Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

People are Dumb: Part 4 – Apple

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

A few weeks after moving to the country house for the summer, I was in a car accident. To be clear, I wasn’t in it. Two other cars were in it, and I was jogging by. But, the sound of the crash and the geometry of the scenario caused me to do something that either looked heroic or dad-bod-pathetic, depending on how I executed it. I heard the noise, saw a car sliding towards me, and dramatically jumped out of the way, over a guardrail, into a small depression of grass and raspberry bushes.

Of course, jumping over a three foot barrier in running shorts into thorny bushes was likely more dangerous than just standing there, particularly considering that the cars never came close to me. But I stand by my move. I’m like a jogging ninja, only with several more cuts and bruises than I had before.

When the screeching had domino-d back through traffic and the last of the horns stopped, there was enough quiet for me to do the first intelligent thing of the morning – call for help. Of course, I was in a bramble, and in a bit of pain. So, I held the button on my headphones and told Siri what I needed.

Siri, call 911.

Siri, who sometimes thought my friend Shivani was my way of asking for the Chobanistand, or that my daughter Brianna was “Mama” has been hit or miss, but 9-11 isn’t a name but a number, and one of the most important ones a phone can know. Which is why I was shocked twice a second later. Once because I realized I was bleeding, and then a second later, when I heard,

Sorry, I didn’t get that, do you want me to try local businesses by that name?

Or something like that – at this point I realized I’d landed on my knee and I was wondering it it wouldn’t have been better to just jump in front of the car. No big deal, though – I had full LTE and I couldn’t hear anyone nearby on the phone, so it seemed reasonable to try again.

Call 9. 1. 1. I said with the patience and measured slowness I usually reserve for toddlers and auditors. And for a second time, Siri didn’t know what I meant.

After a third time, a third attempt to get even the most basic functionality out of an $1,100 piece of coddled technology, I gave up. I nearly threw the cursed thing at the road, but realized both the futility of the gesture, and an even sadder truth.

Apple sucks, but I can’t stand any other devices.


I never realized how bad Siri was until I started filling my house with Alexas. The first one was basically a give-away, and the second two just made the kitchen and bedroom more useful, but now I there is no room in my house that isn’t waiting patiently – maybe even maniacally – for me to ask, Computer, what’s the weather?

Because I don’t know how windows work, it seems.

The thing is, Alexa always knows the weather. She knows when I ask her to turn the living room lights to 5%. She’s on it when I want to watch Eureka, season 2, episode four. In fact, she even – recently – gets it when I start to ask her something, then forget, then remember again in the same command.

Computer, turn on the… turn on… fu@#, oh, right, front lights.

And yet, when I’m literally in a ditch, I can’t get my iPhone to call for help. I could have died, you overpriced piece of


Fortunately, my ego and right knee were the only ones injured in the accident. The woman who was hit was not stoked and the kid who hit her was probably thanking the very gods that we live in a world of fancy metal super-structures and crumple-zones and enough airbags to turn your Jetta into a damn boat.

I think that’s where Tim Cook is, right now. He is running a company that’s so big and has so much great stuff under its belt that it’s like being in a ridiculously safe Volkswagen – even if you bang it up, you’ll be fine.

That’s where I come in. I’ve been in love with Apple since 1999, and it never once occurred to me to try another product until… well, until Amazon started throwing Alexas at me like it’s goddam personal assistant Mardi Gras.

Brand loyalty makes us dumb. But it’s not just me buying, seven…


Seven Magsafe power adaptors over three years because they kept melting.

Or the fact that my iPhone, which again cost more than many people’s computers, drops calls as regularly as Liam Neeson throat punches foreigners. Or, the various little ridiculous things that you forget until you don’t – like the Time Machine backups that stopped working for no explicable reason. Or the fact that when you start up your Mac, it asks if you’d like to previous items. Which it also asked when you shut it down. Meaning that if you just want to restart your computer, you’re hit twice with the same question – regardless of how you answer the first one, and you can’t do either unattended.


But that’s inside baseball for the Mac users amongst us. In this last in the first half of my People are Dumb series, I want to make clear first of all, that I’m dumb. I’m the first to admit it, and yet when I was talking about Seatbelts or Bitcoin or Sticky Accelerators, I wasn’t really making that clear. So I wanted to end the dumb part on the dumbest guy of all – the one who will dedicate four articles just to talking about dumb stuff.

The second thing I want to make clear, though, is that we do irrational things even when it hurts us. This makes sense because of a concept called confirmation bias. This is simply the idea that we process our experience in a way that conforms to what we expect it to be. Here’s an example. As I’ve indicated, my phone drops off on calls so frequently that I truncate my speech into medium-length chunks so that I can make sure I’m not talking to dead air. But I spent over a grand on my phone, so I just take that to be the cell service. Even though my friends with Samsungs don’t have this issue.

The information is, my phone doesn’t work well. There are several choices as to why this is, but the most reasonable explanation is that my phone is garbage. A normal human person would come to this pretty quickly. But I had to bleed first. Had to stare at my screen and the little Siri voice wave and just curse at her until I could admit that the cause wasn’t something else, wasn’t the uniqueness of my kids’ names, or some errant AT&T tower. It was my phone, which isn’t that great because schmucks like me keep buying them and Tim Cook’s Volkswagen hasn’t crashed into its own ditch yet, so he doesn’t get what’s happened to Apple.

I’m his airbag.

Well, not just me. Thirty million people, according to Canalys, bought a phone that can barely make a phone call. And even more into an ecosystem that’s barreling into an AI-based future with a base AI tech that’s vastly inferior to the $29 hockey puck that tells me when Home Depot closes.

We can be really dumb sometimes. In fact, so dumb that we actually hurt the people we love.

Sorry, Tim.

Of course, the natural question is, how do we solve this? How do we get out of these ruts that make us dumb? That’s where I’m really excited to go – and I hope you’ll join me shortly.

Leap Piano

Saturday, January 26th, 2013


This is still in-progress, but getting there. My son and his friend came in and tried it – and they thought it was cool, so it must be somewhat. You can now play piano with the Leap – or, that is, a virtual keyboard with almost no control. I’m going to keep working on it, but it’s enough to know that while I’ll get some more accuracy out of it, the truth is it’s not going to get much more accurate using the methodology I’m working with – which isn’t to say it’s out of the realm of the leap to be that accurate – rather I have to really build some tighter JS to handle the math to do it right.

LEAP Proof of Concept II

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Check out my latest proof of concept here. This time, I use Canvas to parse the colors of a file (I’m putting an uploader in) that you can then practice tracing in the air. The idea being that for kinesthetic and for low-motor-skill developing learnings, this could be a powerful tool. I have gotten canvas to show the color at my “cursor,” though I still have to work through some alignment issues. Still in-progress!

Leap Proof of Concept Game

Thursday, January 17th, 2013


It’s here! I’ve finished my first proof-of-concept.

Check it Out

So, to explain… (more…)

Time Warner Cable, NYC

Thursday, January 17th, 2013


Looking for Time Warner Cable on Yelp is NSFW – and for good reason. We hate Time Warner not just for what it is – terrible service by terrible people – but for why it is – the simple fact that there is no other option. It’s like having only one restaurant in town, no kitchen, no supermarket, and also the waiters spit on you when you sit down. Of course, that’s just in general. For the past few nights, my experience has been far worse.


The Third Wave

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013



I think it’s time to talk about the way we communicate with our computers. To do that, we need to look at the ways we have in the past. Forgetting about punch-cards and switches, I think it’s fair to look at the technology that most people recognize as input devices. Then, I want to look at what’s next – how do we interact with a computer in ten years. I believe that this is something that’s starting to take shape right now – and I like to call it the Third Wave.


LEAPin’ Lizards

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012



Yessss! I was accepted into the LEAP developer program. My Leap Motion controller will be here in a few weeks! The Leap controller is really exciting – it allows you to use 3D interactions with your Mac, PC, or Linux box. I’m hoping to develop some educational apps for it.


Monday, July 16th, 2012

One of the things I used to deal with as a data architect was, “Well, why can’t we just send them their password?” And the answer was always long and complex. Now, though, even my most neophyte clients understand the importance of data-level security. They no longer flinch when I say, Even though it has never happened to me ONCE I plan every database and every site as though it were going to be hacked tomorrow. And yes, I still have clients – or would-be clients – who say, Well, that’s not very secure. Well, no, it’s not. The internet, while not the den of snakes that it’s often portrayed as, is not very secure. And if you don’t plan for the worst, you’re not planning at all. (more…)

Quora Question: How can a hyper-local online classified startup gain initial traction for getting listings from customers (C2C)?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

I’ve been having a bit of fun on Quora, and I thought this a particularly compelling question and, my answer particularly thorough…

I have worked with several startups and small companies who want to build that initial momentum in market contexts that might be similar to yours. They have built a product that they feel has a place in the market, but it is a recursive success product – like Craigslist – one where success depends on a critical mass… of success. Let me indulge in a kind of long answer – but if you don’t get through it the takeaway is this: We’re beyond Craigslist, you need to know your place in the market space and play it up.

A lot of entrepreneurs find a kind of comfort in the belief that they would have been Newmark or Zuckerberg had they been first-to-market, especially with customer-push content. This is a logical fallacy, because neither of these or most great (or even lucky) leaders were first to market. It is correct, however, to understand that they both started off in ways that you simply cannot hope to. Understand that Newmark was first and foremost a user, a guy new to the city who sent out an increasingly interesting email list to friends that grew based on its usefulness and the particular chemistry of his friend-group. He wanted to share events and opportunities because he wanted to share in them himself. Zuckerberg, in contrast, saw a gaping market-space that was reflected in his somewhat insular private college in a way that wasn’t being served and did a decent job doing so. Jim Collins would (I presume) look at both of these examples as similar insofar as the company (or leader) took their strengths and core mission to heart and the market was open to it.

I said above that we’re beyond Craigslist, and what I mean is that the way he started relied on technology and normatives that are no longer relevant. To how many mailing lists do you subscribe? What is the likelihood that you can dig up content that isn’t currently online already and send it out to people in a way that would add value to their lives? In fact, the question that underlies this discussion is the ultimate you question – which is, what do you bring to the market space that is unique and valuable? Imagine Newmark’s extended friend group getting news they’d never gotten in their inbox about local SF happenings – the list being so intriguing and fresh that they read through it every time a new one came. What does your company offer that is so compelling? What is the core competency that you bring to the table that makes your data or your postings so important?

I have had this very conversation – down to the Newmark biographical references – with many clients, some of whom have already invested in or sold the idea we were discussing. My client looks at me, a little crestfallen, a lot frustrated, and says, okay, so what, then? And while part of me thinks, well, I’ll be glad to bring your shiny new business cards to the recycling center, the rest of me says, okay, well the market can support fifty brands of yogurt, let’s give this guy a plan. And the plan is very simple. We get a laser focus on what makes you unique and we go to non-conventional and sometimes dramatic lengths to capitalize on that. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Jansen’s post (especially as it might pose IP – intellectual property – issues) – if your site has a raison d’être, it certainly is not to feed other people’s content. Rather, I recommend the following:

1. Discover your Focus: The words I latched onto in your post were, Hyper Local. I hear hyper-local and I think of my apartment building’s classifieds (so local, everything you get or give there is just an elevator ride away!). Hyper local might not be a new idea, but it’s not a bad one. Hyper-local classified might be done and over done, but is there something about the location in question? Something about the population that is unique? Something about the climate? Or, is it something about your model that might be uniquely functional for many specific localities (a special kind of delivery enabler, a unique revolving credit system, etc.). Once you have discovered your focus, you can move forward. And, professional advice for free here, if at the end of the day you want to move forward without a real differentiator, you can bully you way into a market, but you will have accomplished nothing of real value.

2. Get Boots on the Ground: One of the biggest fallacies of internet commerce is that people can be successful from their living rooms. Newmark built his base from information he got on the street. Zuckerberg built a database akin to a physical book that was common at his and many other colleges, and he went out and sold a very simple idea – hey, it’s like the book we have, only online and you can talk to each other. Whatever your focus is, it must have a real-world component that you can track to. Is your focus music? Get into local shows, venues, etc. Is your community particularly old? Visit the Denny’s. Be a user and you will see what your users want. Then, get those boots on the ground and give it to them. Free drink at the venue for posting, weekly gathering at the Denny’s for your customers. Get your boots on the ground in your hyper-local community or communities, laptops in hand, and you’ll get people in spurts of ten and twenty a day. And that’s something over a month – if your sauce is as tasty as you think it is, they’ll keep coming and you’ll have a critical mass.

3. Seed Judiciously: I had a client who wanted to start a social network for users of their product. They were launching it at a trade show (that’s steps 1 and 2 – their focus was the product, their boots on the ground was the booth) and they had a solid following so they got around 500 signups. A few weeks later it didn’t crack 700, and the activity was stagnant. Then, one day I look at their stats and see that they’ve made it to just under 4,000 signups. When the dust had settled, we realized that an influential blogger (in their area) had posted. From then on, I started the conversation with, Okay, I want a list of the thought leaders in your field. The bloggers, the actual journalists, the super-stars. Seed with them – give them a fancy spot or a check or a burger – but they can take you from zero to being chased by the troopers in no time.

Your case isn’t hopeless, and you might have but not have shared a very compelling differentiator. If you do, the rest is just easy. If you don’t, take some time, talk to some people, and wait by the side of the road for at least a little while for a big idea to come by. Just don’t be lulled into the idea that this is easy, or that you somehow will just build it and they will come. Even if in history this has happened, it would be silly to wait for it. Get out there and sell until your throat is sore.

AJAX File Upload UI Considerations

Friday, February 11th, 2011

I don’t often get into highly technical stuff on this blog (I generally answer long-form over at Stack) but this problem has been dogging me for years and I wanted to share the solution.

In context, let me start out by saying that my big project right now (ours – shout out to Wang.Media and the rest of the team at JaredWilliam) – is the build-out of a social-network.  One of the things we’re working on now is image upload, and this is certainly not the same time I’ve worked with images and file upload, but I decided this time to cut it elegant.  In this, I’m not alone – I wanted multiple image upload, progress indicator, and, of course, file checking.  I’m putting it all in a database.  That’s the easy part.

This network is interested in color, and I developed a program that will parse through the image file and build a palette out of the colors it finds.  Again, done. (I’m not brushing off those who might be wondering how to do these – just leave a comment).  The thing is, I was able to do all of these.  But as a UI matter, I had a problem.

The site seeks to categorize the images that are uploaded for site-wide galleries and search reasons.  The thing is, most users are very lazy – the idea of going back and tagging your information is just beyond many users.  For other sites, like Facebook, you just tag at leisure.  If you’ve ever used another site with a bulk-uploader, they might have you name a series or a gallery first, but in general, you are left on your own.  If you want to tag or need to, you don’t.  Never thought about this, actually.  But the reason has to do with synchronicity.  The thing is, if you’ve just uploaded one file, fine – pop the image back up and go with it.  But if you’re uploaded several, what do you do?  We could wait to the end and pop them all up – definitely considered this.  But it’s not ideal because now you’re wasting the users time when the item is up.

So, on a UI level, I needed to upload multiple images and then, when one was done uploading, it would pop up and you could edit and tag it.

I then added a div below whenever each new images came in, they would go into this popup so you could edit them as well.

The problem came up when the images came in at the same time.  Here’s why – and this is where it gets tricky – when you’re sending the XHR request up at the same time, you cross wires.  So if they both load at exactly the same moment, the popup pops up for the wrong image or, worse, not at all.  This is exhausting to say the least.  So, I did this:

onComplete: function(id, fileName, responseJSON){
 if (open == 0) {
 else {
  var newdiv = document.createElement('div');
  var divIdName = 'photoManager'+responseJSON['fileID'];
   if (req.readyState == 4 || req.readyState == 0)
   var newdiv2 = document.createElement('div');
   newdiv2.innerHTML = 'Update '+ fileName + '' ;

Here, we add a div below the uploader that will, whenever a new file goes in, create a link to open the popup to edit the image.

Automated, but not pushy.

And maybe people will do a better job tagging their photos!  We’ll see – will link to when the site is live next month or so.