Recent books — Dream Park, Backstage Wall Street, Filter Bubble, and some dreck

* “Dream Park”:amazon by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. Not sure how I missed this one 30 years ago, a very nice murder mystery set in a futuristic theme park. Has aged well, the story is solid.
* “The Barsoom Project”:amazon by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. The followon to Dream Park, not nearly as good. I gave up. Too much wandering around in mythology and the psych aspects of Dream Park.
* “Avogadro Corp”:amazon by William Hertling. Interesting ideas about the emergence of a worldwide artificial intelligence, but terrible writing, terrible characters, terrible story telling. In the hands of a good writer this would have been quite a tale.
* “Backstage Wall Street”:amazon by Joshua M. Brown. The author pulls the curtains back on some of the sell side antics of financial services firms. If you were confused and thought that financial firms were working on your behalf, this is the book for you.
* “The Filter Bubble”:amazon by Eli Pariser. Great book on how the major players on the Internet are collaborating to feed us pablum. Reminds me that I need to challenge myself in my reading and force different thinking into my life.

Hey it is Kansas Hate Week

Reasons to hate Kansas. Or at least feel really sorry for them:

* Tornados. Lots of them.
* A state so bad, even it’s namesake city refuses to be in the state.
* Just like the Wizard of Oz suggests, the entire state is colorless.
* Wikipedia says the name means “people passing wind”: or something like that
* The first us state to adopt prohibition — the least fun most humor impaired state ever.
* There is an official state soil. If all you have to celebrate is your dirt, you are one sorry state.

And a joke:

Q. How do you know the toothbrush was invented in Kansas?
A. If it was invented anywhere else, it would have been called a teethbrush.

Decent article in Seattle Times about maker resources

Good “article in PNW mag”: yesterday about maker resources here in the Seattle area. The particular things I noted:

* “Ignite Seattle”: — regular talks about projects, tho next event postponed, hope this is still active
* “Dorkbot Seattle”: — also on hiatus this month but seems like my kind of thing (apparently lots of electricity involved)
* “Nerdnite”: — more talks and sharing
* “Metrix create space”: — parts, workshop, courses, community
* “ALTSpace”: — another maker space
* “Jigsaw Renaissance”: — and another
* “Seattle Maker Faire”: — annual event showcasing projects
* “make Seattle”:
* “Geekwire”: — really more startup focused but leaking into maker space a little

As an aside, it is so odd that in 2012, the Seattle Times would go to the trouble to research, write, and distribute this article, but then in the web-published version, not link to any of the resources mentioned in it, leaving it to people like me to scrounge together all the links. The web version of the article seems like the afterthought, and the Times misses the opportunity to create the web-based page of record for “Seattle Maker”. I would have thought by now the web version of the article would be paramount, and the print version would be a derivative of that page. But obviously I don’t get it.

In general I don’t get the whole Seattle Times web strategy — and in 2012 that means I don’t get their overall business strategy. Why do they continue to hide their brand under the nwsource domain? It clearly seems like they just don’t care about the web. No other media company of substance behaves this way. Strange.

Cameras in my TV, and not in a creepy way

So apparently all our tvs will have cameras and mics soon, and hopefully the mfrs will be a little smarter about privacy and usage rights than “this abysmal first Samsung attempt”:

I also note that Xfinity keeps sending me mail about “their home security offering”:, they want to come in my house and install a bunch of sensors and extract even a higher monthly fee from me.

So the obvious thought — why do I need a bunch of distributed sensors in the house? If I can put several cameras and mics in the tv (they are basically free), with full directionality and distance sensing, then my tv could sense in-room movement, perimeter movement, glass breakage, basically all the things a security system senses. Heck, throw in heat, smoke, and CO sensing too for fun, and an accelerometer to detect theft.

I’ve got a TV in our family room/kitchen, my office, our bedroom — if each of these provided full room monitoring for security, that would cover the bulk of the issues in the house. There is some great software that needs to be written to process the signals, identify perimeter movement, let me establish baselines to be ignored, set up different watch conditions for times when home versus times when away etc. But I don’t see why I should need to go thru the braindamage of putting sensors everywhere, solving wiring or battery issues for them, etc.

Yes the retina display iPad is beautiful, but the software is starting to feel dated

OK I am completely conflating issues in this post but that accurately reflects my state of mind.

Like everyone else has said, the new screen is beautiful, the pad does run a little hot, the extra weight and thickness is a little noticeable, blah blah blah. Nothing new to add here. For me, the greatest impact is on the readability of text in retina-enabled apps, it really is easier n the eye. And kind of bizarrely, the few iPhone apps I use on the iPad now look really nice when blown up to full screen, they no longer look clunky.

To the point, tho, the iPad hardware continues to improve and I find myself using the iPad more and more.

However iOS is starting to feel dated. The iPad is delivering a Windows 3.x shell experience — a big beautiful screen and all it shows is a sea of spaced icons. And when you tap them, you get full screen apps, it is actually like earlier versions of Windows.

This works fine if you are basically just launching full screen games, videos, and books all day, which is admittedly the greatest part of iPad use for most people. But i actually have to do some real work in my life, I need to accomplish things. I need a tablet that is a little more productive. Right now if i want to work on a project, I have to navigate a sea of apps, and all the project details are spread around in a million places — I’ve got notes in Evernote and docs in Dropbox and Keynote/iCloud and relevant emails in Mail and todo lists in several places. It is not a great experience dealing with all this — hop into mail or evernote to see what I should be working on (and navigate the folder/tag hierarchies in those as necessary), then hop over somewhere else to work on a doc, meanwhile fighting off distractions from other incoming mail or whatever. My projects and my tasks take a distinct backseat to the app hierarchy and that seems wrong. I’d like to have a screen per project — slide over to my screen with all the things i am working on with respect to a portfolio company, and i could see the docs i need to work on, my todo list, upcoming meeting dates, and the latest email thread, and i could send notes and work on docs right there. or slide over to my maker project at home and work on that. or to home remodel project screen where i can see the plan docs, the latest email, the upcoming schedule and discussion items, etc.

I also want all my data to sync everywhere. If I have a project I am working on, I should be able to go to a folder on my desktop machine and see all the related files. And these should all be available on my work machine, my home machine, wherever. Right now I have content stored in Evernote and synced across all my machines, in Dropbox and synced across all my machines, in iCloud synced across all my machines. If I want to get all the content and files for a project, well good luck. None of these storage solutions are really working the way I want to work. Evernote does a nice job keeping everything ordered by folder and project, and has a nice UI, but it is work to get content in and out of evernote and into other apps. Dropbox has the very natural folder-on-the-desktop model which makes it super easy to use with a million apps, but my Dropbox folder is now chaos with all kinds of random stuff intermixed, apps creating their own confusing folder hierarchies (Byline I am looking at you), and it is just chaos. iCloud also keeps stuff stored by app, not by project, and is just further fracturing my storage.

So to summarize, I want a very project-centric experience, with transparent and complete syncing of project files and contents across all machines, and I want all my apps to work with the same project contents. I could use a web product like “OneHub” (an Ignition investment) and they have a good ipad app, and this may be the way to go, I am seriously considering. is too expensive, Basecamp doesn’t have an iPad app. All these solutions have a lot of great collaboration support but that is secondary for me — I just want to keep my own life in order and get my own stuff done. The iPad and current cloud storage solutions aren’t really helping me to focus, keep things ordered, and get things done.

Custom metal/plastic fabricated parts online

As I start to “dabble with Arduino”:, I am also thinking about other aspects of my projects beyond the simple assembly and programming of Arduino-based systems.

I know I will need some plastic elements — bases, screens, etc. You can get any kind of plastic cut to any size at sites like “Tap Plastic”: and they have a store here in town if I need even more service — and the store has a great rejects bin if all you need is a hunk of something and you aren’t picking about color, size, etc. (Kind of an aside, but if you need foam-based products, “Foamorder”: will set you up with pretty much any foam product in any shape, and with a huge variety of fabric covers.)

If I need more than just an unfinished piece of plastic, or if I need metal parts, it is super easy to get plastic and metal parts made online — for instance “emachineshop”: Just upload your drawings, get instant quotes, place an order.

I’m happy right now with the various boards provided by some of the Arduino shops, but if I need custom circuit boards? There are a jillion choices like “Pad2Pad”:

One thing I am not easily finding online is wood fabrication. I don’t have a shop so I can’t lathe/route/mill wood. I am happy to finish it here but I want someone to do the heavy machinery for me. Can’t seem to find a vendor. Is wood just too finicky for people to take on? Or is woodworking gear so available, woodworking services so widespread, that I can easily pick up something locally? Or are all the woodworkers focused on higher value-add pieces like furniture (plug here for “Kim’s shop on Etsy”:

Starting to dabble with Arduino

A few years ago when I was very active in Halloween decorating, I used the “Basic Stamp”: for prop control. This is still a solid product and you can still buy a lot of stamp-based kits and products.

I’m starting to work on some new projects and it seems like all the cool kids have moved onto “Arduino-based”: designs, probably because of the open nature of Arduino.

So I’ve ordered a handful of test kits from “Adafruit”:, “Sparkfun”: and “Maker Shed”: seem to have a lot of nice products too.

“Arduino programming”: is C-like which seems like a bit of a step back, I wish I could use something more like Python.

I am tired of being used by the web.

Jerry Michalski just published a “nice article on big data”: and how we are all being stalked online by commercial entities seeking to extract value from us. Everytime we hit a web page, tens and hundreds of companies and organizations are learning about us and making money off us.

On that Forbes page with Jerry’s article, for instance, looking at the page source reveals explicit references to Omniture,, Doubleclick, Facebook,,, a tremendous number of Forbes subdomains,,, loading scripts from most of these. And who knows what all those scripts do, some of them may pull in other companies and ad networks. All these orgs are collecting data about our page views and making money off that data — selling it to advertisers, etc.

Looking at another example page, “College Football News”:, there are visible ads from Fox Sports, H&R Block, Microsoft, Bing, MSN, McDonald’s, Chase, HTC, Lancome, ESPN, Canon. Digging into the page source, there are a whole slew of companies that are tracking and noting activity:,,,,,,,,

Now look at the cookies stored by the browser, there is a huge list of advertisers and trackers, in fact the list of cookies is dominated by ad serving and tracking companies:,, (adobe),,,, (google),,, (,,, AEG Digital Media, (Adify), and so on. Hundreds of these things. (Prompting me to clear the cookie cache and turn off 3rd party cookies, but how many users know to do this, and why do I have to go do this?)

None of this is new, this is the way the web has worked for years. But every year the ads and tracking just seems to get a little more invasive, a little more pervasive, a little creepier. Through all this, no one is really acting as the representative for our interests. Obviously the ad networks are not acting in our interest — and the fact that they hide their actions under a profusion of cookies with a profusion of obscure brand names suggests that they are actively working to obscure their actions. Web sites aren’t acting in our interest, they don’t inform us up front who is tracking us, they let all these tracking cookies be placed. Our browsers aren’t acting in our interest — yes we can go twiddle cookie settings but it is not default or obvious.

Here is what we need from someone, anyone: a sidebar in browser that shows

* For the current page, a list of all the advertisers, of all the ad networks and trackers, and the ability to opt out, block the ad or cookie right there, not deep in some preferences dialog.
* Also, an imputed value — what did that advertiser pay to the website for that ad? How much did the ad network/tracker sell our visit for?
* And for each tracker — exactly what data did they collect, what have they collected over time? What do they know about us?
* For the day/week/month, a summary across all our browsing — how much data has been collected, how much total $ has been made by who for our data

No one is acting in our interest today, the advertisers and web sites and ad networks and browsers are all complicit in extracting our attention and monetizing it, without disclosure to us. At the very least it is not respectful; and it feels much more odious than that. It is doubtful that MSFT or Google or Apple will lead in solving this, they are too involved in the advertising $ flow. We need to look to smaller creative independents.

Friday afternoon musing about TV — VCOs, Airplay, Cameras

Gearing up for lots of basketball watching over the next month, OSU is on tonight, Go Bucks, humiliate the Boilermakers. I know he is long retired but that combover that Gene Keady sported for years still annoys me and Purdue must pay for it. Anyway, random TV thoughts:

* Why are there no virtual cable operators? Why have MSFT and Hulu pulled back from this strategy? Rumours are it was over rights fees but given what I pay for a full load of cable channels each month so that I can get all the sports content, it is hard for me to believe there is not a viable offering in here. This seems like the only viable “cut the cord” strategy (vs the wishful think about ala carte pricing), I don’t understand why no one has bit the bullet and tried to make a VCO work.

* When will all our TVs have cameras built into them? OK maybe this year — “Samsung plans”: Kinect functionality? The chip cost is de minimus and the TV guys need features. How will that change how we use our TVs? If I have a camera in my iPad and Airplay and a camera in my TV, which will I use for video calling? I am confusing myself.

* Should we junk projectors in our conference rooms and just use AirPlay/AppleTV and an LCD display? Or at least use AppleTV as input to projector? Would this end the silly game of trying to get laptops to work in conference rooms with projectors? The new Airplay features of the iPad seem undersold. The press coverage seems to be all about resolution and network speed and multicore but this Airplay thing seems pretty interesting.

* Oh and back on the VCO thing — hooking up your PC to your TV can be a PITA, but it seems like AirPlay is going to help on that, so maybe this makes a VCO more viable?

Recent books — Made to Stick, Burroughs’ Mars series, Bazell, McDevitt, and more

* “Made to Stick”:amazon by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Excellent how-to on how to effectively promulgate ideas. Reader’s Digest version of the book — tell stories, not bullet points. I don’t like many business books, they all seem to blur together, but this is an excellent book.
* “Why Startups Fail: And How Yours Can Succeed”:amazon by Dave Feinleib. Solid lessons for startups from a guy who has been in many, and has invested in many. And is a friend and colleague from MSFT and other past endeavours.
* “A Princess of Mars”:amazon by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ok I admit I actually read this book almost 40 years ago, and I bet it hasn’t aged well, but I loved it and I in fact still have the whole paperback series and am hugely looking forward to the movie, tho I fear it could be a bomb.
* “Firebird”:amazon by Jack McDevitt. One of his Alex Benedict novels, think Indiana Jones in space. Fun stuff, solid tale. A Nebula nominee, for good reason.
* “Wild Thing”:amazon by Josh Bazell. Not as good as his first, “Beat the Reaper”:amazon but still a fun ride.
* “Don’t Put Me In, Coach”:amazon by Mark Titus. I wanted to like this book — a loyal Buckeye — but it is sophomoric, misogynistic, and homophobic. When you claim not to be bigoted but use misogynistic and homophobic language over and over again as “humor”, well, you need to rethink.

An obsession with failure

What a great article at @farnamstreet — “An obsession with failure”: People that worry about their failures, who take responsibility for them, who consider what else they might have done, tend to be the strongest performers over time. I’ve always felt like my best interview question for people has always been “What’s your greatest failure?”. The answer usually tells me a lot about the person’s character.

Win 8 first impressions — bold move by MSFT, not sure what it does for me

I’m playing with Windows 8. If you are going to go down this path, some “tips to get started”:

I’ve had lots of troubles installing. The “same error repeatedly writing the OS to my disk”:, tho judging by lack of internet hits on the error code, this is unique to me. The error went away for a while but came back. My machine is rock solid under Win7, has never given me a moment’s problem, but something about the hardware is making win8 install unhappy. I reformatted my hard disk, and then replaced it with a brand new one; updated my bios; tried install off of USB and DVD media; downloaded multiple install images; tried a virtual HD instead of a physical disk; ran a thorough memtest; and it still failed. I finally moved to a VirtualBox VM install and this worked, but it really limits the experience. Some MSFT guys are trying to help me, but no solutions yet.

Maybe an upgrade install would have worked better, but I am sure not going to try that at this point.

So, impressions? Impressions:

* Despite my install troubles the product basically feels solid. Seems like quality won’t prevent MSFT from shipping.
* My multi-monitor setup seems kind of ideal. Monitor 1 is a new Dell ST2220t 21.5 inch touch screen LCD which is great for playing with the Metro interface, and then my existing 27″ monitor. This lets me run Metro on the touch screen and classic Windows on the 27″.
* As with any new version of windows, it feels a little like MSFT moved stuff around just for the sake of moving stuff around. The “fins and chrome” strategy. Maybe(?) I am getting old, but this all just kind of makes me cranky. The number of articles on the net explaining just how to shut down Win8 is kind of telling.
* Metro at one level is basically a replacement for the start menu and task bar. It is an odd experience on a big screen. 27″ of minimalist primary color blocks doesn’t seem very helpful. Even on a 21.5″ it seems wrong. I can’t say I love it. And as mentioned above, it seems different for different’s sake.
* then you have the metro apps. they are fine and if I could get 5-6 on the screen at once it might be cool. but again on a big screen they seem kind of strange and wasteful. I really don’t need a weather applet blown up to 27″.
* And then the combo of Metro and classic Windows in one system is just kind of jarring and inexplicable. Which IE version do I use and why? Which version of Evernote?

Some reviewers love it — “for instance the Chicago Sun-Times”: Others not so much — “The Guardian”: I’m kind of more towards the Guardian view.

Overall, MSFT is being pretty bold here. Win8 is certainly pushing a new UI and you have to give credit for MSFT for trying out something new. It is probably a great UI on smaller form factors, and that might be the right device for MSFT to prioritize, given user trends and MSFT’s weakness to date on those devices. But it feels like an odd fit for larger screens and for existing Windows users, and so there is some risk in selling it to that user base. I understand why the risk makes sense for Microsoft, they have to create some momentum and innovation on mobile devices. I’m not sure why it makes sense for me, I don’t see a reason to be obviously happier with Win8 than I am with Win7.

It took about two days to be over the Lytro

OK so it is fun to have one and I am glad I bought it. I will get some value out of it. But … the resolution of the pictures is poor, and the scenarios for the benefits provided are limited. The on-camera screen is very small and it is super hard to review pictures on the device. The effective shutter speed and ISO speed don’t seem that great either. And grr, why don’t people provide straps to secure lens caps? And it is so out of the flow of my normal photo processing, it doesn’t integrate with either my iPhone flow or my DSLR flow easily.

It is a great idea and I suspect it finds its way into most cameras eventually.

Why do they call it AppleTV? Where’s the TV part?

I mean, you can’t really watch TV on it.

Live sports like NFL football or NCAA football or all the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament action? No. That’s at least 50% of the reason we have TV sets and cable service at our house. NHL doesn’t cut it.

The most popular prime time shows like American Idol or The Voice? No. Episodes of popular series the night they come out so you can be current at the water cooler? No. That accounts for most of our other TV expenditure.

Daytime staples like Judge Judy, Ellen? No. I admit sometimes I like to watch Judge Judy bring the hammer down on some moron.

And it isn’t a TV either.

It is not a bad box for what it is, I really like some of the features, and I might get one of the new ones for the music and AirPlay features, but calling it TV just confuses me. I thought maybe the new box would somehow deliver more on the TV promise but not really.

I like Udacity but I am dropping out.

So I’m 2 weeks into my first “Udacity” and I’m impressed with the quality of the courseware. The instructor is engaging, the videos are good, the pacing of video and interactive content keeps you engaged, the instruction is derived in bite size pieces which really works.

All that said, I am abandoning the course. It is targeted at too junior a level and the pacing is too slow. This is going to be a general problem for online instruction — the students are going to have varied backgrounds, it will be hard to target materials. And grading a course puts a huge constraint on overall course pacing which is what is driving me out. I’d like to fly ahead on the material but that is not the way the course works.

Still a great and valuable first effort.

Great visit to Tier3 this week

I had the chance to meet “Jared Wray”: at “Tier3”: (one of our portfolio investments) on Friday and I was incredibly energized by the meeting. Jared is a star and Tier3 has a huge future.

I’m not generally an enterprise IT guy. I’ve worn an IT hat at times, but always for small businesses or small offices. I’ve done some enterprise app development, but eons ago. I’ve worked on software teams that have sold into enterprises and have spent time working on features to support enterprises, so I have some sense of their issues, but I am no expert. So take my views with a grain of salt.

With that caveat — wow have these guys done a terrific job creating a relevant cloud offering for enterprises. It seems super easy to roll apps out to their service because Tier3 supports a huge range of enterprise software with preconfigured orchestration blueprints for setting it all up; they support enterprise security requirements, they understand and provide great monitoring, they provide enterprise SLAs, all while delivering the great cloud attributes like elasticity. And with their new “service provider partners”:, there are going to be a ton of hosting options in locations that work for enterprises, to serve the need to “hug your servers”.

It seems like a no brainer for people to try and adopt Tier3:

* If you are in enterprise IT and want to move some of your apps to the cloud, this seems like the way to go. Or at least consider. And with great “no-cost self service activation”:, there is really no reason not to try.
* If you are a startup targeting the enterprise, Tier3 provides an environment giving you access to the computing environment of the enterprise. Again free to sign up and a pay as you go model, so why not try?
* If you are a service provider and want to provide enterprise grade services for your enterprise customers, a great set of services available for adoption.

We (Ignition) really have to step up and help Tier3 get the word out about what they are doing. They are already growing at a great clip but we can and should help them do more. They need great people in sales, marketing, and product development. And they need trials from customers and feedback.

Very exciting, great to be working with these guys.

3 failed attempts to install Win8 preview and I am giving up

Sigh. I’ve downloaded the install 3 times, generated a new license key (I hope they don’t run out), and twice tried to do a clean install off a USB key and once off a burned DVD. Every time install fails partway thru with a error 0x8007025D and some text about being unable to write files. I’m doing an install to a new disk with 1.3TB of free space, and the drive seems to work fine under win7. I don’t want to do an upgrade install. Searching around the Internet doesn’t seem to bring any relief, some people have encountered similar issues when installing in a VM but I am not doing that.

On the plus side my Lytro arrived so I will go play with that.

UPDATE: some nice MSFT folks have been helping me thru the problems and I have a working win8 install now. Will do a separate post on that, but just want to thank the MSFT folks for working with me.

Not letting (just) anyone rent space in my head

Twitter streams, RSS feeds, inbound email, facebook updates, linkedin, man it is easy to lose yourself in the constant chatter of the current age. I fight every day to rise above the wash of minutiae and think about the things that really matter in the longterm.

So I’m being way more thoughtful about what I read. It is easy to get drowned by all the tech industry blog/press content, but there is a lot of echo in this content, and given the huge drives to publish publish publish, a lot of less thoughtful content. And has been well noted by others, not a lot of transparency. So less daily tech coverage, more thoughtful analysis on long wave trends.

Also, some great inspirational thoughts that arrived on my screens yesterday to help me:

* “Starting at the beginning of February, I made a change. Each day I blocked off a precious hour to build something.”: Hear hear. Creating is hard hard work but is infinitely more rewarding than consumption.
* “So next time you hear something, or someone, talk about an idea, pitch an idea, or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or it’s too much work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.”: It is super important to keep my brain open to new ideas and not just wallow in the stuff I already know, so I do need to keep a little brainspace open for other’s ideas.
* “…so I’ve started forcing myself to ask the other person at least three questions about their opinion. Forming those questions helps me think. Often, my gut negative opinion changes. Sometimes, the questions change the other person’s opinion. There is no downside.”: Another way to keep the brain open.

Please come to the Point Foundation Seattle Event 3/22

As I’ve “mentioned in the past”:, we are supporters of the Point Foundation, which provides “financial support, mentoring, leadership training and hope to meritorious students who are marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” They have a “Seattle event”: planned for 3/22 which should be a great gathering of folks. If you are inclined to support, please consider coming.

Marcelo articulates the case for an online IDE

“The Future of Software Development Will Be Online”: — very nice articulation from Marcelo on the need for a browser-based IDE.

Tho I think calling it “browser-based” kind of confuses the issue. Do I really want my IDE to be in a browser, or my spreadsheet or presentation package to be in a browser? I’m not really in love with my browser UI, but that is not the point. For me, the #1 feature I need for productivity apps these days is ubiquitous availability. I need to use them at work, at home, on the road, from my iPad, my phone, my Mac, my PC, wherever. I will give up a lot of features to get ubiquitous availability. And I get to move the backup burden to someone else — my machines all become stateless, I can replace them tomorrow and become instantly productive. This is all super goodness.

And from the comments, “cloud9”: looks like the cloud IDE to try — looks awesome.