Swinging for the Fences?

I've been hearing quite a few rumors recently about Apple developing a tablet-like device (iSlate?). But this post at Daring Fireball congealed some thoughts for me. It says:
The Tablet, I say, is going to be Apple’s new answer to what you use for personal portable general computing.

I think that's not quite right. I think it's going to be for all sorts of media consumption, but nigh-useless for media creation and editing. And I think gaming will be restricted to iPhone app-like games. Why? Mostly because the interface will be too clunky for that, but too smooth for consumption to be ignored.

And I think the only video output will be HDMI (or maybe mini-DisplayPort, sold with a to-HDMI adapter).

So it will replace the Apple TV (hence no meaningful revisions to that in so long), but give nice portability functionality as well. And, in a pinch, it'll function as an iPod or Kindle as well. And, of course, it'll let you browse the web while on the can. :)

I'd have no problem finding uses for that. But if the Kindle part is right, they better skip DRM on books and magazines.


Ignore the crowd behind the curtain

I got into photography over the last year quite a bit. I'd been a bit dissatisfied with my old Olympus SLR (it was cool when it came out, but seven years is an Ice Age to a digital camera), so when I tried my dad's Nikon after my daughter was born, I was hooked.

After doing some research, I got my own Nikon (being able to borrow nice lenses is not to be overlooked), ending up with a D90. I've been very happy with it; an FX sensor would be very nice, as would a few extra frames per second for sports, but those are both minor things.

Anyway, that's gotten me reading some photography blogs. (I suppose it's not a coincidence that they're all primarily Nikon shooters. :)

Anyway, the latter of those just did an interesting write-up looking at what Nikon should be doing, moving forward (I can't do a direct link; it isn't set up for it, but search for 'Inverted Razor Blades'). He talked about the old Gillette give away razor/sell blades business model, and how that can work well in different markets. He then went on to talk about how you leverage free stuff to sell expensive (or, at least, high-profit-margin) items, and how Apple's done that with the iPod/iPhone.

He's not quite right on all his facts (Apple does make a tiny profit on each paid music download, and a significant one on all app downloads), but it does raise some very interesting thoughts. His idea is for Nikon to document their internal software interfaces, and allow other people to write apps for their cameras.

While this could lead to problems (poorly written apps could cause problems), it could also lead to some really nice possibilities. Imagine, if you will, in-camera panoramas or HDR. Ok, you'd really want a better LCD on the back, but still. And imagine if someone else could write the high-ISO and give you the equivalent of an extra stop. Ok, that last one would be especially dangerous, but add in a way to back out stuff like that painlessly, and there's a lot of potential there.

There'd be a lot of implementation details that would be very important, especially the checkpointing and restoring, but the potential there is pretty amazing.

Go for it, Nikon!


Flying High

My wife and I took half a day off today, and went together to see our first movie since our daughter was born. We caught Jason Reitman's Up in the Air.

It was a very forthright and honest movie, and the timing of releasing a movie about someone who's flying around the country firing people was quite interesting. I can't decide if it's low, or genius (at the very least, it led to some quite blunt scenes at the very end, where St Louis people who've recently been laid off were interviewed about the experience).

The firing man, Clooney's Brigman, is on a quest to reach 10M airline miles. Why? Because fewer people have achieved that than have walked on the moon. Of course, those people who went to the moon probably don't have that many miles traveled, thinking about it.

I was thinking about it, he mentioned traveling 350k miles in the prior year at one point; at another point, he said he'd traveled ~320 days in that year. So one would assume that that's a pretty heavy traveling year for him. But it would still take 30 years of that to reach 10M. Yes, yes, he charged pretty much everything to a credit card that gave him miles; that would help. Still seems awfully tough to do.

And I must admit that my first thought when they described his life was that it was about as lonely as I can imagine. I certainly wouldn't be able to do something like that; not even if someone else was paying for it.

But he does meet Alex fairly early on in the movie; their relationship was quite entertaining.

And his biggest challenge in the movie is a newcomer to his company; she's setting things up so that people can be fired via teleconference. Geeze; could you possibly be more heartless than that? It's like breaking up with someone over text message. It's hard to imagine someone that callous.

So he has to show her what the job is like, which is eye-opening for both of them.

Meanwhile, Clooney is finding time (occasionally) to keep up with Alex; they have something like a relationship. How much of one? Well, she shows up at his sister's wedding with him.

Don't want to get too much into details there; suffice it to say that I was surprised with what happened with them. It made sense, but I still managed not to see it coming.

The one weakness with the movie was the ending; in particular, they seriously missed an opportunity by not having him get fired (probably by telecon) about two minutes before the end of the movie. That would have been a perfect full-circle ending.

But despite that omission, it was still a very good movie, and a very insightful look at what "big business" can lead to.

Juno is still Reitman's best, but this was a solid second place.


pre-mortem of a daily?

There's been a lot of noise recently about how the newspapers are dying. This is a bit of a misrepresentation, as most newspapers are doing pretty well (at least, they're profitable, if not by a lot). Some, however, are dying quickly, largely due to having huge debts due to unwise purchases.

In any event, a lot of hoo-ha has gone on about how the big papers are dying quickly.

The big problem, as I've noted previously, is that the newspapers, too often, aren't providing value to the customer (I'm ignoring craigslist's annihilation of the classified ads, which were the single largest profit center in the paper). In particular, they've largely given up on standing up to power.

For the most part, they've decided to sit back and just mindlessly repeat the blatherings of anonymous government people spitting out the official party line. That's what's called propoganda. That's why Pravda was mocked for its uselessness, many years ago.

In any event, I was looking at this article, and this line struck a bit of a nerve.

There was concern about how this device would lead to destroying quality reporting, getting people to focus more on the quick hits, and that there would be less reason to do "real" reporting -- leading to more annoying opinion writing, rather than actual journalism. Sound familiar?

I think this is another part of the problem; the newspapers (and other news sources, even more so) are trying to get stories out too quickly, and so they'll report on something before they actually have something to say about it.

Once again, we come back to the question: what are we providing of value to the customer? If they don't have something coherent to say about an event, they're not going to be showing that value. If they aren't verifying their facts, then they're potentially reducing that value (being lied to about an event is much worse than not knowing about the event at all).

Update: Not sure what to make of this, but it's an interesting point of comparison.

Update 2: And this goes to show what happens when you just appease those in power. (And, btw, that update that it was an editorial aide? What difference does that make? Either way, it was in-house.)


Moments in hopelessly bad advertising

I saw an ad today for a drug for COPD. I'm not going to name the drug, because I'm skeptical about the usefulness (it strikes me as one of those where they made up the "syndrome" to match the drug, rather than the other way around), and because I really don't agree that drug companies should be advertising to consumers directly. (Or that they should be able to bribe doctors, but that's a separate issue about which I know virtually nothing.)

Anyway, this commercial started out, "I took [drug x] five minutes ago, and I'm already feeling better." So, we're supposed to believe that you agreed to do a commercial, signed a contract, went through costume and make-up before you actually took the drug? That's really what you want to say?

And no, there was no disclaimer in there about the person being a paid actor in simulated circumstances, or some such.

So it starts off completely believably.

And then, at the end, it goes completely cliche (with a cliche you really don't want to go along with), where they say that [company Y] might provide your first prescription for free. Yeah, I've heard that "The first one's free" is a common offer by drug dealers. And you somehow agreed to let this go on the air?

What were these people thinking?


Plugging a new product

Well, ok, it isn't available yet (and is only relevant for the UK, at least directly), but I just wanted to call attention to a design by Min-Kyu CHOI. I just think that's incredibly cool.

It might have sturdiness issues (maybe not, that's just something I would think would need a lot of care about), but it's just all sorts of cool.

The wilds of outer Mongolia

I finally got around to watching Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan. Since I was pretty sure my wife didn't want to see it, I had to wait a bit longer than I might have, otherwise.

One thing occurred to me around the beginning of the movie that made things feel a little bit weird. Mongols were originally caucasians (indistinguishable from Russians, I would guess, which might, now that I think about it, go some distance towards explaining the Russian director and crew). It wasn't until Genghis Khan's time, when they conquered the Hans and heavily interbred with them, that they developed the mongoloid eyes (irony there, I know) and other asian characteristics.

But the movie would definitely feel even weirder (and, who knows, maybe offensive to today's Mongols) if it was a bunch of white people running around speaking Mongol. It might well feel to them similar to how Japanese probably feel upon seeing Mickey Rooney's performance in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

As far as the movie itself, it was an interesting attempt to re-envision Genghis Khan as a deeply feeling person. While I'm not without some skepticism, this is the sort of thing I love to watch or read. Kind of a redemption of a person widely perceived as evil.

This is the reason why Mists of Avalon is my favorite telling of the Arthurian cycle. (And searching for that link was the first time I'd run across the movie version. Have to think about seeing that.)

In fact, this movie ends up painting Temudjin as someone worthy of a great deal of respect, rather than fear. It rather contradicts basically everything I'd heard of Genghis Khan, as far as his values (particularly his way of treating subjugated peoples), but I've no idea where the truth in that lies.

It also leaves mostly unanswered how he built power after several times being reduced to just himself, with no followers. Regardless of the truth, it makes for a very compelling story, told around some absolutely gorgeous scenery. Whoever did the location scouting (forgot to search the credits for who it was) did a fantastic job.

Once more into the breach?

As someone who decided to vote for Obama as soon as he threw his name in the ring for the election, my wife was very surprised to hear me ask her to turn off his speech the other day.

While I think it will end up having been a very important speech for his presidency, I just couldn't bear to listen. I knew once he started talking about adding another 30k troops, that I'd just get really mad, and probably start yelling at the TV.

The one bad part about not listening to the speech was that I missed him talking about withdrawing in 18 (or so) months. And as long as that's a drop-dead date, I think it's very encouraging. Of course, the White House itself can't decide whether or not that's the case.

What I've read elsewhere, though, suggests that the "strategy" consists of: take control of the population centers (with those extra troops) and train more Afghanis so they can defense themselves.

The question the administration failed to ask, however, was whether or not the Russians tried the same thing. And the first part of that is a yes. And how did it work out for them? Well, they succeeded in that mission, but it obviously didn't help them all that much.

As for the second part, while it's a great theory, there's something missing there, as well. The Afghan army's desertion rate over the last couple of years has varied between ten and thirty percent. In fact, twenty-five percent seems a good estimate.

That being the case, a) we're wasting a lot of time training people who won't be around for long and b) we're likely training more than a few Taliban sympathizers (or, at least, would-be insurgents). How is that likely to work out for us? I'm thinking that it's more tens of billions of dollars of money down a hole.

Finally, let's consider this. Assuming that everything goes right for the administration, there's still two huge problems. If everything goes right, and we pull out on schedule, what's to keep the illegitimate government (really: we've made a lot of mistakes in dealing with Afghanistan, but allowing the last election to be blatantly fixed was probably the biggest) from immediately collapsing.

And even assuming that it doesn't collapse, and Afghanistan becomes a stable, prosperous nation, who benefits? It ain't us, except, perhaps, in the most peripheral of ways; it's the Russians and Chinese (and Pakistanis, I suppose, which could redound some slight benefit upon us).

So what are we doing spending these tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars in extra money?

Am I forgetting about al-Qaida? I'm not; setting up an international police operation to catch them (and yes, that would involve assets up to and including US special forces) seems a lot more likely to keep them from settling in any one spot. So why don't we spend a couple of billion there, and otherwise withdraw from the region.

Let's remember that staying in the region as an occupying power (even if that isn't nominally the case) is providing an endless stream of recruits for both insurgents and for al-Qaida.

And there's also the minor issue that those tens or hundreds of billions of dollars can be put to much better use right here in the USA. Maybe by preventing 45k people annually from dying due to lack of health insurance. And stopping medical care from causing half of all bankruptcies in the US (remembering that 60% of those bankruptcies are people who DO have health insurance). And maybe we could employ a few more of the people who want a job. And educate some of those who can't find a job.

Does that stuff sound worthwhile? More to the point, does it sound more worthwhile than killing brown people?