October 24, 2013

The iPhone 5C sets a dubious new record

The iPhone 5C may have shattered a record, but it's hardly one that's likely to make the folks at Cupertino happy. While most iPhones stay at full price until the next version is available, or gradually reduce in price over many months (originally years) the 5C has the distinction of being the fastest-reduced iPhone ever. Repeat: ever. As evidence: the iPhone 5C was introduced at $99 and immediately reduced to $79 by retailers. As if that wasn't head-scratching enough now WalMart is taking it one step further: reducing it to $45 for the Holiday rush. Other retailers such as Best Buy, Radio Shack and Target are all followiing suit with price programs and reductions of their own. Amidst all the talk about the iPhone 5C NOT being the low-cost iPhone we were expecting, I posit that maybe it is after all.

More reading: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/07/tech/mobile/buy-iphone-5c-cheap/?iref=obinsite

August 21, 2013

Honey, is that a Dragon in the Water?

Lots of things wash ashore at beaches but I trust nothing ever like this. This could put some fire back into the old discussion over whether dragons really did (do?) exist.
Note: Yes,  there are Komodo dragons in the world. This may be a whole different beast entirely.

August 20, 2013

Viral Job Hunting in Grand Central Terminal

You never know what you're going to see in New York City and Grand Central Terminal is arguably one of its hubs where anything can happen. Today a young man positioned himself at one of the most used exits,  the Biltmore Room which exits to 43rd street, and handed our slips of paper to any takers While New Yorkers are used to seeing and receiving flyers for restaurants, sales and other things handed to them, this was a bit different. Each piece of paper had his resume on it and this was a kind of viral marketing tactic to find himself a job. While I didn't get a picture of him I did grab his resume and am posting it to help spread the word.  Disclaimer: I don't know him & I can't vouch for him, but it took inventiveness and guts to come up with this and do it. I figured that alone merits the post.

July 23, 2013

Superman/Batman Movie

Yes, this movie is happening and if they're wise they should definitely grab plot points from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.  An older, darker, grouchier Batman against a morally weakened, puppetized man of steel? That would be great, at least in concept. DC has a history of ruining their movies, and their Superman track record isn't great either, but I give this high hopes for succeeding. The comics are fan favorites and the movie should do well. Looking forward to hearing more about this.

July 22, 2013

The Night Gwen Stacy Died

For Spider-Man fans, a new twist: a novel which uses Peter Parker's life as a rough outline then alters it to place it in the real world and with slightly different characters. Peter's still there, but he's not a superhero. Thus, no costume, no webbing, no super-villains. Gwen Stacy's not in the book either except in the guise of Peter's new girlfriend who adopts and begins using the name. Oh, and Peter's a cab driver with a bit of precognition going on. Think of this as a real-world novel with a guy named Peter Parker who seems awfully familiar.  Worth a read.

July 19, 2013

Microsoft Surface - coming to a clearance sale near you?

CNET recently published a story about Microsoft Surface and it's problems gaining traction.  In my opinion they've gotten it all wrong. CNET mentions that the lighthearted dancing ads was inappropriately themed for a device aimed at the business crowd. While that is a viable opinion, my take is that's exactly why they did it. They wanted to show a device that could replace your laptop, could do real work, but was also fun. The whole enchilada. They took a chance. Instead of showing staid suitly-clad businessmen on their way to the boardroom they showed young hipsters dancing in the conference room. If you're trying to make a product look cool, this was a good attempt.

The story also declares that Steve Jobs wouldn't have done this, and that's why Apple is far ahead of the game and Microsoft is...Microsoft. Yet, while the iPad was marketed primarily as an entertainment and consumption device there's no denying it has slipped in through the back door of many companies and it can do real work. Later ads have shown it being used in the fields of music, architecture and medicine. But what ads are they best known for? The silhouetted dancers. So now I wonder why Microsoft tried that tactic?

July 16, 2013

Google Reader

Google reader was put to rest on July 1, Google seeing fit to sunset a product that was obviously loved by many. It seems like one by one some of our favorite longstanding products don't pass muster anymore and despite our objections that they're still perfectly usable get banished to some archive like a blog you've forgotten or your Myspace page.

It does seem as if Google underestimated how popular this product was. They have tons of data at their disposal and thus should know exactly how often it was being used, yet their initial reasoning that Reader use was declining doesn't seem to hold much water. If that were so then people would scarcely look up when they read the announcement. They'd be too consumed by the newer tools they were using, too busy to care about a tool they'd long forgotten, as Google suggested. Instead what they were presented with was something of a backlash, a cry for help, or many cries at once.

 It was almost as if hundreds of voices cried out at once -- Ben Kenobi

One by one the news stories were filed first by technology blogs then mainstream press alike. And they weren't just reporting the facts, they were lamenting them and the departure of a tool they used every day. Every. Day. Does that sound like a tool that's use is declining and dying?

Gigaom does a good job of chronicling some of the reasons Google pulled the plug and the most interesting/compelling reason is because it was too open. That's right: too open. With competition from Facebook and Twitter each building their own ecosystems which are essentially walled gardens Google felt the need to build their own which is how we got Google+. While Gigaom correctly points this out, they also state that the underlying technology responsible for this openness, RSS, isn't going anywhere and can still be used with a different reader. What they didn't point out was how much power Google has to affect this as well: they own Blogger as well as other web site creation and hosting tools like Google Sites. What if someday Google decides to not support RSS at all? Imagine every Blogger site's RSS feed broken for good. Or imagine the Chrome browser not supporting RSS and somehow not playing nice with sites like Feedly. It wouldn't be the first time a major player has dropped support for a technology, as evidenced by the broken Flash-enabled web pages on Apple devices.  Its unlikely Google would do this, but if they don't want their content being automatically pulled into Feedly or the new Digg reader then its a step they could take. All the while making it extremely easy to automatically pull that data and share it using Google+.

June 26, 2013

Does Nook Still Have a Chance?

Yesterday Barnes & Noble announced it was shutting down color tablet manufacturing, a sign they were ceding the battle to other tablets such as the iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire. CNET does a nice high-level breakdown of the problem the Nook faced leading to this decision.  One key thing that has bubbled to the top is that Barnes & Noble will work with third-party manufacturers.  It seemed while reading the original statement yesterday that these third parties would be licensing the Nook technology and perhaps form factor, re-badging with their own brand similar to what Asus does with the Nexus 7. Today however it seems they may be using those third parties to continue making the Nook tablets. If this is the case the brand would theoretically survive, at least for a while. My prediction is that the Nook brand will still die, and these third party manufacturers, if they do take over and continue the Nook, won't be able to do it for long, and won't have much success. The brand is dead, even if Barnes & Noble won't admit explicitly yet.

June 25, 2013

The Nook is Dead

Much has already been written about the Nook lowering their prices first for Mothers Day (Nook HD dropping from $199 to $149, HD+ from $269 to $179), then Fathers Day (Nook HD $129, HD+ $149). Plenty of people wondered if there was more to the story, such as if Barnes & Noble was planning anything further regarding their fledgling tablets.  Today that shoe was dropped as Barnes and Noble announced they were simultaneously killing off the Windows Nook program and their Nook tablets, instead opting to focus on their ereaders and open up their Nook tablet blueprints to allow others to license and create low-cost tablets using their mold.

First of all, this news isn't particularly surprising. It was really just a matter of waiting. To be fair: the Nook was a good attempt by Barnes and Noble to capitalize on a growing trend in their industry. It made sense. They should have been able to gain a substantial portion of this market, sharing it with Amazon if nothing else. As the two dominant physical book sellers they had every expectation of capturing the market. But their insistence, almost up to the end, of offering a "cultivated" experience (read: walled garden) left most users looking longingly at their friends with other tablets. The Nook, in all it's tablet configurations (including the Nook Color), was the tablet also-ran (and most would argue their strict ereaders are too). People flocked to Kindle's ereaders and tablets, as well as the iPad and the Nexus. But not the Nook. It simply didn't offer enough and couldn't compete. It was almost like Barnes and Noble didn't understand the actual wants and needs of the tablet market by continuing to offer a watered down experience.

Secondly, the Nook itself was never the top-tier player it needed to be and was always second fiddle to the Kindle in terms of the eReader experience and the iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire in terms of being a tablet. It seemed that whenever the Nook wandered in to a new area and tried to make a name for itself it was overshadowed by the big boys. While the Nook Color was the first color reader/tablet, it didn't enjoy its moment in the sun for long. The Kindle Fire soon burst upon the market, almost instantly capturing more attention and affection. Nook tried to fight back with software upgrades, then dedicated tablet devices (Nook HD, Nook HD+) but still couldn't get the formula right. Add to this the fact that new spectacular devices like the Nexus 7 were introduced which did everything right and basically redefined what a top tier tablet should do, and the Nook fell farther behind. The introduction late last year of the iPad Mini meant that even Apple was moving onto its turf. And some would say the Nook's nosedive went into overdrive.

To be fair, they tried a late Hail Mary that probably would have worked a year or more ago: they opened up the Nook HD and HD+ to the full Android market. But it wasn't enough to stop the bleeding. There wasn't enough time to re-build fan devotion or gather new customers. It was over, and finally today Barnes and Noble announced they were pulling the plug.

My personal experience with Nook goes back to the Nook Color. While not explicitly being marketed as a tablet they did indeed mention the forthcoming apps and that you'd be able to do lots of things with it in addition to ereading. I picked it up, not yet having the options of the Kindle or Nexus 7. The initial experience was good mainly because of the lack of competition. But as time went on, the lack of good apps and Barnes and Noble's frustrating walled garden approach left me wanting more. Much more. I contacted representatives who told me it would open to the full Android market "very soon". That didn't happen.  It never happened. I ended up rooting the device (an easy root, using an N2A card) which gave me some satisfaction but ultimately introduced system instability and slowness as apps were upgraded and the hacked OS couldn't handle it.  In the end my Nook Color was abandoned, left sitting on a shelf while I eyed and eventually purchased an iPad Mini. It did everything I wanted out of the box, and had the full app store I would need for further customization and extensibility. All these were things the Nook needed. At the end they finally gave it to the Nook HD tablets, but it served as a cruel reward for a losing fight.  It was almost as if Barnes and Noble said to Nook, "You did good kid. Now here's us opening up your OS to the full Android market like we promised."

You can almost hear the Nook HD saying, "Gee thanks. Maybe a little sooner would have helped."

May 27, 2013

Tech Support: Get with the 21st Century

A simple exchange of filing a warranty claim against a new TV which suddenly won't turn on:

Rep: Please attempt to turn the unit on.
Me: OK (fake wait). It won't turn on.
Rep: Is it connected to either coax or a cable box?
Me: Yes, it is.
Rep: (Long pause) Which one?
Me: Coax.
Rep: I'd like you to disconnect the AC cord from the wall.
Me: OK, done.
Rep: Hit the power button and hold for 1 minute.
Me: (Perplexed). OK...
Rep: Is it turning on?
Me: No, we've removed it from the power supply. It will never turn on.
Rep: Ok, it looks like you've got a defective unit. Please fax your receipt with purchase information to our support fax number and we'll begin processing. Once received we'll email you the RMA label.
Me: Fax it to you? Then you'll email me? How about if I just send it to your email directly? I don't have a fax machine; they're pretty antiquated at this point. Isn't there a direct customer service email I can send it to?
Rep: Yes, but that will take longer.
Me: Whatever. I'm going to use the email anyway.
Rep: Have a nice day. 

In this day and age, with the plethora of digital scanning/photography tools out there, is there any reason to all but demand someone use a fax machine? Hell, if I wanted to I could use my iPhone to quickly scan a picture of the receipt and send it to the guy's email WHILE I WAS TALKING TO HIM. But a fax machine? I'd have to dig one of those up, probably at my local office supply store.

Filing this under perplexed, confused, mildly outraged.

May 22, 2013

Amazon Worlds

Short for fanfiction. The act of creation where a writer takes existing characters from a book, movie, TV show or videogame and creates new situations and storylines. Generally not done by professional writers. If so, and payment is made, it falls within the category of media tie-in.

Today Amazon announced their new author program, Amazon Worlds. This is the latest entry to a cadre of products such as Kindle, Kindle Singles, and others. This new initiative takes aim not at totally original work or author-owned creations but at fanfiction, defined above.  While this is exciting news and a brand new market for Amazon, it certainly comes with some pros and cons. Lots of cons. First: the pros.  It seemingly legitimizes fanfic, and even pays the authors for it. So it's possible that many fanfic writers out there who have written scads of Star Trek material could actually pull a paycheck in the near future. The cons: it's a one-time payment, and everything they write becomes 100% owned (in different ways) by Amazon and the original material's copyright holder forever and ever. The breakdown is this: the material you write, including original story plotline, any new characters and situations become the franchise owner's property. So if you created a new Star Wars character in your story it becomes the property of LucasArts/Disney, and when you see a doll of your character in Toys R Us you won't see a penny from the sales. Memo from Disney: Sorry, but thanks for the great idea!

Also: Amazon can do whatever it wants with your story. It can re-sell it, re-package it, put it in an anthology, all without paying you any more money. From my point of view it certainly seems like the fanfic writer doesn't get much for their writing, although the point can certainly be made that they've done it until now for nothing. So they're ahead in that sense.

My take: personally I like creating my own worlds to play in. My own characters, situations, settings, etc. I think it's safer that way and everything belongs to you. However I'm sure this announcement will appeal to many fanfic writers eager to get paid for their Dr. Who manifesto. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and is accepted by both franchise owners and fanfic writers.

April 09, 2013

Journaling: Analog or Digital?

I've been keeping a journal for years. Far from the "dear diary" that's often shown in TV shows or movies, it's more of a way for me to remember things later. It's often helpful to go back and remember WHY you bought that certain car, WHY you took a certain job, and what the thought process was at the time. Especially if those conditions change later and you find yourself saying, "How did I get here?".  A journal can help with these things, as well as provide a great record of your life. Few of us will ever sit down and actually write our autobiography, but a good journal can fill the role quite nicely.

Essentially, a journal can be any form you want. I know people who have monthly journals with one page per month, and they jot down things for the entire month on that page. I also know people who devote 2 full pages for each day, because they have lots of details and meetings to record. A journal entry can be very brief if you want it to, such as, "Late for work due to traffic. Lunch with the guys at Joe's Pizza, met the family for dinner in town."  Nothing fancy, but it gets the point across.
But then there are times when you really want to record more details, and that's where I'm at now. Truthfully it's where I've been many times, I'm just making a return trip. For many years I've double-journaled. I've kept a paper journal with my meetings jotted down in it, plus a terse recording of what happened during the day, both business and personal. I also kept more fully-formed thoughts in a digital format, where space didn't matter. I could also include digital media, of which we have so much in our lives: camera phone pictures, video footage, links to interesting web pages, etc.
Of course it was double-duty to maintain both of these, but I did it for years. The separation of terse and verbose postings seemed to provide a nice separation for me, a natural delineation. However last year I stopped, opting to save some time by maintaining only the written journal.

I can't say it's been a perfect success.

One drawback is the space issue. It's a physical medium, so I have to journal in the space provided. I'm using the week-on-2-pages format. Truthfully, sometimes this is the perfect size, and other times I want more space to record details. This is especially true on the weekend days, where they limit it to half the space they give for weekdays. Don't they think lots of stuff happens during the weekend?
The other drawback is the inability to include things like pictures and such. While this is inherit in an old-school paper approach, it's still worth noting. I find there's many items I could include if things were digital.

So that leaves me looking around for possible digital solutions, and re-thinking my approach. In the past I've spun my own HTML pages using CSS and used that as a template for a digital journal. That worked well and I could tailor it exactly as I wanted, but dealing with HTML tags and some formatting issues often took time, and the process seemed to be as much about my template as the writing itself. Then years ago I caught wind of TiddlyWiki and loved it, ended up using it for years. Learning the wiki markup syntax was easy, fun and suited journal writing pretty well. The drawback was TiddlyWiki does some funky things if you journal out of order (say, you put in an entry today for 10 days ago) in that it makes those entries look like today's entries.  There was a workaround, which is to modify the time-stamp in the source, but it was still a hassle.

I'm currently looking for something that supports fast writing, doesn't get in my way, yet still outputs nicely formatted material.  Markdown syntax looks like the clear winner, so I'm thinking about it. 

April 01, 2013

2013: One Season Down

Today is April 1; a good time to begin benchmarking the year.

Yes, it feels like the year has only recently begun. However in reality we've just exited the first season of 2013 (Winter) which corresponds neatly to the year's first quarter and the first three months. 
We finished up the 2012 holidays hopefully with great revelry, then rushed to usher in the new year.
Those were good times, with parties, gifts, good food, music and friends. But it was really just the close of business for 2012. A series of last hurrahs and a time to be reflective. Then came the dark days. Those days where it was dark when we drove in to work and dark when we drove home. Where there wasn't much sunlight and it was tough to get energized. 

Thankfully that's all behind us now.

The days have gotten noticeably longer and brighter, thanks to the one-two punch of seasonal change and daylight savings time.
The sunlight hits us earlier and stays up longer and will keep on doing it until June 21 (the longest day of the year) and beyond, keeping us bathed in daylight well into September. And keeping us energized and happier as well.

So, welcome to the second season of 2013: Spring. Second Quarter of 2013.  April. However you want to think of it, the year is progressing nicely. This is a good time to look at what you want to accomplish and bear down to make it happen. And, it's a good time to enjoy yourself!

And while we're talking about the date, Happy April Fools Day. Check out Gmail Blue as well as these other fine pranks for 2013.

March 01, 2013

Happy Victo Spring 2013!

So today's the day we all got to theoretically move out of winter and into some semblance of Spring. We got to leave behind the calendar pictures of January and February and move into March, which hopefully has a much nicer and warmer picture to greet you. If not, you really need to take greater care in choosing your calendars (just a little something for you to keep in mind next December).

So, as we all know, today isn't the actual first day of Spring, but it is the indicator of warmer weather to come. Spring really arrives on March 20, but today is the day the countdown becomes real. Yes, you can count down starting from January 1 but that's a really long wait. Today's the day when you can look at the calendar and know that in just a large handful of days it will actually be here. The countdown becomes real. It's close. You can feel it. Maybe, like today, the air is even a bit warmer. Grab a lighter jacket. Breathe a little deeper. Enjoy. Spring is coming.

Spring is coming. Happy Victo Spring and enjoy, everyone.

February 06, 2013

Post Office: Stamps go up & Saturday delivery goes down

The big news today is that the Post office continues to go through changes, adapting their services to the way we live now.

First developed when the only way to get communication to someone else in the country was by writing a real letter (yes, by hand. Usually with a quill dip pen or something equally charming) they pioneered methods of carrying those letters by hand to their intended recipients, including the days of the Pony Express.  Today things have changed dramatically with people using email for mid to long-form communications and SMS texting for shorter messages. It's no secret that many have thought of the post office and letters in general as outdated and passe. Many young adults today haven't mailed anything hand-written in years, maybe even since their last letter to Santa. And so the recent announcement that the Post Office will be eliminating Saturday delivery service doesn't come as much of a shock. It is a bit puzzling though, as they maintain that "some things" will still be delivered. So how much of a savings is it if there will still be some delivery on Saturdays?

In all of this decline in their business, there is one bright spot: the one place the Post Office still shines is with package delivery and it makes sense: we're ordering more things from greater distances than ever before and while it's digital transactions that make it all happen you still need a carrier to get that item physically to your door. 

Let's hope these latest changes, including the cost of a stamp going up by one cent (a stamp now costs 46 cents which apparently many people don't pay attention to; check out this video of people being quizzed about the current stamp prices) help the Post Office survive these challenges and even thrive. For them to close their doors would be a terribly short-sighted and we would lose an important American institution.