Category Archives: General

There is a difference between being an investor (putting your own money at risk in the hope of a positive return) and an investment manager (putting someone else’s money at risk in exchange for a guaranteed income and opportunity for bonuses).

Something to remember when you are seeking investment.

What Debt Does Personal Computing Owe to the Past?

Last week Dave Winer posted about the important, if obscured, influence of MacWrite and MacPaint after being surprised that a younger techie he was talking to had never heard of either of them. He followed up with an invitation for people to provide their own nominations about influential software.

At least one of the commenters bemoaned the fact that so few people gave credit to software before the micro/personal computer era. This is my response:

I tend to agree that we shouldn’t loose sight of our origins, but I think the fact that so few people can name influential software before the personal computer era shouldn’t be condemmed without deep consideration.

Many serious people dismissed inexpensive micros as “toys,” barely worthy of their consideration. For good or ill though, the arrival of cheap micros meant those people no longer controlled the course computing would take. Their influence was muted, as was the influence of all the software they produced and/or revered. It was like the protestant reformation. The monks and priests, their cathedrals, their rituals all became optional. Nothing mattered but the user, the software and the hardware.

Certainly a lot of the people who were involved in the early days of the personal computer had at least dipped their toes into what came before. Gates and Allen had used PDP-10s, for example, but for many, those cheap micros were the beginning of computing. They may have owed a debt to the past, but only because some of them did the work of digging through the scrap piles behind the cathedrals to find discarded scraps they could haul back to their camp and hack to work on their 8-bit toys.

Yup, Consumer Electronics Still Suck

I’m reminded again just how crappy traditional consumer electronics are. My inlaws have a recently purchased Vizio Internet-enabled TV. It is, on its own, a decent product by the standards of the consumer electronics industry. The bundled “apps” are pretty easy to access and use with the included remote control. The setup screens aren’t completely impenetrable, etc. But using it with their older progressive-scan Sony DVD player is a nightmare.

For one thing, the DVD player’s own setup controls are crap, and are made even crappier by having to accommodate settings for “enhancements” of dubious value. The worst part though is that when you play a letter-box format DVD, it doesn’t automatically switch to a reasonable full-screen mode, instead, it shows the thing in the middle of the display, with a big black border all around. I can push a button to toggle among the other widescreen modes, but it takes some fussing to figure out which one looks best (Zoom, I think, but I’m not sure).

I don’t know if Apple will ever expand beyond the Apple TV, but there is still sooo much opportunity for them to remove the suck from watching TV and movies at home.

On Dave’s Solution to “Bandwidth Poverty”

Today, Dave Wiener describes the “bandwidth poverty” in NYC, where most people are stuck with asymmetrical cable internet connections (as are most people in the US). His solution isn’t laying more fiber, it is blanketing the city with WiFi.

Dave is a smart guy, but I’m going to dismiss this as another example of his “bandwidth ignorance,” like his initial dismissal of the network neutrality issue years ago.  (This isn’t to fault Dave, he’s just concerned with different parts of the “stack.” The abstractions that Dave works with are grockable, but like most abstractions, they start to leak.)

  1. WiFi hotspots have limited range.
  2. This isn’t actually a bad thing, because it limits the amount of interference between hotspots.
  3. It means though that there will have to be a lot of hotspots.
  4. Unfortunately, there are already a lot of WiFi hotspots in Manhattan.
  5. Unfortunately there is already a lot of interference among WiFi hotspots in Manhattan.
  6. Interference limits the reliability and overall throughput available through WiFi hotspots.
  7. What is going to connects all those new hotspots to the Internet?  It’s still probably going to come down to getting fiber to places that don’t have fiber already.
  8. Who is going to do it? Google?  Ok, just remember, their interests don’t always align with those of individual users and consumers.
On the other hand, a really big, managed WiFi build out might render many of the existing WiFi hotspots unnecessary, which could reduce the interference issues. Of course, in practice, many/most of them would probably stay in use.

I’d love to find a solution, but I don’t think we can rely on any big companies to bring it on their own. Citizens needs to come together to put pressure on policy-makers, who either need to make it a public utility, or need to manage competition among private companies in a way that works better for citizens.

Just below the Surface of Windows RT

I went to the Seattle Microsoft Store this weekend to check out the Surface RT. I was already skeptical that anyone should buy the Surface RT. After using it, I no longer have any doubt: Buying a surface RT would be foolish.

The Surface RT is a Windows product from Microsoft. I think people will expect it to be like an iPad that runs Windows applications, and they are going to be disappointed to find that it really isn’t. Even so, I assumed it would well executed.

I was surprised then, when I actually used a Surface RT, is that even the Metro/Modern UI experience was sub par. The hardware was very nice. Many things were smooth and speedy with the UI, but many things were not. Lots of the built-in apps took a lonnng time to launch. Rotating the screen involved a considerable delay, made more apparent by jerky animation. In the 10 minutes I was using it, I had (built in) apps exit unexpectedly more than once.

Microsoft makes a big deal about the keyboard cover. I found it harder to type on than an on-screen keyboard –I constantly had to check to make sure my fingers were over the right keys. I tried to rely on the autocorrect, as I do with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, but it was not up to the job.

People should see for themselves if they have the chance. I did, and learned that Microsoft’s execution was worse than I expected. I really don’t know what they were thinking. They needed to bring their “A-game.” Maybe they did, if so, their A-game is a lot of flash, and not much substance. It feels like demo-quality, rather than a finished product from one of the largest software companies in the world.

Prepad debit and the future of banking

Bottom line, I think the financial industry is cancer, a useful part of our economy that has outgrown its utility to the degree that it inflicts pain and  threatens the vitality of society as a whole.

Based on some conversations with friends who know the industry intimately, I’ve formed the opinion that our only hope is to box in the big banks and create room for alternatives to emerge and thrive. It is from this point of view that prepaid debit, particularly a new card called Bluebird, from Wallmart and Amex, interests me.

Bluebird, like many other prepaid debit cards, tend to target people in compromised financial positions who can’t afford a normal checking account. Financial services targeted at this sector are often exploitive, because the customers have few options.

I have many complaints against Wallmart, but they’ve managed to thrive by offering their customers low prices, and the Bluebird card appears to follow the same pattern by offering customers a better deal than competing offerings. I hope this is a situation where Wallmart can do well by doing good.