Archive for the ‘work’ 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.

The Glow of the Halo – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tiptoeing T-Rex

Friday, July 7th, 2017


Knowing of something and knowing something are distant relatives. Our friends in marketing and the nervous kid in the elevator trying to sell you their startup idea might have told you that the Halo effect is what happens when you buy an iPod and you think, Well, I liked that, maybe time for a Macbook. This is not the Halo Effect. Every time I hear someone explain it that way I want to beat them with one of my useless degrees.

The Halo Effect is not about some positive trait of a company or brand. It’s about the head-space of a consumer. Lend me three minutes to help you understand – even if you don’t have a degree in educational psychology*. Let’s start in a wholly different place – a story about movie plot-holes:

  • In Jurassic Park, the T-Rex is so big, he literally makes the ground shake. But by the end, he can sneak right in and nosh on some velociraptor? PLOT HOLE.
  • In Shawshank Redemption, who put the poster back up after Andy Dug his way to freedom? PLOT HOLE.
  • In Titanic, how could Jack not fit on that door with Rose? They could have set a couch up on that thing! PLOT HOLE.

I promised you a story and now I’ll give you three. If you watched Titanic, if you enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption, if you were thrilled by Jurassic Park, my story goes like this:

One day you watched a movie that was so great you were able to turn off the part of your brain that was critical enough to notice what are actually objectively large leaps in logic. Great film-making is not about plot perfection, or unassailable logic (though bully for you if you have these). It’s about investment. It’s about owning the part…

Great customer service is not about having a perfect product or unassailable response schema (though bully for you if you have these). It’s about investment. It’s about owning the part of the customer’s brain that sees the value of the product so completely that they barely register the hiccups along the way. It’s about customers that love you so much, they’ll forgive a tip-toeing T-Rex.


It’s important to understand that while the term was originally coined by Thorndike to indicate a blind-spot – that’s not a bad thing. You didn’t suddenly regret seeing The Shawshank Redemption or want a refund on Titanic when you went home and thought about how Jack probably definitely should have survived. It’s about the totality of the experience.

That’s why it’s so dangerous to think about the Halo Effect from the perspective of the company. And in a way, it’s facile to think of it as the consumer looking at the company altogether. It’s THEIR experience with just the products they’ve loved, with just their customer reps and their support experience.

A clean way to think about the Halo Effect in fact requires some understanding of modern cognition. Basically, we understand our higher cognitive function as a limited resource that can be tasked and eventually overrun. This is a far science-ier way of describing what magicians have been doing to us forever – put on enough shiny lights and play the music loud enough, and you won’t notice how the bunny got into the hat. Our ability to focus on one thing has a limit. Google verification codes work at 6 digits. But try them at 8 and see what happens. The limit also applies to our feelings about products, services, political candidates and of course movie characters. The Halo Effect, then, is the ability of one or more aspects of your product experience overwhelming the cognitive space of the consumer, until they literally lack the capacity to be concerned about little things like bugs, price, or other minor issues.

This brings us to three questions I’ll be addressing:

  1. Is it possible to measure the Halo Effect?
  2. Who’s doing it right? Who isn’t?
  3. What are the implications for your organization and your team?


*Thorndike, who coined the term Halo Effect, was in fact an educational psychologist diagnosing a problem in assessment. Read the seminal work here.

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…)

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…)

Jared Alessandroni, Teacher

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Back in the day, when I was first teaching, I taught at one of the best schools in the South Bronx – PS 31. I later moved up to become the director of Gifted and Talented before I helped found South Bronx Charter SChool. PS 31 had its flaws – many caused by an awkward collocation in what can only be described as a prison-like building from the seventies. The school was successful, though, and the staff highly skilled. Shortly after I left, a new Principal came in, Liza Diaz. I remember seeing her when I visited my old school – she was a slow-moving woman who took long lunches. But the part of this story that means anything to me is not this woman (whom I can literally see doing nothing else but ordering lunch) – but rather the slow degradation of my PS 31. They are currently being described as a “C” school – which is in itself sad, since many schools get Cs in the school ranking system and are not degraded that way. But PS 31 used to be the pride of the South Bronx, and it would still be today with stronger leadership, and especially if they hadn’t brought in this lazy, ridiculous woman and at the same time given her the task of turning 31 into a middle school. This decision happened around ’05, and when it did, Carol Russo (the old and venerable principal) and I sat in her office and predicted this – almost to the point of seeing some corruption being unearthed. The DOE under Bloomberg wanted to fix some bad middle schools in the Bronx, so they took a working elementary school, trashed it, and now they’re cleaning up their mess. It’s a shame, and it didn’t have to end this way.

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.