TV Remotes and dogs’ mouths, a perfect match

_tar0_ @ flickr

Grab bag of entertaining things I read this weekend:

* “TV remotes are super awesome”:
* “French beetle aircraft”: Jet fighters meet Dr. Seuss. We should let the French design all our weapons systems. We might not win the war but man would we look trippy.
* “Desk optimized for doodling”: This is not ridiculous at all, it is kind of brilliant.
* “The top 100 young universities”: For all our entrepreneurship, should we be worried that the US is so under-represented?
* “Our bugs control us”: If it was a strict democracy, our gut bacteria would outvote the rest of our bodies every time.

SimpleTV, Aereo miss the mark

Some early reviews of the original Kindle were very dismissive, wondering why anyone would want to carry around a limited device with a goofy display. These tech-savvy reviewers predicted failure for Amazon, saying that people would prefer general purpose phones or tablets for reading. A lot of these reviewers were not actually heavy book readers tho.

Amazon has done just fine with Kindles. They focused on people who actually bought and read a lot of books. For book enthusiasts, the Kindle has been just fine, and heavy readers have no issue carrying around a device focused just on reading — it saves carrying around 4-5 books. And book enthusiasts spend a lot of money on books and can justify the expense easily. Long term, general purpose tablets may displace the hardware Kindle, but Amazon has played this well, and I suspect focused devices targeting enthusiasts will always have a place.

Two recent TV products are interesting — Simple.TV is a slick looking little box to receive and record OTA programming, won all kinds of kudos at CES. Aereo lets you watch OTA TV anywhere on any device, with no antenna or fuss. Aereo is getting a ton of press, less about the product, more about Barry Diller and tussles with broadcasters.

Neither of these products focus on people who spend money on TV — TV enthusiasts. People who like TV spend lots of money on cable subs, on TV sets, on premium channels, etc. Enthusiasts don’t want to spend less, they just want it all to work well and to be a great experience. SimpleTV and Aereo both focus on people who don’t want to spend any money on TV programming, who just want OTA content, which seems strange. Like creating an ebook reader for people who don’t want to actually buy books, who only want to download public domain free books — that strategy has been tried and it has failed. At least SimpleTV lets you watch TV programming on a TV. Aereo doesn’t even connect to a TV set unless you buy something from Roku or Apple or someone else. So Aereo is for people who want to watch TV, but not on a TV, and who don’t value TV programming enough to pay for it.

OK that is a little snarky, obviously there is demand for cord-cutting and these products will find some success. But you’d think someone would create a product aimed at people who like TV, who spend a lot on TV, who want TV on TV sets, and who also want some of the other features of Simple and Aereo — watch anywhere on any device. NimbleTV seems like it could be more interesting.

Hey, Father’s Day is not that far away, if you need ideas for me…

Unfortunately I have more ideas than offspring…

* “pivoting power cord”: I’ve often wondered why powerstrips are so ugly. We all have them and they all suck.
* “quirky”: Recommended by Blake, lots of cool stuff here.
* “Fireball Crosswords”: Recommended by Bruce.
* “Snapguide”: Also recommended by Blake.
* I’m a sucker for “nice laptop skins”:
* I would love to get into astrophotography with the new “Canon 60Da”:
* I love the idea behind “Lost Crates”:
* Prototyping bundles for Keynote and PPT from “Keynotopia”:
* “Press to open Keyrings”: — I’d buy today if available

Tools I Want But Don’t Need — January 2012

Since I am semi-retired from Halloween prop-building (tho I still have 2 storage pods full of gear if anyone wants to buy some skeletons, tombstones, etc…) I have not been buying as many tools and workbench gadgets as I used to. If I was buying, I’d be trying these out:

* “Planet Pocket Tool”: — small handmade tools with an arty bent. I never have time to follow the site and get in on the deals.
* “Grabber”: indispensable for fat-fingered guys like me.
* “Fathead tweezers”: ANother very nicely machined tool.
* “Blackfire flashlight”: Always need a clampy light.
* “Cubify”: I would LOVE to have a cost effective 3d printer.
* “Inpection Camera”: OK no real use for this but isn’t it cool? I am sure I could justify somehow.

* “Photo Lens Burrito Wrap”: Seems awesome.

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.

New Sony Reader, same old busted strategy

“Sony has a new e-reader out”: and it seems to be very nice hardware, I’d love to buy one. Let me check out their reader store and see what their book inventory looks like these days:

Oh. And this kind of sums up Sony’s strategy. Nicely designed premium hardware, but off in their own software and service planet, which is not well executed. I’ve tried to give Sony the benefit of the doubt — I owned the “first Sony Reader back in 2007”: — but they have failed to act on the big picture here. A big part of the Kindle’s awesomeness is the great store backend, the seamless download experience with the store, and the availability of Kindle software on every device on the planet so that I can read my purchases on my PC, my Mac, my phone, my Kindle, my iPad, on the web, pretty much anywhere. Sony totally whiffs on this total experience. It is kind of sad because I would love to see a first rate competitor to the Kindle, and Sony has some great assets to bring to bear — retail stores, solid hardware design skills.

In the long run, Amazon wants to sell digital goods, Sony wants to make great devices — I have to wonder why Sony doesn’t abase themselves, drop their own store, let Amazon run the backend for the Sony device, and make the Reader the best Kindle-compatible device in the world. Any other strategy just seems pointless.

Law of Constant Headphone Frustration

I love the fact that my Beats earbuds never tangle in my pocket due to their ribbon cable design. Ok they tangle a little but like one millionth the tangle frustration of typical buds.


But dammit, the in-ear gel plugs pop off constantly and get lost.

Speculation: the tangling of the cord actually protects and secures the removable gel plugs. Mathematicians, get on this one. (Or alternatively – the gel plugs actually attract the cable and encourage tangling, this seems less likely.)

And if so, then earbuds actually conform to a universal law. The sum of tangle frustration and lost plug frustration is constant. The greater the tangling, the less likely you are to lose the plugs. The more plugs you lose, the less tangling you get.

Sony’s super awesome design skills.

Insert Disneynature Ocean Blu-Ray disc into PS3. “Oh your Blu-Ray player encryption keys are out of date, you must download an update”.

Spend 5 minutes wandering through obtuse PS3 menus to find the system update choice, “Oh your network connection isn’t working”.

Spend more time figuring out where and how to config the PS3 wireless connection.

Download the update, reboot the PS3, and bam all my bluetooth PS3 controllers quit working. Go find the right USB cable and remember how to plug in a PS3 controller.

Complete the update. Thankfully bluetooth controllers come back to life and disc now plays.

20 minutes, incredibly obtuse messages, just to play a movie. What do regular humans do? Obviously they don’t play Blu-Ray discs in PS3s.

It’s not too early to start thinking about Father’s Day

I don’t need or want any of this stuff actually but am drawn to all of it…

* “Car map light”: Ok who looks at maps anymore, but this is nicely designed!
* “Multimeter Clock”: Love the reuse of old tech here. Wish I had the skill/vision to create things like this.
* “Carol Kipling Plates”: Love the platter but $2800 is steep…
* “14 wheel skateboard”: so I can suck at skateboarding 3.5 times as much.
* “Tourbillon vase”: — awesome organic-looking glass.
* “Urban Balance Wave Hammock”: — can this possibly be stable? But cool.
* “Designer Scrabble”: I love board games and I love nicely crafted items. I have a great cribbage board, would love to buy great boards for other games — Catan, TIcket to Ride, etc.
* “LaserPegs”: Lasers make everything better, including construction blocks.
* “Freesia Book Stands”: — these look awesome, seems like a great item to have.
* “Chemically Accurate Crayons”: OK these are just labels you stick on crayons you buy, so kind of dorky, but I love the idea. “Could you please pass me the Yttrium Oxide crayon”?

Can’t miss gifts for father’s day

No way your father has any of these…

* “LED showerhead with remote control”: Wrong on so many levels.
* “Barking USB Dog”: Just because you can make something, doesn’t mean you should.
* “RoadKill Rug”: High fashion in parts of West Virginia.
* “DIY Liquid Nitrogen Generator”: A thousand and one uses.
* “The Thing Quarterly”: No need to pick out an unusual useless trinket for your dad, let The Thing send him one regularly.
* Screw the Weber grill, get him a “Fuego modular outdoor kitchen”:

The size of our gadgets

Some smart guys have noticed that “internally, the iPad looks more like a battery with a computer than a computer with a battery”: This is a pretty fundamental point.

I remember back in my first job, working on automotive electronics strategies, someone asked me “how small can a CD player be” and to me it was clear — size would be dominated by the media and the controls, not by the internal electronics.

When we started buying PCs and TVs and cellphones and other gadgets, their sizes were dominated by internal considerations — tubes and motherboards and drives and power supplies and electronics and antennas and all kinds of crud. And we are still in the last stages of this — desktop computers are still big boxy things, many laptops are big chunky things. But thanks to Moore’s law, the electronics are in the last stages of disappearing, and with them the big clunky power supplies, and awkward big antennas, spinning disks, etc. The gadgets we carry will have their sizes driven by human interaction needs, and those damn batteries (getting batteries down in size/weight is a hard problem).

Which is why I think questions like “Which will win, the Kindle or iPad”, or “Will the iPad replace notebooks” are ultimately not very interesting. When gadgets all are lightweight and no bigger than they have to be, and electronics are basically free, and connectivity is ubiquitous, you’ll carry all kinds of these things around or have them in your house and not worry about it, just like we never worried about books vs magazines vs newspapers.

Awesomely cool household items I want but can’t really justify

* “Magimix Vision Toaster”: Our current toaster works just fine but this one just looks so awesome.
* “Wood Alarm Clock”: I hate your typical alarm clock, this is pretty atypical.
* “Magisso Cake Server”: Don’t make that many cakes but this is a reason to start.
* “Shattered Glass Table”: is awesome looking. Sign me up.
* “Suitcase Chairs”: Don’t love this color but love the idea.
* “Found lumber staircase”: There is something about this I love.
* “Canisters”: Ok what I really want is the indestructible French press mentioned.
* “Glass pendant lamp”: Dust will make me regret this but it looks awesome
* “Canvas Clock”: I think everyone else in the household might barf on this one.
* “Flask salt/pepper shakers”: No idea if functional, but nice looking.

Stuff I Want But Don’t Need — too late for Christmas edition

Grabbag of interesting articles on math, econ, science, design, web

No theme here other than “stuff I happened across recently”

Stuff I Want but do not need — Mostly wood and furniture edition

Stuff I Want But Don't Need — Leg Lamp edition

Remember the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story?

* USB Aroma Diffuser/Hub/Moodlight — good to see that the tech industry inventive spirit remains alive, with products like this the US economy will remain a juggernaut for years to come.
* Paperclip Lamp. I bet it breaks if you adjust it too many times.
* GSelect. A whole site of overdesigned stuff that I should probably avoid.
* Infinite Attic. To store all the crap I shouldn’t have bought. Sadly I could really use this…