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Friday, April 01, 2011

The iPad Gap: Pure Speculation

I find myself wondering how long it will be before someone starts complaining that the poor in America don’t have access to iPads and that iPads are somehow key to their future opportunities for success. How long will it be before some government agency is asking tablet manufacturers to make special programs for the poor and carriers are bullied into some kind of subsidized plan for 3G network access?

What I find most intriguing is that if the government can’t pay for something it deems desirable, it will search for opportunities to make companies pay for them. Those companies are often quite willing to acquiesce, but the cost of providing a good or service at below its actual value isn’t a cost that the company will pay. It’s a cost that we, who aren’t subsidized, will pay.

Of course, all of this is done in the name of helping. Which is why so many of us wish the government would, maybe, help less.

Consider credit card reform. The changes made to protect consumers from the card companies had what I would consider to be an entirely predictable set of results: prior to implementation, cardholders saw rate increases and credit lines lowered. People on the lower end of the spectrum will have a harder time getting any credit (even though these are the folks that most needed “protection” and it will probably end up benefiting the high-cost payday lending outfits) and more cards will charge you an annual fee. So your over limit fees are capped at what the government considers a reasonable amount, but you’ll pay the difference in some other fee or in those interest rate hikes that the card companies pushed out before the new protections went into effect.

I’m sure that there will be a few more rounds of government protection to card holders that are meant to deal with those nasty side-effects of the reform--and that there will be more surprises in store for consumers.

Which, again, is why so many of us wish the government would, maybe, help less.

Making it harder or more expensive for a company to do business isn’t always the best way to protect a consumer. Ultimately, if that company wants to stay in business, it will simply pass on new costs to consumers. When Comcast is forced to provide services below cost, it won’t just sit there dumbly wondering why the bottom line doesn’t look as good as it used to; it will raise rates where it can to compensate. Some small percentage of their customers will get a service below its real value and the rest of its customers will pay more than they should.

So, when will we first see the call for free or cheap tablet computers for the poor? It will probably come from an education advocacy group and it will probably provide yet another distortion on what I wish were a much freer market.

What’s my point? My point is that I am tired of a government that has such an overwhelming need to protect and help me. All those protections and all that help comes at yet another cost--and I’m already feeling overburdened.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Arkansas Christmas Miscellany

Merry Christmas to you all just a little bit late. I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness.

Darling girl and I spent Christmas in Hot Springs with my parents. It’s the second time we’ve made the trip, although it was complicated a bit this year by the awkward (for us) placement of the holidays. The trip home was done in one, long fifteen hour drive yesterday so I wouldn’t miss any work after we decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to leave late on Christmas to start the drive home. It wouldn’t have been fair to my parents since they only see me once every few years.

This is a series of notes about the trip.

Firstly, Hot Springs is a fun little town. It reminds me of Colorado’s own Manitou Springs only, perhaps, a little bit nicer.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites and it was absolutely wonderful. I used to work at an Embassy Suites and have stayed at a few here and there across the country, but this really was one of the nicest I’ve seen. The rooms were great, the setting beautiful, and the staff was uniformly warm, friendly, and helpful. I had chosen the Embassy Suites because I needed a place with a desk, enough room, and high speed Internet access so I could work for the first few days that we were in town. I wasn’t much disappointed.

Not much but just a little. See, the hotel was wonderful, the free breakfast in the morning was perfect, the bar with some of my favorite vodkas didn’t hurt matters, but I did have an issue with the “high speed Internet” service. Two issues, really. The first is that most hotels (like the Hampton hotels that I normally choose) offer free high speed Internet, but the Embassy Suites charged for daily access. At the price of the room, I’m surprised that the service isn’t included in the deal. I won’t complain too loudly on that front, though: I made the reservations knowing I had to pay extra but decided that it would probably be worth it since I was also able to make spa reservations for my wife on premises, there was more than enough space for my needs, and it the location was good for us.

But, having chosen to pay for something that I normally get for free, I was surprised at the flaky, slow connection that I got. The service was slow, when I logged in daily it offered an extra paid upgrade for faster download speeds, and it dropped connections somewhat regularly. The work that i was doing required me to be sending 70+ meg files to a printer and I ended up missing a few soft deadlines. Luckily I was working with a friend (if you ever need a printer in Denver, Bob at RM Printing is the most reliable and hardest working man that I know in the business--I can’t recommend him enough) who was more patient with me than I deserved. I did end up getting the work done, but it was much harder than it should have been.

The kicker was that the wireless connection was so bad and so inconsistent that I ended up going old-school: wired connection to a data port in the wall. While my reliability went up, the speed didn’t see much improvement.

If the network service hadn’t been so flaky, it would have been the perfect place for the first half of our stay.

Secondly, I got my mom a Kindle for Christmas. I got her one because, largely, I couldn’t afford to get her an iPad but I knew that the Kindle would be something she would really love. That meant helping her with the set-up and showing her a bit how to use the thing.

I like the Kindle. It’s responsive, it works well, and it is really nicely priced--I think that my mom will love it.

I can’t love it, though. I can like it, but not only is it too limited in comparison to my iPad, but even on its own terms it has some design compromises that really bug me. For instance, the tiny keyboard is hideous. The sub-chiclet sized keys are ridiculous and I can’t understand why they didn’t have room for not only larger buttons but more buttons. Why doesn’t it have a set of number buttons? Why do I have to use an odd, on-screen pop-up for numbers and the alt-keyboard? I also, stupidly, mistook the “back” button for the “delete” button a number of times while I was setting up her account information--my fault, certainly, but it still bugged me.

Much of what I didn’t like about it came down to unfavorable comparison to the iPad, though. While it was responsive and it had a very nice screen, while it was light and very nicely sized, it didn’t have the same mix of size, convenience, and incredible breadth of capabilities of the iPad. I know it isn’t a fair comparison (the Kindle is built for reading and nothing more), but I couldn’t stop myself from making it. The same way that I judge netbooks negatively in comparison to my MacBook Pro, I can’t help but judge the Kindle a little negatively in comparison to my iPad.

This has lead me to wonder, though, that with an iPad in my life, do I really need my iPhone? I might actually downgrade to a phone when my current contract is up.

That also brings me to my thirdly, too: the iPad played a big part in this trip, too. Instead of using my dedicated GPS, I used MotionX-GPS Drive HD. It provided a larger screen with bigger maps and instruction, a great set of extra features (a few button clicks to find a list of the nearest coffee shops), voice directions, basic iPod controls, and the option to pre-cache all of the maps that I would need for the trip. I bought a mount for it (that proved useless) and ended up with what I will term a field expedient method of mounting that involved a design feature of my 2008 Ford Taurus X and the particular case that held the iPad. It worked shockingly well.

Since it was hooked up to the car stereo, the music volume dropped every time the voice instructions came along to tell me where to turn. That was a nice change from the stand-alone GPS where the directions would sometimes get lost against the music.

There were a few negatives, though. We ended up a little confused in Hot Springs when we missed a turn and it couldn’t find a new path for us against the quick turns we made to try to get back on track, for instance, and had a few other situations where it had a hard time finding a new route when we went off script. The stand-alone unit seems to be quicker in mapping new routes when necessary. Like the stand-alone unit, though, the MotionX app found some imaginary roads near where my parents live. Apparently the maps for the roads near Hot Springs Village have a few glitches.

The biggest issue came when the app crashed, though. About eight or nine hours into the trip home, the application froze. It came some 80 miles before my next turn, so it wasn’t a big issue, but it was a surprise. A quick restart had it back directing us in just a few seconds, so there was no damage done, but it doesn’t inspire the kind of confidence that you want from a GPS system. I’ll be using it again on my trip to Vegas next month and I’ll see how well that works out.

And, still on the subject, fourthly, the iPad makes a better workmate than you’ve heard. I was thrilled that I bought the 3G version on this trip. Whenever the flaky Internet service (and access at my parents’ home was spotty, too) my cell service was fine. I answered emails, I took notes, I sent links to pdfs through the Dropbox application, I used the contact list and the task manager (I use Manage, a great .99 todo application that balances a nice interface and features with simplicity of presentation and some useful export options) to keep me in touch and on task. I won’t be making my next 36 page brochure on the thing, but it’s not just useful for entertainment.

What I found most surprising was that I was only out of cell phone contact a few times during the entire trip. Where 3G wasn’t available, it was rare that I didn’t have EDGE coverage. For all that AT&T is maligned for its network--and that isn’t entirely undeserved--the breadth of coverage for me was still impressive. And for a good chunk of my stay in Hot Springs, the 3G connection was more reliable and faster than the “high speed” Internet connection that plagued me.

It’s hard for me to spend $900 on a non-essential bit of electronic kit without feeling even a little bit of regret, but I can honestly say that I don’t regret the iPad purchase at all. It has done more than I imagined it would and it has really changed the way I view tablet-based computers. It has a few shortcomings that I would like to see addressed, but the overall device is startlingly good.

After all that chatter, here’s what I really wanted to say: it’s good to be home.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Few Late Night Observations

  1. GI Joe is even worse than I expected. The special effects are uneven (with some just being ridiculously bad), the story is laughably dumb, the acting is exactly what you would expect from a summertime explodapalooza, and the script is horrible. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see this thing in the theaters. Maybe I could have forgiven some of those sins if the movie looked good, but it doesn’t.
  2. But Netflix streaming over wifi gives me a better picture on the giant screen TV than I get with my cable. Much better resolution, color, everything. This is the kind of thing that makes me think that I might be happy if I killed my cable and got an Apple TV. Then I remember that I really like to watch sports. If it weren’t for that, I would probably get the Apple TV, subscribe to the handful of TV shows I actually enjoy watching, and call it a good day.
  3. Speaking of Apple, how about Apple’s new line-up of products?
  4. Apple TV still isn’t what I really want it to be, but at just $99 I might pick it up anyway. If I kill off the Blockbuster monthly membership, I would probably realize a savings by renting videos through Apple--and do so with a tremendous measure of convenience. It would also be the third product hooked to my TV that could stream video from my Netflix account--which, that just seems like overkill.
  5. The new iPod Shuffle is a step (back) in the right direction. As a reward for sitting through a sales pitch from a company that wanted to sell me marketing services, I was given a free, last generation iPod Shuffle. It’s an amazingly small bit of kit, but it is one of the worst Apple products I’ve ever owned. It’s a pain to control and it has absolutely none of the user-friendliness that I’ve come to expect from the company. If I had bought it, I would have been pretty cranky. The new Shuffle gives it back a normal set of controls at the expense of a little bit of its compact size. That seems like a good idea to me.
  6. The new iPod Nano is a different story, though. I think the last gen version is the one that I would want if I were in the market. While the new Nano has a nifty touch screen, a nifty OS, and looks like quite a nice little media player, it would have made more sense as a iPod Shuffle HD. To change the form, the Nano ditched the video, uses a smaller screen, and loses video playback. Yes, it gained a bit, but I actually liked the idea of using the Nano as an easy replacement for a Flip-class video player. I’m left a little cold by it.
  7. The iPod Touch is a great little beast, though. I have zero need for it in my life, of course, but if I didn’t have the iPhone, I would consider getting a Touch.
  8. Ping is the really confusing product for me, though. I’m not sure if the world really needs another social media site and, if it did, I’m not sure it needs that site to be built into iTunes. I have no idea if it will be successful, but, if it is, then it will probably be the final, welcome death of MySpace. MySpace already feels like a relic from another era (dog years have nothing on Internet years) and it’s just waiting for the final push to send it to the grave.
  9. None of which changes the fact that Britney Spears’ former body guard’s lawsuit sounds like so much bunk to me. The situations he describes as offensive and disgusting--well, let’s just say that I don’t buy his story.
  10. None of which makes me feel better about the fact that I don’t have nearly enough incandescent lights in the pantry. Not sure where to pick them up anymore, either--the stores around us only seem to stock the fluorescent bulbs now. Now, I don’t have a huge issue with the CFL lights except these little issues: I haven’t seen anywhere near the three to five year lifespan I was told that they would give me, they don’t work on dimmer switches, they often take too long to warm up, I’m still iffy on what I’m supposed to do to the pile of dead bulbs that I have in a bag in the closet, and I hate the fact that my choice has been slowly legislated away. Which is precisely why you should read what Lileks has to say on the subject.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Twitter Question

We’ve just started--really just started--a social media push at work and I’m still ironing out the kinks. For Twitter I decided to follow a number of industry publications and some of the larger businesses but am purposely ignoring competitors (other manufacturers). One of our competitors is now following us. When I say competitor, I mean direct competitor in one of our biggest product families.

They have manufacturing in the city as us, they make the same kinds of equipment as us, they sell in the same markets to the same people, and they have much the same goals as us. We are a young company and we’re looking up at a lot of higher cost, more established competition--these guys, on the other hand, have us in their sites.

What should I do? Ignore them? Block them? Unless someone can offer a compelling argument as to why I should do so, I can’t imagine following them.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Skype Can’t Be Happy About This…

Suddenly Skype seems so much less necessary.

Gmail voice and video chat makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family using your computer’s microphone and speakers. But until now, this required both people to be at their computers, signed into Gmail at the same time. Given that most of us don’t spend all day in front of our computers, we thought, “wouldn’t it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?”

Starting today, you can call any phone right from Gmail.

Calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free for at least the rest of the year and calls to other countries will be billed at our very low rates. We worked hard to make these rates really cheap (see comparison table) with calls to the U.K., France, Germany, China, Japan—and many more countries—for as little as $0.02 per minute.

I’ve set it up, I’ve tried it, and I love it. Works beautifully.

I already use Google voice for all of my international calls--the rates are pretty reasonable--but the fact that it ties into my Google Voice account is a nice bonus. The only significant negative with Google Voice--and it is a significant negative--is that I have missed a few incoming calls. Apparently there are a few carriers who refuse to acknowledge the existence of Google Voice. Since I use this for business, again I say: this is a significant negative.

Sadly, it doesn’t even block the salesman who has called me about fifteen times since last Thursday. I gave him an hour of my life on Friday, listened to his pitch, and told him that I didn’t have the budget or the inclination to buy right now; I even told him he should call back toward the end of September when I was looking over the marketing plan and the budget for next year.

Funny enough, I really was going to consider a trial run with his product, but the constant calling after I told him to leave me alone until I had a chance to look at next year’s budget has solved that particular problem. There is no way that I am buying from him.

Let this be a lesson to any of you in sales: don’t harass the prospect and don’t talk yourself out of a sale.

I do wonder what they’ll be charging for it next year, though. If it is a reasonable annual fee, I’ll be happy to add that onto my Google tab (along with my added storage and those international calls).

Read the rest.

Update: Just going through my bills right now and looked at my cell phone bill and there was one international call. A few days ago I called one of our partners in Australia and chatted for a grand total 8 minutes. The charge for that 8 minutes? $29.12. That same call in Google Voice would have cost $1.12.

Still trying to wrap my head around a $29.12 call that lasted only 8 minutes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kindle v/ iBooks

This wouldn’t surprise me in the least:


Despite Steve Jobs’ recent claim that the iBookstore has taken 22 percent of the US e-book market, some authors still report significantly higher sales volume on the Kindle. Author J. A. Konrath has published more than three dozen books on both platforms, with Kindle sales averaging 200 e-books every day. On the iBookstore, however, sales have only reached approximately 100 each month.

First, understand that this encompasses not only the

While I really enjoy the iBook in-app purchase process, I like the interface better, and I like the store. That said, Amazon’s Kindle--the application--has a lot of advantages. First and foremost: the Kindle app runs on multiple platforms--its reach is far greater than iBooks. It also had a good head start in the war for peoples’ ebook dollars along with some nifty features. The Kindle also has a far better selection.

Apple’s iBooks might or might not catch up in the sales department and, honestly, I don’t really care. As long as competition gives me better prices and wider selection along, I’ll be a happy boy.

Unfortunately, neither of them has many of the books that I look for and I continue to spend most of my book dollars at Barnes and Noble and Borders. Similarly, I would happily push nearly all of my magazine purchases to the iPad if the magazines I want were available, but the grand majority of the publications I read simply aren’t available.

I am becoming convinced that the biggest thing standing in the way of wider adoption electronic publications is this: availability. I am a heavy reader with a monthly habit of between $150 and $250 spent on magazines and books and I would prefer to move that to electronic delivery if I could. I wonder when the publishers will catch up with me?

Read the rest.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Damned, Evil Wallpaper

I, of course, reference this story only because I kind of missing using the damned, evil headline every once in a while.

Enjoy.

A malicious Android Market app has reportedly been downloaded by millions of users, according to mobile security firm Lookout. The app, developed by Jackeey Wallpaper, offers a variety of wallpapers including branded content such as My Little Pony and Star Wars.

Aside from providing backgrounds, the utility quietly collects personal information such as SIM card numbers, text messages, subscriber identification, and voicemail passwords.

Must see if darling wife has this installed on her Droid…

Read the story.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

AT&T Data Plan Changes

Today’s announcement of AT&T’s data plan changes for users with smart phones didn’t leave me particularly happy. While it won’t have any effect on me immediately (my phone is under contract for the next year and a half, give or take a bit), it isn’t the direction I wanted to see AT&T go in policing their own 3G network.

AT&T Inc. will stop letting new customers sign up for its unlimited Internet data plan for smart phones and iPads, hoping to ease congestion on its network by charging the people who use the most data more.

The move comes just in time for the expected unveiling of Apple Inc.’s new iPhone next week.

Current subscribers will be able to keep their $30-per-month unlimited plans, even if they renew their contracts. But starting Monday, new customers will have to choose one of two new data plans for all smart phones, including iPhones and BlackBerrys.

I haven’t had the same exceptionally negative experience with AT&T that others have; I’ve used the voice network from Florida to Hawaii and a bunch of places in between and rarely found a place where I didn’t have coverage. I’ve been with AT&T since I bought my first cell phone (and through two service changes here in Colorado that had users shunted off into a different carrier and then brought back right before the initial iPhone launch), and I’ve been reasonably happy with the service. In fact, the move to 3G when I upgraded my phone made me even happier. The network coverage seems wider and stronger--even though it brought a small price bump over the original device.

The original iPhone was an interesting experience for me. Not only did it surprise me in its utility, but it surprised me because I was happy to see my monthly bill raise from about $40/month to a bit over $70 per month (my original bill plus a mandatory $30/month unlimited data plan). When I upgraded to the 3GS near the beginning of the year, my contract changed again and I now pay about $88/month. And I’m happy.

To recap: I have seen my cell phone bill double over the last few years and I am happy. Which is not something I would have expected.

Part of that happiness comes with not having to worry about data usage with the knowledge that I’m not going to be hit with any big fees if I go over my allotment, unlike, for instance, the charges I pay when I use my phone from, say, India. Now the rules are going to change and new users will need to worry about their data use. If I sign another AT&T contract, I know that it will force me to “upgrade” to their new service levels and watch my data allotment slashed. If AT&T doesn’t offer a reasonably priced, unlimited plan when that moment comes, I might jump ship for Verizon--and if the iPhone isn’t offered on other carriers, I’ll consider moving to something Android based.

That said, their new contract with 2 gigs of data for $25/month is more than I use in any given month. More than double what I’ve used in any given month, in fact. Below is my data usage going back a few months.

image

At no point did my usage even top the 1 gig mark. Note, by the way, the moment that the 3GS came into my world--I’m sure you’ll see it in an instance.

So, AT&T’s new policy wouldn’t likely curtail my network use--or, at least, if it did it wouldn’t be by much and it wouldn’t be often. Why am I suddenly unhappy, then?

My unhappiness started with when AT&T started pushing the 3G Microcell/Femtocell device. The device hangs on your local high speed network and acts as a sort of mini cell phone tower in your home--and then it pushes your voice and data traffic over the local network instead of reaching out to the nearest AT&T cell tower. Which sounded pretty interesting.

In fact, I considered buying one so that I could kill off our landline at home. But after buying the device from AT&T, I found that it wouldn’t give me what I needed because it would still ding me for minutes when I was using, in large part, my own high speed Internet service to transfer voice data. So the 3G Microcell helps AT&T offload traffic from their heavily taxed network, adds a (one time) $150 fee for the user, and still uses up minutes. Maybe it’s just me, but that equation doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, it seems a little insulting.

I don’t mind businesses making a profit from me when they provide good service; for the most part, AT&T has done that. But these new rules and regulations are starting to make me feel a little used. A little unhappy.

If the trend continues, I’ll be needing a new cell phone carrier.

Read the story.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So, Yeah, That’s Probably My Fault, Too…

I’m pretty sure I screwed the curve for everyone.

When it comes to buyers of Apple Inc. products, like the new iPad, the iPhone, the iPod and Mac computers, the Denver area ranks seventh among U.S. markets in terms of its percentage of Apple fans.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Curious about iPhone OS 4.0 Beta

Does anyone have direct experience running the iPhone OS 4.0 Beta on their iPhone 3GS? I’m curious about usability, crashes, and overall performance along, of course, with impressions about how well the new changes work to make the user experience better.

If you’re using it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tiny, Fragmented Thoughts

It just ain’t news that President Obama taped a segment for American Idol’s special “Idol Gives Back” segment. Not only is it a worthy cause, but I’m fairly sure that the previous White House occupant did the same thing. Ain’t news.



Tiger Woods and Nike have put together an awfully cynical ad; it’s as professional, stylish, and as well-constructed as any Nike ad you’re likely to see, but the method, the message, and the emotions are all in service of commerce and not redemption. Tiger’s acts certainly call for introspection and I’m sure that some of the people nearest to him are disappointed, but taping together scraps of his deceased father’s words while Tiger stares balefully at the audience isn’t a path to introspection or any kind of reasonable response for the damage that he’s done to his family. The ad is too obviously a lie--a supposedly emotionally raw spot about a very serious subject but cheapened to the point of meaninglessness because it’s a branded moment of introspection that will hopefully sell a few extra shoes--to be effective on an emotional level.

When people talk about crass commercialism, this would qualify as a good example.

But Tiger doesn’t owe me anything. He doesn’t owe me an apology or an explanation or a second thought; I’m just some guy who thought that he was a good role model for kid. He never promised anything to me.

Aside from a seemingly (it’s an illusion, I know, but it is an amazing parade) endless line of women copping to sexual relations with the guy, how must Elin feel about seeing an ad like that? Shame and pain, I would imagine.

On the same topic, but from a very different side, as disappointed as I am by Tiger, I’m just as disappointed by the people and the media that are allowing that parade of women their fifteen minutes of fame complete with the assumption of a moral high ground. I was watching a show earlier today where the announcers were talking about Tiger’s appearance in Augusta today. When they weren’t busy chastising him for smiling and looking at his cell phone during practice--apparently he wasn’t showing the proper public misery--they started talking about the latest woman to claim an affair with Woods.

Apparently this young woman was a “next door neighbor” of Tigers and she was furious when she found out about all of the other women because she “thought she was special.” I’ve heard other of these women making the same claim and, I’m sorry, just because Tiger was a cheating jerk, they don’t get to claim any moral high ground. You know who was special? Tiger’s wife. Tiger’s children. The rest of these women are just a bunch of groupies whoring themselves out for a taste of his fame. Each and every one of them knew he was a married man and each and every one of them went on to have a relationship with him.

The idea that they had no moral responsibility because they weren’t the ones breaking the bond of marriage just doesn’t wash. If I knowingly sleep with another man’s wife, I share a good portion of the moral weight of that action. But these women are treated to photo spreads and salacious stories in respectable magazines, given uncritical coverage by the press, and seem to be shamelessly glorying in gossiping about their affairs and the most intimate and torrid details of their time with Tiger.

It’s moments like these where I think that we need to rediscover shame in this country.

Shame and regrets usually show up when you’ve done something that you shouldn’t have--and those folks who claim to live without either are either liars or have learned to turn off that internal check that gives them some pretty important hints about how they are living their lives.

When one of these women claim to be furious to find out that they weren’t the only one, I wonder if they spare a moment to feel furious with themselves for having slept with a married man and for their contribution in his, perhaps, irretrievably damaged marriage. If so, their apologies have been far less public than Tiger’s have.

I have very little use for a person who abdicates the moral responsibility that they have for the choices that they make in life. Less use for those same folks when they start loudly proclaiming just how much they’ve been wronged.



I’m pretty sure if you all saved up a bit, you could afford to get me this rather special book.


I’m still not ready to forgive Aston Martin for their own sins, but I do have to note this: the design language that Ian Callum developed for the DB7 and that has been stretched and updated to fit through every other Aston Martin since, is reaching its limits. Still beautiful, it’s becoming, perhaps, a little too familiar. It is time to see that design language stretch and change--keeping some bits to maintain heritage, but new enough to enrapture those of us who see Astons as much as art as they are cars.

Negative comments notwithstanding, I think that this take from Ugur Sahin wouldn’t be a bad place to start. There are some beautiful shapes and lines, the overall design is nicely balanced, it doesn’t ignore the Aston’s recent heritage, but it is fresh and new in a way that none of the new Astons seem to be matching right now.

To be fair, though, the new Aston Martin Rapide is far, far prettier than Porsche’s Panamera, which is too awkward to be truly bland, but that doesn’t stop it from trying.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Speaking of the iPad…

...Apparently I need to buy a Hyundai Equus.

(Just kidding, you know. I’m a Ford guy at heart and a Mazda guy on the weekends.)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On the Uber-Coolness of the iPad (Updated)

You all know I want an iPad. You all know I sold my soul to Apple a long time ago. Most of you forgive me for that, and I appreciate your indulgence. Makes me feel loved.

What I want you to know, though, is that the iPad lust that fills my geeky little heart isn’t just about my love of all things shiny and Apple and “i” related; I see in the iPad what might be the world’s ultimate entertainment device. And I love nothing more than being entertained (and a Boddington’s Pub Ale in the magical foaming can is one of my favorite forms of entertainment, in case you were wondering what to get me for Zomby Appreciation Day).

I see utility in the iPad; I see it running some convenient apps that will let me make presentations and stay in touch when traveling without necessitating carrying a clunky laptop, half-assed netbook, or my not-yet-paid off expensive laptop. I’ve not yet met a netbook that I enjoy using, I generally travel either with my cheap laptop running Ubuntu (vacations and the like) or the expensive laptop (traveling for work to non-exotic locales). So, I see it bringing some usefulness into my life in that direction, but that really isn’t the point.

When people compare the iPad to a netbook, I can’t help but think they are really missing the point. When they compare it to any of the current crop of e-readers, I think they are closer (because I think it competes for the same dollars) but not quite there. When they compare them to portable game systems, I think they are close but thinking too small.

I have to buy a work computer, so the iPad doesn’t compete directly with that. It simply can’t do the things that I need from a work computer--but, then, neither can a netbook, an e-reader, or a portable gaming machine. The iPad isn’t competing for the work computer money for most of us. What it is competing for is that next tier money that could conceivably go into any number of products. Why buy an Touch or a Kindle or a PSP when your iPad can outdo the grand majority of the features of the others? And while it is more expensive than any one of those individual products, it doesn’t look terribly expensive when you think of the devices that it might replace in your life.

But don’t stop there.

For me, the iPad also competes for the money that I might otherwise put into a new set top gaming system or even a new TV because, ultimately, it has more usefulness to me as an entertainment device than the others do. I love the Xbox 360. It’s an amazing gaming platform and some of the games on it are phenomenal. Having grown up with Pong, I’m still staggered by what gaming devices have become. But if it came down to choosing between a new Xbox and a new iPad, I would choose the iPad. I’m sure it won’t be a spectacular gaming device, but, for all my Xbox love, I only spend a few hours a month playing on the thing. The rest of the time it acts as a glorified DVD player. The iPad I would likely use on a daily basis for any number of tasks.

And while the iPad won’t compete for my magazine, newspaper, and book money, I’m hoping that it will change the way that I consume all of the above. I would prefer to keep the majority of my reading material on a device like the iPad--I’ll still enjoy real books, but right now the books and magazines tend to pile up until I can get to reading them. Can the iPad help me de-clutter my life? I might be engaged in wishful thinking on that point. Most of my reading is smaller magazines and a few (expensive) foreign publications that are unlikely to be offered for subscription on an iPad any time soon. But I have high hopes for the future.

I also tend to travel with a few books and a handful of magazines to help me pass time in airports and on airplanes--something that I won’t need to do with an iPad in tow. For that matter, if the airport bookstore is closed, I’ll go online and download something to read wherever I happen to be.

For me, the iPad will replace the need for the Kindle that i had been thinking about, free me of one Linux laptop that I will probably give or sell cheap, become my near-perfect travel companion, and be far more convenient for surfing, reading, and playing than my current crop of electronic entertainment devices. I want it not only for what it can do and for what I imagine it can do, but for what I know developers will surprise me with over time.

This little bit of mental meandering is brought to you by the letter B and the letter G (with an assist from Jerry D).

Update:
Read the PC Magazine review. An even handed review from Walter Mossberg. David Pogue’s review is not all flowers and rainbows, but it might just be the smartest of the bunch.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wow.

Like so much of the technology that surrounds us without us even noticing either the complexity or the way it changes our lives, things like this would have sounded like science fiction to me when I was in high school. We live in a world of wonders; some of them are entirely natural, but many have been given to us by smart, creative, dedicated people like the folks that were working on that particular trial.

I am awed by them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sadly Saying Goodbye to My Aston Martin Obsession

Since I was a little boy watching James Bond movies, I’ve loved Aston Martins. Fast, exclusive, and beautiful cars. I obsessed over them for years and, when it looked like they would be another casualty of the self-destructive tendencies of the British auto industry, I applauded when Ford stepped in and rescued them from the dustbin of automotive history.

In the early 90’s, I bartended at the Embassy Suites near the Denver airport. One of the bonuses of living in Denver is that you occasionally see cars going through their high altitude testing regimens. Engineers and cars with strange paint jobs and camouflage, would show up in our parking lot on a semi-regular basis. The guy from Lotus didn’t like to be bothered and would talk about his car. The occasional domestic manufacturers didn’t interest me because, well, their cars were the kinds of things I could actually expect to drive within my lifetime. Which, by its very nature, doesn’t have the kind of drama or interest that something out of reach like a Lotus or a Bentley.

One day, I showed up to work and there was an Aston Martin DB7 in engineering garb. A little computer set-up inside for diagnostics, a few bits sticking out here and there to gather information, and one of the most beautifully pure shapes of any car I’d ever seen. Real artistry in auto design is rare--which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy looking at even fairly common cars, but that the forms that made up the DB7 were close to perfection both in the subtleties of its curves and in the cues that brought it in line with the rest of the Aston Martins through history.

This was after the car had been introduced at an auto show (Geneva auto show, if memory serves), so I knew what it was. After staring at the thing for a bit, I walked in and told anyone who would listen that there was a real, live Aston Martin in the parking lot. The kicker was that later that night, while I was working the bar, a group of a few British engineers came in, talking about cars and beer and where they had to go the next day. Someone said something about Tom Walkinshaw Racing--and it clicked in my head. I knew that Aston Martin had farmed out engineering work on the DB7 to TWR--these guys were the engineers. These were the guys that got to drive around in that car.

I comped them their drinks. I talked to them about cars, impressed them with my knowledge of the British auto industry, chatted about politics, told them about my truck (at that time I was driving a new Mazda B4000 extended cab). I listened to them tell me about the car, about Aston Martin, and about how many free drinks that thing got them while they were driving through all of their testing grounds.

Over the next year or so, they dropped in for more testing. They brought a few cars each time, they had a rotating group of engineers, and we got along spectacularly.

The comped drinks helped.

Then we started going places in their cars. First it was to a gas station down the street just so I could get the feel. Then it was to a bar where my wife was working. Then it was me driving the test car to my apartment complex to show the car to my wife and then it was a buzzed engineer asking if I wanted to drive the car while we went out drinking. Which I did.

Oh, boy, did I. I had the thing going over a hundred by the end of an on-ramp at one point--a ridiculous and unreasonable speed that I was sure any police officer would understand if he I could only get him to imagine what he himself would do if he were in my situation. Luckily, I didn’t have to test my theory.

The last time I saw the crew--Nigel, Steve, Martin, Dan, Chris, Mickey, and Phil--they gave me some gifts (including their autographs on the box of a Maisto Supercar Collection model of the DB7). I treasure those gifts. I won’t say who let me drive those cars since it might have some effect on their jobs, but I was in contact with them through 1997 and probably would have kept contact if it hadn’t been for the brutal dissolution of my marriage getting in the way of my normal life.

And I continued to lust after the car I couldn’t have. As it grew up into the DB9 and the same design basics extended to the rest of their line-up, I lusted after Aston Martins. The new DBS doesn’t have quite the same perfection and beauty of the DB7 and the DB9, but it inspires warm, tingly feelings in me. When a new Aston was demolished in Casino Royale, I groaned. Loudly enough that my wife gave me dirty looks in the theater, in fact.

I tried to explain to her later: “Beautiful things shouldn’t die senseless deaths.” She didn’t really understand.

Now it is time for me to stop loving Aston Martin. Not because I’ve grown up or become a better person or because their cars have suddenly become horrible, but because they have committed the unforgivable sin. If your brand is built on exclusivity, if your brand is built on beautiful design, if your brand is built on the perfect melding of old British charisma and forward-thinking design and engineering, you damned well cannot sell out and have your brand plastered on overpriced, ugly, supposedly collectible Nike Hyperdunk shoes.

It’s embarrassing. It cheapens the value of the logo. It’s an immature venture for a mature (or, at least, wealthy, mid-life crisisey) brand.

When your brand is associated with the mystique of James Bond, that’s just good decision-making. When your brand is associated with pitifully designed, empty marketing efforts like the Hyperdunks, then someone should be fired.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Congratulations, New Orleans

I’m almost as surprised by the Saints’ win today as I was by Shannon Sharpe’s missing the final cut for the Hall of Fame. Happier about the former, though.

As disappointed as I am for Peyton Manning, it is impossible to be truly disappointed in the result.

Boo, on the other hand, to Audi for an ad that made me want to buy a Hummer. Or a Chris “Birdman” Anderson-mobile.




Friday, January 15, 2010

You Twittering Fools

I’m not sure that I see this as being any kind of a meaningful metric. Of course, I’m still a Twitter skeptic who finds himself wondering why the Internet equivalent of the bumper sticker has become such a popular conveyor for political messages. It doesn’t lend itself to nuanced, well-considered positions. For that matter, it doesn’t lend itself to proper spelling or sentence structure, either.

To be fair, it does take impressive creativity to fold, spindle, and mutilate the language into the Twitter-sized publishable nuggets, doesn’t it?

Anyhow, conservatives seem to be taking a lead in this, ahem, important new social media technology.

The party of Ted Stevens, the former senator who once described the Internet as a “series of tubes,” is starting to gain the technological edge.

A new study shows Republicans on Capitol Hill are far more active on Twitter than their Democratic colleagues.

Though Barack Obama commanded the new media landscape during his 2008 presidential campaign, House Republicans in particular have been texting circles around the Democrats. The study, “Twongress: The Power of Twitter in Congress,” showed twice as many Republicans use Twitter even though there are far fewer Republicans in Congress.

If you detect any crankiness, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the value of pushing message through Twitter, it’s that I’m afraid that Twittering might replace the larger conversation that needs to take place on the other side of that push.

But, then, maybe I just don’t quite get it yet. We’ll see.

Read it all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Flashes of Zomby: The Strange Microsoft Analogies Edition

But I like puppies.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nookenfreude. Sounds Naughty.

Kindle. Probably not.

Nook. Probably not. Especially after reading the review at the link--although I’m a little disappointed. Some of the features (wireless, for example) sounded pretty nice.

No, if I’m going to be spending that much money on this kind of device, I’m holding out for the rumored Apple tablet. I find the rumors very compelling.

But it will never sound as naughty as Nookenfreude.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Google Voice and Google Wave

Anyone out there have a Google Voice or Google Wave invite they are willing to send my way? Because, you know, I’m special and stuff.

Update: Okay, Wave is taken care of. I now have 8 Wave invites to send out to anyone who needs them--just leave a comment and they’ll go first come-first serve.

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