Ballmer? Really?

The NBA gets another schmuck as an owner. I see Ballmer behind Microsoft’s failure to innovate over the past few years. Even worse, I see his mean spirited imprint on most everything Microsoft has done.

Steve BallmerIt looks like the Clippers will go quickly. Published reports says Steve Ballmer, who recently left as CEO of Microsoft after seeing the writing on the wall, will pay $2,000,000,000. That’s an impressive number. Now I understand why Windows costs so much.

Donald Sterling, disgraced current owner, gets to laugh all the way to the bank. The value of his team seems to have doubled over the past few weeks. He can buy new friends.

The NBA gets another schmuck as an owner. I see Ballmer behind Microsoft’s failure to innovate over the past few years. Even worse, his mean spirited imprint is on most everything Microsoft has done recently.

But let me allow Steve to speak for himself. On the iPhone:

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Of Google’s Eric Schmidt:

“F**king Eric Schmidt is a f**king pussy. I’m going to f**king bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f**king kill Google.”

On Apple’s Macbooks:

“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction.”

And, on business in general:

“That doesn’t mean nobody else ever thought about it, but ‘How do you make money?’ was what I got hired to do. I’ve always thought that way.”

After a friend posted this sale on Twitter, I replied, “Until Sterling, he was my most despised CEO.”

Good luck to all of us.

The Less Pretty Look At Steve Jobs

Some have wondered whether Apple has become the Big Brother/1984 company they railed against in their famous Super Bowl ad? It’s a fair question.

Like most of us I was saddened by Steve Jobs death. I wrote about his accomplishments. Then I read Gawker’s portrayal of Jobs and remembered my upset/concerns with those same things. If you only want to remember the innovator Jobs click elsewhere. There is more to this complex man and the company he built.

Jobs created a tightly controlled vertical infrastructure for Apple products. Once you buy an iPhone or iPad you are stuck buying everything else you need from Apple!

If I come up with a great program for your iPhone or iPad I cannot sell it directly to you. I cannot sell it at all without selling it through (and giving a cut of the profits to) Apple. I can’t even write a program Apple would consider for its iTunes Store without writing it using Apple’s tools and a Mac! That is an artificial barrier.

From Gawker: In the name of protecting children from the evils of erotica — “freedom from porn” — and adults from one another, Jobs has banned from being installed on his devices gay art, gay travel guides, political cartoons, sexy pictures, Congressional candidate pamphlets, political caricature, Vogue fashion spreads, systems invented by the opposition, and other things considered morally suspect.

Imagine you bought a Ford and were only permitted to fill it with Ford gasoline. Same thing.

Some have wondered whether Apple has become the Big Brother/1984 company they railed against in their famous Super Bowl ad? It’s a fair question. After all, today it is Apple that’s all about slavish conformity and control.

Apple is also a company that’s moved American jobs offshore. As far as I know all their products are now manufactured overseas. As Mike Daisey wrote in the New York Times:

Apple’s rise to power in our time directly paralleled the transformation of global manufacturing. As recently as 10 years ago Apple’s computers were assembled in the United States, but today they are built in southern China under appalling labor conditions. Apple, like the vast majority of the electronics industry, skirts labor laws by subcontracting all its manufacturing to companies like Foxconn, a firm made infamous for suicides at its plants, a worker dying after working a 34-hour shift, widespread beatings, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to meet high quotas set by tech companies like Apple.

There’s no doubt much of what Jobs did was good. He was not a saint.

On Steve Jobs

We all want to work for a company where only quality matters. This is the type of business people want to see succeed!

Earlier this evening Alec Baldwin tweeted: “Sad about Steve Jobs. On par with Henry Ford, Carnegie and Edison.” Sad because Steve Jobs passed away. The cause hasn’t been released, but he’s fought hard against pancreatic cancer. Few beat it.

What Baldwin said is true. Steve Jobs deserves to be compared with Henry Ford, Carnegie and Edison. It’s not just that he was an innovator, he was an innovator consistently over decades.

I saw the Mac in the early 80s. A computer store opened in Buffalo down the block from the TV station. Everything about the Mac was different. I remember playing with it at the store. Magical.

The Mac had a graphic interface and mouse. These were new concepts!

It was physically beautiful.

It’s understandable Jobs/Apple had a loyal fanbase. Apple consistently made high quality, well performing, state-of-the-art hardware. His products were never the cheapest and often the most expensive. They were always the best engineered.

We all want to work for a company where only quality matters. This is the type of business people want to see succeed!

Apple protects its customers in a way that’s not attractive to me. I like to tinker. Apple’s aren’t meant for tinkering. I understand its value to other people.

Apple supported its products by building up an infrastructure to fill them. The iPhone and iPad wouldn’t be so satisfying without the iTunes Store.

Back in the early days it was Steve Wozniak who was the tech genius. Woz wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without Jobs, the most effective product salesman I’ve ever seen. He owned every presentation.

It’s sad. Guys like Steve Jobs don’t come around often. His absence will be felt.

Alas, even money can’t buy off death.

iPad2–Just What I Didn’t Think I Wanted

Truth is Apple took a product which is incredibly loved and by all outward appearances made it more lovable.

I traded tweets with Darren Kramer this evening. We were talking about the new iPad2, a device I find surprisingly alluring.

“I am so impressed with how that company relentlessly innovates. Go ahead, confess your love for Jobs.”

Darren is such a Steve Jobs fanboy, but he’s right!

Truth is Apple took a product which is already incredibly loved and by all outward appearances made it more lovable.

Apple has slimmed the iPad2 by a full third. At the same time it added a speedier cpu and graphics processor. On the outside are two video cameras (front and back) to facilitate video chatting and movie making. On the inside there’s Garage Band for audio and iMovie for video.

It’s got a ten hour battery! This is going to supplant laptops on airplanes, vacations and Metro North.

To paraphrase Wallis Simpson, the American-born Duchess of Windsor, a tablet computer can never be too rich in features or too thin!

I wanted a tablet which would run the Android operating system and be comparable to the original iPad in its capacity. Not anymore. The bar has been raised. Nothing outside Apple is even close.

I don’t want to like Apple products. I have it out for them. To me Apple stands for smug self righteousness. Apple is the rich kid who got into college because of his father’s influence.

On the other hand they deliver!

iPhone 4 Solution: The Part That Doesn’t Make Sense

Unfortunately some of Jobs’ presentation didn’t make sense to me, specifically where he said all smartphones suffer signal degradation when you hold them the wrong way.

Steve Jobs gave another iPhone 4 presentation today. This wasn’t as joyous as his first because he was trying to undo the damage from a small technical problem that Apple milked into a large PR problem.

The solution to Apple’s iPhone 4 antenna woes is free cases for all! Even Consumer Reports was hoping for that solution. Who am I to not approve?

Unfortunately some of Jobs’ presentation didn’t make sense to me, specifically where he said all smartphones suffer signal degradation when you hold them the wrong way.

  • The iPhone’s antenna is external–actually part of the case
  • Holding the phone with your finger in the wrong spot on the antenna detunes it attenuating the signal
  • A plastic or rubber case/bumper will solve the problem by moving your finger off the antenna

But Steve, the other smartphones already have plastic around their antennas because all the other smartphones have their antennas inside the case.


  • A case solves the iPhone’s problems
  • or

  • The other ‘pre-cased’ phones really don’t suffer this problem.

It doesn’t seem like it can be both. It’s not a big deal, but I still feel like I’m being spun. I hate being spun.

I Love/Hate My iPhone.

Contempt toward me and my fellow iPhoners gushes from Cupertino. They are concerned about me the same way my 20 minute on-hold-call is important to my bank!

The little counter that ticks off call time on my iPhone says I’ve racked up 6 days, 20 hours since early October! That’s a lot, isn’t it?

There’s no comparable counter for Internet use. It would surely be a much larger number!

This iPhone of mine has changed my life. It is more than I’d hoped for. There are so many ways it’s useful.

For the first time in my life I’m really keeping a calendar–really! It’s so easy to do it would be stupid not to. It syncs with Google’s calendar magically.

I am watching the Phillies most nights as I work at my desk. The Phillies games stream right to the phone. The quality is great, though a few years from now my opinion of great will surely change.

It is my book, my magazine, my newspaper. It is NPR in the car when the show I want is on a station with ratty reception. When needed it’s also my GPS.

Facebook and Twitter, though easily accessible on the phone are still mainly relegated to more traditional computers. Not so email which is often read and quickly answered right on its slab screen. The phrase “Sent from my iPhone” is really a euphemism for “message will be short, curt, poorly formatted.”

Dozens of the photos used to illustrate blog entries were shot on the iPhone. Under the right circumstances it can produce decent photography. That being said, good shots take work on this camera.

The iPhone has been my platform of choice recently for video. I’ve shot and edited little web stories on the iPhone. Crazy.

And yet with all I love about the iPhone there is so much I hate… starting with Apple and Steve Jobs. Contempt toward me and my fellow iPhoners gushes from Cupertino. It is only matched by Apple’s greed. They are concerned about me the same way my 20 minute on-hold-call is important to my bank!

Early on I called Apple “the controlling psychotic girlfriend of computing.” My mind hasn’t changed where that’s concerned. Seeing what’s gone on with Mark Fiore’s cartoons and Adobe Flash have only reinforced this opinion.

There is so much the iPhone can and should do, but won’t because it doesn’t seem to be in Steve Jobs’ best interest. So many parts of the system are walled off from each other. That reduces functionality. I want enhancements, not reductions.

In order to really take advantage of the iPhone you need to ‘jailbreak’ it. That frees the phone from many Apple imposed restrictions. It also voids the warranty if you’re caught.

There’s a rumor on the geek sites tonight Apple might be violating federal law with their warranty policies. A warranty can only be voided if your action might hurt the purchased item. Since Apple’s own software can be easily restored it should be a no harm, no foul situation.

There’s also the problem of power. If you own an iPhone you own auxiliary power sources. You have to. All the good things the iPhone does eat power!

There are power cables and wall warts stashed away at work and in my office at home. In the car there’s a plug for the cigarette lighter. I even bought a battery so the phone can be charged away from wall power.

If I had it to do over today I’d seriously consider one of the Android phones instead of my iPhone. I like the idea of an open source operating system and somewhat less draconian rules on what I can do with an item I own.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone not only is the best phone I’ve ever had, it’s the best toy ever! I don’t regret buying it. I’d just like an alternative when my contract’s up.

The iPhone is often too compelling for its own good. Helaine has reached for it threatening to throw it out, or at the very least introduce it to water! My fault, not hers. It’s tough to put down.

I coddle this phone like no piece of electronics I’ve ever owned before. It’s currently next to me nestled in a rubberized skin with a plastic screen protecting its glass screen. There is not a scratch on it.

A few days ago as a pajama wearing me walked to the bathroom Helaine said, “It’s in your pocket, isn’t it?”

Maybe an intervention is in order?

Apple And HTC: Let The Suits Begin

By keeping programs like Dragon Dictation separated from other functions Apple has made a powerful feature nearly worthless. I love the app. I never use it!

apple-iphone-3g.jpgAs a geek these are exciting times. Smart phones like the iPhone, Androids and Microsoft’s still-to-be-seen efforts are putting major computing in your pocket. They’re powerful enough that I’ve sometimes been guilty of disregarding my dinner companions as I work the phone (actually everything but the phone).

Of course nothing like this happens in a vacuum. Everyone tries to protect their territory. There’s so much my iPhone can do, if only Steve Jobs would say yes!

Seriously, my phone is purposely crippled in many ways.

An example is the Dragon Dictation app. It does an amazing job of translating spoken words to text. Unfortunately Apple says it can’t speak directly to the email or SMS programs. In order to use DD you have to cut and paste.

Though approved by Apple this applet is hidden from the iPhone’s most powerful features. It’s not that the software can’t perform this task, it’s been prohibited from performing it!

By keeping programs like Dragon Dictation separated from other functions Apple has made a powerful feature nearly worthless. I love the app. I never use it!

This is totally Apple’s choice. They could let it happen tomorrow and I’m sure Dragon would have the updated software waiting.
This is just one in a series of arbitrary or puzzling decisions.

Some friends say I should just ‘jailbreak’ the phone–remove Apple’s grip with a simple unauthorized software download. Good idea, though jailbreaking alone will not make this particular software work as it should.

Maybe I own the iPhone, but only under a strict license which says what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t load into it. It’s as if your Ford was only allowed to use Ford gasoline and could only be repaired with Ford parts. Maybe you should only be able to chill GE water in your GE refrigerator.

Don’t get me wrong, this phone is killer. I love it. I am frustrated though because I can see what is being done to keep Apple as gatekeeper.

Now Apple is reaching out to keep competitors from competing. Yesterday they sued HTC, who makes smartphones under their own name and for others. This has to do with HTC’s phone that use Google’s Android operating system.

“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.” – Steve Jobs

Apple is enforcing its software patents. That itself is pretty controversial as software patents are a recent ‘innovation’ seemingly granted broadly and with little scrutiny. A software patent case is on its way to the Supreme Court right now.
Though companies with these patents say they are (and probably are) just protecting their investments in research and development, others say patents on software limit innovation.

It’s interesting to hear organizations perceived as liberal, like the Electronic Freedom Foundation use concepts normally reserved for the right.

Software innovation happens without government intervention. Virtually all of the technologies you use now were developed before software was widely viewed as patentable. The Web, email, your word processor and spreadsheet program, instant messaging, or even more technical features like the psychoacoustic encoding and Huffman compression underlying the MP3 standard—all of it was originally developed by enthusiastic programmers, many of whom have formed successful business around such software, none of whom asked the government for a monopoly. So if software authors have a proven track-record of innovation without patents, why force them to use patents? What is the gain from billions of dollars in patent litigation? –

None of this seems to be happening for our (my) benefit.

When Ya’ Getting An Ipad, They Ask?

If anything keeps the iPad from being a success it will be because Apple forgot we are their customers, not apple itself.

ipad-touch.jpgFriends and colleagues know I’m a technogeek, so it didn’t take long after Steve Jobs’ iPad announcement for the queries to begin. To summarize the two top questions are:

  • “Are you getting one?”
  • “Why would anyone want one?”

I probably wont be getting an iPad. It has less to do with what it can do or what it costs than the restrictions placed on it.

Imagine a world where your Chevy could only use gas approved by Chevy (and where Chevy siphoned off a cut of the profits)! In essence that’s what the iPad is all about. You may be buying the iPad, but you don’t fully own it because you are limited by license (and I suppose law) from using it freely as you wish.

Apple has already used this business model in the iPhone. I have one. I am often frustrated by improvements which should, but don’t, exist.

steve jobs with ipad.jpgBelieve me, there are lots of things the iPhone can and should do, things which developers would certainly write software but that Apple restricts. Google’s “Google Voice” app is a perfect example. It exists. People would like it. Apple hasn’t approved it and isn’t all that forthcoming in explaining why not.

IPhones&#185 can be ‘jailbroken’ to allow some of these improvements, but it’s tough to embrace a technology where you have to violate a license or law (or both) to use the equipment. Beyond that Apple has shown a propensity to patching jailbroken phones, sometimes ‘bricking’ them–leaving them with the capability of a brick!

Beyond that the iPad seems crippled by design failures. There’s no camera–and this would be the perfect product for video calling. There’s no ability to multitask–run two apps at once. Though it has a 3G modem there’s no cellphone functionality, even through a Bluetooth device.

To me the iPad seems more proof-of-concept than mature platform.

That brings me to the second question. Why would anyone want one?

A relatively small and light computer seems the logical step beyond a laptop, especially if it’s a laptop, telephone, TV, movie and music, book newspaper and magazine playing device. The screen is small for sharing, but for arm’s length viewing it can and will provide a big screen experience.

A device with the form factor of an iPad can be a unifying device that brings all media to a single place, especially with the ability to connect through both cellular and WiFi data networks. It’s exciting in the abstract.

A few years ago Qwest ran an ad (attached at the bottom of this entry) which left most people scratching their heads. Devices like (but not) the iPad are what is needed to make the commercial finally make sense.

Alas, Apple isn’t as interested in providing this total experience as they are in maintaining a toll road. Make no mistake about it, they want every penny you spend to pass through their outstretched sticky fingers.

If anything keeps the iPad from being a success it will be because Apple forgot we are their customers, not Apple itself.

&#185 – when a proper noun begins with a lower case letter, like iPhone, does it get capitalized if it’s the first word of a sentence? By naming something with a lower case letter you’ve already violated the rules of English so the next step gets iffy at best.

You Get What You Pay For–News Version

Helluva scoop if it were only true.

The big buzz in media (all media, not just TV) is user created content. It’s free–what’s not to like?

From CNN’s iReport–“Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable.”

Helluva scoop if it were only true. I’ll let a professional writer pick it up. This is from the Washington Post.

A false Internet report that Apple’s Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack briefly slammed his company’s stock and raised fresh questions about the delicate relationship between traditional and new media.

The posting on — a citizen journalist site owned by Time Warner’s CNN — is the most recent incident in which a faulty online report created brief, but wrenching, confusion among investors.

Apple quickly denied the report about its chief executive, but not before its stock dropped more than 2 percent, hitting a 17-month low of $94.65. It later recovered, climbing as much as 4 percent, before closing at $97.07, down 3 percent for the day.

CNN has tried to distance itself from the iReport site and its ‘reporters’. That’s going to be tough. It’s CNN’s cred that keeps the site active. In the last month CNN used nearly 1,300 iReport submissions which encourages even more participation.

Having journalism performed by actual journalists doesn’t guarantee accuracy, but it seems to be a step in the right direction when you supervise the reporter and he/she is answerable. Citizen journalists are not. Actually, that’s not totally true as the Steve Jobs heart attack citizen journalist might be answerable to the SEC.

Last September I wrote about my upset with Fox News ‘assigning’ a story to viewers. I didn’t say it was FNC but why hide it.

[T]oday I also watched an instance of what I don’t want to see with cellphone video. I’m not going to say which cable network it was, because I can’t find anything about it on their website, and it just might be ‘freelancing’ by a producer or anchor.

The anchor showed a still from an air show, mentioned where one was taking place today, and asked for viewer video. Uh… isn’t that why they have reporters and camera crews?

I understand getting video of spot news, unanticipated events, from viewers. This is totally different. This is an assignment. I’m not even sure a business can legally ask people to work for free, can they?

Regardless, it bothers me.

It still bothers me.

The Physics Olympics

Working down the street from Yale University must be somewhat like living next door to Jessica Alba. It’s easy to see what’s so special. You’re seldom invited over.

An exception was made Saturday. Dr. Steve Girvin, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and Applied Physics&#185, asked me if I’d like to attend the annual Yale Physics Olympics. How could I say no?

Students from high schools in Connecticut and nearby states sent teams to Yale to compete in fun, though intellectually challenging, physics based games.

They built bridges, redesigned electrical circuits and tried to predict movement in a virtual stock market. I’m sorry – did you mention what you did Saturday?

If your local school board ever asks for a new facility to further education, send them to Yale. Sloane Physics Lab, where the competition took place, is an ancient building. The lecture hall we occupied was probably outmoded 50 years ago. It is still a center of exceptional education.

Education is dependent on an open exchange of ideas and knowledge, not furniture.

The kids who gave up their Saturday afternoon are the smart kids. Their intellect probably makes them socially awkward now, but they’ll be the one’s we’re all working for later. Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban.

I did a lot of helping out Saturday. I’m not sure they really needed me, but I was thrilled to be a part of the action. I poured liquid nitrogen (somewhere around 325&#176 below zero Fahrenheit) into a Styrofoam vessel for a demonstration on electrical conductivity, rode a bicycle powered by CO2, and a hovercraft lifted by a very noisy leafblower (as immortalized in the attached youtube video).

As someone who works in TV news, where the easiest way for a teenager to make air is to kill or be killed, this Saturday afternoon was a breath of fresh air.

&#185 – My knowledge of academia is limited, but I do know an endowed chair is a big deal… even bigger at Yale. As it turns out, he’s a great guy and not at all pretentious about the fact he can think us all under the table.

iPhone Hit Or Miss?

I can’t remember the last time a piece of high tech equipment got this kind of hype. Of course, I’m talking about Apple’s iPhone which goes on sale within the hour.

It’s pretty neat. As is normally the case with Apple, the software is elegantly simple and intuitive. The TV commercials are tantalizing. I haven’t seen it yet, but there’s surely one where it’s slicing bread!

Unfortunately, the iPhone also suffers from some designed-in weaknesses.

It seems pretty odd the phone won’t use AT&T’s fast G3 network and instead sticks with an older implementation. That’s huge, if web surfing is going to be a large part of the iPhone experience.

The iPhone also doesn’t record video nor will it operate properly with corporate email servers. That’s not good and there’s more. Its battery is not replaceable and its SIM card isn’t removable.

There’s also the question whether a non-tactile keyboard is a good idea. I’ve never seen a successful one before.

I have been considering a ‘smartphone.’ It probably won’t be an iPhone.

Right now the (as yet unreleased) Motorola Q9 looks likely. I’m not 100% it will be sold by AT&T, my cell carrier.

The Q9 operates on the higher speed G3 network, takes video, uses Windows Mobile 6 and has a real QWERTY keyboard. It looks like an updated, better performing “Q,”. A co-worker has that phone, which I like.

The online consensus is, I can buy a ‘smartphone’ like the Q9 or the Samsung Blackjack and a $19.99/month data plan from AT&T and be done with it. I’m not sure this is AT&T’s preferred combo, but people are consistently doing it and I sense AT&T isn’t sending their money away.

My guess is, the iPhone will not be the unmitigated success this level of hype implies. It’s possible. I’m not a mobile computing analyst with lots of background info and insight. This is a seat-of-the-pants call. There are just so many strikes against it.

Working against my prediction is Steve Jobs, who has a Svengali-like ability to mobilize the Apple faithful.

What the iPhone does do is increase the profile of mobile computing and the competition between carriers and between hardware manufacturers. I don’t see a downside to that… at least I don’t yet.

iPhone Arrives

OK – Let’s get this out of the way first – I want one.

If there’s been a product launch more hyped than today’s, I can’t remember it. Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and the world went nuts.

Everywhere I’ve looked, there have been stories. Jobs was on CNBC this afternoon and Nightline this evening. David Pogue, writing in the NY Times, bragged of spending an hour with him, though mostly ignoring Jobs to play with an iPhone.

When I first saw it, I said, “too big.” Maybe clunky is a better description. On the other hand, it’s quite slender. Jobs said it was thinner than the Motorola Q.

Will it fit in my pocket or will I have to wear a cellphone holster?

What makes Apple so special… what made the iPod such an amazing breakthrough product, is their understanding of the user interface. The iPod has the best user interface of any electronics device ever made – period.

If you don’t have one, ask anyone who does how long it took them to learn how to use it? Zero. An iPod’s operation is obvious the moment it’s in your hand. The word is, “intuitive.”

Attention to the man-machine interface is what Jobs promised, and then demonstrated.

There is one physical button on the iPhone. Everything else is done from the 3.5″ high resolution touch screen. Menus change as needed. The interface adapts.

There’s a 2 megapixel camera onboard, but no video. It’s Apple. Aren’t they the computer company known for video? That’s a glaring omission.

I watched 31:05 of Steve Jobs’ keynote speech&#185 from Mac World before hitting pause. I am not a Mac guy. Jobs isn’t my savior. I thought his first 20 minutes were top notch. Then, his presentation began to bore me.

I’m not 100% sure why I want one. The iPod music portion is wasted on me, though I’d enjoy the ability to watch podcasts. It’s something I already do on the computer.

I am attracted by the ‘smart’ phone and the ability to carry email and web browsing in my pocket.

I don’t see a computer as a burden, but a tool to help me leverage life. Currently, that tool is only available to me at home and work. There are lots of new uses I can see and probably more I can’t.

Did I mention it’s a fun toy?

&#185 – Around 3:00 AM I watched the remainder. He’s a great pitchman, but sometimes runs out of steam or gets overly “Silicon Valley geeky.” Even I can’t take that.