Tag: Technology

PG&E Bill Paying Site is Down. Where’s the Hue and Cry?

There is a great hue and cry in our land over the bugginess and unavailability of the healthcare.gov Web site. Our President has felt moved to go on national TV and apologize for the mishap. Like the President has nothing better or more important to do? Yeesh.

Yeah, well, the Republicans with their blind worship of All Things Corporate and Capitalist just look the other way when large consumer-facing Web sites owned by profit-making companies go on the fritz or fail. And it happens hundreds of times per day at a minimum. I run into these issues practically daily.

Tonight, it’s PG&E, a company that’s been in business since 1905. Their online bill paying capacity is offline, both from the Web and from their smartphone app. Since they’re a publicly regulated utility, I expect the Republicans to be jumping up and down any minute now, excoriating the company and its senior administrators for allowing this customer inconvenience!

My point is not that government implementation of technology is perfect or even good. It’s that technology is hard to get right, difficult to scale, and quite near impossible to maintain for every customer combination of browser, operating system, network supplier and level of computer expertise on the planet. Or in a state.

Let’s give the President’s health care implementation some time. A year ought to be fair; that’s how long it took Massachusetts to get their system running a few short years ago. Meanwhile, registration for the national plan is 500% ahead of Mass’ plan at the same relative time frame.

Patience, little ones. Patience.


“My Phone Has More Apps Than Your Phone!”

I find it ironic that Apple is now being touted as the juggernaut in the technology industry because of its larger ecosystem. When Apple was strictly a computer company battling Microsoft Windows, the folks who supported Windows often argued that it was superior  simply because it had a larger number of applications available.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot, as it were. Apple’s edge in the smartphone and tablet markets is seen as  largely based on the significant number of apps available for the platform.

In truth, judging the value of a platform based largely on the size of its ecosystem is a misleading approach. As we supporters of Apple in those early days were fond of pointing out, there is a limit to how many of a specific type one user could need.The fact, for example, that there might be 27 general ledger programs available on Windows and only a half dozen on the Mac was largely irrelevant. So long as the leading programs were available on both platforms, or, alternatively, data could be interchanged between different applications, the issue is essentially moot.

I would say the same thing in evaluating the ecosystems of today’s smartphone platforms. While there are substantially more apps available for the iPhone then for android phones, a failure to distinguish application types can lead to a wrong-headed conclusion about which platform is preferable.

So while it’s true that I continue to prefer Apple products, and am all but addicted to my iPhone and my iPad, it isn’t the range or number of apps available that causes that preference. As is often the case, platform choice bears a strong connection to user intent. I’m not even sure that any one smartphone platform could claim to be the best common denominator space for a broad range of uses.



3-D Printing is On the Near Horizon and Here are Seven Good Reaons Why

An HP 3D Printer Available Now

An HP 3D Printer Available Now

Well, six reasons really. The seventh is a little frivolous but that doesn’t make it less a profitable idea.

This article contains seven pretty intriguing, potentially practical applications for this new technology. Several of my friends are paying close attention to this market. It’s clearly filled with promise.

The possibilities of this technology advance are infinite and a dedicated hobbyist interested in getting started can do so for under $500.


Microsoft’s Lost Decade and Apple’s Coming Days in the Desert

My buddy George Sidman shared this lengthy article on the decline and fall of Microsoft with me this morning. It’s a great read, if a bit wordy, and though it takes a while to get to the real point, it is nonetheless a very insightful bit of thinking.

Here’s what I wrote in response, edited to remove personal material.

I see this as a continuation or fulfillment of my long-held Saturation Theory. When a company that holds a dominant share of a market reaches the point where there are few if any new outlets for its products, it hunkers down and becomes an uninspired and uninspiring plodder more interested in managing its treasury and avoiding mistakes than in leading a charge that could cost it existing customers. What was the last innovative product Microsoft ever made? (For that matter, what was the first, but I digress.)
Apple is beginning to show the very first signs of this calcification. As it morphs from being a computer company to being a technology company to being a consumer electronics company, it begins to horde and defend. iPhone 5 and iOS6 are the first symptoms of this disease. Incremental improvements (200 of them but none of them world-changing) and poorly executed innovation (which way did they go?) combine to create a head-scratcher for which the Not-Steve rightfully and smartly apologizes. I fully expect to see the day — within five years tops — when Apple will sell its computer line to a company like a Lenovo that is great at commoditizing and carving pennies of profits out of tiny changes.
With Linux floundering on the shoals of Android’s fragmented universe, the most important technology question of the next few years is whether the Web (which is merely a loose collection of protocols) can grow up and become the new OS or whether something radically rethought will emerge and rock the industry the way IBM, Microsoft, Apple and Linux did in their now-fading days.

Turn Your Jeans Into a Pollution Vacuum?

It’s hard to believe this kind of story is real, but if it’s true, it could radically change the way we deal with air pollution in coming years. And none too soon.

According to this article in The WEEK, scientists have figured out a way to wash clothes and apply an invisible and odorless layer of a nanoparticle that sucks a specific type of air pollutant right ouf your surroundings. They claim that one person wearing clothes laced with this nanostuff could pull out of the air the rough equivalent of a car’s pollution for an entire day (5g of nitrogen dioxide).

They’re hoping to have this miraculous-sounding stuff on the market in two years or so. This kind of advance is one of the reasons that technophiles like me sometimes get a bit too Polyannaish when it comes to expecting technology to evolve to solve the problems earlier technologies have created.

But we can’t always be wrong. Right?


New MySpace Offers Possible Lesson for Facebook: Ponding

There’s been a good bit of buzz the last couple of days about the radical restyling of the long-dormant MySpace social network. Virtually all of the conversation has centered on the graphical and user experience aspects of the upgrade. And I have to say, the redesign is quite impressive, though not very original.

But an aspect of MySpace that gets only peripheral attention will be the reason the attempt to resuscitate the once-high-flying site and brand: its focus on a single audience.

The new MySpace is focused so clearly and intently on music and entertainment that it is completely off-putting to anyone who would think about using MySpace as a more general replacement for, say, FaceBook. Whether this was a strategic or tactical decision on the part of the MySpace re-founders (including, apparently, Justin Timberlake) isn’t clear. But it is wise in either case.

Back in the very early 2000’s, I founded and ran an online community called WeTalk Networks. Our first public site was WeTalkSports. We didn’t get a second round when the Dot-Com Bubble burst so we never got a real chance to prove my thesis, which I called “ponding.” My belief was — and is — that any community (what we used to call social networks) runs out of steam when it gets so large and so broadly purposed that the noise level begins to outweigh the value of membership.

I believe Facebook is just beginning to see the effect of this phenomenon and that it will greatly accelerate in coming months. Large communities want to organically sub-divide into specialized groups which can greatly reduce the noise level (or at least control it) and enjoy a closer relationship with folks who have more in common with one another. Thus at WeTalkSports, members could start out in the sports pond, then self-migrate (explicitly or via adaptive analysis by the software or both) to football, then NFL, then NFC, then the San Francisco 49ers. I called this “ponding” and it got a bit of attention at the time.

So MySpace appears to be starting out with a large pond of music and entertainment fans, which is already a significant reduction from Facebook’s “everybody” pond. Over time, it will be interesting to see how they implement the notion of ponding within their big pond, if they do. Should they choose to take that route to growth, I suspect they may become the first online property to recover from near-annihilation.


What Can Programming Teach Us About Life?

On Quora yesterday I ran into an intriguing discussion thread around the question, “What do programmers know that most people don’t?”

I posted the following comment but if you’re into programming you might find the entire thread interesting:

When people ask me about the connection between programming and life, I say, “the word ‘else'”. If more people — and governments — thought ahead to the “else” there would be a great deal less chaos in our world and a great deal more peace.


Finally Moving to WordPress

Well, the investigation is over and I’ve bitten the old bullet and moved my blogging presence completely to WordPress. In a day or two, I’ll post some of the details of why I made the decision and how the transfer away from Posterous went. (In a word, it was pretty easy and painless if a little convoluted.)

I spent way more hours on this task than I thought I would, in part because I’d really prefer not to have to switch platforms again before I finally disappear from Planet Earth and in part because I always make things more complicated for myself than they need to be.

Suffice to say that once I finished a thorough evaluation of WordPress in its latest incarnation, I found that a number of the issues I had with earlier versions disappeared. WordPress has quickly become a very comfortable environment in which to work. I’m still learning and I have a few features to implement yet but I decided tonight to pull the Posterous plug and devote my energies to WordPress and this new blog location. The URL is the same and all the data from my Posterous days appears to be intact, so I suspect that other than the drastically different typography and layout, the move should be relatively transparent.

The Apple Map Snafu: What Really Went Wrong

I just posted a new story on the Apple Map app dustup over on Storify. While I think it was ill-conceived of Apple to release the Map app in place of Google Maps (a peaceful co-existence first would have been smarter), one expert cartographer says the problem isn’t with the data sets Apple uses, as some have charged, but rather with purely algorithm-based testing.

Come On, Posterous! Give Us Our Data!

I just posted this on the Posterous corporate blog (which, BTW, hasn't had a single update since March 12 when they announced their acquisition by Twitter):

It seems nobody is reading from the former Posterous team is reading this any more, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.

It is clear that your acquisition by Twitter is ending work on this site. It's a shame but I understand your desire to cash in on the great work you did here. Meanwhile, autopost time has gone from seconds to minutes to hours, nobody responds to tech support inquiries, no new development has taken place….in other words, Posterous is, if not dead, at least moribund.

Some of us who rely heavily on our blogs for business or personal reasons really need to begin moving our content from here to other services. Yet there is as yet no export capability, and no provided path to move from Posterous to any, let alone all, of the major blogging alternatives. You may or may not owe any loyalty to the fans who made your fame and acquisition possible but I suggest you have a moral imperative not simply to abandon us either.

It is NOW time for you to provide the escape capsules. We need to be able to get out of Dodge before the bandits arrive. And any other mixed metaphor I can come up with. 

Seriously,come on, guys! Give us our data so we can leave while we're still feeling friendly.