Sunday, July 31, 2011

iPhone 6: Make it less precious

This morning I heard the bell toll for my iPhone 4. It sounded like "This accessory is not optimized for this iPhone”.

This, of course, is how an iPhone tells you it is water damaged. The warning message will appear intermittently even though there's no attached accessory.

My son's SIMless iPhone has done this for two years. That's not a surprise, it was a gift from a friend after a white bowl swim.

My iPhone 4 though, it's never been swimming. It has, however, spent a summer in Bangkok CO2-enhanced Minneapolis. It's had to live with sweaty pockets and big swings in temperature and humidity. It's acting like a wet phone, even if that is from ambient moisture.

I turned it off for a while, and a cooler drier time of day it seems well again. It's out of warranty, so I'll wait and see how it goes. (I did use a sturdy wooden toothpick to remove some rock-like lint from around the base connector. [1])

This is annoying. Multiply this annoyance across a family of five and annoyance becomes  a serious problem. The iPhone is just too damned "precious".

I doubt iPhone 5 will be any better. If there's hope, it's for iPhone 6. If Apple wanted to, they could make that phone a much less tender flower.

Why should they want to though? After all, the more tender the iPhone, the more are sold. Until, of course, the brand gets such a reputation for fragility competitors begin to run ads showing "this accessory is not optimized for this iPhone". (Hint, hint).

There's reason for hope. Apple is very good at taking just enough blood -- but not too much. After years of fragile laptops they did move to the more robust uniblock aluminum body.

iPhone 6, please be less precious. In the meantime iPhone competitors, stop talking about apps and start talking about moisture resistance.

[1] Anyone know of an non-builky iPhone case that seals the dock connector? I am consider the OtterBox Commuter.

Update 8/4/11: I wrote a tech post.on wet iphone prevention and treatment.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Google seeking feedback on the new Google Calendar look

Give us your feedback on the new Google Calendar Look is a thread created by a Google Employee to get "feedback" on the new Google Calendar look.

You know, the "look" that uses about half of an 11" screen to show a search bar.

My theory is she hates the wasted screen real estate and needs ammunition. So, please help. Post your comments. Don't hold back.

Unless, of course, you don't want to see your calendar items. Maybe they make you feel stressed. In that case, just relax. Don't bother posting.

If you do post, please mention that the "old" look had far too much wasted white space to begin with.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nature: daily science news and opinion

I used to read the Scientific American science news feed, but periodically I'd tap on an article title only to find it was a subscriber-only link.

So I switched to Nature science news. Only to find they're doing the same thing - mixing public with subscriber-only posts.

So I'm back to reading other science bloggers.

Does this strategy actually work for publishers, or are they paying good money to bad consultants?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

American health care costs: dog, man and Rimadyl

20110515 Kateva 11793

The good news is that Kateva's creatinine is back where it should be and her stomach is holding out. The bad news is that, even if all goes well, her feast on a friend's Rimadyl will end up costing over $1,500 for a straightforward 3 day hospital stay.

Please remember this. Rimadyl, an ibuprofen-like drug sold in the US veterinary market, is beef flavored. It's dog candy, just like the yummy children's aspirin that poisoned my childhood peers. We're used to our evil canine cur stealing food, but we misclassified the drugs as ... not food. She had a different classification. (Unfortunately, she's learned to hide food wrappers, so it took us a day to figure out where the Rimadyl went.)

Poisoned medicinal candy precautions are one lesson from Kateva's folly. It's not the only lesson though.

Once upon a time $1,500 would have covered the costs of a similarly routine human hospitalization. Around that time a time a similarly troublesome dog would have received much less care for much less money.

Health care inflation in the US applies to humans, dogs and cats alike.

Which suggests a natural experiment. We know a lot about rising human health care costs in the US. Why not compare those costs to rising costs of companion animal (aka "pet") care? American dogs and men, for example, have similar health care habits and obesity rates. American dogs and men get the same medications for roughly the same costs.

On the other hand, veterinarians are paid substantially less than physicians. Veterinary care has much less regulatory overhead, and is much more efficient. There is minimal marketing, very simple billing, and a largely market based payment system.

Most of all, the care of the aged is very different. A demented incontinent dog gets a brief and painless house call. A demented incontinent human meets a far crueler and more costly fate.

It would be interesting to plot the trajectory of American veterinary and human health care cost inflation. I think the curves would look quite different, largely due to lower end of life costs. I don't know though; there may be surprises. Curiously, I don't think this study has been done.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What killed Intuit's Quicken?

Quicken is dead.

Yes, you can still buy something called "Quicken" for Windows -- though not in the UK where the produce was terminated four years ago. No matter, Quicken is dead. The failure to produce a reasonable product for OS X is just another nail in the coffin.

Intuit itself may well continue. Their share price has done well over the past two years, and the company has moved well beyond their original product line. They may even be earning money (one way or another) from Intuit's, a read-only Cloud product with a few *cough* privacy and security issues

It's not just Quicken. Back in the 80s and 90s personal financial software was a hot product niche. At one point Microsoft Money was a serious player, until antitrust concerns and a failed acquisition left it mortally wounded.

So what happened to personal financial software? Why did it become a niche market for vendors like iBank for OS X?

I suspect it was more than one thing. This would be my guess ...

  1. The banks stopped cooperating. I've worked for ventures that relied on transaction and interface agreements; it can be hard to keep both parties motivated and the transaction system healthy. Perhaps at some point in the 90s the banks wanted this business for themselves, and saw internet banking as a competitive advantage. Why cooperate with a vendor that put all banks on a more-or-less even footing?
  2. The ability to visit web sites and find current investment values was sufficient for a significant fraction of Intuit's customer base.
  3. The American middle class fragmented as wealth concentrated in less than 1% of the US population.

The last of these is, of course, the most interesting.

Quicken is not an interesting product for people with millions of dollars to manage. They will largely use professional money managers. Quicken is not an interesting product for people with very limited savings and investments, particularly if the investments are largely concentrated in 401K accounts. The natural market for Quicken was individuals and families with significant financial complexity but not wealth.

Over the past fifteen years that market went away. The saving grace for niche Mac vendors is that, insofar as some remnant of that market still lives, it's now largely using Apple products.

In the end, I think the collapse of the American middle class killed Quicken.

See also:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Roots of the irrational in American politics: pre-dementia and religion

I've written recently about the role of religion in the reasoning of the GOP base. This is an elephant in the room; pundits will discuss the role of American's exceptional fundamentalism in the context of abortion politics, but not in the context of debt politics. The mainstream media is missing an important ingredient in our political paralysis.

There's another elephant out there, and it will grow over the next ten years. The average American voter will become increasingly demented. Demented people rarely vote of course, but most dementia is the end stage of a very long process. Before a voter is disabled, they will lose the ability to process information, recall all but the most recent events, and adjust their beliefs based on evidence. They will, in other words, become less rational.

How big a factor is this?

We can make some estimates by starting with the end-stage state of clinical demential ...

Prevalence of Dementia in the United States: The Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study

... The prevalence of dementia among individuals aged 71 and older was 13.9%, comprising about 3.4 million individuals in the USA in 2002. The corresponding values for AD were 9.7% and 2.4 million individuals. Dementia prevalence increased with age, from 5.0% of those aged 71–79 years to 37.4% of those aged 90 and older...

... The elderly population (those aged 65 years or older) in the USA is expected to double from approximately 35 million today to more than 70 million by 2030...

Of course these numbers are only a start. What we really want are numbers expressed in percentages of voters, and we want the average disease duration from judgment impairment to disability. Personally I suspect that's about 20 years, but the best data I could find was on a relatively rare and aggressive form of early dementia ...

Pre-dementia clinical stages in presenilin 1 E280A... [Lancet Neurol. 2011] - PubMed result

... Pre-dementia cognitive impairment was defined by a score 2 SD away from normal values in objective cognitive tests, and was subdivided as follows: asymptomatic pre-MCI was defined by an absence of memory complaints and no effect on activities of daily living; symptomatic pre-MCI was defined by a score on the subjective memory complaints checklist higher than the mean and no effect on activities of daily living; and MCI was defined by a score on the subjective memory complaints checklist higher than the mean, with no effect on basic activities of daily living and little or no effect on complex daily activities. De

... Median age at onset was 35 years (95% CI 30-36) for asymptomatic pre-MCI, 38 years (37-40) for symptomatic pre-MCI, 44 years (43-45) for MCI, and 49 years (49-50) for dementia. The median age at death was 59 years (95% CI 58-61). The median time of progression from asymptomatic to symptomatic pre-MCI was 4 years (95% CI 2-8), from symptomatic pre-MCI to MCI was 6 years (4-7), from MCI to dementia was 5 years (4-6), and from dementia to death was 10 years (9-12). The cognitive profile was predominantly amnestic and was associated with multiple domains. Affected domains showed variability in initial stages, with some transient recovery in symptomatic pre-MCI followed by continuous decline.

In this disorder asymptomatic pre-MCI started at age 35, and disability (dementia) at age 50. So the aggressive form has a 15 year course. I would expect less aggressive forms have a longer course, so I'll go with 20 years.

So by these very rough guesstimates about 15% of 50 year old voters will be impacted by "asymptomatic pre-MCI", an early form of cognitive disorder that will impact their judgment. That prevalence will go up with age. Since GOP voters are much older than Dem voters, this, like religious fundamentalism, will be concentrated in the GOP base and it will strongly impact GOP politics.

If you don't understand the two factors of religious fundamentalism and pre-dementia cognitive impairment you will have a hard time understanding the future of the GOP.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jon Udell on G+'s distracting chatter

Jon Udell has been testing G+. He nails it in two words ...

Distracting chatter is useful. But thanks to RSS (remember that?) it’s optional. « Jon Udell

... I came to accept a lot of distracting chatter as the price of discovering things to read. But Google+ seems to be the camel’s-back-breaking straw. The price has gone too high. So I’m rediscovering what made the blog network so thrilling to me a decade ago: unmediated access to people writing for the love of it in their own online spaces. Distracting chatter has its uses. But it’s optional.

G+ reminds Jon, and me, of why feeds aren't dead yet ...

... Last night’s 17-course meal was a selection of recent essays by Gardner CampbellBrian Dear,Lorianne DiSabato .... Paul FordCliff GerrishNed GulleyEugene Eric Kim,Adina LevinHugh McGuireCameron NeylonJohn QuimbyAntonio RodriguezScott RosenbergDoc SearlsEd Vielmetti, and Ethan Zuckerman... [2]

G+ needs to become useful. If iG+ were integrated into Google Reader, so Google Reader Shares became G+ shares, I'd go back to using it. To do that though, Google would have to support topic stream subscription as well as access controls (circles). Likewise, if G+ replaced Blogger Comments I'd definitely use it.

At the moment however, G+ is an inferior version of Facebook (no group/org Pages) without the (shrinking) number of my friends and family who post on FB [1].

[1] My experience of FB is changing. At first friends and family were sharing and it was useful for that. Most have stopped though. On the other hand, "Pages" for clubs and schools and local kid teams are more important. It's moving away from being a social network to a pub/sub group sharing network -- which starts to look like a simplified version of the web with much less anonymity. Rather a lot like late 1980s AOL and CompuServe.
[2] Great list of new names. I'm exploring each of them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

God's Will and the debt limit

Theocratic states are, by definition, not rational. Stalinist Russia, Fascist Germany, Mao's China, Kim's Korea, Revolutionary Iran -- they all believed God or History would preserve them against all odds.

Israel and America aren't theocratic states, but both nations have a strong strain of theocracy. In the US that strain is concentrated in the GOP. A belief that God is on your side can lead to some otherwise inexplicable and irrationally self-destructive behaviors.

I don't think the US will default - but we are rather close to the edge. We need to understand not only how the GOP got to crazy, but why. Why does a significant portion of the GOP believe that America should do this?

For many Republicans it's their version of Mao, Marx and Mohamed. They are American Marketarians, believers in a peculiar 21st century American fusion of Christian fundamentalism, evangelical capitalism, and calvinism. They believe they are doing God's will, that progressive taxation is the greatest sin -- opposing God's will and justice. They believe that God will save America -- if America follows the true course. Even if they don't personally believe that Obama is the anti-christ, they know he is not a Believer.

They can't make a deal, because they'd be denying God.

That's why we're in trouble.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I went to Hogwarts

Many ages after graduation, it occurred to me that I went to Hogwarts.

It went something like this:

  • Gryffindor: Page/Fleming
  • Hufflepuff: Ruddock
  • Ravenclaw: Blacker
  • Slyterin; Dabney/Lloyd

It's not exact of course. Even during my tenure Lloyd was changing character, and Dabney wasn't so much evil as geek-goth.

Still, it is remarkable.

Incidentally, in writing this I was surprised to learn that my Corona still exists ...

In the 1980s, Lloyd had two off-campus alleys, one named "The Place" and one named "Corona" (in reference to the corona of the sun as a metaphor for the outer reaches of Lloyd). The Place used to exist on the corner of Michigan Ave and Lura St; it was removed around 1988 and is now a parking lot. Corona used to be on the east side of Holliston Ave; it was removed in 1992 and the location is now the new parking structure. Because of Pasadena preservation laws, both houses were moved to other places in Pasadena. The Corona house was donated to a minister (for free) who restored it at 1792 Newport Ave, Pasadena, CA. The house is no longer owned by the minister, but it still exists.

I had no idea, when I last visited I saw only the parking log.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The GOP has been playing voter poker with the debt limit. Obama has been playing a different game: Obama Campaign/DNC Raise $86 Million in Second Quarter.

The American voter has a 3 month memory. Tea Party voters in particular remember what they're told to remember.

Donors though, they think ahead. Corporations can see Obama has given them almost everything they could hope for, while the GOP promises global economic ruin.

GOP leaders know this. That's why McConnell caved. There are still moves to be made, but the game is over.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The GOP collapses

McConnell Proposes Giving Obama Authority To Raise Debt Limit Alone. This will be retracted and denied and stuffed down the memory hole.

Doesn't matter though, the GOP has collapsed.

On the bright side, we will probably avoid the greatest failure of American governance since the Civil War. We may avoid turning the Lesser Depression into a Greater Depression.

On the dimmer side, the GOP will survive this. If they had forced the nation into default they might have done themselves in. We desperately need a somewhat sane party to oppose the worst tendencies of my team, we need a replacement for the GOP. Their retreat puts that day off.

Dimmer still, it appears I was right. Seven months ago I assumed that the GOP, in the end, would not risk the wrath of their corporate masters. They know the pre-demented boomers of the Tea Party will forget this affair within months, but corporate paymasters will not forgive economic ruin.

Like Jared Bernstein, I felt we were just now crossing over into panic time. I began to think emergent orporate entities were not as powerful as I'd imagined.

It seems they are.

Ebert on Murdoch and The Guardian

Roger Ebert pays some debts to Murdoch. Debts of vengeance that is.

Murdoch has made many enemies. He was particularly good at making enemies of intelligent and wise people who buy electrons by the gigabyte. Now they will speak.

Ebert also gives due honor to the Guardian, which must be clearing shelf space for its Pulitzer prize.

For my part, I'm adding the Guardian feed to Google Reader. I had it a while ago, but it seemed too leftie even for me. Clearly, I was wrong.

I'm back now.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Criminals lacking competence ... boiler room spoofers

For the last week or so I have been getting mobile calls between 1am and 6am from 408-555-1212. Fortunately my iPhone charges downstairs, so nobody was awoken by the calls.

This is, of course, the directory information number for Silicon Valley. It's traditional to "spoof" this Caller ID when cold calling victims.

But why between 1am and 6am? Where's the money in that?

Today they called at 6pm. Naturally I picked up. There as a longish pause while the dialing device transferred the call to a boiler room operator. Alas, I couldn't make out what she was saying. Her accent was thick (east asian?) and the VOIP call was breaking up. She seemed to be trying to pronounce the names of people I might know (Bob someone?). Perhaps she was trying to read a script about their hospitalizations, etc.

Alas, she gave up very quickly.

This is not a very competent ring of criminals. How do they stay in business?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

People you may known on G+ ...

Circles - suggested I know this guy on G+:

Screen shot 2011 07 10 at 8 52 41 PM


Dyer on Murdoch

Gwynne Dyer, a journalist once blacklisted by convict Conrad Black (Canada's mini-Murdoch), has reviewed Rupert Murdoch's latest set of challenges. He suggests ...

  • Murdoch's empire paid for the silence of convicts Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire
  • British police were slow to investigate Murdoch's minions because they'd leaked stories for pay. Some officers have a lot to lose. Dyer doesn't point out that some of them may now be powerful.
  • James Murdoch was moved from London to New York to escape the British legal system
  • Murdoch will use Rebekah Brooks to draw fire until the British government approves News Corps bid for control of British Sky Broadcasting. Then she will be sacrificed.

Dyer doesn't say this won't work. A Michael Wolff story from 9/2010 quotes British politicians who felt Andy Coulson was safe. Murdoch's control of the UK media rivaled Berlusconi's control of Italy and Murdoch's own control of Australia.

Except, Wolff pointed out, the New York Times was involved. The story had gone global.

Even so, perhaps Murdoch would have taken it down, but for the unpredictable outrage of the restless masses -- and for the media he doesn't quite control.

I googled Murdoch's Wall Street Journal for editorials on one of the biggest media stories of the decade. I found a few short articles. The New York Times, not yet a Murdoch property, has much more.

Funny that.

I wonder what Murdoch's Fox News is saying.

It could happen here. It probably has happened here.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Age of miracles - our Kia Sedona doors and Google

Before he was intimidated by AI-can't-hurt Stross [1], Brad DeLong used to say that "the singularity is in our past".

I think Brad was right and Charlie is working for the "transgalactic-AIs-tired-of-waiting-for-a-decent-conversation-from-Sol-3".

For example, how, before the Singularity, could humans have solved this mystery?

Our (cheap) Kia Sedona sliding van doors used to latch open properly. Then, a month or so ago, they'd sometimes slide back, periodically amputating digits. Emily took the van to the dealer and they told her they'd "fixed" it (under warrantee, so no charge). Of course it came back.

Really, it's a pain. Sometimes I have to brace the door with one leg. Today Emily mentioned she was taking the van back to the dealer. Then she took the kids in for DQ. While I waited with Kateva I did a voice search on my iPhone's I got this ...

Kia Sedona Doors and Exterior - Car Forums - Edmunds:

... This works fine, unless and until you decide to (2) LOWER EITHER OF THE BACK WINDOWS 'TOO' LOW. It seems there is a point where the window is too low and they've put a safety feature into play and it won't allow you to latch open the door. I found a round red reflector-like sticker on the side of the door (back side) of the driver's side rear. It is the same point at which you can lower the window and still open the door and it latches open....

Yeah, that's it. With the window down the latch doesn't work. With the window completely up it works. It made a good demo when Emily returned with the treats.

Some imagine this is a child safety feature of sorts, but I think they're suffering from cognitive dissonance. My (see update!) best guess is that it's a misguided security feature; pull the door back to let kids out and it slides down crushing them. As you tend to the wounded you notice that the window is down. We bought the car in Minnesota's winter, so we only ran into this when the weather warmed.

Whacky design, but that's not the point. The point is the dealership mechanics were completely clueless. (Must have taken them ages to "fix" it.) Google solved the problem in seconds. I didn't even have to tap type. All I had to do was ask my freakin' phone.

Definitely in our past.

These stories must bore the young. They can't imagine what life was like before the all-seeing G.

[1] Charlie claims he's mostly inciting site traffic to promote Rule 34, I've ordered my copy.

Update 7/10/11: On reflection my original guess doesn't make sense either. Now I think this is a power door safety feature. I suspect a powered door won't open unless the window is shut, to prevent injury to a child's head and neck. Cheapskates like us buy the lower margin non-powered doors, and on this door the interlock can't prevent opening. Instead it only prevents latching. I think, therefore, the latch failure is a bug arising from power door infrastructure that wasn't removed for non-powered doors. This isn't documented because it's a genuine bug, and companies hate to document their bugs - especially when it exposes foolish penny pinching. Kia saved money by not redoing the latch feature to work properly for non-powered doors.

Shimano, New Balance and Apple - how brands live and die

My Shimano bike shoes weren't clipping out. For the first time in over 10 years I took the cleats off and cleaned out some cement-like gunk.

Which meant I looked at the shoes. Damn, they look as good as new. All the years of strain and road slime and salt and they're still fine.

Not like my New Balance shoes. They used to make quality gear, but the last two high end NB runners of mine died young. They simply fell apart. Most recently I bought some dirt cheap NB's that came with a manufacturing defect. Why spend money if they won't last anyway?

The NB brand is dying. The Shimano brand, at least in bicycling, is very strong. They make beautiful stuff, they make regular stuff. They've done it consistently for forty years. From what little I can find, their share price hasn't done too badly either.

How have they done it? We think we know why Apple's brand is strong -- because Jobs is a freakin' Picasso-like unpleasant genius with a freakish hold on a publicly traded company. We all assume that when he goes Apple will emulate post-Gates Microsoft.

Shimano though -- they don't have a Steve Jobs. They're as corporate as can be.

How'd they do it?

I'm tempted to buy this $7 2006 HBR Review ....

Professional cycling teams use road bikes made up of several parts or components: frames, forks, wheels and tires, saddles, seat posts, handlebars, and pedals. Pedals hold a cyclist's special shoes in place so they can "clip in" for greater control and power, and several companies make different models of pedals. Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, uses Shimano pedals. Shimano, founded and based in Sakai City, Japan, makes many of the key components of a bike. The fact that each of the different components to a high-end road bike are manufactured by different companies makes for a complicated bike industry supply chain.

By 2006, Shimano had grown from a family-based business (founded by Shozoburo Shimano in 1920) that focused on freewheels, to a $1.6 billion global company (with net income of $186 million) that not only manufactured mid- to high-end bike components (and low-end components as well), but also made fishing tackle. Eighty percent of the company's sales were from high-end bike components and 20 % from mid-range bicycle components. Seventy-five percent of the company's earnings could be attributed to components. Shimano led the bike component industry, owning over 80 % of the high-end component market. But growth did not come overnight. Shimano's leaders reflected on the company and its growth trajectory. They were particularly proud of Shimano's market domination, largely attributable to the company's commitment to research and technology, as well as to the amount of value the company had been able to leverage from the industry's supply chain. As new technologies and new companies began to enter the market, and the longer term sales trend of a mature road bike industry remained relatively flat--despite the "Armstrong effect"--Shimano's leaders and their team wondered how to continue their growth in the mid- to high-end components market and achieve growth on an even greater global scale.

Personally, I want to know who makes Shimano's shoes, and whether that supplier makes any other kind of shoe.

Apple's board though, they might want to visit Shimano.

Google+ Circles: agonizingly close

My son's baseball team has lost every game they've played this year. Until today. Barely. It was agonizing to watch them teeter on the edge.

That's how I feel about Google+. It's agonizingly close - especially the "Circles" that define subscribers. They just ... need ... to ... get over the edge.

They could easily go wrong. The default naming of circles is worrying. They're called "friends" and "family" and "acquaintances". That's wrong.

It's not wrong as a starting point, but it's dangerously misleading. They need circles like "politics" and "kids news" and "personal news" and "woodworking" and "professional" and "language" [1]. At least they need two of those in addition to "friends".

Not every friend or family member wants to see pictures of my kids -- but some acquaintances do. Some strongly prefer pictures of the dog. If I shared my political opinions with my friends and family some would stop talking to me. Sharing them with my corporate customers would be even worse. Economists (sorry Brad) rarely want to read my amateur economics.

There's a reason Gordon's Notes appeals to only a few. My readers have to endure all my interests; they don't get to pick and choose.

We need circles that define interests shared between us and our readers, not the happenstance of their relationships to us. Even my beloved Emily doesn't want to read my OS X posts.

We need circles that support the geeky (but right) vision of Yahoo Pipes! and blogger label-specific feeds.  (Think on that one. Adding Boolean logic to circles (kids AND family AND german) is geeky enough, but think what Pipes! did to feeds. Yeah, you don't want to expose that to civilians, but think about it ...)

When Google moves "Google Blogs" (formerly Blogger) into G+, they need to think beyond replacing Blogger's failed Comment infrastructure with Plus comments. They need to think about the connection of Labels to Circles.

Get this right, and G+ replaces LinkedIn and Facebook and Google Reader Shares and unites the worlds of medium-form (Blog) and short-form (Tweet) pub/sub. Get this right and G+ has a Pipes! like option for the infovores (and perhaps for a generation that is born into streams and sub/pub).

Get this wrong and Buzz will have company.

[1] Language is the one attribute that should probably be a filter based on properties of the post and the subscriber. We desperately need Translation for G+, unlike FB it easily transcends nation.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Why is the modern GOP crazy?

The GOP wasn't always this crazy. Minnesota's Arne Carlson, for example, wasn't a bad governor. Schwarzenegger had his moments.

Ok, so the modern GOP has never been all that impressive. Still, it wasn't 97% insane until the mid-90s.

So what happened?

I don't think it's the rise of corporate America or the amazing concentration of American wealth. The former impacts both parties, and not all the ultra-wealthy are crazy. These trends make the GOP dully malign, but the craziness of Koch brothers ought to be mitigated by better informed greed.

That leaves voters. So why have a substantial fraction, maybe 20%, of Americans shifted to the delusional side of the sanity spectrum? It's not just 9/11 -- this started before that, though it's easy to underestimate how badly bin Laden hurt the US. It can't be just economic distress -- Gingrich and GWB rose to power in relatively good times.

What's changed for the GOP's core of north-euro Americans (aka non-Hispanic "white" or NEA)?

Well, the interacting rise of the BRIC and the ongoing IT revolution did hit the GOP-voting NEA very hard, perhaps particularly among "swing" voters. That's a factor.

Demographics is probably a bigger factor. I can't find any good references (help?) but given overall population data I am pretty sure this population is aging quickly. A good fraction of the core of the GOP is experiencing the joys of entropic brains (here I speak from personal white-north-euro-middle-age experience). More importantly, as Talking Points describes, this group is feeling the beginning of the end of its tribal power. My son's junior high graduating class wasn't merely minority NEA, it was small minority NEA.

This is going to get worse before it gets better. The GOP is going to explore new realms of crazy before it finds a new power base; either as a rebuilt GOP or a new party.

It's a whitewater world.

Update 7/8/11: Coincidentally, 538 provides some data on GOP craziness ....

Behind the Republican Resistance to Compromise -

... Until fairly recently, about half of the people who voted Republican for Congress (not all of whom are registered Republicans) identified themselves as conservative, and the other half as moderate or, less commonly, liberal. But lately the ratio has been skewing: in last year’s elections, 67 percent of those who voted Republican said they were conservative, up from 58 percent two years earlier and 48 percent ten years ago.

This might seem counterintuitive. Didn’t the Republicans win a sweeping victory last year? They did, but it had mostly to do with changes in turnout. Whereas in 2008, conservatives made up 34 percent of those who cast ballots, that number shot up to 42 percent last year...

... the enthusiasm gap did not so much divide Republicans from Democrats; rather, it divided conservative Republicans from everyone else. According to the Pew data, while 64 percent of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents identify as conservative, the figure rises to 73 percent for those who actually voted in 2010...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

G+ impressions mine

With the help of a few friends, I somehow slipped through this narrow window into Google Plus (my G+ profile, which has lost its vanity URL for the moment) ...

Google+ For Businesses Coming Later This Year -- InformationWeek

... Google+, the company's recently introduced set of social communication services, briefly opened to new participants last night, between about 7pm PDT and 9:40pm PDT. Google engineering director David Besbris, in a Google+ post, said that the Google+ field trial is going well and that Google is seeking to double the undisclosed size of the field trial...

It's good. After Wave and Buzz failed, and Google Reader Share succeeded but got no love, G+ works. So far Streams is a smarter, better, version of Facebook personal Pages (no corporate/org/group equivalents, however). I don't think it's more complex that Facebook; FB at best is only transiently comprehensible. As soon as I figure it out, the rules change.

FB's constant attempts to hack their own customers has pissed off so many users, including my wife, that G+ has a pretty good chance to compete. At the very least, it should own the Android demographic. Whether iG+ gets the iPhone crowd or not depends on the shaky state of the Apple-Google detente. At the very least, G+ strengthens Apple's hand with both FB and Twitter.

Some quick impressions of my own ...

  • I'm looking forward to the day when Google moves Google Reader Shares/Notes into the Streams framework, closes Buzz, and makes Streams/Sparks the "comment" framework for Google Blogs. Until then G+ will be fun to play with, after that I'll be spending a lot of time with it.
  • Safari is showing page errors with G+. Unsurprisingly Chrome works best.
  • It will be interesting to see how I manage the John Gordon/John F identity clash in G+. I think I should be able to make it work.
  • Google Data Liberation has its own home on my post G+ Accounts page. It includes all Picasa web albums, my profile, my stream, by Buzz data and all circles and contacts. Very impressive.
  • Profile settings says I can control which circles see parts of my Profile, but that's not working for me yet.
  • The Privacy page is excellent.
  • My Google Profile vanity URL now redirects to a G+ Profile with my old 1138 .... Google ID showing.

Of the coverage I've read, I like these best ...

Will the noose close on Rupert Murdoch?

BBC News - News of the World to close amid hacking scandal. Wow.

The people who were hacking into the mobile phones of crime victims worked closely with some of Rupert Murdoch's longtime executives. Some of these executives are closely connected to Cameron, current PM of the UK. Some, no doubt, have connections to figures in right wing US politics. They created the culture that made these crimes praiseworthy. There must be more skeletons.

It will be interesting to see how Murdoch's US tabloid, the "Wall Street Journal" covers this news, and how far their journalists will be allowed to dig. Not as far, I expect, as the NYT's journalists.

Murdoch is going to burn everything he can to keep this at bay. Will his former henchmen squeal?

Update 7/8/11: Sounds like quite a few UK politicians have been hoping for Murdoch to falter. Blood and Treasure is on this story - recommended.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The sorry state of 2011 video editing

Even I have to admit some things have gotten better over the pasts decade. Digital cameras are one. Aperture 3 is another (but iPhoto 11 is a regression).

Video editing though -- it really sucks. Honest - it's awful.

Try searching on "archival video formats". I'll wait ...

Right. There is no agreement. (This discussion is the best I found via Google, I wrote this one in 2008.) Photographers justly consider JPEG and TIFF as suboptimal archival formats -- but we're light years head of videographers.

Next, using iMovie 2008, try to create a decent looking .mp4 movie using Export with Quicktime. Take your time, I'll wait.

This has not gone well. I suspect the root cause are the video and patent wars that infest video technology. I am certain this is not the only domain where America's insane software patents are damaging growth and progress.

See also

Update 7/5/11: The more I look into this, the worse $30 iMovie looks. Paradoxically, the more interesting $300 FCP X becomes.

America and the social safety net - what happens if future growth fails?

My understanding of the financing of social security, and perhaps of medicare, was that we took some of the wealth of the future to make the present better.

This can be a reasonable trade. America of 2030 ought to be much wealthier than America of 2011. Why not share the wealth -- especially as we are borrowing from our future selves just as we gave to our parents.

But what if America stops getting wealthier? Or what if that wealth is concentrated in a small slice of the population, a disproportionately powerful segmented that is disinclined to share its wealth -- and has the power to say no.

Then we have a deep problem with the way we have historically financed our social insurance.

If technological innovation really has slowed ...

The iPhone color assignment debacle makes Android look good

There are web sites with reams of news about iOS 5 features.

I'd trade them all for a fix for the iPhone/iPad color assignment problem:


Of the 10 calendars currently in my iPhone subscription list (9 Google ActiveSync Calendars, 1 corporate ActiveSync), 6 have been assigned a calendar color of "brown/beige".

iOS doesn't give users control over calendar color assignment, and the algorithm it uses to assign colors is broken even within a single server source. I think it once worked better, but even then color distribution was within a server, not across servers.

So is this fixed with iOS 5?

It seems not. With iOS 5 calendar color assignment works with iCloud/iCal, but there's no change for ActiveSync users. It's a sign that the Apple-Google war never really ended, it just became a grudging, surly, detente.

The costs of switching my family from iOS to Android are extremely high. It would take a lot to drive me down that road. Every time I look at my calendar however ...

Life with Google Two Step Verification - Sign-in Failed with is one of Google's newer iPhone "social" apps. This is what you see if you try to sign in with a Google 2-step verification (two factor) account:

Sigh. It's been 3 months now since I implemented Google's "2-step verification" (technically, "two-channel" verification), and while I still rely on it the process has been painful.

I've had to create so many "app-specific" passwords that I've taken to reusing them. They're not app-specific at all in truth, so now I have about 20-30 "extra" passwords for my one Google account.

Google started out reasonably well on this "beta" effort, but they haven't progressed. Now, with their focus on Google Plus, I'm afraid they're stuck.

At this point, 2-step verification is only for the hardiest of geeks.

See also:

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Why I've dropped Scientific American's news feed

Scientific American has run  a pretty aggressive paywall for years. Even so, the SciAm news feed was readable.

Was being the operative word. Lately too many of the posts are incomplete excerpts from articles that are behind their paywall.

Today they pushed me over the edge. They're gone.

Greed has its risks.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

NYT's 1982 article on how teletext would transform America

(with thanks to Joseph P for the cite).

There were familiar computing names in the 1980s - Apple, IBM and so on. There were also many now lost, such as Atari and Commodore PCs. There were networks and email and decades old sophisticated collaboration technologies now almost lost to memory.

Against that background the Institute for the Future tried to predict the IT landscape of 1998. They were looking 16 years ahead.

You can see how well they did. For reasons I'll explain, the italicized text are word substitutions. Emphases mine ...


WASHINGTON, June 13— A report ... made public today speculates that by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.

The report suggests that one-way and two-way home information systems ... will penetrate deeply into daily life, with an effect on society as profound as those of the automobile and commercial television earlier in this century.

It conjured a vision, at once appealing and threatening, of a style of life defined and controlled by network terminals throughout the house.

As a consequence, the report envisioned this kind of American home by the year 1998: ''Family life is not limited to meals, weekend outings, and once a-year vacations. Instead of being the glue that holds things together so that family members can do all those other things they're expected to do - like work, school, and community gatherings -the family is the unit that does those other things, and the home is the place where they get done. Like the term 'cottage industry,' this view might seem to reflect a previous era when family trades were passed down from generation to generation, and children apprenticed to their parents. In the 'electronic cottage,' however, one electronic 'tool kit' can support many information production trades.''...

... The report warned that the new technology would raise difficult issues of privacy and control that will have to be addressed soon to ''maximize its benefits and minimize its threats to society.''

The study ... was an attempt at the risky business of ''technology assessment,'' peering into the future of an electronic world.

The study focused on the emerging videotex industry, formed by the marriage of two older technologies, communications and computing. It estimated that 40 percent of American households will have internet service by the end of the century. By comparison, it took television 16 years to penetrate 90 percent of households from the time commercial service was begun.

The ''key driving force'' controlling the speed of computer communications penetration, the report said, is the extent to which advertisers can be persuaded to use it, reducing the cost of the service to subscribers.

''Networked systems create opportunities for individuals to exercise much greater choice over the information available to them,'' the researchers wrote. ''Individuals may be able to use network systems to create their own newspapers, design their own curricula, compile their own consumer guides.

''On the other hand, because of the complexity and sophistication of these systems, they create new dangers of manipulation or social engineering, either for political or economic gain. Similarly, at the same time that these systems will bring a greatly increased flow of information and services into the home, they will also carry a stream of information out of the home about the preferences and behavior of its occupants.'' Social Side Effects

The report stressed what it called ''transformative effects'' of the new technology, the largely unintended and unanticipated social side effects. ''Television, for example, was developed to provide entertainment for mass audiences but the extent of its social and psychological side effects on children and adults was never planned for,'' the report said. ''The mass-produced automobile has impacted on city design, allocation of recreation time, environmental policy, and the design of hospital emergency room facilities.''

Such effects, it added, were likely to become apparent in home and family life, in the consumer marketplace, in the business office and in politics.

Widespread penetration of the technology, it said, would mean, among other things, these developments:

- The home will double as a place of employment, with men and women conducting much of their work at the computer terminal. This will affect both the architecture and location of the home. It will also blur the distinction between places of residence and places of business, with uncertain effects on zoning, travel patterns and neighborhoods.

- Home-based shopping will permit consumers to control manufacturing directly, ordering exactly what they need for ''production on demand.''

- There will be a shift away from conventional workplace and school socialization. Friends, peer groups and alliances will be determined electronically, creating classes of people based on interests and skills rather than age and social class.

- A new profession of information ''brokers'' and ''managers'' will emerge, serving as ''gatekeepers,'' monitoring politicians and corporations and selectively releasing information to interested parties.

- The ''extended family'' might be recreated if the elderly can support themselves through electronic homework, making them more desirable to have around.

... The blurring of lines between home and work, the report stated, will raise difficult issues, such as working hours. The new technology, it suggested, may force the development of a new kind of business leader. ''Managing the complicated communication in networks between office and home may require very different styles than current managers exhibit,'' the report concluded.

The study also predicted a much greater diversity in the American political power structure. ''Electronic networks might mean the end of the two party system, as networks of voters band together to support a variety of slates - maybe hundreds of them,'' it said.

Now read this article on using software bots (not robots, contrary to the title) to shape and control social networks and opinions and two recent posts of mine on the state of blogging.

So, did the Institute for the Future get it right - or not?

I would say they did quite well, though they are more right about 2011 than about 1998. I didn't think so at first, because they used words like "videotext" and "teletext". They sound silly because we still do very little with telepresence or videoconferencing -- contrary to the expectations of the last seventy years.

On careful reading though, it was clear what they called "teletext and videotext" was approximately "email and rich media communications". So I substituted the words "computer", "internet" and "networked systems" where appropriate. Otherwise I just bolded a few key phrases.

Rereading it now they got quite a bit right. They weren't even that far off on home penetration.  They also got quite a bit wrong. The impact on politics seems to have contributed to polarization rather than diversity. Even now few elders use computer systems to interact with grandchildren, and none did in 1998.

So, overall, they maybe 65% right, but about 10 years premature (on a 16 year timeline!). That's now awful for predicting the near future, but they'd do even better to follow Charle's Stross prediction rules ...

The near-future is comprised of three parts: 90% of it is just like the present, 9% is new but foreseeable developments and innovations, and 1% is utterly bizarre and unexpected.

(Oh, and we're living in 2001's near future, just like 2001 was the near future of 1991. It's a recursive function, in other words.)

However, sometimes bits of the present go away. Ask yourself when you last used a slide rule — or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop, let alone trig tables. That's a technological example. Cultural aspects die off over time, as well. And I'm currently pondering what it is that people aren't afraid of any more. Like witchcraft, or imminent thermonuclear annihilation....

Why Apple's thunderbolt cables have inline computers ...

Coverage of Apple's $50 thunderbolt "active cable" focuses on performance advantages  ...

The technology inside Apple's $50 Thunderbolt cable

.... Apple didn't respond to our requests for further information about the "firmware in the cable," but an EETimes article from earlier this year noted that in addition to having different electrical characteristics from Mini DisplayPort, Thunderbolt also uses active cabling to achieve full duplex 10Gbps transmission...

Maybe. I'm skeptical though. I suspect it's all about the DRM.

The state of blogging - dead or alive?

Today one of the quality bloggers I read declared blogging is dying. Two weeks ago, Brent Simmons, an early sub/pub (RSS, Atom) adopter tacked the RSS is dead meme. Today I discovered Google Plus Circles don't have readable feeds.

Perhaps worst of all, Google Reader, one of Google's best apps, is getting no Plus love at all -- and nobody seems upset. The only reference I could find shows in an Amil Dash post...

The Sparks feature, like a topic-based feed reader for keyword search results, is the least developed part of the site so far. Google Reader is so good, this can't possibly stay so bad for too long ...

That's a lot of crepe. It's not new however. I've been reading about the death of blogging for at least five years.

Against that I was so impressed with a recent blog post that I yesterday raved about terrific quality of the blogs I read.

So what's going on? I think Brent Simmons has the best state-of-the-art review. I say that because, of course, he lines up pretty well with my own opinions. (Brent has a bit more credibility I admit).

This is what I think is happening ...

  • We all hate the word Blog. Geeks should not name things.
  • The people I read are compulsive communicators. Brad, Charlie, Felix, Paul and many less famous names. They can't stop. Krugman is the most influential columnist in the US, but he's not paid for his non-stop NYT blog. Even when he declares he'll be absolutely offline he still posts.
  • Subscription and notification is absolutely not going away. Whether it's "RSS" (which is now a label for a variety of subscription technology standards) or Facebook's internal proprietary system there will be a form of sub/pub/notify. There are lots of interesting sub/notification projects starting up.
  • Nobody has been able to monetize the RSS/Atom/Feed infrastructure. Partial posts that redirect to ad-laden sites rarely work. (A few have figured out how to do this, but it's tricky.)
  • Blogs have enemies with significant economic and political power. That has an opportunity cost for developers of pub/sub solutions and it removes a potential source of innovation and communication.
  • Normal humans (aka civilians) do not use dedicated feed readers. That was a bridge too far. They don't use Twitter either btw and are really struggling with email.
  • Even for geeks, standalone feed readers on the desktop were killed by Google Reader. Standalone readers do persist on intermittently disconnected devices (aka smartphones).
  • Blog comments have failed miserably. The original backlink model, was killed by spam. (Bits of Google Reader Share and Buzz point the way to making this work, but Google seems to be unable to figure this out.)
  • The quality of what I read is, if anything, improving. i can't comment on overall volume, since I don't care about that. I have enough to read. It is true that some of my favorites go quiet for a while, but they often return.

Short version - it's a murky mixed bag. The good news is that pub/sub/notify is not going away, and that compulsive communicators will write even if they have to pay for the privilege. The bad news is that we're probably in for some turbulent transitions towards a world where someone can monetize the infostream.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The terrible advantage of the blogosphere

Sometimes we get stuck with the most awful words. Blog, blogging, blogger, blogosphere. Hate 'em.

I hate the name, but I love the medium. Today's example comes from a Blood & Treasure link to a Granite Studio post on the 90th anniversary of the Chinese communist party as told through the Mad Men TV show. Brilliant, caustic, funny, insightful, educational and all about modern China - writing doesn't get better than this.

All free. These sites don't even have ads.

On the other hand, we have The Atlantic, a magazine fairly recently edited by another superb blogger - James Fallows. I love James writing, and I read the blogs of many of The Atlantic's writers, but the magazine is mostly silly. This month's lead article on how we're ruining children by raising their self-esteem was so excruciatingly idiotic it single-handedly killed my next subscription renewal (still time for a turnaround James).

How can this be? The writers for the The Atlantic are pros -- even the worst of them.

It's volume. There are millions of bloggers producing thousands of posts. I've read a mere 230,000 or so, and shared perhaps 25,000. Even if only one in ten thousand is excellent, my network of readers and bloggers will find and expose it. I don't care than 99.999% are drivel -- because I don't see those. I see the one in 10,000, and of those I read less than 1 in 10.

No magazine can compete.

Update 7/2/11: Corrections in italics and strikeout! My apologies James. I thought you were still editor. A reader informed me that you are a correspondent again. I plain forgot. Maybe that explains the recent 'alternative medicine' and 'spoiled child' articles. Makes it easier for us to donate money to my favorite blogger rather than renew.