Saturday, April 11, 2015

Apple Watch Impressions

I tried on the Watch, today. It's my first foray in wearable tech. For this reason, it's different than my previous experiences with consumer electronics. Since it comes in different sizes, styles, and colors I literally had to be fitted. I put the cart before the horse by ordering my Apple Watch before today's fitting. As a matter of fact, I ordered it within the first five minutes of it going on sale, yesterday. But, it's comforting to know, after today's fitting, that I ordered the right Apple Watch for me. And, if I had made a mistake, I could simply cancel my order anytime before it ships in the next four to six weeks.

The Apple Watches I tried on today only ran a demo program. But, I did have an opportunity to interact with some of the display models. The fitting was a bit anticlimactic since it's simply a watch in form factor, and I've worn watches for decades. Clothing, eyeglasses, and watches are the original wearable tech invented long ago. So, choosing one of these form factors is a perfect starting point for wearable high-tech.

All the Apple Watch models have the same internals. There's no functional difference, on any level, between a $349 Apple Watch Sport and a $17,000 Apple Watch Edition. That may sound ridiculous until you consider that this is also true for cars.

Swank

Welcome to the world of fashion. Once a technology has matured enough to become a commodity it can be fashioned.

Checking out Apple's new products, before the Apple watch, was simple: I would walk into an Apple Store and play with a demo unit. With the Apple Watch, I had to schedule a one-on-one fitting with a personal shopper. He assisted me in trying on different models and bands. This may sound like pomp and circumstance, but it was actually a necessity for efficiency and security. That made the experience more like a visit to a jewelry store rather than a consumer electronics store. With the Apple Watch on my wrist it "tapped" me with a notification, which felt like a poke on my wrist. I like that this haptic feedback is a silent and private notification, unlike when my iPhone vibrates which others can hear. The tap, followed by a causal glance at the Apple Watch, is less distracting than reaching into my pocket and pulling out my iPhone.

Tethered

The Apple Watch isn't a standalone device like Apple's other key products. Rather, it's a wearable accessory of the iPhone. It's disappointing that the Apple Watch must be paired to an iPhone for connectivity and to run third party apps. But that will change. In the mean time, Apple certainly got the fashion part right compared to the now defunct Google Glass. Putting wearable technology into a familiar form factor is the key to consumer adoption. But it isn't easy to put high-tech into clothes, glasses, and watches. Google Glass made for a great demo, but it didn't look like a normal pair of glasses. As a matter of fact, Google Glass didn't even function like eyeglasses or sunglasses at all. Rather, it looked geeky, which is the opposite of stylish. What Google Glass really did was bring heads-up displays (HUD) to the consumer along with a ubiquitous camera. And it was the camera that made people especially uneasy. Seventy years ago, Dick Tracy showed us what a high-tech watch could do. Before Google Glass, consumers weren't pining for a wearable HUD, but we did want a two-way wrist communicator. While no one was asking for a pocket-sized computer, the fact that smartphones enabled communications was key to their adoption.

Functionality

While I love the Apple Watch as fashion accessory, I've read the reviews. The Apple Watch feels a bit underpowered and sluggish with marginal battery life. But, regardless, since I already wear a watch then I might as well have one that works with my iPhone.

Here are more of my Thoughts on Apple Watch from last month.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Software Cities

Yesterday, Dave Winer posted about why in software, we're always starting over. Software engineering is about managing complexity, and it seems to be approaching an asymptotic limit of what can be managed by individuals and companies. It's not that we won't be able to create more sophisticated software, we will; but the growth will be slower and the benefits less noticeable. We're running out of low hanging fruit; we're running out of simple software that performs a useful service as software engineering becomes more prolific.

The real world problem I'm seeing today is that software is becoming so complex that it won't work as expected. Our expectations need to readjust. Yesterday, I couldn't play iTunes Radio or iTunes Match because iTunes simply skipped from song to song without playing any of them. It's not that Apple engineers are incompetent – that's far from the case. Rather, it's a two fold problem. First is what I've already mentioned: software is becoming more and more complex. Second is the fact that new engineers come into the workforce that need to understand legacy software and then either build upon it or reengineer it. Either way, it requires a lot of time and effort. And, unless there's a simplification breakthrough, it's going to result in more complexity for the software engineer.

When pondering this issue, holistically, I look for other examples where I've seen similar problems. Instead of looking at it as a software engineering issue, I look at it as a systems engineering issue. This analogy works well when breaking down problems. For example, we can think of data packets transversing the Internet as cars (packets) carrying payloads of people (data). In this example, we see the redundancy of our roads. Destroying a bridge in Syria has no effect on the roads in the U.S. Or, destroying the Internet's "single point of failure," i.e. DNS, would be the dire equivalent of removing every road sign in the world. As systems fail in ways we didn't imagine, other pathways must handle the load resulting in cyber traffic congestion or even failure to access a network node endpoint.

Gentrification of Software

Software engineering has many similarities to constructing homes and buildings. We even use the same word, architect, in both disciplines. But, in the world of software, we are no longer simply creating buildings. In other words, we are no longer simply making standalone software applications. Instead, we are building entire cities, which, like computers, are networked together. And, like a city, every road can't be open all the time – there's constant construction preventing access. Most of the time, we can plan ahead. But, similar to real world infrastructure failures, like a water main break, we have problems, usually in the form of bugs or hardware failures, in the online world. 

All software needs to be checked for bugs, either by a compiler, coder, tester, or customer. Every new line of code increases complexity, but this is an oversimplification since we usually don't want to compress four lines of code into one. Code written must be debuggable and there's a balance between engineering, over-engineering, and making code intuitive for people to read. One never wants to be too clever when writing code. Too-clever code can end up fooling everyone like debugging a multithreaded race condition. I'm not aware of a formula to compute how dense code is, but an experienced software engineer will get an intuitive feel for it with years of experience. 

As towns and cities require building codes and permits, we may see the same thing in high-tech. Obviously, a bridge failing is catastrophic while Amazon going down is comparatively minor, no one is physically hurt in the latter. Lost revenue is vastly different than lost lives, but, that will change. What if an airplane auto-pilot breaks in-flight? Or, worse, what if it begins misreporting or misinterpreting flight data? In the physical world, our building codes are about safety. Online, our issues are about security – and the two are related. Our online world focus is on attacks rather than infrastructure failings.

While I don't see a need for software performance inspections by third parties, I do see a day when software will be inspected by independent agencies for security

Monday, March 30, 2015

Thoughts on Apple Watch

I'm somewhat excited to try out the Apple Watch. This is a different product for Apple since it's a fashion play. And, to make it fashionable, it had to fit into a form factor that's existed for a long time.

Making technology fashionable takes decades. A perfect example is the automobile which is probably one of the most impactful inventions of the 20th Century – after all, entire cities are built around it. What you drive, car and color, says a little bit about you. Fashion is the key reason Google Glass is no more, while the Pebble Watch is king of wearable high tech.

The downside of the Apple Watch is that it doesn't replace anything.

The iPod, which I didn't "get" at first, seemed pricy at $399. My primary reason for buying it was that it was half-price for Apple employees. Then, once I loaded it up, I totally "got it." With 1,000 songs in my pocket I realized that I had every piece of music I owned, at my fingertips. No more opening jewel cases to find it had the wrong CD in it. Or, even worse, no more empty cases because I had lent them out months before and forgotten about them. At the time, the iPod was a big deal for Apple, but it wasn't important for consumers because you could own one and not use it for weeks.

The iPhone was revolutionary because it replaced three things: your cell phone, iPod, and, to a useful degree, it replaced e-mail and a web browser.  Obviously, technology that enables and improves communications will always be important.

The iPad turned out to be more than just a large iPhone, but it only replaced your main computer to a limited degree. It's great for backward leaning content consumption, but it lacks the forward leaning knowledge work and creation benefits we get from a computer.

So, the Apple Watch adds to my digital luggage. Fifteen years ago, when I traveled, I only took my laptop. Now, I'm going to feel the need to bring along my iPhone, MacBook Air, iPad, and Apple Watch. But, that's not a big deal for me since I already wear a watch, so it might as well tie-in with my iPhone; and it helps that I'm a bit of a fashion snob since I mostly wear Brooks Brothers. :^D

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Principles of Apple

This is one of the best Tim Cook interviews about Apple explaining the differences between Apple and other tech companies. In a nutshell, it's about Apple's culture, philosophy, and principles, not stock price, market share, or profitability.

What was Steve Jobs's greatest invention? Was it the Apple 2, the Mac, iPod, iPhone, etc? Nope, Steve Jobs's greatest invention was Apple, the company, or more precisely the culture he created within the company.

Apple focuses on principles. Principles are fundamental ideas that don't change. This is why they do what they do. We (people and companies) implement principles in the form of values. Our values can change depending on the situation, but the underlying principles never change. A good example of the difference between values and principles is the difference between a map and the lay of the land. A consumer, surveyor, and pilot may all use maps, but each requires a different type of map such as Google Maps for roads, surveyor maps for contour lines, or an aeronautical chart for mountains, towers and airports. As long as your values represent the underlying principles, then you have harmony; wrong map for the wrong land and you've got a problem.

Companies focus on metrics to attain goals. (It's important to note that Apple, like many other companies, has no mission statement.) The key metric for success is profitability. Obviously, Apple has that one nailed. However it's not their ultimate goal. But, Microsoft is profitable too. The key difference is in how a company attains their goals. There are different ways to do that. Microsoft does it by going after market share. In order to maintain market share Microsoft is reluctant to walk away from legacy products. Other companies may sacrifice future earnings for a good showing in the latest quarter. Apple chooses to focus on making the best products and that's measured, holistically, by customer experience, from when you walk into an Apple retail store, to buying, unboxing, using and calling for support. Steve's focus was not on quarter to quarter profits or Apple's stock price. Instead, his priority was maintaining a responsibility to the long-term. Sure, it's important for the price of Apple's stock to go up otherwise the executives lose their jobs, but that's a pleasant byproduct of making the best products in the world.

And, keep in mind, that not every one of Apple's products is a home run. Don't forget about the Apple G3 Cube (sexy, but too expensive), iPod Socks (too generic), iPod Hi-Fi (expensive and poorly designed). Make the best possible products that are simple to use and recognize the bad ones as soon as possible. In other words, do not reinforce failure; do not throw good money after bad.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Principles of the U.S. Constitution

What makes the United States unique isn't who's president or which party is in control of Congress. Rather, it's the principles set forth in the U.S. Constitution focusing on individual rights. There is no place in this document for restricting the rights of American citizens, whether it's slavery, gay marriage, or prohibition. And, it's too easy for a large organization, such as the government or a person in power, to abuse our constitutional rights.

I cringe when I hear American leaders, especially flag officers in uniform, say that their primary duty is to protect the United States. Protecting America is part of their job. But that's not their primary responsibility as laid out in their oath of office: "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." A federal law enforcement officer may think it's okay to monitor a phone call of a suspected terrorist, who is an American citizen, for the greater good. But, without following the proper legal procedures, this is, by definition, a violation of the Constitution.

Principles vs. Values

In life we have principles and values. Principles are fundamental ideas that don't change. We manifest principles in the form of values. Our values can change depending on the situation, but the underlying principles do not change.

A good example of the difference between values and principles is the difference between a map and the lay of the land. A consumer, surveyor, and pilot may all use maps, but each requires a different type of map such as Google Maps for roads, surveyor maps for contour lines, or an aeronautical chart for mountains, towers and airports. As long as your values represent the underlying principles, you have harmony. Wrong map for the wrong place and you've got a problem.

A more abstract, yet practical, example of principles vs. values is marriage. Most every culture in the world has a principle concept of marriage. But, how that's implemented, in the form of values is different. Some marriages are strictly between one man and one woman, some are between one man and several women, simultaneously, and some marriages are between people of the same gender. Same principle, different values.

The U.S. Constitution spells out our principles and our laws codify them as our values.  It is never acceptable to protect our country while harming our Constitution.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Triggers to Live Life on Your Own Terms

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and
look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Last night I went to an event where Gary Ware chatted about following your life's dreams. What would you do if you didn't have to work on a daily basis? Nearly everything he mentioned I was already doing.

I left corporate America in 2007. Since then I've written code, prose, and poems. I've been a journalist, blogger, and author; on my own terms. I learned how to fly and bought an airplane. After reflecting on this I wondered if Gary was living his dream? Perhaps he is, I only met him last night. But that thought, in turn, led me to a more important realization. Why or how did I end up doing nothing? That's when I realized the jump from corporate rat race to peaceful bliss, where everyday is a Saturday, requires a trigger. In my case several triggers.

Ready, Aim...

My first trigger was about 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Realizing there was a real possibility my life could end before it started made me focus on doing things I enjoyed. (Miraculously, after six months of chemo, I was 100% cured, to the point that it's like I was never sick.) They key is to do the things you enjoy without being selfish. This means not doing something that lessens someone else's quality of life or satisfaction. A great way to avoid this is to find the good in people and cheer them on. But it has to be genuine.

The second trigger was ten years ago when I was doing humanitarian missions in East Africa where I saw people living simply. Yes, they were poor, living on less than $3/day, but there was a beauty in their lives. In the traditional corporate career you work hard. Nowadays, we work harder than ever before. Luckily our society makes the rest of our life easier since we don't have to milk the cows or harvest the fields. But we replaced that free time with more work. So, we feel we have to keep moving up the corporate ladder to make more money. But... and here's the key question... why do we need to make more money? On the surface, we think it's so we can have more financial freedom. But what happens is we end up buying more stuff that adds more complexity to our lives. A bigger house, a new car with more technology, etc. It actually makes our lives more complicated. The more complex our life becomes, the more brittle and fragile it ends up being. If you lose a high paying job you'll have to find another high paying job to be satisfied with your lifestyle.

Hiking Torrey Pines is a fine way to begin each week.
My third and final trigger was two fold. It was working at Apple when my father unexpectedly passed away. Since then, I focus on turning a crisis into an opportunity. Working at Apple was key because they went from near bankruptcy, the year before I joined them, to the biggest company in the world. Also, Apple was my trigger for understanding simplicity. More than anything else, Steve Jobs cared about making great products and he did that by simplifying them. Instead of engineer-ugly products with every possible feature, I learned the supreme elegance of simple design.

Simplification is the ultimate sophistication

But, to be truly appreciated, all this has to be earned, not given. So, today, I enjoy life. I really enjoy it and have been for as long as I can remember. I wake up early or sleep in. I read, write, and snap photos or attend events. I enjoy sunsets, food, friends, and family. It's a good life with simple pleasures. It doesn't mean I'll never go back to working a job where I've had scores of people reporting up to me, but it's nice to have life options rather than career obligations.


Virtual Credit Card Numbers


Have you ever wanted to try out a new online service or sign up for a subscription but were weary about giving out your credit card number? Perhaps it's a legitimate cable TV or satellite radio company, but you've heard rumors about it being difficult to cancel the service. Enter virtual credit card numbers to save the day. Most major credit card companies have a simple way for you to log in to your account and create a temporary card number with a credit limit and expiration date from two to twelve months.
It's almost like putting a stop on a check making it a very good solution.

If you've ever used Apple Pay then you're already using this behind the scenes. Next time your run an Apple Pay transaction, take a look at the last four digits on your paper receipt and you'll see it does not match your actual credit card. Why not? Because your credit card company assigned you a virtual credit card number on the fly as part of the Apple Pay payment.

Buy and be safe.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Harrison Ford's Plane Crash

Dave Winer asked me to comment on why Harrison Ford's plane crash.


My response...

I heard Ford's brief conversation with the tower just after he took off where he reported "Engine failure, immediate return." So, why did his engine fail during the most critical part of flying (taking off) is the question? It could be anything, wrong fuel, water in the fuel, engine "threw a rod." Small planes, like this, are nothing more than internal combustion engines like in a car.

The problem, right after you take off in a small plane and lose your engine is, if you're below about 1,000' above the ground, you can't make the 270° turn needed to get back to your departing runway (a 180° turn puts you in the opposite direction, but you're displaced about half a mile from the runway, so you need to turn another 45° to get back to the runway and then another 45° to line up with the runway).

I've flown out of the same airport (Santa Monica Airport), several times and, other than the golf course, you don't have many other immediate landing options. I also saw a video of Ford gliding into the golf course and it looked like he was going straight and not turning back to the airport which is smart, since he wouldn't have made it back to the runway.



This attention is unfortunate for Santa Monica airport. The city dislikes this airport because the approach is over Beverly Hills and they'd love to close it down, but they have a contract with the FAA to keep it open.

Here's an article from last summer that opens with Harrison Ford filing a federal complaint to keep the airport open: Santa Monica Airport closure in 2015 challenged by tenants



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kickstarter Secrets, One Year Later

Kickstarter secrets from a master videographer (standing).
Kickstarter is the premier crowdfunding platform for products and over the past year I have coordinated the San Diego Kickstarter Meetup. The lessons I've learned from others who have succeeded and failed are priceless. Our Kickstarter meetup has been so successful that an inventors' club has been spun-off from it. The two communities meet at 3RDSPACE in University Heights; the Kickstarter group convenes monthly in a panel format while the inventors' club will begin meeting weekly in a workshop environment. The two separate, but overlapping communities are the brainchild of Peter McConnell who's the founder and owner of the 3RDSPACE coworking offices.

How successful have our members and presenters been? Last year, I listened to Patrick Lehoux speak about his successful Kickstarter campaigns which have turned into a million dollar business. Pat works a couple hours a day, with one full time employee and one part-time employee. I've also seen two notable campaigns pass through our meetup, Billetus and The Undress, which launched this past fall and both raised serious money.

Kickstarter Secrets


1. Money. How much should you raise? This is the mother of all Kickstarter questions. For starters, keep in mind that Kickstarter is all or nothing. If you don't reach your goal then you don't get any money. Compare that to Indiegogo where you have the option of getting whatever you raise. This can be good or bad. If you figure you need $30,000 to hire software engineers then only raising, say $15,000 could be disastrous if you get the money and can't deliver the goods. On the other hand, you might choose the Indiegogo platform if you're raising funds for a play or musical where any amount will do.

Make sure you're raising enough money, too. I've seen people hit their $15,000 goal only to put another $15,000 of their own money into delivering their product. The key, when figuring out your expenses, is to calculate how much it would cost someone to do all the work that needs to be done. Sure, you may be willing to ship orders, yourself, for free. But, what if your campaign goes viral, did you calculate how much it would cost to pay employees to do the work that you were willing to do for free?

Also, don't forget that Kickstarter will take a total of 8% – 10% for its own fee and its payment processor's fee. And, don't forget about your shipping costs. Think long and hard about shipping internationally since you can only choose a single international shipping price to charge your customers. It's best to figure out what's the most expensive country to ship to and use that figure.

Last, but not least, don't forget about taxes. How will you account for the money you get through Kickstarter? Will it be part of your personal (sole proprietor) income or your company's revenue?

2. Rules. Before you get too serious about Kickstarter, be sure to read the rules. We're talking about three basic rules spelled out in less than 200 words. The key things to know is that your campaign must create something to share with others. Think: products, both physical or virtual; not services. Kickstarter is designed to take a prototype to market. They don't want photorealistic mockups. They also don't want you to raise marketing funds for a product that's already in production. Additionally, raising funds for charities or investments is a no-no. Be sure to check their list of prohibited items, too.

A local college student once reached out to me for feedback on his Kickstarter video. His team was selling a fashionable product and they had a decent video. My only warning was, since their video mentioned a portion of the funds would be used for charity, that it would violate the Kickstarter rules. His reply, when they went live, was that Kickstarter had accepted their project. Great, right? No! They raised nearly $16K of a $20K goal only to be shutdown before the campaign ended because the charity aspect was a violation of the Kickstarter rules. Of course they were "in shock" when their "dream was being taken away from" them. Know the rules. But, that doesn't mean the rules won't change, which they do, from time to time.

3. Video. This is where the rubber meets the road. Our meetup group has studied many Kickstarter videos and we've learned the best practices. Your video should be about three minutes long. It should state the problem you're solving followed by your solution and a personal story. It needs to look professional. The video is your key marketing tool to close the sale. But, you don't want it to look too professional. In other words, you don't want to seem like a big corporation, but, rather, a passionate mom and pop shop with a track record for success.

Also, it's a good idea not to sprinkle the word Kickstarter throughout your video. You may end up paying $500 – $5,000 to have your video made. What if Kickstarter doesn't accept your campaign? If you want the word Kickstarter in your video, then add it at the very end where it can be easily edited out if you need to switch to another crowdsourcing platform.

4. Duration. How long should your campaign be? Your choice; up to 60 days. There is no right answer. Shorter campaigns create a sense of urgency. But, longer campaigns give you more opportunities to generate buzz, press, and PR. In my experience, I've heard very few people say they wished they had run a shorter campaign.

5. Marketing. If you build it, they will come (but only if you do lots and lots of marketing). The key is for your Kickstarter campaign to kickoff with a lot of momentum. You'll need to prime your e-mail marketing list, create a website with pre-launch info that directs people to your Kickstarter campaign, and learn the ins and outs of Facebook marketing. Facebook, more so than Google Adwords, will give you great marketing and demographic analytics. You don't need to know it all, but you will need to learn how it works along the way. You should follow bloggers in your market leading up to your launch. Then, when you launch your campaign, reach out to bloggers and reporters, with a nearly polished piece that they can publish.

6. Rewards. Keep your rewards as simple as possible. A large graphic with the price of each reward will go a long way. And don't offer t-shirts as rewards unless it directly supports your campaign. If your campaign is supporting most anything other than clothes or the performing arts then t-shirts are probably a bad idea. You don't want to be in the t-shirt designing, printing, and shipping business.

7. Goal. You've reached your goal? Great! When your fundraising campaign officially ends your Kickstarter campaign webpage will be frozen in time. The keen Kickstarter campaigner will already have an e-commerce website launched and operators standing by to take orders. Of course, orders taken on your website will be more expensive and ship later than your campaign contributors who believed in you before you reached your goal. A few minutes before your campaign ends, the super-savvy Kickstarter campaigner will update their Kickstarter page with info on where customers can now order the product. See the "About this project" section of this campaign. Even though this campaign ended 18 months ago, it's still an active sales channel.

8. Expectations. The hallmark of good customer service is managing customer expectations. You may even consider briefly educating your customers as to how Kickstarter works since more people don't know about Kickstarter than do. The first-time Kickstarter backer may think it's just another e-commerce site where they pay and then the item ships.

Kickstarter projects are notorious for shipping products late. The key is to communicate with your customers. Don't tell them the earliest possible ship date, rather tell them the latest. This goes in line with under-promise and over-deliver. I recently had an unpleasant experience from a company shipping their second product. Their first product was a successful Kickstarter project that validated them as a viable company. This allowed them to iterate on their MVP. From there, they were able to market and sell their second product directly to consumers. The problem is they were late with their second product. For 60 days, after they charged my credit card, they kept underestimating when my order would ship and sometimes they simply didn't respond to me. In the end, their product met my expectations, but it was a lousy customer experience as I nearly asked my credit card company to run a charge back.

The Future

If you're looking for investors then consider launching your MVP on Kickstarter. Even if you're not, it's a great way to mitigate risk regardless if you're trying to build a corporation backed by VCs or simply a life style company. The bottom line is don't be afraid to try, learn, and try again. I've seen entrepreneurs fall short of their Kickstarter goal, only to come back and succeed.

Uploading iOS Voice Memos into iTunes Match

Last night, I listened to friends perform at a jazz jam. Their music was phenomenal. I enjoyed it so much that I recorded most of the jam session. When I got home, I discovered that moving a voice memo into iTunes Match (iCloud) was a small challenge requiring a little trial an error.

The problem with moving an iOS voice memo into iTunes Match is iTunes considers voice memos "ineligible" for the iTunes Match service. That means there wasn't a simple way for me to get my jazz recording into a playlist that could be shared across my computers and iOS devices.

I reread my 2007 blog post about legally converting iTunes Store purchases into MP3s and that gave me an idea. Since iTunes won't sync voice memos across devices, I converted it to an AAC format which solved my problem. I'm not sure exactly what happens during the conversion process, since the pre and post converted files are both AAC, but twice the size. Perhaps it simply took the mono recording and doubled it into a stereo file. Regardless, it worked and the newly converted file successfully uploaded into iTunes Match.

The conversion process is easy. In iTunes, simply right-click (control-click) on the voice memo and select "Create AAC Version." Once you've converted the voice memo, you can choose "Update iTunes Match" from the Store pull-down menu to put it into the cloud. That's it.