Never mind the construction costs, rights-of-way, economic model, reliability. On the other hand there is no new science here either, he is proposing pneumatic pressure instead of vacuum pressure and that is a well understood force.
We need more people like Musk, who has built three companies in completely separate markets and in each case are capital intensive, highly regulated, and dominated by bureaucratic morass. If anyone could build high speed transportation that wouldn’t suck in California (e.g. high speed rail) I would put my money on Musk. too bad he won’t actually do it.
Back in June I wrote a post about my plunge into the world of Chromebooks. I thought it would be a good idea to provide an update on that experience and highlight the reasons why I am putting it on the shelve, or more precisely handing it over to my son…
First the good, which is that it really is a viable alternative to Mac and Windows. Almost everything we use these days is browser based so running a sub-compact laptop that relies exclusively on a browser for applications is workable. It is inexpensive, the battery life is fantastic and it does the job for most tasks.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
The Samsung is slooooooow and the display is actually rather weak, rising to the “good enough” level on the best of days. Admittedly these issues can be resolved with a more capable alternative like the Google Pixel but why would I spend $1,300 on a laptop that has other significant shortcomings?
Google Print and remote desktop both rely on the host being available (no surprise, right?) but in the case of print this is particularly debilitating. We have no fixed computers in our house, everything is either laptop or tablet and when it comes to printing, which is still a required capability, the Chromebook became a problem because it was looking for one specific laptop that I had sourced with the Google Print capability. It was not always available and this resulted in frustrating moments when I really needed to print something and could not. Google needs to sort out this print feature set to enable direct-to-printer interfacing, even if with a generic driver.
Can’t run installed Java therefore Gotomeeting, Webex, etc. are not possible… this was a major problem for me. There is a way to do this with remote desktop but then we come back to the issue above, if the remote desktop is not available you are out of luck.
Could not connect USB devices I wanted to connect, like my camera. This surprised me, I just assumed that any device connected with USB would be treated as external storage… not the case. #fail.
The last issue is a strange one and it is only when you use the laptop for a while that you notice how annoying it is. There are odd caching behaviors that result in pages being reloaded way too often… for example, if you shift focus away from your Gmail tab for more than a few minutes and then return to the tab it will reload Gmail. This is massively frustrating if you are like me and are in and out of Gmail literally hundreds of times per day. Add up all those 10-15 second intervals over the course of a day and it adds up to a good chunk of wasted time.
On balance I am still happy to have the Chromebook, and for my son it will work really well, but the fact remains that with the significant shortcomings this device is not adequate for business use.
I have turned off comments for the time being… 2 reasons:
1) Spam: I am getting inundated with spam comments masquerading as legitimate comments. The better ones are hard to detect at first glance, only when I see the link in either the commenter ID or in the comment itself is it then evident that someone is looking for a free ride on my SEO juice.
2) Alternative Channels: I actually don’t get that many comments, most people that I interact with are doing so via Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. For this reason above all else I am not concerned about shutting down comments, the discussion will not be impacted.
I should also highlight that the way I am doing this is by pushing every comment into moderation by default, which means the comment functionality will still display but comments will not immediately post. The way I figure it, if spammers are going to waste my time I might as well turn the tables and waste their time by allowing them to believe they are posting comments but then not having the fruits of their labor display… eventually they will move on.
This is a really interesting movie about how consumer services are building businesses on the private data that consumers are handing over, and by extension how big data is fueling new concerns about how that data can be reconstructed and infringe on our personal liberties.
The movie trailer style advertisement for Mike & Ike candy is, in a word, completely awesome (2 words).
This really underscores a broader movement that the less time constrained online media world started, advertising as storytelling and entertainment, not just another commercial. We all want to be entertained, we don’t want to be sold to…
Google+ turned two this week and by all accounts Google has won over critics with a compelling social network experience. I have been a fan from day 1 and perhaps what I admire most about Google is that they ignore the pundits while playing a very long game of their own making… so while my initial reaction that Twitter and Tumblr would be the biggest losers, which obviously was not the case, there are other factors that are worth looking at.
Simply put, Hangouts have been enormously impactful on me and how I work. Here is something they nailed and it is so profound that I didn’t even realize it until just this week, Hangouts are built around the notion that a video experience is YOU first, and then whatever you are sharing second.
Think about how Gotomeeting and Webex handle video, it is something that is added to the act of presenting something and despite a significant push to feature video, I have encountered few instances where someone says “hey share the camera!”. Contrast that to Hangouts where video is a primary experience… Google just figured this out while Webex and Gotomeeting are still locked into their traditional mode, which also limits their ability to have an instant video conference in the absence of a persistent conference room.
We have a very distributed company and on any given day I will have between 3-6 planned video Hangouts and a bunch of ad hoc ones. This has become such a fundamental mode of communication for me that I invested in SteelSeries gamer headsets to provide the best audio quality while also improving the comfort factor.
The integration with Google Calendar is another winner, where adding a video conference to a meeting is as simple as clicking the link. No scheduling service, passwords, dialin numbers. and so on… it just works.
Another experiences I had recently that drove this home was at HP with one of their sophisticated teleconference systems. Yes, it was remarkable but I kept thinking that I could do something a lot easier with Hangouts… instead of getting a bunch of people in dedicated rooms just to talk to each other, we could have each run a separate video in Hangouts and the result would have been the same in terms of what we accomplished… and for free.
The integration of Talk with Hangouts is a mixed bag and I hope that Google restores the ability to place voice calls from the Hangouts add-on in Gmail. Google has an interesting integration challenge that is a result of an embarrassment of riches with a robust chat product that built on XMPP, Google Voice, and Hangouts. A big change they announced last month was the abandonment of XMPP, which has a lot of features as well as a big developer community, and the replacement of Talk with Hangouts. I like the user experience and having my chats pop up in Hangouts in addition to Gmail, but the degradation of features is disappointing, most significantly the inability to place voice phone calls right from Hangouts.
I don’t know where they are going with this but the result for me is that I now use Skype more frequently for voice calls instead of hitting the phone icon in Talk and placing a call.
Lastly, the mobile experience is completely seamless, and that extends to video as well. On my Samsung S4 the mobile video conferencing is surprisingly good and glitch free… how far we have come from commercial video phones that started showing up in the 1980′s that used super expensive hardware and puts POTS through an extreme gymnastics routine.
I have been watching Chris Harris’ Youtube channel while on the treadmill and yesterday I caught this fantastic segment on the legendary 1987 Porsche 962 that dominated Le Mans.
There were 3 distinct parts of the video that are worth highlighting. Le Mans is a unique motorsport event, a 24 hour event that features a wide range of classes racing together on the same track and combining the technical prowess of manufacturer sponsored teams as well as the innovation of privateer teams. The race was held this weekend and Audi won in their class, again.
1) Norbert Singer, the Porsche engineer who had a strong hand in every one of Porsche’s 16 victories at Le Mans, talks about Porsche’s reliability, a hallmark of the Porsche customer racing car program (you could actually walk in and buy a 962, hand over some money and get a set of keys… imagine that, a race car with a keyed ignition!). At about 1:30 in the video Singer is talking about reliability and how everyone in the Porsche racing program oriented their worldview around Le Mans because of the demands the race presented. Running a high performance vehicle for flat out for 24 hours and crossing the finish line is no small feat, and as Singer highlights it “first you have to finish the race and then you see where you are”.
This is a great commentary on design principles and everything in life and work has attributes that can be isolated to drive this degree of clarity. Now, if the car isn’t fast, handles poorly, or any one of a thousand other factors you won’t win but if the car isn’t reliable you won’t finish, much less win.
2) The 962 had for it’s time some pretty revolutionary ground effects, which also reduced drag as well as generating downforce that contributed to the extraordinary handling of the car. Following the successful 917 program, Singer sought to create ground effects by mimicking what Formula One cars were doing at the time and dramatically increasing downforce irrespective of the consequences on drag because with 1,000 horsepower they had plenty of power they could tap into to overcome deficiencies in aerodynamics.
Through experimentation the engineers learned that controlling the airflow over AND under the car improved the downforce while at the same time improving the slipperiness of the car itself. Conventional wisdom held that the two goals were in conflict, Singer developed the science of design based on his observations of air flow and continued testing to learn the science. Testing and experimentation can always be relied upon to overcome the power of repeated anecdote.
At around 11:40 Harris asked Singer some interesting questions about the handling of the car and Singer went into some detail about how the increase of ground effects on the rear of the car, with the extended tail, has the effect of improving the force on the front axle. This is really surprising and again points to the value of experimentation because what Singer and the Porsche team were learning is how the air moving over and under the car can be shaped to deliver specific forces with outcomes that are very desirable in a race car.
3) Finally, Singer is asked about the dramatic performance gains that were created in just a few short years. As is the case with new technologies, the biggest gains come in the beginning and after the big steps are taken everything is incremental. I am struck by this because I think we, as an industry, adhere to the notion of disruption but far too often deliver incremental. Therefore, if we more finely tune our appreciation for big steps we will then seek to upend the balance with new invention rather than fine tuning the status quo… as Audi did when they introduced diesel powered cars that were not only more durable than competitors but also more fuel efficient which resulted in fewer pit stops.
I would encourage you to watch this video because the lessons that are revealed extend well beyond racing.
I read this piece in Business Insider about comments that David Karp of Tumblr made while keynoting at Cannes Lions, a big advertiser conference held this week. I’ll save you the pain of reading it on their site, here’s what their core complaint is:
1) Karp originally refused to allow advertising on Tumblr, stating at the time that “it turned their stomach”.
2) In 2010 Tumblr famously reversed their stance on advertising.
3) Today Karp is effusive in his admiration and praise of advertisers (therefore he is clearly a hypocritical bastard).
I’m glad BI has a memory machine that they spin up whenever someone influential in this industry speaks but is it really necessary or useful to excoriate people for evolving their viewpoints? We see this all the time in entertainment, up-and-coming musicians and actors start out saying “it’s all about the music” or “I just want to make great movies” and years later, after success finds them, the soundbites shift to royalties, distribution points, and their production companies. Life brings a lot of complexity, it’s naïve to think that the naïve won’t grow into it.
Furthermore, we regularly ridicule politicians for being obstinate in their positions and a favorite Inside the Beltway game is “gotcha, remember when you said…”. Should we not hold high the value of changing one’s position when facts and understanding demand that we do so? So we say we want leaders to expand their thinking yet we punish them when they do so.
If I am ever so fortunate to find the success that brings with it the attention that many in Silicon Valley’s upper echelons receive, bring on the quotes because I have lived my life with a simple mantra, strong opinions loosely held for things outside of core values like honesty, integrity, and ethics…
Like many I watched the kabuki theater that is Congress perp walking Apple CEO Tim Cook in front of a committee to berate the company for legally applying the tax code, that Congress itself created, to preserve cash using the offshore entities the income was earned in. I was left with the question “would Congress have dared bring Steve Jobs in front of a committee in this manner?” knowing full well that Jobs’ personal popularity and habitual bluntness would have left Congress with proverbial egg on their face.
I also could not help but notice that the CEO of the legendary tax firm with a small manufacturing business on the side, General Electric, was not hauled in front of Congress to explain how not only does GE use the tax code to the full extent but also how they successfully manipulate members of Congress to create new tax subsidies and incentives that they can then exploit for shareholder benefit. as they should. Few members of Congress would want GE exposing the one-hand-washes-the-other hypocrisy that is the intersection of money, politics, and public policy.
What about Cisco? They have over $50 billion in cash and all but $5b of it is offshore. John Chambers is on record pointing out the obvious, U.S. corporate tax law is stunting job growth and forcing companies to invest outside the U.S. Let’s bring Chambers in front of Congress.
However, what is lost in all this is that the companies pay taxes at many levels and the growth they experience economic growth which leads to a myriad of additional tax layers. Directly as a result of strong performance, companies like Apple, Microsoft and Cisco institute share buybacks and dividends which fuel capital gains tax receipts. Microsoft alone has returned $170 billion of cash to investors as a result of buybacks and dividends, which for U.S. investors and entities is a form of income that is then taxed.
And so we are left with a series of distracting hearings meant only to excoriate a profitable American company for making entirely legal, and totally rational, decisions. Those hearings may have been useful if they had addressed serious structural reform. For instance, one possibility for reform is to lower American tax rates, which would induce more businesses to keep operations in this country in the first place. A second, more radical, possibility is to consider shifting to a consumption tax, which would eliminate all the distortions of the current system by gutting the present two-tier corporate tax and allowing the tax-free return of capital from abroad for everyone. But at this moment, the insatiable demands of the welfare state leave too many misguided champions of tax reform clamoring for more money to fill the federal coffers.
I was reading this article on the wave of executive departures at HTC on the heals of a successful product, the HTC One, and a clearly unsuccessful launch of the HTC First. The reporting is actually good and highlights the phenomena of the death spiral that many in Silicon Valley are familiar with, as influential people in the company leave a succession of departures is certain to follow and taking with them the ability of the company to seamlessly conceptualize and develop new products that are the lifeblood of technology companies in the consumer space.
One quote caught my attention if for no other reason than it exhibits the vanity of the tech media:
even as reviews have consistently lauded the gorgeous One and bashed the S4′s cheap plastic and comparably safe – even boring – design.
Shocking as it may be to tech reporters and the chattering class of Silicon Valley, consumers clearly don’t give a shit about the fact that the Samsung S4 has a plastic back cover that, like all it’s stamped aluminum competitors, will get covered with a case.
The HTC One has a beautiful form factor but comes up short in significant functional areas that give the S4 a real advantage, and the stripped down Android experience reflects that fact that HTC’s software development has been a problematic area for them more than a desire to deliver a strategic alternative to the market.
The S4, by comparison, delivers a “safe” design that is the successor to the already best selling Android smartphone on the market, the S3, so what did the reviewers expect Samsung to do. cast aside their success and start over? It is entirely illogical that you would take a current generation leader and rethink it. and point in fact the entire iPhone empire is built on product extensions that trace back to v1 in form factor, capabilities and user experience. Where are the critics when discussing that safe platform?