Monthly Archives: October 2011

We aren’t designing for fairness, we are designing for equality of opportunity

So someone asked me “Hey, with your views on the Occupy movement, how do you feel about the fact that the top 10% pays 70% of federal income tax? Is that fair?”

First of all, this is NOT the Occupy issue that gets me most excited — I am much more interested in limiting corporate political contributions. But I do have a view.

I have no idea if these statistics are accurate, but I assume that the top 10% does pay a much larger share of the total income tax load. So is that fair? Well, I am guessing that the top 10% also own a huge % of the Audis and BMWs in the country, eat a disproportionate share at the finest restaurants, take a huge % of the vacation trips to Hawaii, have a disproportionate share of the nicest houses, etc etc. Gosh that doesn’t seem fair either.

The goal of our market system and society is not fairness in outcomes; there is always going to be variance in outcomes, sometimes due to skill, sometimes due to luck. Some people will earn a lot more, and will get a greater share of the positive benefits as well as costs. Rather, the goal is equality of opportunity — every citizen should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams, no doors should be closed at the start of their life/career.

Thus I don’t get cranked about higher tax burdens or higher tax rates for the wealthy. So someone who is extraordinarily successful has to carry a higher share of the cost of operating our society, well boo hoo. I do get more cranked about issues that affect equality of opportunity — lack of funding for public schools, lack of equal healthcare for all children, lack of access to other education for lower income students (and this is why we give a lot to scholarship programs at OSU, at UW, at the Point Foundation, etc).

Outcomes will never be equal and we shouldn’t try to level them out, the free market system is powerful and we need to nurture it. But we should try to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue happiness — and to me that means everyone gets a fair starting point: a reasonable education, good health, and no crushing debt load to start out.

The web interface for my house is woefully inadequate.

So “Nest” is the newest shiny toy for the tech industry and media to get all excited about, a ton of coverage this week — for a thermostat. Obviously some of the ardor will fade — how long can anyone stay excited about a thermostat? But I do think there is a theme here which has some enduring value.

I’m not really that excited about the UI and learning features of the Nest thermostat. I am able to navigate my smart thermostat today, and I just don’t need to futz with it very often. In our new house it took me a couple days to get things where I wanted them but I’ve moved on and haven’t had to look back.

But I am totally excited about the remote access for the Nest thermostat, the web interface. Our houses are the biggest asset we own, and the cloud presence of our house is either missing or spewed all around the web in random places. There are so many things I should be able to do:

* Remote utility management. Remote thermostat is a nice start. I want remote utility management in general — what’s the temp right now, what’s my water usage, change my temp, change my water heater temp, turn on/off my sprinklers, check my power usage, turn on/off appliances/circuits, check my usage and billing history, etc. I can get pieces of this but it is hard hard hard to get it all and to integrate it all into a single cloud interface.
* Remote security. Webcam monitoring, alarm monitoring, history of access to house, “remote door lock management”: Again you can get piece parts of this but cobbling together is a significant pain.
* Remote doorbell. When someone rings my doorbell, I want an instant notification on my smartphone, I want to see the video feed from my door, and I want to be able to talk thru the intercom. The person at the door should have no idea if I’m in my kitchen or on a business trip. This is part of the security topic but is more compelling than most of the security features.
* Bills. Utility bills, consumption history, how I compare to others, bill payment.
* Financial info. Mortgage status — balance, rate, is it time to refi. The estimated sale value of my house. Mortgage document storage. Tracking of improvements to the house — costs, documentation — so I can correctly calculate cost basis at sale time.
* Service. All the warranty terms and docs for all the appliances and other features of my house. A place to track service records, to record preferred vendors, to get vendor recommendations. A service advisor — what maintenance should I expect to do in the next year based on what is known about my house — time for roof inspection, approaching lifetime of water heaters, time to repaint, what is my likely cost in the next year for all this.

You can get a ton of this info today but it is spewed all over the web. To access all the info about your house, you would have to access the Nest site, any smart metering site, a remote security site (or several for webcam, door locks, monitoring service), each of the utility websites, your bill payment web site, your mortgage provider website, zillow, redfin, etc.

I’d love to have a portal that integrates all this via user configurable widgets into a single interface — my home at a glance. And gives me great mobile access to all the info and features. And just gets better as I add nicely designed devices into the house — a Nest thermostat, a great doorbell/webcam, internet-controllable door locks, etc.

I’m sure the Nest guys are thinking broadly about the entire space, with a general name like Nest they must have ambitions beyond thermostats. I’m excited to watch their evolution. I’d love to have better command of the largest asset I own.

Kind of sad that Apple took “bounce” out of lion mail

I’m not the only one — “Apple forum discussion on bounce”:

OK I realize it wasn’t actually that effective in stopping unwanted email, but I enjoyed using it as a kind of “f%^* you” message to certain senders. I got an emotional lift from hitting that button.

I’ve never used a QR code in my life and can’t imagine why I would.

“Daring Fireball”: points to a “pretty thorough takedown of QR codes”: as used in print ads. The original design goal — Toyota invented these to track parts — makes sense, but jamming these into consumer media is just strange.

* Users can already type in your URL or a sentence, or speak into Siri, or do an image search with their phone. Is taking a snap of this code thing really so much better?
* There’s a history of companies trying to stuff proprietary ID systems in between users and product/service providers. These visual codes are one such thing. AOL Keywords, RealNames are text-based equivalents. They all try to get advertisers to stuff these in ads, but I don’t see how this really serves users or advertisers, it mostly just serves the companies with the proprietary ID system.
* Ultimately, if your product/ad/message is so forgettable that you think jamming a QR code or text string in will help, well, there is a deeper problem.

Stunningly, OSU pretty much controls its own destiny in the Big10 race

Despite losing two games to MSU and Nebraska, OSU can control its own destiny in the Big10 race. If OSU wins out, they will have 2 losses in the Leaders division.

* Wisconsin will have at least two losses — MSU and OSU — and thus would lose a tiebreaker to OSU
* Purdue would have at least two losses, including one to OSU, and thus would lose the tiebreaker. OK, seriously tho, Purdue will have many more losses.
* Illinois would have at least two losses, and would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with OSU.
* The only stretch is Penn State. They’d have one loss to OSU, and then you have to accept they will lose at least one more, and they stil have Illinois, Nebraska, and Wisconsin on the schedule. Fairly reasonable to expect them to drop another.

OK, so this edition of the Buckeyes may not have it in them to get it done this season, but even having a chance is surprising.

I just ordered my Lytro camera.

Available February/March next year. The “Lytro”: features a technology they call “light field” — they grab sufficient photon data at capture time to allow refocusing, zooming, etc as a post-capture option. The Lytro is a simple step on the way to a full software-defined lens — I first wondered about such a lens in 2003, should have filed a bunch of patents. Other people are pushing the idea ahead, see for instance “Software Defined Lensing”:

As the writeup points out, you can view a traditional glass lens as a kind of quantum computer with a single fixed purpose, established at manufacture time. The lens captures all the incident photons, does some photonic/quantum computation, and spits an answer out on the CCD. But if we can replace the lens with something that has much more dynamic, programmable behaviour, well very cool things could be done — arbitrary refocusing and zooming being just the simplest example. A much broader set of incident radiation could be captured, spectral analysis of the image could be performed, filtering of the image, incredible levels of zoom, etc.

The Lytro is a very modest step in this direction but exciting.

Photostream is cute, but what I really want is Aperture/iPhoto in the cloud

So “I don’t really get iCloud storage yet”:, and “Photostream doesn’t really accomodate all my DSLR pictures well”: So rather than just whine about what I don’t have, what do I really want?

First — I have a 203G (gigabyte) Aperture library today, that is where my primary photo storage is. Digging into this a little:

* 54G is thumbnails, previews, cache of various sorts. 27G of thumbnails alone! Impressive use of disk space, Aperture. Clearly the team has embraced the idea that disk space is cheap and is getting cheaper. There are probably some settings I could tweak to trim the size of all this at the cost of performance, but whatever, disk space IS cheap, 30% overhead is probably not a ridiculous design objective. This is all derived data tho and could be trimmed, dropped, whatever, as I think about cloud storage.
* My masters are 149G. A mix of RAW and JPG depending on which camera/scanner I used and how long ago I took — tending towards more RAW over time.
** 19G from this year
** 34G from 2010
** 25G from 2009
** 71G from earlier years.

Lets assume I continue to take pictures at the last 3 year average rate for some time, that is about 25gig of new photos every year, not accounting for inflation in photo size due to better quality capture chips, “light field cameras”:, etc. OK so you probably have to assume some growth in that 25gig of new storage a year.

Cloud storage of photos — is it important? Hugely so, if my house is burning down, I do not want to be running back in to save a hard disk, photos are emotionally very important. And I do NOT want to have to pick and choose which photos I store in the cloud — too many photos, not enough time, I just want the entire set up in the cloud. I really just want my entire Aperture (and iPhoto) collection replicated to the cloud automagically. And then I need some modest access control features on the folders in the cloud so that I can share selected photo sets with family members, etc.

So I want a cloud storage solution that gives me ~200gig of storage today at a reasonable price, and if I think about the next couple years, a clear path to 300-400gig. And with good web access with some security. What are my choices today?

* iCloud doesn’t begin to work. Aperture doesn’t really talk to it except for Photostream. The max storage I can buy is 55gig. There are no access controls. Doesn’t work along almost every dimension.
* Dropbox. I can get 100G for $240 a year with a nice web interface and some sharing controls. I could even get the team license, store up to 350G, but for $795 a year. If I had this, I could just move my Aperture library into my dropbox folder and voila, it would be in the cloud, on my other machines, etc. However — the Aperture library folder is not really meant to be browsed by humans, the masters are chopped up into some funky balanced tree of directories. Seems like Aperture needs to learn how to work with shared storage. But I could get everything in dropbox, with a very easy UI for me, but at a high price, and probably the ability to share folders with family members would be hard to realize.
* Well I get 50G free with their iPad offer, so they pretty much trump iCloud. I could get up to 500G in a business plan for $180/year per user. Similar pros and cons as with Dropbox, but pricing seems better.
* “Smugmug”: This is what I use today. There is an Aperture plugin, I can save from Aperture. The bad part about this is that it is not automagic — I have to intentionally move folders up there, not happy about that. But — unlimited storage, at $40-150 per year for jpg, some extra cost but still cheap if you want RAW. A great interface for sharing, completely customizable, printing integration, etc.

For now …. Smugmug is the way to go, but as storage costs drop, I can see flipping to or dropbox at some point. I’d give up some of smugmug’s great interface for admin control but that is overkill for me anyway. If Apple made this all work natively in Aperture at a competitive cost, that would be fine too. For people with a more modest set of photos, the 50G free offer for iPad/iPhone users seems like an awesome option.

Love iOS5 keyboard shortcuts … But why aren’t they iCloud enabled?

Settings…general…keyboard…shortcuts. Love these, will save me infinite amount of typing. Completing web forms, email, everywhere.

But why oh why aren’t these iCloud enabled? I want the same exact shortcuts on my iPad, iPhone, and Mac. And I don’t want to have to re-enter them on each device. The lack of multiple device support is exactly why I’ve given up on so many other text expanders over time, if I can’t depend on text expansion working the same way on all my devices, then it just isn’t that useful.

Here’s hoping that that Apple fixes this in a future release.

Anyone have experience with wireless deadbolts from Schlage, Kwikset, Yale?

I’m going to try out a wireless deadbolt so that I can remotely manage and track access to a location. There are offerings from Yale (for instance this Yale deadbolt), Schlage (this deadbolt), and Kwikset. I am trying to understand the pricing and features of their remote access choices. Schlage seems to want $8.99 a month for remote access which makes me unhappy. The Yale product works with a Vera2 controller and seems to offer free monthly basic services, tho it seems like this controller might work with the Schlage as well?

Anybody have a positive or negative experience with any of these? I also wonder a lot about security of course, worried about creating a huge risky backdoor into the location.

I’m struggling to understand why I would ever use iCloud storage.

I’m struggling to understand why I would ever use iCloud storage. After a couple days of tinkering, I have two sets of data in iCloud — device backups, and Pages/Keynote docs.

* I really don’t get the value of device backups. My apps are all recoverable from the iTunes store. I use primarily apps like Evernote that already store their data in the cloud so there is minimal non-replicated data on my iPhone and iPad. Music isn’t backed up, I will need iTunes Match for that some day. My photos aren’t backed up in iCloud, that is not something that is offered at all (and besides the photos on my device are a fraction of my photo content, I use smugmug and other paid services to back up all my photos). So what exactly is in these device backups that iCloud stores? and why is this substantially better than backups stored on my Mac — when will I ever use these backups? In sum — I’ve been explicit about choosing apps and configuring apps so that all my valuable data and state info is replicated and in the cloud, so that I don’t care if I lose a device (and can use multiple devices). So why should I care about device backups?

* The other files in my iCloud storage are docs. I have Pages and Keynote docs in iCloud from my iPad. If I was purely a Mac person, and didn’t collaborate at all with people in my office and business partners who use Office, then maybe I could just use Pages/Keynote on the Mac, and the iCloud doc storage might seem pretty simple. But I use a PC sometimes to edit my docs. And so I use Office so that I can work on my Mac or PC. And so that I can, with no fidelity loss, work with my colleagues on docs they have created in Office. I guess I could still move these docs in and out of iCloud storage, but if I am going to go to the trouble of moving docs around, why don’t I just move them into or dropbox? They both have great iPad and iPhone interfaces, they work with Pages/Keynote on the iPad, I get 50G free on, they both offer sharing options, I can create folders in them to organize my docs and control my sharing (Seriously, iCloud, no folders??), they let me store any kind of doc, they have great Mac/PC clients so that I can sync my collection with local folders easily, etc etc. If iCloud didn’t have the Apple brand, we would all be laughing at it.

* iCloud claims to store your music but practically doesn’t. I have 16,000 songs, 88G of music, in my iTunes library (and flac versions of all this but not in iTunes). 99% of it is from ripped CDs or purchased in mp3 format outside of iTunes. None of which iCloud handles, I have to wait for iTunes Match.

* iCloud stores your photostream but “I’ve already talked about why this isn’t very useful to me”:

* I don’t care about mail/calendar/contact backup as all mine is already stored on my Exchange server or Gmail server.

So iCloud storage is substantially worse than leading competitive alternatives for document storage; its only unique benefit is device backup, which I can’t figure out why I’d use; and it’s other features don’t really solve any problems. I am sure Apple will improve iCloud over time but as a storage solution it is underwhelming. Am I missing something? Does anyone find iCloud storage to be hugely helpful?

Recent nonfiction — Lithium, Jetpacks, Space Station, Revolutionary War, Spintronics

“Out of Orbit” and “Unlikely Allies” are the stars of the group.

* “Bottled lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy”:amazon by Seth Fletcher. Decent nontechnical book about the lithium battery and lithium production. Entertaining intro to the topic. Amazon gives it 4 stars, I’d say 3.5, would have liked a little more technical depth.
* “Where’s My Jetpack”:amazon by Daniel H. Wilson. Short essays on the Jetpack, moving sidewalks, and other promised tech from sci fi. Kind of bland. Amazon says 4 stars but I’d say 2. Maybe if I didn’t already read a lot of scientific literature and science fiction, I’d like this. But I suspect all the readers of this book have a science/science fiction bent.
* “Out of Orbit”:amazon by Chris Jones. Terrific true story about shuttle/international space station astronauts. Really digs into the emotional side of their trips, the highs of space travel, the lows of dealing with isolation and with the loss of colleagues in the shuttle disasters. Very compelling. Amazon says 4 stars, at least that.
* “Unlikely Allies”:amazon by Joel Richard Paul. The story of an American and two Frenchmen during the Revolutionary War, and their involvement in securing the support of France — both diplomatic and material support. Fascinating look at a facet of the war that I knew little about. Amazon says 4.5 stars, I’m good with that.
* “Introduction to Spintronics”:amazon by Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Marc Cahay. This book is a good introduction if you already have a solid technical foundation in quantum mechanics at the graduate level — be prepared for a lot of math. If you want a nontechnical intro to spintronics, look elsewhere. Amazon says 5 stars but that is based on a single review. It is a very solid book though.

I’m in the 1% and I support the 99%

I’ve been fortunate. I had great access to education due to support from my parents, and I was lucky to be at Microsoft during a very heady period for the company. I am clearly a 1%er. And I understand that my good fortune is part luck, part due to the support of others, part due to the free market capitalistic structure that our society has created. A little bit of my fortune is due to my hard work but many people have worked hard and received less — I’ve been lucky.

I’ve been watching the #OccupyWallStreet activity with interest. In my heart, I have great empathy for the movement. Growing up in flyover country, I never felt very warm about the government and financial elite on the East Coast, I viewed them with suspicion. And then having spent most of my adult life on the West Coast, surrounded by entrepreneurial activities at work and liberal attitudes, I have not grown to feel any warmer about large corporations or government involvement.

So when I see people expressing their feelings of lack of justice, lack of representation, antipathy towards the entrenched financial and governmental powers, I tend to empathize with the people on the street. And I applaud heartily their active peaceful engagement in the political process — they have the right to take to the streets in peaceful fashion, they have the right to be heard, they are not doing anything to harm anyone. So without even really understanding the goals of the movement, I applaud and encourage the people involved. It is hugely positive to see people have this level of passion about the issues in our society, and to be fully engaging in participative democracy. Go go go!

A couple of smart and committed young people sent me this “Why Occupy Wall Street? 4 reasons” video as a way of explaining why they are participating in the demonstrations. It is a worthwhile watch. The video lays out 4 principles:

* Re-regulate the financial institutions by reinstating Glass-Steagall. I am not informed enough to know the exact form of banking regulation we should have, but the financial services industry has demonstrated that it is not effective in controlling its own risk profile, or limiting the impact of their risks on the rest of society. A discussion about regulation and risk limitation seems like a good thing.
* Audit the Fed. Certainly greater transparency around the Fed, and its relationship with major financial institutions, seems to be a good idea. The relationships between the Treasury, the Fed, and major financial institutions, based on people circulating between all three, need more openness and examination and perhaps regulation.
* Reverse #08-205 by amendment. I feel very strongly about this one. Corporations do not have the right to vote, they should not have the right to manipulate the political process, they should be barred from funding candidates and causes. I see nothing good from allowing corporations to spend money on politics, it is corrupting. Fully fully support!
* Overhaul 1%/Corp tax code. I am not sure exactly what this means, I can tell you I have paid a lot of taxes, a lot. I am not against paying a fair rate and I am not against a progressive tax. I’d be all for a simpler system because my tax return is a huge freaking disaster. I think there is a larger issue here though, I don’t think the problem is all on the revenue side, I think you have to look at the expense side too and rein in government spending. So — all in favor of fair taxes, but we need to look at the spending side too.

I know that not everyone in the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrations embraces these exact 4 principles, so I am not saying I approve 100% of the demonstrator’s goals — but these particular points seem like great discussions to have, and I fully support the efforts to confront us all with these issues.

One thing I am wondering now is this — what exactly do the 99% want those of us who are supportive to do? How can I be effective in advancing the discussions around these points? Demonizing the 1% is not an effective strategy, some of us embrace reform, and we need a way to engage on the issues in a productive manner. Don’t paint us all with the same brush. Help us to help you.

Thinking about gameday cell network performance

When I sit in Ohio Stadium for a football game, my fancy smartphone is a useless piece of metal and plastic. Some developers have tried to come up with apps to improve the gameday experience, but these apps miss the point. With 105,000 fans in the stadium, another huge set of ticketless fans milling around outside, all the stadium staff as well as security and service staff outside the stadium — there are probably 200,000 network devices in 30-40 acres all trying to jam onto the system, and all failing. The cell network simply can’t handle the load.

Our cell networks are wonderful things, but in the build out of our networks, the notion of broadcast has been left behind. 98% of the fans want the same exact data — top 25 scores, breaking football news, in-game replays, radio game feed. And yet the cell network and data apps feed this data to each user via dedicated single-user transactions. Cell broadcast exists in the standards but is not really in use in networks or handsets. Qualcomm tried to push Mediaflo for this use but got very little uptake and eventually shut down the service.

It’s unfortunate that the idea of broadcast has been left behind. It would be hugely useful in these kinds of crowded venues. I wonder if Qualcomm might not have succeeded had they just focused on NFL and NCAA football fans — people who spend stupid amounts of money on tickets and related gameday expenses, and who would probably spend money on dedicated gameday data services. It is not an easy service to provide tho. It requires spectrum, devices using that spectrum, and local content assemblage and editorial. There may be too many moving parts. It might be easier just to truck in lots of picocells to events and say screw it, dynamically expand the cell network as needed.

iCloud Photostream and DSLRs don’t seem to be a great fit

OK so I am diving into photostream. I’ve enabled on my iPhone 4 (don’t yet have a 4s), iPad 2, my MacBook Pro, my Win7 PC. So the dream was — some set of my photos would be magically replicated across all these machines. Magically.

I have two photo points of entry — the iPhone, and my DSLR (usually a Canon, sometimes an Olympus PEN). The DSLR photos enter through Aperture on the Mac where I manage my photo collection — filter out the good and bad, touch up, organization, etc. So the first challenge was getting Aperture to play with Photostream — needed to let software update patch Aperture, and then it was just a setting to turn on. Now a magic Photostream folder appears in my library, yay. And a test photo I took with the iPhone magically appeared in the folder, yay!

However…I shut the lid on the MacBook at this point and moved locations and thus wifi networks. Post move, I added a bunch of photos off the Canon into Aperture. Sadly the photos did not appear on the iPhone, Aperture showed a little broken connection icon next to Photostream and was unable to connect to iCloud even tho my net was fine. I brought the net up and down but didn’t help. Seems like maybe Aperture gets stuck in a broken iCloud mode. So i quit Aperture and immediately photos started propagating to my phone — apparently the Photostream replication works without needing Aperture to run, some background process is handling the sync. So sync is working fine.

But a couple oddities:

* First, I don’t really want every photo from my DSLR to immediately jump into my photostream. One of the great things about DSLRs are that you can quickly take 10-20 photos of a scene and then filter out the best later. But all of these show up in the photostream, and so my photostream gets polluted with many many variants of one photo. Not really what I want.
* Second, photos don’t seem to be removable from the photostream? This is strange. I can’t delete them on the iPhone. I can’t delete on the Mac. They are just stuck there forever? Until they age out (Photostream shows the last 30 days I believe)? This seems really unfortunate.

So I conclude using Photostream with DSLRs is not a great experience and not really the intent. Which is too bad, the automagic sync is nice. I can also use the old-style sync of a folder of photos but this is really suboptimal — I have to configure what folder to sync in iTunes, and then sync only happens when I plug in my phone to my Mac, or using the new wireless sync, when I plug the phone into power. Not nearly as nice.

I’d really like to be able to specify which folders to sync, Photostream-style, from within Aperture, and have that sync happen all the time. And I want to be able then to edit the folder contents so that I can add and remove photos from the stream.

My overall reaction to iOS5? Confusion.

OK like the rest of the working world I spent hours yesterday trying to upgrade my iPhone4 and iPad2 to iOS5. About a dozen retries for the phone, maybe half that for the iPad, and I finally got there. Not a great experience but no harm done, just a half day of my life wasted that I will never get back, Apple.

So now what? Well my iPhone 4 seems a little zippier but I suspect that is largely due to grinding the old OS off and laying down a bright new clean install. I like the tabs in the Safari. The Newstand seems like an utter waste and sadly cannot be off hidden in an “Utter Waste” folder, thanks Apple. Notifications are cleaner. Renaming the iPod app to Music is good.

and iCloud? Well this is just confusing. Settings spewed all over the control panel — in the iCloud section, but also in the mail/contacts/calendar section, the photos section, the notes section, the store section. Much discussion online about how to make this all work with exchange and how it does or doesn’t work with outlook — for instance I’ve no idea where things are actually stored in the cloud — the photostream for instance that I have turned on, where is it, can I go see it at a URL? Or Notes — they are associated with an account now, my gmail account. So when I create a new note does it go somewhere in the cloud? Where? The only thing that my cloud control panel lists as being stored is a backup of my phone — why exactly do I want to do this, I never had this in the cloud before, why do I want it in the cloud now?

The design compromises of iCloud — storage limits, and trying to work with a bunch of existing cloud services — seem to have led to a really fractured, incomplete experience. Not all my stuff is in the cloud, what is in the cloud is spewed across many services, and I don’t really know where anything is. Yay.

UPDATE: Ok, new Notes show up in a gmail folder named Notes. Which seems strange, why would I want my notes there? And not in Google Docs or Dropbox or Evernote or … ?

Fire Gene Smith? Scapegoating doesn’t address the underlying issues

OK so more trouble for the Buckeyes and “FireGeneSmith”: is now active.

The “Fire Person X” strategy hasn’t worked out well so far for Ohio State. The theory behind firing someone is that this individual is responsible for all the problems, if we get rid of him/her that will fix the problem. So Ohio State fires the coach and “fires” the most visible player involved with past violations. Surprise, violations are still happening after these people are gone. So lets find some more people to fire, damn it, the rot must be within one of them.

When a problem happens, firing someone is the crudest and least-effective tool;, it is pretty much the hallmark of a bad manager. A good manager will understand the causes of the problem, and then will talk with the employees involved to assess what they have learned from the situation, if they will avoid this problem in the future, if they can still be effective at doing their job (and maybe doing it better now that they have learned what not to do). A good manager will only replace a person if they aren’t learning from the mistake (and thus repeating it), and of course a good manager only replaces someone if the manager believes there is a better solution available.

Ohio State pretty much failed these tests in their firing of Tressel. Was Tressel learning from his mistakes? He seems like someone who takes mistakes to heart. Did Ohio State have a better candidate available? On the field and off the field, the answer is obviously “no” at this point. Did firing Tressel get at the root problem? Obviously not, and now the university, having already fired the “It’s Tressel’s fault” bullet, has to cast around and blame someone else.

And so now it is Gene Smith’s turn on the hotseat. The problems in the football program now are all on him. So should he just be fired? Well, reading above, firing him in kneejerk fashion may not be helpful. However, Gene has made some big mistakes in the past year:

* The kneejerk firing of Tressel. Read above. Gene has done a poor job diagnosing the problems in the program and reacting to them. Does Gene understand this? Would he behave differently? These are conversation points for Gene and his superiors.
* Inability to handle pressure from press and trustees. Did Gene fire Tressel prematurely in the face of pressure from media and from trustees responding to media? This kind of pressure is just part of the job, and if Gene cannot handle it on an ongoing basis, he is not the right guy.
* Inability to get out in front of the compliance issue. The various strategies of denial, containment, NCAA appeasement, back-room dealing, lobbying for cost of attendance increases, etc — they don’t seem to be working out. Does Gene have the ability to navigate these waters? If not, who does?

It is clearly time for heart to heart discussions between Gene and his superiors on all these points. It may be time for him to go. But Gene may also be exactly the best guy for the job right now, if he has learned from the past year of painful decisions.

Lava is an awesome product name, I want one now.

Seriously, who would not want a “Lava heater”: I am ready to order one today.

Contrast with the “Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch”, Samsung’s latest phone. How stupid a name is this? Do they seriously think this will have lasting impact in the market? What will they call an upgraded version some day? Will they increment the S or the II or the Epic or the 4G or will they just abandon this?

I’m no product naming expert, I used to excuse myself from all naming discussions while at Microsoft since it always felt like a discussion of how many angels on the head of a pin. Ultimately good products can overcome bad names, and bad products aren’t helped by clever names. But I admire cleanliness and simplicity in names, and the Lava name is simple, evocative, and to the point. The Samsung name is ridiculous.

UPDATE: a smart guy informs me that the Samsung name of the phone is the Galaxy S II. A little long but not egregious. It is Sprint that has slapped on the “Epic 4G Touch” modifier and Sprint deserves the blame. Pro tip: if you include “epic” in the name, pretty much guarantees the offering is not epic.