Google Goes Offline (In A Good Way)

Today has been an extremely busy day in the tech world. Let’s do a quick recap:
Crazy, and that’s not everything. By far the coolest, most interesting development of the day is the release of Google Gears (great writeup here on ZDNet).

What is Gears? Basically it is a solution to the “But online-only apps can’t be the future because what if you lose connection - then you lose everything!” problem. It is a tiny little bit of code you install (open source, and they’re trying to make it the de-facto standard, even to the point of being built in to all web browsers automatically) that allows online applications to function even when your connection disappears (using bits of Javascript, mostly).

The “proof-of-concept” application that Google has released into the wild is none other than the life-changing Google Reader, and it helps illustrate the possibilities pretty well. Download Gears, login to Reader, and you’re asked if you want to move offline. Google automatically downloads 2000 of your recent items to your computer, for viewing anytime, anywhere. Mark an item as shared, or starred, or just read a ton - and the next time you’re online, everything gets synced. The best part is Google Reader now has the one thing that desktop readers excelled at exclusively: speed. No more waiting for the next 20 feeds when you reach the bottom of the ones that have loaded. Super fast.

Now take this idea and apply it to, oh, Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Ooh, now Microsoft better watch out. Especially since another of their arch-nemeses is online (offline?) with Google: Adobe. Yeah, that’s right - the guys behind super-successful, super-ubiquitous Flash, and the recently introduced desktop enhancing Apollo.

And to all the GMail naysayers - in no time I’m sure that this wonderful email client will be the poster child for straddling the on- and off-line worlds.

I can’t wait to see what other companies do with this - how it affects video, photo-sharing, calendars, social networks, etc.

We’re moving towards connectivity 100% of the time, but that’s a long way away (even for city dwellers like me). What Google Gears does, however, is introduce the idea that it doesn’t really matter if we’re connected or not at any given time. The data will be with us constantly - ours, and safe where we can access it even when the power is out - and yet it will sync across multiple machines and devices whenever we’re online, utilizing the resources of the web and allowing collaboration and communication with others all over the world. It’s not one or the other - it’s both.

Hmm. What about Amazon? I wonder - they seem awfully quiet the last few days. What are they brewing?

More on Google Gears here.

10 Thoughts On Facebook

Popular social-networking site Facebook dropped a bomb on the tech world last week by opening up its doors to applications built on top of what they call Facebook Platform. Here are ten quick thoughts on Facebook, social networking, and the future.
  1. Just because it’s not as large (yet) as MySpace doesn’t mean it isn’t better. It also doesn’t mean that it can’t make more money. Preteens can’t buy as much stuff as older people.

  2. Who uses Facebook is changing. What started as a network only for college kids has expanded to include alumni, high school students, and pretty much everyone else. On one hand, this expansion of focus hurts them as far as ad/feature targeting, but because they have been so good at isolating various “networks,” and including users as part of multiple networks, all of the information you include in your profile can be used to get a very good picture of what exactly a “Brown Alum, living in New York City, working for Altria” is interested in and looking to buy.

  3. Facebook’s “Status Updates” feature is a rip-off of Twitter, and it poses grammar and identity issues by attempting to convert your first-person answer into a third-person update for your friends.

  4. You should be able to subscribe to an RSS feed for the News Feed and receive these updates (profile changes, added photos, status changes) via SMS, too. What if I decide I want to publish all of my personal profile changes and updates on my own website, or as a widget on my (hehe) MySpace page? I want to be able to subscribe to certain friends and see their activity without signing in to facebook.com. Email digests might be nice for some, though I’ve no particular desire for that. Pulling in data from other apps and services is a great start, but let us take it outside, remix it, tumbl it, feed it.

  5. We need more options on the “How Do You Know This Person?” Glaringly absent is “Well, I don’t really know her, but I read her blog.”

  6. Make it easier - much, much easier - to do an Advanced Search.

  7. Let us export a vCard with our friends’ contact info like we used to be able to. If the information is made available to us already, I can get it all anyway - you’ve done nothing but make it inconvenient. Let those who want to share share.

  8. How about letting us add personal tags to our friends that only we can see? Let us organize and sort our friends however we want and in as many ways as possible.

  9. The social network of the future is not a destination. It is a distribution center for information. Give us more ways to get data in automatically (blog feeds, Flickr photos, status updates, browsing/search and del.icio.us history, Amazon wish lists and purchases - anything we choose to provide to our network should be fair game), and give us more ways to get data out (mobile, iPod syncing, RSS, Growl, GMail Chat, Jabber, AIM, SMS, Email, Second Life, blog widgets). You should be able to use a social network without ever signing in to the main site. Decentralize.

  10. Get some relevant ads. Let us “befriend” our favorite retailers, our favorite film directors, our favorite web services, our favorite brands - and allow them to sell stuff to me. Use the data I provide to serve up some appropriate text ads. Don’t assume that because I’m on Facebook, I have any need for Career Builder’s services. My profile says I have a job. Maybe I’m not looking for one. For sure I’m not looking for one that Career Builder could help me with. Maybe 37 Signals’ job board, or TechCrunch’s. Call up Google, seriously. The best ads are the ones I want to see. If it’s truly targeted, I’ll be happy to get pitched to in my feed reader. And I’ll probably buy something, or at least bookmark it to buy later. Maybe I’ll even share it with my friends. Maybe we’ll start talking about it, start creating content about it. If you show you know us, and show you care, we will care too.

Only In America

Only in America could this be true about a holiday meant to honor those who have died in military service:
One of the longest standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911.
That is from the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on Memorial Day. Absurd. For most Americans, today is a day to picnic, barbecue, party - to celebrate the beginning of summer and the opening of the beaches. It is a day off work, a three-day weekend, a time to catch up on sleep or go visit relatives.

For very few does Memorial Day hold any more (or any different) meaning than Veterans Day, Labor Day, or any of the other “observed on a Monday” holidays.

This was always the case for me, as well.

Until recently, Memorial Day meant nothing to me. I didn’t care, I didn’t know anyone who had died in battle, I didn’t see any reason for remembering ghosts.

But these last few years have been different. I’ve realized that remembering those who have died is a way of showing respect for those fighting. It’s a way of letting them know that, yes, we do care about you, and do appreciate the sacrifices you make.

Even while staunchly disagreeing about America’s involvement in Iraq it is important to recognize the sacrifice our young women and men are making in the military. They aren’t the ones who started the war; those who do are never the ones who fight it. The men and women overseas in harm’s way are there because of the opportunities offered to them in the Armed Services: an education, technical training, companionship, honor, discipline - a lot of things many of them weren’t about to find otherwise (or at least were led to believe so). They are there for their families and for themselves and because they think that what they are doing will make the country a safer, better place. Who are we, on the opposite side of the globe, protected by our liberal arts degrees and living in our cozy East Coast/West Coast apartments and condos, to question their motives?

Question Bush and Congress all you want. But not the children whose lives are being put at stake daily, the men and women who are being trained (if not brainwashed) to serve their country in one particular way. Our country is full of inequality, and war highlights one of them rather boldly. Given the choice, all soldiers would rather be at home with their loved ones, not fighting. But in too many communities, for too many of our soldiers - they have no choice. If they want a good life, if they want to attend college, the military is the only way out.

Let us give them due respect not as soldiers, not for their fighting, but as Americans just trying to do what every one of us tries to do. This Memorial Day, think of those who don’t deserve to be overseas dying. Think of those all over the world who have died because of the actions of a few so-called leaders. Think of the innocent children, the broken families, the pain and heartbreak caused by politicians pressing a button from the safety of their respective government buildings.

Bring them home. They deserve this barbecue every bit as much as the rest of us. Bring them home and we can actually celebrate.

10 Ways To Beat The Heat This Summer

Summer is hot. And that sucks. Beaches are lame.

Here are 10 great ways to spend your summer if you agree that hours in the scalding-hot sun spent getting sand in all of your unmentionable crevices is NOT a good time.

Note: If you are into that, I suggest you try these out anyway because there is likely something seriously wrong with you.
  1. Buy a portable air conditioner. Buy a small generator and use it to run the A/C. Buy one of those rolly carts people use for their oxygen tanks. Lock yourself in your house. Call Al Gore and apologize. Love every minute of it.

  2. Go to Target. Bring a few limes, a bag of ice, some rum, some mint, some sugar, and some club soda. Pick out a nice set of tall glasses from their housewares section. Sit at the umbrella’d table which is part of their summer porch display. Muddle, pour, squeeze, mix, drink, sigh - and repeat. Sunglasses optional.

  3. Buy blocks of ice from the corner store. Leaving them inside of the bag, place one block under each of your couch cushions. Take a nap.

  4. Fill an old Windex or Febreeze bottle with liquid nitrogen. Spray yourself as needed. The best part is you just recycled plastic!

  5. I hate to advocate buying anything but the most premium ice cream, but if you want to stay cool, non-fat frozen yogurt is the way to go this summer. It has a much colder “mouth feel” due to the lack of solid butterfats that make real ice cream taste so delicious. Buy a few pints and eat them. Dude, you just lost weight, too!

  6. Fill the bathtub with ice cubes. Turn on the hot water. The ice cubes will melt pretty quickly (endothermically), meaning a ton of absorbed heat from your body. Cooooool. Just don’t stay in too long, and don’t try this shower-style.

  7. Sneak into the kitchen of a big restaurant, and hide from the head chef inside the walk-in freezer.

  8. Sit in your kitchen drinking a nice glass of fresh lemonade while thinking of the children in Africa. (Sorry!)

  9. Ride the 4 Train all day. At only $2, that’s way cheaper than parking at the beach!

  10. Open your refrigerator and freezer doors and stand in the kitchen. Duh.

Google Still Doesn’t Scare Me!

Google has done a couple things this week that have people screaming their heads off in fright. First, CEO Eric Schmidt said this:
We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’?”
And then it was announced that they are buying Feedburner (which I use for subscriptions) for $100 million.

Maluke.com
has a few interesting thoughts on the first matter:
In fact the first sign of this approach is how GMail marks the sender of emails “me” instead of “you”. It’s subtle, but having some background in processing semantics of the natural language and psychology I spotted it right away as soon as I logged in for the first time. It’s a way to erase the boundary between the person and a machine.
I noticed that, too, and what he says about it is true. The boundaries between man and machine are increasingly becoming blurred. Or, at least, our understanding of those boundaries is becoming blurrier. Who’s to say we know what we’re talking about?

In any case, here’s what I commented in response (edited for editing’s sake - read the original on the site if you like):
I’m also surprised how surprised everyone was about what Schmidt said. This is what I always imagined Google would be, and would do. In fact, the whole concept of the Web seems to be moving this direction - infinite data, shared across infinite systems, usable by everything that can benefit from it.

I’ve always wanted a company like Google to help me analyze my finances - at least I’d be able to see and work with and analyze the information that credit card companies and banks keep to themselves (when they’re not selling it to marketers).

Ultimately, we’ll make sacrifices to our privacy because sharing data will benefit us. And we will trust someone, because otherwise we’ll lose our minds. We already trust plenty of people who don’t even ask if we want them to track and sell our data (Internet Service Providers!!, banks, credit companies, the government). At least Google does us the courtesy of asking first.

As you can tell, I’m a tad less cynical about this than many. Maybe you’re right - perhaps it’s because it is “me” doing it.

The fault for the most part lies with an individual’s failure/reluctance to take responsibility for themselves, their lives, and their data. The privacy concerns (and security ones) are real, and any such system should by default be harmless - let users “opt in,” let them delete things and set limits on what information is collected. Amazon does pretty well with its recommendations - and they’re a store whose sole goal is to sell you more of their stuff. Google’s info-gathering, while larger in scale, might at least be useful to us in more ways than the commercial. As with anything, all Google needs to do is show that they can offer more value the more of your data they have access to, and we’ll see folks gradually giving over more and more. And being okay with it.

I’m reminded of the outcry when Facebook introduced the News Feed last fall. Every last bit of information they showed was visible prior to the presentation of it in one place. A lot of people thought a bit harder about what they chose to make visible after that. And that’s how it should be.
I’m not afraid of Google for two reasons:
  1. I trust Google and have no reason to suspect my trust is misplaced. They’ve done nothing to shake my gut feeling that my data is safe with them and being put to good use. This is the way I work: I trust first. Not everyone can do that - some need companies and individuals to prove they should be trusted. They take things slower, and give up more as they become more comfortable. I trust Google because I need to for my sanity. I use Google Search, Google Blog Search, Google News, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, YouTube, Feedburner, Google AdSense, Blogger, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Google Maps, Google Earth, GMail, Google Talk, Picasa, iGoogle, Google Reader, Google History, Google Toolbar, Google Apps for your Domain, Google Calendar, Google Groups, Google Scholar, Google Book Search, Google Product Search (rarely, I do most online shopping on Amazon) and a ton of the stuff in Google Labs. If I didn’t trust them, I would go crazy. I also trust them because...

  2. They provide tremendous value. Look at that list above. That is a lot of stuff that they do for me - all at no cost. And even if they decided to charge, I would probably pay because it would be worth it. They’re moving towards integrating these services, and I would definitely pay for that. Google Life, they might call it. It will be amazing. And it will be worth sharing some potentially sensitive information with them. Information that somebody else already has, anyway.
You might disagree. Please do so in the comments.

Bank of America Iconification Revisited

My friend Ben doesn’t like the new Bank of America Online Banking icons and interface that I wrote about yesterday. In his comment, he wrote, “i actually hate them and wanted to turn them off, but that's not an option.”

Now this post isn’t about whether he’s right or I’m right, because something like this is very much a matter of personal taste, but his comment brought to mind something I think is pretty important.

Change is scary.
Change is inconvenient.
Change isn’t always a good thing (or at least it doesn’t always feel that way).

If you are a company as large as Bank of America, it’s important to let users of your website know that change is on the way. Give them clues, tell them why (beforehand!), add new things incrementally, and, as Ben mentioned, give them the option to change back to the old design (at least for a little while). Rather than force users to learn a new interface, however similar it may be, use a redesign as an opportunity to teach them something new, to show them how to do something cool they’ve never done before. Take it slow. Don’t ambush us.

Google does a great job of this, with recent changes to Blogger, Google Analytics, and iGoogle all offering the opportunity to use the previous version. In fact, the old Blogger interface and templates were available for months before Google started making all new folks use the Beta version, and even now, there is a way to revert to what they call the Classic Blogger. For the most part, users could see that the new was better - that it offered them more functionality, was easier to customize - and they made the switch on their own time.

Bank of America’s changes weren’t so drastic as Blogger (or even the new Google Analytics), but the fact remains that people get used to looking at their data in certain ways. They have to train themselves to read it, and even the slightest change can trip them up. Sure, eventually it’ll be faster and give them more information, but for the time being, it’s an inconvenience at best, and a major annoyance at worst.

Trick your users into thinking it was their idea.

Bank Of America Gets Icon-ified

I’m a big fan of Bank of America’s Online Banking services, and with its recent updates, I love it even more. They’ve added a bunch of features that help you better understand and manage your finances, and extended the availability of statements from six months to a full year.

But by far my favorite part are the awesome little icons they’ve created to help give you an at-a-glance look at the types of transactions made in your account. If you know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that most of mine, by far, have the little check card icon next to them. Muggers take note: I don’t carry cash.

Check them out:


Nice work, team.

Open Letter To Airport Security

To Whom It May Concern:

It’s probably my own fault, really. I knew not to bring liquids in containers greater than 3.4 fluid ounces (though I admit confusion over whether the ban is on the amount of liquid or the size of the bottle), but I did anyway. It was a mistake caused by doing the bulk of my packing the morning of the trip. I packed the requisite plastic bag (oops! a gallon instead of a quart), because I knew I’d need it for my tiny bottle of eye drops and perhaps a tube of chapstick (which a year ago - prior to the “one bag, three ounces” rule - was confiscated). But of course that’s not all I put in it. In a few glorious moments of not-thinking, I shoved in my 5-ounce glass container of Marc Jacobs cologne (mostly full), and a brand new 4-ounce container of Garnier Fructis hair gunk - stuff I pack on pretty much all my weekend trips to Hartford or Boston. My bad, as “they” say.

But that’s where my faults end and yours begin. It was horribly nice of you to let me keep my cologne (even though it was sketchily double-wrapped in a black grocery bag) because you “know it’s just cologne.” Uh, don’t you also know what hair gunk looks like? What gives with this absurd and arbitrary application of Federal regulations? How can you say “it’s cool” in the same breath as “but I’ll have to confiscate this green container, sorry”? Um, dude, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but who’s to say my Marc Jacobs cologne wasn’t actually a hard-core acid that could melt the skin of small children and flight attendants? Or that the couple drops left in my bottle of eye drops aren’t infected with a particularly awful strain of conjunctivitis, just waiting for my seat-mates to drift off to sleep? Or that I plan on using my beard trimmer to rip the neck-flesh of the copilot after I’ve blinded him with a spritz of cayenne-peppered cologne? I could go on, and I’m not even a terrorist who researches and plans and plots for months. These thoughts just came to me in my less-than-awake post-redeye-flight state.

Please have the decency to apply these regulations consistently. Any exceptions risk exposing these regulations for the frivolous, non-response that they are. You and I both know that these rules do nothing to protect us, but can’t we at least pretend that they do, so we all might feel a little better?

Just because I dress “professionally” and seem “nice” does not give you an excuse not to do your job. The blood is on your hands, dude.

Your friend and fellow patriot,

Kevin M. Keating

Why I Blog

I have been writing for Frivolous Motion every weekday (and some weekends) since September of 2006, now over eight months and nearly 400 posts, and as I sit here this morning, about to fly “home” to Las Vegas, I can’t help but think, “Whoa.” To me, that’s a long time. But I can easily see myself doing this for years to come. Or something like this. Like Twitter, or Tumblr, or YouTube, or podcasting, or something so new and innovative I don’t even know about it yet. Something, though.

But why? Is it delusions of grandeur? Do I see myself becoming the next big superstar of the Web? Do I think I will influence presidential elections? Get a huge advertising deal with a hot tech company? Nah. Do I think thousands of people will start emailing me to do design work for them based on my posts about iTunes and controversies sweeping the blogosphere? No again.

I blog because I believe in connection, and I believe in the power of technology to help make and highlight the connections that exist infinitely in life. I am far from the camp of skeptics who think the internet and other technologies are pulling people apart, distracting them from making “real, meaningful connections” with others. These individuals just haven’t discovered how to make it work for them, in the same way that not every person who attends a frat party or a concert is able to connect with other people there (yeah, I used to be that guy from time to time).

There are connections to be made everywhere, and an infinite number of ways to make them. The internet allows you to touch and be touched by individuals who, in a pre-Web age, you might never have known. In the shrinking of the world enabled by cyberspace, we experience life as one great piece of fabric; each one of us making tiny ripples in the sheet that have a profound (if at times unfelt) effect on the global equilibrium. In day to day (non-networked) life, it’s much harder to see that every action, every decision, changes the world. With the internet, you can feel it just a little bit more, and that is hugely important. Your tiny blog posts about tiny things significant to you are discovered and read by individuals all over the world. And in this act of reading, two lives, two histories, two experiences intertwine in the present. Connection is made. Life is shared. A relationship, previously hidden, becomes visible. Becomes felt.

Many of my “real life” friends and family members read this blog, and as a result, they have a much stronger idea about the things that I care about then they might get seeing me from time to time. This blog has strengthened my relationships with those close to me, and built relationships with those far away, many of whom I’ve never met (and may not ever meet).

I believe, and I want to believe that technology has a human soul. I believe it isn’t cold and distant by nature, and see it getting warmer and more organic every day. I can’t even begin to imagine what the next ten years will bring, but I know (and I have faith) that it will be nothing short of astounding. Call me a crazy ignorant optimist, but I trust that humanity will learn to use these tools appropriately and conscientiously for its own sake.

I blog because I like to write, and because there are too many interesting things happening in the world not to try to make sense of. If my sense-making makes sense for another person anywhere, I’d consider this whole endeavor to be a success.

There is no difference between blogging, iChatting, or forum-posting and the Real World. It is all the same, and the sooner we see this, the greater our perspective will be. As long as we persist in making arbitrary distinctions, as long as we continue to treat technology as some alien presence that somehow magically exists outside of what is real, we will be unable to accept and understand it and use it wisely. Everything is real. Everything is natural. Everything is true.

The world is changing. And you are changing it.

That, above all, is what this blog is about. That is why I’m doing this.

Thanks for reading. Thank you very much.


(Note: No new stuff until Monday due to my trip home. Have a wonderful Friday, and a great weekend.)

Geico Cavemen on ABC: Kill The Dinosaurs!

In case you weren’t quite sure exactly why traditional media outlets are dying (hint: it’s not that the internet is killing it - Web content is just filling an ever-larger void), consider this nugget: ABC is actually going to air a sitcom based on the cavemen from the Geico Insurance advertisements. It’s been rumored for awhile now, but I never thought they would actually go through with it. Kevin==wrong.

Commercials turning into television shows? Aren’t the lines blurred enough already, with rampant product placement, and a 3:1 ratio of programming to ads? I can’t imagine any circumstances in which this show could possibly be funny. The commercials, sure, were amusing (the first time), but they lack any real substance - something that could make them really funny. It’s just lame situational humor that not-so-subtly pokes fun at the politically correct times in which we live in (grammar joke, couldn’t resist).

I’ve thought for some time that the divide between programming and advertising will shrink - as shows become shorter to fit on the Web (and our attention spans), and commercials become longer, more sequential, in order to entice an audience to watch them when they can just as easily skip past. TV shows more like commercials, and commercials more like shows. The caveman ads did this (now that they’ve become a show, however, I’m not sure what that means - what happens if Geico advertises during it?), and the much loved/loathed Mac vs. PC spots do, too. People actually get excited when Apple releases new “episodes” in this campaign. Doesn’t that go against all conventional wisdom? And hasn’t it been tremendously successful?

There are so many interesting questions here. As the networks struggle to stay afloat while their viewers’ eyes drift away to newer, more exciting, more original programming on the Web, I think we’ll continue to see crazy stunts like the one ABC is pulling with the caveman sitcom. Desperation has definitely set in.

But this might be the tipping point. We all know, of course, that once the cavemen arrived on Earth, they killed off all the dinosaurs for good.

The Forever Stamp: Buy Or Not?

The United States Postal Service has just raised the price of first-class stamps from $0.39 to $0.41 - that’s two cents per stamp (or roughly 5%). This hike is just the most recent in a series of increases in recent years that seem to be coming with less and less time in-between.

Lame, yes, but there’s a slight catch: the USPS is also releasing what they’re calling a Forever Stamp. The Forever Stamp costs only $0.41 right now (though its price will increase with the base price in years to come), but it will always cover the first-class rate, no matter how high it climbs. Now, that’s pretty nice, especially if the price continues to increase at such a fast rate - buying a ton of Forever Stamps right now seems on the surface to be a worthwhile investment.

But is it really?

I’m no economist (and I don’t have time to figure out a fancy equation), so I won’t be able to calculate projected savings based on the current rate of increase, and adding in all those fancy controlling factors and stuff, but I did a little thought experiment of my own that I found rather illuminating.

Suppose you send exactly 100 letters a year (I send fewer than 10, but that’s another story - let’s assume you’re nice and send a lot of Christmas cards), and every three years the price of a stamp increases by 2 cents. This means that after 13 years of buying $41 worth of stamps, you will have saved just slightly more ($43) than the price of a single year. It also means that to do this, you’ll have had to purchase $533 worth of stamps at the original rate. Lots of money just to get “one year free!” if you ask me. But some of you might be so frugal and splurge this year.

But how long before you start “making” money? Or rather, at what point will your cumulative savings be more than the price you paid to begin with?

2132

If you spend $5166 on stamps in 2007, you will make your first “profit” ($32) in the year 2132.

So, here it is folks, my long-term advice for the Stamp Market: Hold on to those Forever Stamps until at least 2133. And then SELL, SELL, SELL!!!

Or, you might recognize that the United States Postal Service is well on its way to disappearing forever, and instead just purchase stamps as you need them. It’s not like your family is getting any bigger, after all (at least not if they’re following my advice). E-cards are just as nice, believe me.

Mail is dead. Don’t give in to the Forever Stamp.

(I will graciously accept math and logic corrections in the comments)

You Know You Run A Failed Tech Blog When...

Bendy, Paper-Thin Display By LG Philips



LG Philips LCD (out of South Korea) has just announced something rather astonishing. They have developed the world’s first A4-sized color electronic-paper. Not only is this display paper-thin (300 micrometers), it is also bendable, displays up to 4096 colors, and - like the screen on the Sony Reader released last year - only uses power when the image on the display changes.

No word on when it will be released for use in manufacturing, but something like this introduces a ton of possibilities for the future.

God, I can’t even fathom what the next ten years will bring.

The Problem With Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee

I haven’t eaten fudge in ages.

The last time I ate it, I made it myself, and for some reason (I claim due to a lack of proper mixing utensils) it came out slightly grainy, like the occasionally sugar-sludgy slurp of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee caused by their insistence on attempting to combine regular sugar (not even superfine) with a cold double-brewed coffee rather than using either a simple pre-made sugar syrup (like Starbucks, McDonalds, and most premium coffeshops) , or adding sugar to hot coffee first (ideally double-brewed, of course, to counteract the water added from the melting ice), and then icing it (like NYC street vendors and people playing along at home).

Both of these non-DD methods produce a much smoother beverage, one that tastes like it was conceived of as its own product - not a reworking of something designed for another purpose. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee otherwise (I do - especially its price, though that is definitely challenged recently by [shudder] McDonalds’ entry into the market), it’s that it feels like it was added to their menu as an afterthought.

This afterthoughtedness isn’t exclusive to coffee. We see it everywhere - far too frequently in the tech world. In the rush to compete with a new product, companies add features to their existing offerings without much consideration, just so hey can promote it on the box. Over time (and sometimes immediately), their product becomes bloated and watered-down, full of features but devoid of character, of identity. It’s just like everything else, only not as good, because the other guys built their products from the ground up.

Apple is famous for doing it the right way. They released their first iPod into a market full of mp3 players - many of which offered more features (even to this day) - but they were enormously successful simply because they started from scratch, started with no preconceptions about what they were supposed to do, and instead made something that was a complete product with its own character, not just a box full of the latest, greatest gizmos and buzzwords borrowed from elsewhere in a scramble to have the manual with the most pages.

We see the same afterthoughtedness all the time on the Web, too. Sites adding widget after widget, the latest javascript library, the fanciest CSS hack, trying to be “MySpace - only better!” or “Like YouTube - but with a six-star rating system!” or “Like Digg - but, well...hmm...with fewer users!” Some of this can be excused - many blogs, for example, start with a template. Not everybody is a master coder, and this isn’t a prerequisite to starting a site. Most of the time, it is a learning experience for people just getting their feet wet with some HTML and CSS, and this exposure, this experimentation and risk-taking is a definite good thing. But the truly great sites, the truly great business, the folks who are actually successful, start pretty much from scratch.

One more example: In the arts, virtually no one begins with a truly blank canvas. There are numerous accepted conventions, numerous defaults - there is almost always an agreed-upon starting point. Some of the most innovative and successful work in history, however, has come from individuals who have questioned the very foundations of their practice. Painters who asked, “Why use paint? Why use brushes? Why canvas?,” directors who asked, “Why a stage? Why a curtain? Why plot? Why dialogue? Why indoors?,” poets who asked, “Why rhyme? Why words?” This is the same in science, too.

Questioning the default inevitably leads to insight. Sometimes it also leads to failure - but there is always something gained, something learned, always some greater truth revealed in the process.

Make the possibility of endless possibilities the only default. Set yourself free to redefine a product category. Become the default. Become the guy everyone copies. Ask why, and if you can’t figure out a really good reason - say no. Don’t settle for sludge in your coffee. Don’t try to trick people into eating your grainy fudge. You might be able to sell it to them once, but after that, you’ll be the one forced to eat it. And that’s just gross. Really.

Grainy fudge is really gross.

Old Media To Open Riverboat Casinos?

Yesterday morning I saw the following headline on a 40-foot tall digitized billboard in Times Square, and it struck me so much that I had no trouble locating it on the web later in the day.

Old Media Turns Combative Against New Media


You already know where this is going: A bunch of dinosaurs had a meeting in Las Vegas where they attempted to deny the emerging dominance of the New Media (companies like Google, for example) and convince themselves that, while they have partnered with these companies (and are benefiting from the services they provide), it’s an unhappy marriage - one they feel forced into, and will fight against. I’m not sure exactly what it is they’re saying. Is New Media irrelevant? If so, how is it that they have no choice but to give in to it? Hmm.

Blah blah blah - all that is old news, though. Of course the Old and Big and Few hates the New and Segmented and Many. What’s most interesting, though, is this:

“The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation,” Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Richard Parsons said, referring to the Civil War American general George Custer who was defeated by Native Americans in a battle dubbed “Custer’s Last Stand”.

“They will lose this war if they go to war,” Parsons added, “The notion that the new kids on the block have taken over is a false notion.”

So, I’m confused. Maybe my sense of history is off, but aren’t there a lot more people in the U.S. who are in the lineage of Custer than of the Sioux? Honestly - and I’m not at all saying it’s right - didn’t the white people end up winning? Wasn’t Little Bighorn just one battle - and haven’t the Native Americans, like, really lost in America? I hate to be comparing Google and its ilk to the systematic liquidation of Native American culture over our country’s history, but that’s precisely the point Richard Parsons seems to be missing: The new guys did take over. For better or worse, or both.

Once upon a time, there were some theatre artists making the same (flawed) analogy about the upstart film industry. And what do we have now? A society where both coexist and enrich our culture. Granted, sometimes it feels like the theatre is living on its own little “reservation,” existing solely due to (a very, very tiny bit of) government (and other institutional) support.

Old Media won’t die out completely. It will just be pushed aside to its own little parcel of cultural/economic real-estate that people with a taste for “the way things used to be” can visit to buy some souvenirs.

Man, I hate this analogy. It’s making me seem anti-Native American. Really, I’m just pro-Google. And I think Old Media is stupid to make such ill-considered associations.

This line from The Royal Tenenbaums might shed some light on the matter:

“Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't.”

Learn To Speak American, Damnit!

Some of you might disagree with me on this, but I have to say it anyway.

It disgusts me - disgusts me - to hear someone say, “If you want to live in America, you need to learn to speak English.” And I’m not sure if it’s worse, or sadder, when the person speaking those words is himself an immigrant.

What’s wrong with this?

Everything.

I find it hard - no impossible - to believe that a single human being anywhere on Earth deserves the authority to dictate to another how she is permitted to communicate and express herself. To force a person to speak in a particular language is an intimate violation of her very humanity - in much the same way as forbidding her from speaking at all.

It is completely without benefit to “society” to have a government-mandated language. It’s nothing more than nationalist fear. There is no compelling business case for it, nor will civilization descend into a Babel-like cacophony of unintelligibility. By nature, people will work towards communication on their own - they want to be able to understand one another. Learning the language that the majority speak in a country or province is simply a good idea for someone new, as it assists him in employment and business transactions, as well as emergency situations and building relationships. I’ve never met a single person who would rather live his entire life alone and disconnected than try his best to learn a new language. Humans default to community. Force creates resistance.

I’m not by any means advocating we start teaching multiple languages in equal measures at school (though perhaps here in America it wouldn’t hurt to do a much better job teaching a few foreign languages - you know, for “economic” reasons), so before you shudder at the thought of American children speaking anything other than American (oops, wait...I mean English. Well, sorta. But that’s another article for another day.) and in any way approaching the number of languages many other children worldwide speak fluently, don’t get all crazy. That’s not what I’m saying. Americans should still speak whatever it is they speak and still be taught it in school (how well most of us learn it is, again, another article), and conduct their business using whatever is most economical.

But they should speak privately - even publicly - however they wish. Let them speak in “English,” in Spanish, in Gibberish, in a combination of all three, with hand gestures, with their eyes, with an instrument, with a paintbrush, or by saying nothing at all. This is what is meant by the right to free speech in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

We are enriched by the infinite ways people express themselves. We grow by trying to learn and understand words and phrases and ideas unfamiliar to us. We gain a much more complete picture of the world by attempting to see it through another’s eyes.

We lose everything when we refuse to listen.

Five Truths

Connection is eternal

Individuality is a myth

Everything is shared

Three is enough

Or is that four?

Poor People Don’t Drive In Manhattan

Subtitle: Criticizing Critics of Congestion Pricing in NYC

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently outlined a plan for congestion pricing to reduce the amount of traffic that enters the City and drives on its busiest streets during the day.

Cars would be charged $8 per trip (trucks pay substantially more), though taxis are excused from this fee. The fee would be charged electronically, so drivers needn’t worry about extra time waiting in line at a toll booth.

The impact of this proposal would be great. Bloomberg expects to raise 400 million dollars a year, as well as gain what has been estimated at 5 billion dollars in lost time, plus a number of other economic losses due to congestion and fuel costs. The money raised, he pledged, will go towards the improvement of public transportation.

Though this is just one of the aspects of the giant-sized plan he introduced on Earth Day to make New York City a global leader in environmental policies, it has understandably been the most controversial. The majority of the commentary has been pretty negative, with a lot of folks decrying the “unfairness” of the proposal to those with low incomes. In fact, a poll showed (unsurprisingly) that a majority of those who drive into Manhattan daily oppose the regulations. No way!

But critics of the plan are missing a big truth: Poor people don’t drive cars into Manhattan. If they do, well that’s a really good reason they’re poor. The cost of a week of parking alone is more than the $76 for an unlimited MetroCard, which covers all subway and bus transportation into and around the City. Not to mention insurance, car payments, gas!, and the other costs of maintaining a vehicle. This proposal only affects those already wealthy enough to own cars in the first place.

A large percentage of drivers into the City say this proposal would force them to give up their cars (it’s an extra $2000 or so yearly), and this is being touted as a reason not to enact these regulations. I’m sorry, but isn’t this the point - to reduce the number of cars coming into the City unnecessarily? Excuse me if I fail to weep for you and your need to drive crosstown for lunch at a speed less than you might achieve on foot. Proof of concept: Yesterday it took an hour and fifteen minutes for my Peter Pan bus to travel from 85th Street to Port Authority (42nd Street) on 9th Avenue. This is not even 3 miles.

We need to do something to reduce congestion, to reduce vehicle pollution, and to raise money to help modernize one of the premiere public transportation systems in the world. New York City can become a major leader in the fight for the environment, and this proposal forces major lifestyle changes which are the only way to enact real, appreciable change over time. Some folks will have to make sacrifices, but the alternative (even if you disbelieve the Hollywoodization of climate change)is far worse than the effort it will take to change.

The question, Bloomberg has aptly noted, is “not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay?”

EDIT: I can think of one real negative to this plan. More bicyclists. Scary.

The Problem With Twitter

The problem with Twitter (yes, there is only one) is this:

As long as phone companies charge outrageous fees for text messaging (even paying the flat fee for unlimited messages is more expensive than it ought to be) Twitter will be unable to reach across platforms as seamlessly as it is intended to. A major piece of its functionality is too much of a luxury for most to afford. As it works right now, conscientious Twitterers (or those who have received their first phone bill since signing up) know to turn text updates for the cell phone off. In fact, I never use my phone to Twitter because I haven’t added a texting package and don’t feel like doing so until I get my iPhone (still trying to figure out how). That such a huge, integral feature of the application is restricted to those who can afford the exorbitant fees for texting reduces the chances Twitter has of becoming a huge success. Without the ability to cheaply (read: freely) use Twitter on the go, it is, in effect, no more than a minimally-featured microblogging platform or a slow group messaging client.

Twitter’s real value comes in its ability to reach across platforms and devices, but until someone forces the cellular phone companies to offer sensible data plans, there can be only one true answer to the question “What are you doing?”:

Sitting at the computer.

No Tears For Internet Radio

A lot of people are extremely upset about the impending death of internet-radio darling Pandora, and for good reason. Some lame folks have decided that internet radio sites must pay higher fees than their terrestrial counterparts, and it’s forcing a lot of stations to close down or cut back on their programming. Just yesterday, Pandora announced that they would be restricting their service to listeners in the United States in an effort to at least survive for the time being.

There’s no question that the fees are exorbitant and ridiculous (at the moment, it seems, the hike is on hold), and that they apply unevenly to web broadcasters. But even though I was pretty upset when I first heard about it, I’m over it now, and I don’t particularly care if Pandora bites the big one. In fact, I might even welcome its death.

Here’s why:

Success is Impermanent
Websites and web apps (especially free ones) will come and go. If anything, we need to understand this and maintain perspective on these services. The ones that work - work. The ones that can stay - stay. The guys who can figure out how to make money by offering something compelling deserve to survive, and they will. We don’t need this to turn into Bubble 2.0 and it’s imperative to remember that most things aren’t free and can’t operate without making money. Which services are most important to you? Which would you pay for if you had to? Which would get the boot? Which are replaceable? What would happen to your habits, your data, your life if everything suddenly went offline?

It’s Not Good Enough Yet
Pandora is cool, and the Music Genome Project is revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It was an ad-supported listening experience, which means it was an ad-controlled listening experience. What you hear is limited to what the advertisers will support (unless you pay for an account). I could never get into Pandora because it wouldn’t let me skip tracks. I also can’t save tracks, sync to my iPod, play multiple streams at once, pick songs. These are artificial limitations that come from an implicit subordination to the big bad Record Industry. The death of internet radio opens a space for services that free music to exist how it is meant to. Sharing, exploring, remixing, recreating - music as conversation. Radio is newspapers - static, fixed, irrelevant, dying. Something better will come along in time. Something more open. Where artists are in control, and aren’t forced to turn themselves into parodies of themselves and they can just write and perform and record and release whatever they want, whenever they want.

We Shall Overcome
The will of the people is strong, and the law cannot contain it (as we saw this week with the Digg explosion, for example). Laws will change. Business models will evolve. The future does not look like today.

Art Will Not Die
Art will not die. Free will not die. Nature returns to Nature in time.

Songs ≠ Music
Pandora, radio, CDs, iTunes - all of these uphold a notion of music as delineated chunks of ordered noise called songs. I firmly believe - firmly - that songs are not music’s true, natural form. Songs are a product. A form devised by record companies in order to more easily commoditize music. Digestible nuggets that are easily quantifiable. Art is not quantifiable.

More and more music is becoming an integral part of nearly every waking (and sleeping) moment of our lives, and with this ubiquity, the concept of song becomes more and more unnecessary. By sharing, remixing, mashing-up, and building off of the work of others, we begin to experience music again as an endlessly large fluid organism that is intimately interconnected with all of the sights, sounds, smells, people, places, feelings, thoughts, and dreams that together are called life. What we call music is but a piece of something far larger and far freer than we can really comprehend. Songs are illusions - music does not exist separate from the world.

Of Course I’ll Bring Up The Tree
If a tree falls while you are listening to Ashlee Simpson, isn’t the sound it makes now as much a part of the experience as the digital bits which, when read by a proper scanning laser create what our ears and brains and pasts interpret as the sound of guitars and drums and singing? And even if you failed to hear the tree, did it not just smash the butterfly which may otherwise have caused a tidal wave on the other side of the world? How can that not be exquisitely important?

What’s Next?
The future of music is connection, communication, conversation. Freedom from regulation, freedom from commodification, freedom from the illusion of separation. Everyone is a musician.

Never stop playing.

A Greener Apple - Steve Jobs Blogs Again

Steve Jobs posted another great article today(on par with his recent DRM-free manifesto). It’s called A Greener Apple, and true to the name, Mr. Jobs details many of the ways Apple intends to changes its environmental policies to become a leader in this area, addressing practices (and silence) for which they have been sharply criticized in the past.
It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple’s desires and plans to become greener. Our stakeholders deserve and expect more from us, and they’re right to do so. They want us to be a leader in this area, just as we are in the other areas of our business. So today we’re changing our policy.

[...]

We will be providing updates of our efforts and accomplishments at least annually, most likely around this time of the year. And we plan to bring other environmental issues to the table as well, such as the energy efficiency of the products in our industry. We are also beginning to explore the overall carbon “footprint” of our products, and may have some interesting data and issues to share later this year.
Good for them, I say, and it’s about time (more so for speaking out - it seems that, in spite of the silence, Apple has been doing a pretty decent job, environmentally). One particular item of note is that Apple intends to introduce its very first LED Backlit displays in 2007 (as in, this year!), and to transition entirely to this type of display to eliminate the use of mercury. So that means better for the environment, and better laptops to use in sunlight. Cool.

Twitter Networked Performance 2

I Twitter You.
You Twitter Me.
Neither Of Us Knows About It.
But The Whole World Might.



Twitter Networked Performance 1