but once they figure out who I am, they shouldn't need my credit card number anymore. At the very least, retailers could store my credit card number as a one way hash. They could still figure out which locations I shop at without my credit card number being compromised.

Innovation Chasm

Hard copy print out of the Internet with yesterday's news.
As companies grow, seemingly small changes become difficult. Change is even more difficult when companies have been around for a long time. Most companies think in terms of what they do rather than focusing on the benefits they provide. It's hard for many companies to recognize they could be left behind when technology changes. The classic example is the ice trade of the 1800s. More recently, we saw it in the newspaper industry over the past decade.

One clear example of this is SMS. It is a shrinking technology. Since 2005, the cost of sending a single text message rose steadily from 5¢ to 25¢ over the next few years. This falls under category #3 of the The Good, The Great, and The Bad Business Models.

Rarely do people send SMS text messages through their computer. It would be a simple feature, but the carriers didn't implement it. Other companies have stepped in because the wireless carries didn't innovate SMS. It was Grand Central that brought texting via computer to the masses. Apple has taken this one step further with Messages. Messages strongly encrypts the content and deliveries it to multiple devices at the same time at no cost.

The markets are bigger than any one person or company. A company can fight change by controlling or cornering the market, but that won't last forever in high tech. The companies that tend to fight it and succeed for long stretches of time tend to be oligopolies (Think: Big, as in Big Media, etc). It lasts for a while, but what companies truly last for centuries?


Thursday, September 11, 2014

One Million and Counting

Sometime in the past week this blog crossed over one million page views. I have to admit, as a casual blogger, I'm impressed with that stat.

It seems the secret to blogging is to write prose that's clear, concise, and to the point. For that, I use the Hemingway App. I also blog about things that interest me without caring too much about popularity. These days, interesting means blogging about Facebook privacy issues or Apple. To be honest, I did design my top post, Car and Life Insurance, to be interesting to Google, too. Like the Jerry episode ("The Pilot") on Seinfeld, my top blog post was about nothing. It simply hit on some keywords. But that was years ago. Since then, Google's refined their search algorithm.

Hacker News picked up The Tricks I Learned At Apple, which was my first surprise hit. It showed me that an average Joe can occasionally write something popular. CNN.com linked to my second most popular blog post which was about Apple's logo, so that obviously helped traffic. And, finally, ReadWrite featured the $5,000 Security Breach, which happened this past spring.

Fact or fiction, everyone loves a great story. Let's see how long it takes me to reach 2,000,000.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple Rant™ – The Failure of Technology

Technology has come to life. It has come to life in such a way that it's failing us due to its complexity. Technology should be the lubricant of life, not the friction.

The most anticipated Apple keynote since the iPhone, announcing the Apple Watch, was an abortion. From an inaccessible live feed to 45 minutes of listening to an Asian translator is not the best possible customer experience.


Apple Watch

"Soup Nazi:" No Keynote for you: two hours.
Here's a key problem with the Apple Watch: it doesn't replace anything – rather, it adds. It adds another device to manage thereby adding complexity to my life. The iPhone replaced my cell phone, iPod, and, to a certain degree, my computer when it came to e-mail and surfing the web. Nowadays, when I travel on business, I feel it necessary to bring my iPhone, MacBook Air, and iPad. Six months from now, will I need to bring a fourth item, too? Sure, this is great for the Apple investor; but I want to simplify my life. We all do.

Apple Epidemic

On top of this, I'm a bit frustrated after spending half an hour failing to download the new U2 album. Then I spent ten minutes figuring out how to submit a support request about the U2 album because the web form had a bug.

Forty years ago, when we changed the channel on our TV, the new station tuned in instantly. I'm at a loss, when explaining to my mother, why using an app has a lag, especially when network connectivity isn't a factor. What good are billions of cycles of CPU power that make me wait. I shouldn't have to wait longer and longer due to launching, buffering, syncing, I/O and latency.

My 500 GB MacBook Air hard drive is full. Each time it drops below 10 GB I have to find something else to delete. You'd think 7 GB sounds like a lot of space. But, after a day or so it dwindles down to a few hundred megabytes and OS X becomes unusable until I reboot. Am I really expected to delete my personal photos?

Duplicated iOS Note of this blog post draft.
Why is Siri worse today than in 2011? Or perhaps it is the same, but the novelty has worn off? Why did my Time Capsule wireless base station freeze, requiring a restart, resulting in this iOS Note being duplicated multiple times?

Here's the kicker, Apple solves these First World grievances of mine better than any other company. Yet I am more and more frustrated. Technology must move out of the way to enhance our lives, not complicate it.

Technology is alive and it's not just getting a cold, it's getting cancer. As a consumer, I want to live my life and focus on my passions, not my technology. As a software engineer, I'll deal with all the technical headaches, but I won't tolerate it as a consumer. Technology seems to be failing us faster than it's helping us.

Apple Epilogue

Obviously, I've reconsidered some things I've said in the previous 24 hours. Dave's right, Apple Pay is the big deal. Or, technology that's embedded in my body, as he suggested, would be very interesting.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tomorrow's Apple Keynote: What to Expect

Tomorrow is Apple's Keynote. New iPhones are a given. They'll probably introduce mobile payments too. Then there's the talk of an iWatch. Most people don't wear watches, so could it really be a big deal? My thinking is, "Yes."

Entertainment

The iPod was a pivotal change for Apple. Steve decided to build a product for the right reasons: to make something he loved that would be better designed and integrated than any before it. Obviously it was a success. Then, in typical Apple fashion, after starting with well over 90% market share, they let it erode since they moved on to the next thing. Here are two key points. Apple doesn't go after market share for market share sake. Also, the iPod was about listening to music and, at the end of the day, it was only an entertainment product.

Communications

Next came the iPhone. Before the iPhone, getting apps, ring tones, wallpaper, etc., on to your mobile phone was a lousy experience. Plus, the wireless carriers dictated what could go on a phone and how it could be used. Remember the Rokr E1? Apple partnered with Motorola to put iTunes into a phone. But it wasn't an Apple product. One key limitation was that its firmware restricted it to only holding 100 songs. Other carriers placed similar restrictions on their phones such as not allowing tethered syncing. Rather, they wanted their users to transfer files and photos over-the-air so they could charge them for data usage.

An iPod owner could go days, weeks, or months without using their iPod, but iPhone owners use their phone every single day. For many of us, it's the last piece of technology we touch when going to sleep and the first thing we touch before getting out of bed.

Health

While we may need to communicate every day, we need to live every second. What if the iWatch has the ability to monitor our health in a nonintrusive way? So much can be told just from our basic vitals like our heart rate, temperature, respiration, and sleep cycles. As a runner, I've worn a heart rate monitor for nearly every one of my runs over the past 20 years. It gives me an absolute indication of my effort level based on my health. If I'm coming down with something or it's a hot day, or I'm dehydrated then my heart rate monitor indicates that. But, I only wear it when I'm running. What's going on with my body the rest of the day?

Twenty years ago, I didn't carry a mobile phone. This afternoon, I ventured a block away without my iPhone. I knew I'd be gone for only a few minutes. Yet, as I crossed the street, I seriously considered going back to get it – not that I was expecting any calls, e-mails, or texts. I simply felt unconnected. Could an iWatch become so ingrained into our health that we'd feel exposed without it?

Sizzling Customer Service

One thing I absolutely love is excellent customer service.

This afternoon, I had lunch at a place that was rather slow, plus I found a wire brush bristle in my sandwich. I've been here several times before and today was the exception. The owner offered free cookies. Mistakes happen – it's what's done to make up for them that sets great businesses apart from mediocre ones.

Tonight, I went to a Home Depot I'd never been to before. As I walked out I saw a Sizzler restaurant on the other end of the parking lot. I hadn't been to a Sizzler in years and it pulled me in. An employee saw us walking up to the restaurant and held open the door. The manager behind the counter was extremely courteous and the wait staff was very friendly. There was an obvious pattern of top notch training in customer service. On top of all this, the restaurant looked brand new as if it were opening night.

There's something very pleasant about great customer service when your hungry. It's the polar opposite of hangry.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crowdsourcing


Kickstarter Meetup at 3RDSPACE: "The video is key."

Go Lean, Kick Start

When launching a startup, go lean. Brant Cooper describes this technique in his New York Times bestseller, The Lean Entrepreneur.

When launching a product, crowdsource. Most businesses design, build, and market a product hoping it'll sell. Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, cuts the risk. Crowdsourcing entrepreneurs build a prototype first. Then they sell it before mass producing it. The lean startup method is the opposite of what happened in the Dot-com era. In the late 1990s, VCs funded many businesses based solely on an unvalidated idea.

3RDSPACE Kickstarter Meetup

I co-organize a monthly Kickstarter Meetup at the 3RDSPACE coworking location in University Heights. I've seen people launch projects that fell short of their fundraising goals. I've also seen teams make their goal and then discover they severely underestimated their costs. Crowdsourcing isn't an alternative to entrepreneurism. Crowdsourcing is entrepreneurism, done smartly, with all its risks and rewards.

Biggest Kickstarter Ever

Coolest Cooler's clear rewards.
The biggest fundraiser on Kickstarter is Coolest Cooler. It ended four days ago after raising $13,285,226. I've learned some important techniques while participating in our Kickstarter Meetup. The key to launching a successful crowdsourcing campaign is the video. Don't be cheap and don't put the word Kickstarter throughout the video. If Kickstarter doesn't accept your fundraising campaign you can try another crowdsourcing platform. Also, don't make the rewards confusing. If you're making software, don't give t-shirts as rewards. You're in the software business, not the t-shirt business.

The two leaders in crowdsourcing are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Since these are new businesses, they're still working out their rules. The key difference between these two companies is that Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing campaign. If you don't hit your fundraising goal then you don't get any of the funds, but with Indiegogo, you do. So, be careful about your reward choices. If you decide to raise $15,000 on Indiegogo but only get $1,500 in pledges can you still deliver your rewards, profitably?

Crowdsourcing isn't the be-all and end-all of startups. Its key benefits keep entrepreneurs focused while validating their ideas. A good story and clear message will go a long way to bring a product to market while minimizing risk and out-of-pocket costs.

Monday, September 1, 2014

CityLite: From failure to success in a year

This morning I discovered that a product I bought last week, CityLite, had been a failed Indiegogo project. When the CityLite campaign ended, earlier this year, they had raised only $4,606 of their $80,000 goal. Somehow, this went from a failed (or perhaps abandoned) campaign in Denmark to a product I bought in Solana Beach last week. That's not bad considering some fully funded crowdsourcing projects, like Tile, can take a year to deliver.

Tomorrow, I'll post what I've learned after being part of a team that runs a Kickstarter Meetup series.