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Andrew Richardson
Software engineer, business owner, husband, runner and member of my pack of four-legged girls.
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May 31, 2012

NFL Pro Bowl: Ugh

The news that the NFL considered suspending their annual Pro Bowl game hit yesterday. Long held the weekend after the Super Bowl, but more recently on the Sunday between the playoffs and the big game, the Pro Bowl pits the best players of the NFC against those of the AFC.

The potential suspension came as no surprise to anyone who watched this year's "competition." Though often a dull disappointment coming after four weeks of tough playoff competition, this year's game was unwatchable.

Players looked like they were attending a walk-through practice, making few tackles and intermittent effort to, you know, catch the ball when it was thrown to them. Running backs ran a few yards but largely gave up when the defense wandered in their direction. It was a pitiful performance, especially considering the talent on the field.

Election to a Pro Bowl squad is an honor. Even being named an alternate player is a big deal. Players work hard to gain notice during the season in hopes of making the squad.

Obtaining the title "Pro Bowler" has salary implications, as well. Player's agents can tout their client's inclusion when it comes time for contract negotiations, because being on the squad indicates a top performer.

Voting by fans and coaches, held over a span of weeks, is combined to yield a squad of skilled, well-respected players. You'd think that would make for an interesting game.

Every season, though, the hard work ends with the final playoff game.

Players on teams bound for the Super Bowl have bowed out to avoid injury ever since the NFL moved the Pro Bowl to the weekend before the big game. That eliminates the cream of the crop.

The rest of the Pro Bowl class takes a leisurely attitude toward the game, seeing the Bowl as a free, late January trip to Hawaii with a game of touch football thrown in for grins. This year's game was arguably the least interesting ever played.

The NFL Players Association negotiated a one-year extension with promises of better competition. In the interest of keeping alive the salary-increasing title of Pro Bowler we can expect to see this year's squad walk the line between effort and effect. Game play will look more lively, but stop short of actual competition.

Expect to see the squad acting better football rather than playing it.

May 29, 2012

How Spectrum Sharing Would Work

Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times' Bits Blog:

"the military might have radio spectrum it uses for communicating at a bombing test range, but when that test range is not in use, a smartphone would be able to pluck a signal from that spectrum. Ideally, if the military needed to use the test range, it would gain priority over commercial users, Mr. Crowley said.

In order for something like this to work, the government would need to use a centralized system to scan the radio waves and be aware of the spectrum environment. This system would be able to find which frequencies are available and choose the best one for a mobile device to make a connection.

Mobile devices themselves can also be equipped with special sensing circuitry to detect what frequencies other cellphones are using, and to choose a frequency that is less crowded, he said."

Imagine a new class of wireless phones, 4G+ devices and fixed-base radios that all cooperate to use the available spectrum. Your device grabs whatever frequencies are available at the moment, the fixed cell tower handshakes and you're off and running.

A priority user, signaling need for greater spectrum use, can grab frequency space as phones and other users swap out to lower-priority channels. And it all happens invisibly, without user intervention.

My Next iPhone

Mark Gurman, writing for 9 to 5 Mac, outs a few of the next iPhone's parts:

"These photos also clearly show some of the features of the next-generation iPhone. The long rumored smaller dock connector is present, the earphone jack has been moved to the bottom corner of the device (the first time Apple has done this on one of their smartphones), the speaker grills have been redesigned, and there is a new opening between the camera lens and the LED flash."

The standard disclaimer applies to these photos. These parts may belong to a prototype device, not the next shipping version. That begs the question, though: Why would a parts supplier begin stocking and selling parts that no-one will ever use?

Parts begin to pop up before each and every iPhone release. These photos are a clue that the new phone will be released soon. Perhaps we'll hear and see something about it from the upcoming WWDC in a couple of weeks, when we're also expecting release information on iOS 6 and OS X 10.8.

The highlight of these photos is the elongated case. Looks like the rumored widescreen display will be fact, giving us more screen real estate for apps as well as video. A longer case means a bigger battery, too.

I hope the phone ships sooner, rather than later this year. My iPhone 3Gs's battery, now just short of three years old, is failing. Anything less that about 40% on the battery meter means a shutdown is right around the corner.

Depletion from 100% is swift. The phone spends my commute, and part of the work day plugged into a charger in order to remain useable until bedtime. A new model can't arrive soon enough for me.

May 27, 2012

Here's To the Misfit

Great piece of street art (chalk on pavement) by Aldo Figueroa, via Andy Ihnatko.

Wish I had talent like his.

More On a Facebook Smartphone

Nick Bilton, writing for The New York Times' Bits Blog:

"Employees of Facebook and several engineers who have been sought out by recruiters there, as well as people briefed on Facebook’s plans, say the company hopes to release its own smartphone by next year. These people spoke only on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their employment or relationships with Facebook."

(via pandodaily.)

Mobile computing is where users are headed, but as I speculated yesterday Facebook lacks both a hardware platform and a rich software suite to serve mobile users. With a phone of their own there's no limit to how Facebook can tailor their software into a walled garden of their own.

May 26, 2012

Facebook Is Building The Facebook Phone Right In Front Of Our Eyes

Jay Yarow, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

"But, right in plain view Facebook is assembling the core applications needed for successful smartphone operating system."

Interesting conjecture by Jay.

Facebook was built around the desktop, where users will sit, sometimes for hours, noodling around on the site. Their mobile offerings for those using the service on the go, in short bursts, have been few. The Facebook app for the iPad appeared only last year, joining the iPhone app, for example.

The company has been on the move lately, though, adding Instagram and their own Facebook Photos app in the past few weeks. No doubt they're building a suite of apps.

My question is whether Facebook intends to collect their growing mobile suite on their own hardware platform. Doing so pits them against Apple's iPhone, the Android clones and Microsoft-and-partners' forthcoming Windows 8 mobile platform. I doubt there's room for four major competitors in the mobile marketplace.

My guess is that Facebook will assemble their software suite and make it operable on multiple platforms.

An iPhone becomes a "Facebook phone" when users launch one of the apps, as they do today. They'll just have more Facebook-centric apps to choose from, exposing more of Facebook's services and perhaps keeping users within that suite (and Facebook's services) rather than using other third party apps.

Warren Buffet Buys 26 Local Papers

The Verge has a brief piece on Buffet's latest acquisition.

Local papers are a unique source of news too minor for anyone else to report. Too often, though, they bolster their coverage with reprints from the Associated Press and other broader coverage sources, giving readers something they can get elsewhere free. Such content reduces the value of a local paper where the budget is better spent on a local beat reporter or two.

Investing in printed newspapers is a contrarian act. Most papers are struggling against the onslaught of the Internet. Buffet has a long history of picking sleepers that pay off over the long haul, though. He's the self-acknowledged prophet of the buy-and-hold strategy, which makes his latest investment noteworthy. His bet here is that local papers will not only survive, but thrive.

I doubt he'll make much money from these newspapers. The communities they serve, though, will benefit from their assured financing.

May 24, 2012

Christie Advances Sports-Betting Plan in Face of Federal Ban

Terrence Dopp, writing for Bloomberg:

"New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he’ll move ahead with plans to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks by November even as he faces a possible legal challenge from the federal government.
Christie, 49, a first-term Republican, told reporters today in Atlantic City that his administration will propose regulations next week authorizing sports-book wagering in Atlantic City and at horse tracks."

I finally found a useful modern Republican!

May 23, 2012

Russian Space Agency Confirms Plans for Moon Base

Adi Robertson, writing for The Verge:

"Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has publicly confirmed its plans to create a permanent habitation on the Moon."

and …

"Popovkin has also previously said his agency was in talks with potential European and US partners for such a base."

A manned outpost on the Moon is a good idea. The Moon possesses mineral resources that, if economically harvested and transported to Earth, would change the world economy. It provides a lower gravity jumping-off point for deeper Solar System exploration. It provides a place to refine skills and techniques necessary for sending humans to Mars.

Even better than Russia's plan would be nations pooling their talents and resources to make it happen.

Gruber's New Talk Show

John Gruber, via Twitter:

"This week’s special guest: Adam @lonelysandwich Lisagor. He will be performing card tricks and other slight of hand feats."

Great guest. I'll listen in.

I wonder how long version 3 of "The Talk Show" will last.

Adam Lisagor is a friend of John's. John will run out of buddy-guests at some point.

He could go on simply talking to listeners. Or he'll have to add the task of finding new guests to the list of things he has to do in order to produce his podcast, and realize that 1. producing a show is work, and 2. he's not in the business of producing shows, so why the hell is he doing this increasingly annoying work?

There-in lies the value of being a co-host on someone else's network, rather than a host with guests. John used to be able to just show up, even phone it in from the bathtub, and have a successful result.

Microsoft Set To Release Office for iOS and Android Tablets In November

Jonathan S. Geller , writing for Boy Genius Report:

"Microsoft is currently planning to release the company’s full Office suite for not only Apple’s iPad, but for Android tablets as well. The company is targeting November of this year for both launches."

Microsoft is the gorilla in productivity suite software, so it's just a matter of time until they debut a version of Office for the iPad.

The timing, though, is puzzling. A November release coincides with nothing.

Apple's iOS will likely be unveiled at WWDC in June and delivered in the following month. Their next-generation iPhone will certainly hit the shelves by October, in time for the holiday shopping season.

Android releases occur on random Tuesdays when the moon is full. Since Android tablets make up a minuscule portion of the tablet market, and Android users are notoriously averse to paying for software, there's no point in linking a mobile Office suite to that OS.

So why November? Perhaps it will coincide with a rumored 7-inch iPad, also to be released this fall. Kinda late in the shopping season for a new tablet, though. I expect it sooner, perhaps alongside the next iPhone.

Zuckerberg, Banks Sued Over Facebook IPO

MSNBC.com:

"Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and banks led by Morgan Stanley were sued by shareholders, who claimed they hid the company's weakened growth forecasts ahead of its IPO."

This is going to get very ugly.

As Henry Blodget reported earlier this week, Facebook lowered their guidance for future earnings during their IPO roadshow. That's when the company puts on a presentation for institutional investors in an attempt to garner interest in their shares before they trade.

Apparently Facebook only notified institutional investors of the new guidance, leaving smaller investors in the dark and willing to pay the $42 - $45 initial public price. It's highly unusual for a company to lower guidance that late in the pre-IPO game, and as Blodget further reported, dishonest not to share that revised guidance with all investors.

These guys had to know they were making a terrible error by not releasing their revised guidance to the public.

In the mean time, FB is trading at just under $32 right now. Had Facebook and Morgan Stanley stuck with their original opening price target range of $28 to $35 it's very likely investors would still be in the black on their shares, rather than under water. 

May 21, 2012

Bond: Skyfall

An early trailer for the next James Bond flick, Skyfall, which premiers November 9, 2012 in the US.

Dan Benjamin: Regarding The Talk Show

Normal people won't understand the fuss, but the unceremonious end of 5by5's "The Talk Show" last week created a minor disturbance in the Force. And then came silence. And a few posts, speculating on what had happened.

John Gruber made a few sideways posts, obliquely addressing his move to Mule Radio Syndicate by essentially telling his audience that it's his podcast, he need not consult anyone on changing things up, and will offer no words of explanation.

Dan Benjamin, after a weekend of silence, posted a four-minute talk about it.

In it, his healthy respect for the audience comes through. He addresses the fact that cultivating a community of familiar voices brings with it the need to address changes with the audience "friends" he'll never meet. His Right Speech was the right thing to do.

Every now and then I come across a company that gives me above-and-beyond service. Cafepress.com, Zappos.com, Crucial.com have each given me reason to become a "customer for life." Dan Benjamin's 5by5 podcast network is right there, too.

May 20, 2012

Nasdaq 'Embarrassed' About Facebook Delay

MSNBC:

"The CEO of the Nasdaq stock exchange says it is 'humbly embarrassed' by its bungling of Facebook's hugely anticipated debut as a public company on Friday."

Methinks they're going to be short a pile of money at some point, too.

Thurrott: Windows 8 Ditches the Aero Interface

Paul Thurrott details Microsoft's long-term Windows agenda:

"Today, Microsoft boasts of up to 1.3 billion active Windows users. Windows 8 is not for them, not for the most part: We get a few bones, like Storage Spaces and quicker boot times, but the desktop environment is pretty much just Windows 7++  (or Windows 7+1 for you non-programmers). But it is those very users who don’t want or need tablet functionality that are financing Microsoft’s push towards an OS—that is not really Windows—that will replace what they’re using. Maybe not in Windows 8. Maybe in Windows 9, or 10. But eventually."

Thurrott is no Microsoft antagonist. He's a well-known Windows technology writer, enthusiast and, perhaps, apologist, but he's not pleased with the direction Microsoft has taken with Windows 8.

Microsoft disclosed this week that it will discard the familiar Aero Glass desktop user interface in the upcoming Windows release:

We applied the principles of ‘clean and crisp’ when updating window and taskbar chrome. Gone are the glass and reflections. We squared off the edges of windows and the taskbar. We removed all the glows and gradients found on buttons within the chrome. We made the appearance of windows crisper by removing unnecessary shadows and transparency. The default window chrome is white, creating an airy and premium look. The taskbar continues to blend into the desktop wallpaper, but appears less complicated overall. To complete the story, we updated the appearance of most common controls, such as buttons, check boxes, sliders, and the Ribbon. We squared off the rounded edges, cleaned away gradients, and flattened the control backgrounds to align with our chrome changes. We also tweaked the colors to make them feel more modern and neutral.

In short, Microsoft is firmly moving the Windows 8 desktop in the direction of their new tablet UI, called Metro, even before that product reaches the public.

This is a really big deal for them and their customers. Throwing out the familiar Windows desktop UI in favor of a more Metro-like space is nothing short of betting Microsoft's future on a competitor's ideas, ideas with which Microsoft has repeatedly failed to gain traction (see all past efforts at selling Windows tablets).

Can there be any greater evidence that Apple's iPad and the mobile computing revolution are the future of personal computing?

Thurrott isn't happy about it. In his lede, he states:

It’s about the Windows team abandoning the very market that drove Windows’s success for over 25 years in order to chase a coming and potentially illusory market for tablet devices.

Thurrott's error: failing to see that today's technology may only hint at tomorrow's.

If the iPad and  Metro-based Windows tablets are as far as tablet computing will ever go, then Thurrott might have a point. Tablets are not capable of fully replacing laptops and desktops today. What will tomorrow bring?

Microsoft apparently believes the answer looks more like a tablet than a desktop.

May 19, 2012

Mark Zuckerberg Ties the Knot

The New York Times' Bits blog:

"On Saturday, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, announced that he had married his long-term girlfriend, Priscilla Chan. The announcement was made, of course, on Facebook."

Not a bad week for Zuck.

IPO Syndicate: If You Can Get It, Run The Other Way

The Big Picture has a terrific write-up on how IPO allocations work, in other words, who gets the goods at the offering price. Their example is Friday's Facebook IPO:

"In the end, the age-old Wall St. adage proved true yet again: Retail investors should be circumspect (to put it politely) of any offering they’re able to get their hands on. If you can get it, chances are you don’t want it.

How does the syndicate process generally work on the retail side? Herewith, a primer."

 

Further Musings On Gruber's Split From 5by5

I wrote a small piece about John Gruber taking his podcast, “The Talk Show,” from its home at 5by5 to Mike Monteiro’s Mule Radio Syndicate yesterday. Since then there’s been a flood of Twitter traffic and a couple of web discussions dissecting it. If you’re an Apple geek, this is kind of a big deal.

Most of the talk revolves around a couple of possibilities.

I think the most likely reason Gruber exited 5by5 is his then-co-host Dan Benjamin’s announcement of new “The Talk Show” t-shirts for sale. Though a seemingly inconsequential topic, it appears to have blind-sided Gruber.

Give the last 2:42 of episode 90 a listen. Dan begins by saying that they have to mention “the t-shirts,” and Gruber replies “what t-shirts?” Dan goes on to say that Gruber approved a new t-shirt. He then takes a step back, saying Gruber approved last year’s t-shirt and the new one is no different, just as Gruber replies “did I? I don’t remember that.” Gruber says little after that, signing off awkwardly. Those were his last words on 5by5.

Gruber put his own “The Talk Show” branded [that should be “Daring Fireball” branded. My mistake.] t-shirt on sale at Daring Fireball shortly before the show appeared on MRS. Given the more elaborate design on his new shirt I’d say he had it in the works for a few weeks, and Dan’s announcement of a competing product set him off.

Another conjecture involves Dan’s sale of the 5by5 iOS app for $2.99. Maybe Gruber expected a cut of the price, given his share in the success of 5by5.

It’s hard to believe Gruber would object to selling the app, or expect a cut of the profit despite its inclusion of “The Talk Show“‘s live stream, when Dan had openly discussed pricing it at least twice with Marco Arment on Build And Analyze. Dan explained, as well, that the profits pay for the (expensive) streaming fees. Maybe Gruber doesn’t listen to the other shows at 5by5.

Gruber’s move is disappointing, because 5by5 has become a hangout for geeks, where Dan has actively encouraged a friendly atmosphere. Sure, 5by5 is a business, but it’s become more than that for many, the very people these podcasts address.

Gruber’s leaving 5by5 is like a popular TV character quitting a favorite show. It lets down the fans.

That he took the show name and re-started it elsewhere without at least a nod to its former home or a word of explanation to the fans assumed something about the audience. It assumed they would search him out, that he didn’t need to make any effort at explanation, that his success is assured regardless.

That’s the trouble with this move: it fully disregards the fans. And that’s a low-class act.

Neither Gruber nor Dan have had or will have anything to say publicly about this. I think Dan’s co-hosts will let it lie, though if anyone were to broach the subject it would be Merlin Mann. I’m a fan of his “Back To Work,” so maybe I’ll hear something there.

5by5 still has a bunch of great podcasts. My favorite is John Siracusa’s “Hypercritical.” John is a geek’s geek: well prepared, fully engaged and passionate about technology and what he has to say about it.

I like Marco Arment’s “Build And Analyze,” too, regardless of his topic-of-the-day. His keen interest in whatever is in front of him makes even a discussion about a new wall thermostat interesting. He’s got a good sense of humor, too, and doesn’t fall into the easy trap of thinking too highly of himself despite his success with Instapaper.

There are many more podcasts at 5by5, and Dan’s latest, “Big Week,” will appear soon. Worth checking out.

I wish Gruber good fortunes at MRS. I’ll listen for a while, at least. He showed a renewed energy and interest during his first MRS outing, so who knows, maybe there will be a silver lining to this cloud.

Jason Snell, editor of Macworld and a podcaster at 5by5, correctly put this brouhaha in perspective:

May 18, 1980: Mount St. Helens erupts violently, causing widespread destruction. May 18, 2012: A podcast changes servers and co-hosts.

It’s admittedly a small thing, but it’s the small things we do that people remember us by.

May 18, 2012

John Gruber Takes Ball, Goes To Mule Radio

[updated here.]

This week’s “The Talk Show” appears as a first episode on Mike Monteiro’s Mule Radio Syndicate, after skipping last week’s episode on its then-home network, 5by5. Neither the show’s host, John Gruber, nor his ex-co-host, Dan Benjamin, who owns and operates 5by5, had any comment immediately after Gruber announced the new show on his web site.

This is a shame. I first found out about 5by5 on John’s weblog, Daring Fireball, when he and Dan re-started “The Talk Show” 90 episodes ago. The show has been fun, engaging and thought-provoking, and I’ve become a fan of Dan’s other shows, including Hypercritical with John Siracusa, and Build And Analyze with Marco Arment.

I don’t know that moving the show name to Mule Radio was the right thing to do. Sure, it’s John’s show (as Dan always managed to slip into the talk), and taking along the show name will bring listeners with it, but “The Talk Show” without Dan Benjamin isn’t “The Talk Show.”

I wonder if we’ll hear any of the reasons behind the move.

 

∴ Facebook Does a Faceplant, Recovers

An interesting thing happened shortly after the somewhat delayed trading of Facebook stock began today. The share price crashed from the open, from nearly 10% over the initial offering price to break-even at $38. It has since recovered. It’s an interesting, if short story why.

The investment banks underwriting the offering priced Facebook’s shares at $38 after yesterday’s market close, setting the selling price to their prime customers. Those shares could be re-sold to the public today, perhaps netting sellers a nice profit. IPO shares usually trade up as small investors come into the market, buying at any price.

When the appointed hour arrived, though, there were no FB trades. First 11 AM passed, then 11:05, then 11:30. It wasn’t until shortly after 11:30 that the first trade crossed at $42.05.

The share price began to slide after a flurry of 82 million shares changed hands in the first thirty seconds. Before an hour was up, FB was trading for its initial price of $38.

It was at that point that, according to CNBC’s David Faber, the underwriting banks stepped in and bought shares of FB, propping up the price. The share price recovered to the low $40s, where it stands now, a little after 2 PM.

So what happened? The delayed trading was ascribed to NASDAQ’s inability to create an orderly flow of transactions. Hours later, some investors had not received confirmation of their trades on the opening price.

Investors hearing this news backed away from trading, causing an imbalance where there were more sellers than buyers. The price crashed. It wasn’t until the underwriters removed the imbalance by holding the line at $38 that FB recovered.

So what’re Facebook shares really worth? About $40 right now, within the 5% - 10% target range set by the underwriters. As it stands now, Facebook's IPO is a success, netting the company maximal income while providing early investors with a reasonable profit.

While some investors may still be cautious after its rocky opening, can anyone doubt that Facebook shares will be trading higher by this time next year? Even if what we call Facebook today amounts to a fad, the momentum the company is carrying as it unveils new features and services is enough to keep users and investors interested.

That said, no, I don’t own any shares of the company. You’ve got to be nuts to buy on opening day.

May 17, 2012

Ridley Scott and Hampton Fancher In 'Blade Runner' Sequel Talks

Sam Byford, writing for The Verge:

“The director and screenwriter of sci-fi noir classic Blade Runner are in talks to collaborate on a sequel. Production company Alcon Entertainment has announced that Ridley Scott and Hampton Fancher are developing the idea, which is confirmed to be a new story set ‘some years after’ the original film’s conclusion.”

Blade Runner gets better every time I watch it, which will only heighten my apprehension about a sequel. Here's hoping for a "Godfather II," while dreading a "The Matrix: Reloaded."

Aaron Sorkin Talks About Writing the Upcoming Steve Jobs Film

Reuters:

"It can't be a straight ahead biography because it's very difficult to shake the cradle-to-grave structure of a biography"

I'm imagining Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, "Steve Jobs," itself a collection of anecdotes from the Apple founder's life, transformed by artistic license, a la "The Social Network." A very entertaining movie, especially if you're a geek, though only accurate in the gross details.

Saverin: I'll Pay Taxes On Anything I Earned As a U.S. Citizen

Eduardo Saverin, as reported by The Situation Room:

“My decision to expatriate was based solely on my interest in working and living in Singapore, where I have been since 2009. I am obligated to and will pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to the United States government. I have paid and will continue to pay any taxes due on everything I earned while a U.S. citizen.”

(Via pandodaily.)

I call bullshit.

As Saverin says, his tax liability ends with his US citizenship, which he renounced last week to avoid capital gains taxes on any Facebook shares he sells after Friday’s initial public offering. Saverin’s share of the company will likely net him an additional $3 - $4 billion, making any past taxes paid a drop in the bucket compared to what he might owe had he remained a US citizen.

Saverin’s act is nothing but a tax dodge. Creating jobs, investing in US companies and changing his residence make no difference.

May 16, 2012

Making the Love Happen On Pandora

This is really neat: Kyle Taylor proposes marriage to his girlfriend via Pandora.

May 15, 2012

Lenovo Refreshes Its ThinkPad T, W, L and X Lines

Lenovo digs into Intel's new Ivy Bridge processor offering to refresh their super Windows laptop line. Dana Wollman, writing for Engadget:

“All told, the upgrades span Lenovo’s ultraportable X series, mainstream ‘T’ lineup, budget ‘L’ models and the W-series workstation. In general, you’ll find Ivy Bridge processors (natch), Dolby audio and, in some cases, optional 4G radios. Additionally, the company tweaked its famed keyboard ever-so slightly and added a backlighting option to almost every system”

The Thinkpad line has long been the top choice if you're in the market for a Windows laptop of any size or weight. You'll pay more, along the lines of an Apple laptop, but you'll have a machine that lasts.

May 14, 2012

The $144,146,165 Button

Joshua Gross:

”In 2007, NYC forced cab drivers to begin taking credit cards, which involved installing a touch screen system for payment.

During payment, the user is presented with three default buttons for tipping: 20%, 25%, and 30%. When cabs were cash only, the average tip was roughly 10%. After the introduction of this system, the tip percentage jumped to 22%.

Those three buttons resulted in $144,146,165 of additional tips. Per year. Those are some very valuable buttons.“

(Via DF.)

Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived

The Oatmeal publishes an awesome pean to Nikola Tesla, king of the geeks.

May 12, 2012

What Eduardo Saverin Owes America

Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who was famously cheated out of his share of the company, only to regain a portion in a settlement with Mark Zuckerberg, has decided to renounce his US citizenship in order to avoid taxes on the immense gain he stands to realize after Facebook goes public this year.

Here’s Farhad Manjoo’s take on Saverin’s distasteful act.

May 7, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On

The true story behind the ubiquitous poster.

I’ll offer one further reason it resonates today. It conveys a firm conviction with uniquely British character, or perhaps, as I like to imagine the British. The day the world truly goes to hell, someone in the UK will continue to keep a stiff upper lip.

May 6, 2012

Mike Shanahan Says Robert Griffin III Will Start For Washington Redskins From Day 1

ESPN, from the Associated Press:

“No sense fooling around with a talent like Robert Griffin III. Barely a week after the draft, the Washington Redskins are already proclaiming the Heisman Trophy winner their No. 1 quarterback. Saying that Griffin has the ability to do things no one else has done in the NFL, coach Mike Shanahan wrapped up a rookie minicamp Sunday by putting RGIII squarely atop the depth chart. ‘He’s the starter. Period,’ Shanahan said.”

That didn’t take long. Head coach Mike Shanahan ended this year’s “quarterback controversy” before it began: Rex Grossman is out as the starter, RG3 is in.

Redskins fans have been nuts about Heisman Trophy winner RG3 since the team traded up to select him in the NFL draft. Hey, maybe we’ll make .500 this season!

Microsoft's DVD-less Windows 8 Explained

Ed Bott, writing for ZDNet:

“Microsoft’s decision to remove support for playing DVD movies in Windows 8 has caused some confusion. If the VLC media player can provide DVD support for free, why can’t Microsoft? For starters, Microsoft isn’t French.”

(Via pandodaily.)

I speculated that Microsoft was looking ahead to a DVD-less hardware future, but in fact they're just avoiding the headaches and fees attending that technology. If Windows 8 customers want DVD playback, they'll have to find someone else's software to make it happen.

Reminds me of Steve Jobs' claim that Apple would skip Blu-ray support until its licensing complexity was sorted out by the marketplace, because it was a "bag of hurt." Now that Netflix, Apple, Amazon and others are successfully streaming video content, make that 'never.' Good riddance.

May 5, 2012

Weekend Reads: Why are we still in 'Vietghanistan?'

Scott Camil, a US Marine, with a meditation on our ongoing war in Afghanistan:

“In Afghanistan, the United States supposedly invaded to arrest one man. Last year we were told he’d been executed in Pakistan. What is the mission now?”

A five-minute read from a guy who knows the terrain. A US Marine with four years of Vietnam under his belt opines on the ongoing conflict, its similarity to his war, and its relevance to you.

Woman Trashes Ex-boyfriend's House, Brags About It On Facebook

Helen A.S. Popkin, writing for MSNBC.com:

“the accused entered the 30-year-old victim’s home under the pretense of retrieving her belongings — an important part of any breakup — and proceeded to leave her mark. It seems the ex-boyfriend’s pool table was the focal point of her destruction, as she reportedly doused it in vegetable oil, snapped the pool cues and threw the billiard balls. Several doors were also broken. This she boasted about in Facebook posts the victim showed the deputies who responded to the man’s civil disturbance call.”

As a cop once said to me, “it’s a good thing criminals are dumb. It makes them easier to catch.”

The article goes on to describe other really dumb people documenting their law-breaking efforts. Somewhere, a prosecutor smiles.

Weekend Reads: The Incredulity Problem

Paul Krugman:

“But in the economy as a whole, your spending is my income and vice versa; my wage matters only in comparison to your wage; and so on. This changes everything, which is why we have paradoxes of thrift and flexibility.

Of course, that’s why we do economic modeling: precisely to scope out the areas where personal incredulity is a very bad guide to affairs.”

A five-minute piece on Krugman's weblog puts the lie to the 'I can't believe further spending could be good for the economy' meme.

Macroeconomics isn't a blindingly obvious pursuit. That's why economists spend careers studying and expounding on it, why economic models come and go as ideas prove false over the long haul.

Where we are today, though, is textbook liquidity trap territory, as expounded on by professor Krugman the past few years. In this situation, government austerity is exactly the opposite of what action should be taken, as can be seen by its effect on the recent UK economy.

US government spending is headed for automatic, deep cuts at the turn of next year. In effect we'll be going on our own austerity program. It would appear, from the evidence all around us, that austerity is not the right direction we should take. What to do?

As the man says, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

May 4, 2012

Windows 8 Drops DVD Playback

Sean Hollister, writing for The Verge:

“You might have heard that Windows 8 won’t come with Media Center, but that’s not the only missing multimedia piece of the puzzle. This week, Microsoft revealed that the new operating system won’t have any kind of DVD playback, unless you specifically purchase Media Center or use third-party DVD software.”

Microsoft appears to be preparing for a future devoid of optical discs (DVDs, CDs, etc.). While they don't control the hardware that their operating systems run on, it's a good bet that the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets won't include an optical drive. Now we know their new operating system won't handle optical playback on its own, anyway.

Windows, OS X and Linux users are better off using the free, third-party VLC for their optical playback, anyway. No doubt the wizards at VideoLAN will have that tool up and running on Windows 8 shortly after it debuts.

May 3, 2012

Kindle Fire: the Fruitcake of Tablets

Joe Weisenthal, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“This morning, this headline came via Bloomberg (via @Jackbeckman):

Amazon Tablet Share Fell to Just Over 4% 1Q Vs 16.8% in 4Q: IDC

That’s quite a big market share collapse!

I observed that it must mean that the Amazon Tablet (the Kindle Fire) is something people will buy as a gift over the holidays, but won’t buy themselves to actually use.”

I had a sneaking suspicion this would happen back when the Kindle Fire, well, caught fire last year. Its $200 price point is hard to ignore when you're 1. in the market for a tablet, and 2. don't know or see a difference between the Fire and an iPad.

After all, why buy a $500+ iPad when the Fire sells for $200? It's the same thing, right?

Similar consumer behavior occurred early last year when a slew of Android tablets hit the market. Big splash, followed by a sink to the bottom.

Apparently, the truth will out. Usability and a rich app market are key to satisfying tablet users, and neither the Android clones nor the Android-in-disguise Fire have either to the degree of Apple's iPad.

This is a difficult thing to explain to non-geeks who ask "what do you think of the Kindle Fire?" Their eyes tend to glaze over somewhere after the word usability, so I usually lead off with describing the huge and varied iOS App Store. A tablet without a rich app market is like a desktop computer without the Internet. Useful, but uninteresting.

Still, some folks don't get much beyond the price. And you always get what you pay for.

May 2, 2012

Target Stores To Phase Out Kindle Products

The Verge:
In a statement provided to The Verge, Target said that it is "phasing out Kindles and Amazon- and Kindle-branded products in the spring of 2012." Target said their decision was intended to find the right "product assortment" for its customers, but the truth may have more to do with its business partners than its customers.

(via Silicon Alley Insider.)
Here's a long-shot wager: Target is the kickoff mainstream retail outlet for Apple's forthcoming iReader tablet, and has signed an exclusivity agreement precluding their selling anyone else's tablet product after the unveiling at WWDC in June.

That's my one wild speculation for the upcoming Apple new product season.
May 1, 2012

Rumor: How Apple Will Become a Mobile Carrier

Whitey Bluestein, writing for GigaOM:

“What’s next for Apple? Apple will provide wireless service directly to its iPad and iPhone customers. First, Apple will sell data packages bundled with iPads. Then it will sell data and international roaming plans to iPhone customers through the iTunes Store. And in time — sooner than many think — Apple will strike wholesale deals with several mobile operators so that Apple can provide wireless service directly to its customers, as Apple Mobile.”

Not many years ago, some people thought this was the way Google would handle the sale and use of their forthcoming "Google Phone." By controlling the hardware, software and wireless service delivery, Google would become a welcome alternative to the widely despised US telecom carriers. That never happened.

Maybe this rumor won't come to pass. Who could doubt the eagerness of Apple customers to bundle their wireless service payments with the rest of their Apple ID-based purchases, though? What a great selling feature for existing and new customers.