Thirteen years of coffee and commentary. Tridecaphobes, beware.

March 11, 2013
by deCadmus

Sprinkling the Internet on a bad business model does not magically make it a good business model. It merely means that the people who are pursuing a bad business model are hoping you are credulous enough to believe that being electronic is space-age zoomy and awesome and there is no possible way this brilliant business plan could ever fail. Or even worse, that they believe that being electronic means all these things, which means they are credulous. Which is not a very good thing to have as the basis of one’s business model.

– John Scalzi

John’s remarks here are on the matter of “electronic publishing” imprints endeavoring to leverage (bully, swindle) naive new writers into signing egregious contracts that a) offer no advances and b) make money for publishers before they’d pay a dime to authors.

I like the quote, because even without Scalzi’s specific and intended context, it reads every bit as true.

March 8, 2013
by deCadmus

Red barn white snow

March 7, 2013
by deCadmus

From the Wayback Archive: Vermonter Quiz, Winter edition

As I prepare to make my exit from Vermont it seems only right to look back at my flatlander’s perspective on my arrival. Here’s one of the more popular Bloggle posts on the matter — from November, 2005, “Vermonter Quiz, Winter Edition.”

The Winter issue of Vermont Life magazine (no, the magazine title is not intended to be ironic) boasts a contest… a quiz whereby you may determine just how true a Vermonter you really are. Being a recent transplant — and a flatlander, at that — I quickly thumbed to the quiz pages, hoping to learn something new about my adopted home.

As it happens, not only do the editors not provide the answers to their 49 questions — not even as to why they seemingly lost their enthusiasm before they could advance the count to a nice, round 50 — from this flatlander’s point of view they’re asking the wrong questions. After all, I don’t lose any sleep over the fact that I don’t know the length of the state of Vermont, or of Vermont’s Long Trail (me, I thought a Long Trail was measured by its weight in ounces). Nor do I know the answer to the question, What is the smallest (organized) town in Vermont? Are they suggesting that some towns really have their act together, while others are merely confused federations of local taxpayers? A true Vermonter probably knows…

I’d think they could do those of us with a low Vermont Quotient a genuine service by asking questions that are truly relevant to the Vermont Experience… and, of course, providing a handy answer key. And so, in an effort to promote the general welfare of fellow transplants, flatlanders and other folk from Summer Else, I submit the following questions — and my understanding thus far of what the answers may be, ’cause heaven knows I haven’t been able to find a clue on – for inclusion in the Vermonter Canon.

  1. What’s a plowbill?

    A: This is the heart-stoppingly awesome sum of money you will be paying to a neighbor who has a truck or tractor with a snow blade attachment. It is a base rate that does not include tips or gratuities, which are not only appreciated, but evaluated to determine the relative urgency of removing the snow from your driveway as opposed to the drive of the guy down the road who pays in advance — in cash — and furthermore has a cute daughter of dating age.

  2. My street sign reads PVT. What’s that mean?

    A: This is, in fact, an abbreviation for the Latin, Peculium Vermonti Terminum, or, the property of Vermont ends here. This means that neither the state of Vermont nor any of its townships (no matter how organized) make any claim to this property whatsoever… just think of that street as being a long feeder lane for your driveway, and refer to Question #1.

  3. Is it true that Vermonters have 23 words for snow?

    A: No. In fact, Vermonters rarely refer to snow at all, save for waving a dismissive hand at “that white stuff”. Flatlanders, however, employ dozens of clever phrases to describe snow, many of which were made famous by comedian George Carlin… and some of which would likely make Mr. Carlin blush furiously.

  4. Why are there 5 foot poles on top of all the fireplugs?

    A: On account of all that white stuff.

  5. The weatherman calls it a mild winter, but my thermometer reads 12 degrees below zero. What do Vermonters consider cold?
    A: You see all those red barns? It’s cold when they turn blue.

Amanda Palmer’s Viral TED Talk: The Art of Asking

March 7, 2013 by deCadmus | 2 Comments

I watched Amanda Palmer’s TED talk — a talk about fairness, and reciprocity, and art — and was struck by just how deeply I miss making connections with people as a performer… kinetic, buzzing, random, wholly improbable and sometimes strange interactions. And I realized (or remembered) how very much trust plays a role in making the whole thing work.

Watch. Enjoy. And Amanda… thank-you.

No Fiber for You!

March 6, 2013
by deCadmus

Time Warner CFO’s Gigabit Remarks Not Short-Sighted, But Protectionist; Still Dumb

Commenting on the worldwide market for computing machinery way back in 1943, IBM Chairman Tom Watson, Sr. might be forgiven for his lack of foresight when he uttered:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Zoom forward to 1977. Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation — maker of the mini-computers I cut my teeth on lo those many years ago — should probably be held to an altogether different standard than Mr. Watson for his own dunderheaded quip:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Just four short years later, as the Intel 8088-based IBM PC was making *lots* of people think about wanting a computer in their homes, Microsoft founder Bill Gates addressed its innate memory limitations1:

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

With these candidates for dumbest technology predictions of all time as our collective benchmark, lets now take a look at one more, offered just last week when Time Warner CFO Irene Esteves opined on gigabit-speed broadband to the home:

“We’re in the business of delivering what consumers want, and to stay a little ahead of what we think they will want…. We just don’t see the need of delivering that to consumers.”

You don’t say.

Esteves’ remark is different for a couple of reasons. Watson, Olsen and Gates were each speculating on where technology might go in time, and their future prognostications missed the mark. Widely. Esteves, on the other hand, is missing the mark right damn now. Time Warner has the means and the capability to deliver Gigabit services today. They do it for businesses already.

Moreover, while the remarks of Watson, Olsen and Gates may have resulted from a lack of vision, or of imagination or just fundamentally misunderestimating the aspirations of their consumers, the same cannot be said of Time Warner. For the cable industry this isn’t a failure of imagination, or even some sort of collective amnesia with regard to the pace of technology and change. I don’t think it’s really about consumer demand at all, but about protecting their cash cows. Time Warner, Comcast and the rest of the broadband operators are making money hand over fist by providing mediocre service levels that are easily sustained in a co-opetition based model; so long as no one upsets the apple cart by offering elevated service levels, all of the cable giants will prosper mightily.

In that respect, the cable operators are taking a page from another once-great technology company: Kodak. In 1975 Kodak’s own engineers invented digital photography. Rather than leverage their new film-less camera tech to revolutionize how people take and share photos, Kodak made the staggeringly stupid decision to squirrel away their disruptive tech in a dark closet, the better to protect their lucrative film-camera industry. Today, of course, the company that squandered the opportunity to leverage its disruptive technology is now bankrupt, beaten down by the very tech they failed to leverage.

With its protectionist apologetics Time Warner and the cable cabal are giving away our technical advantage. America’s access to and adoption of broadband is 15th in the world. Our average broadband Internet speed ranks 9th worldwide. What we pay for the speed we get puts us 21st in the world. We pay more, and get less. Again. Go, us!

For my part, I *do* want Gigabit technology, thanksverymuch. As a web guy who’ll be working out of a home office, having oodles of bandwidth is no small thing. In fact, that capability has played no small role in helping to determine where I’ll be landing in the next couple of months: in Kansas City, Missouri, where — likely inside a year — I’ll enjoy Google Fiber’s Gigabit service in my home.

Hello, Silicon Prairie.

Notes and Links

  1. To be entirely fair, while frequently attributed to Gates, there’s scant proof he *actually* said something so abominably stupid.


February 27, 2013
by deCadmus
1 Comment

Let’s Be Present Together, Each in Our Own Happy Places

There’s nothing struggling Internet portal Yahoo has done in years to rival the reaction to this week’s leaked memo announcing the beginning of the end of tele-working in favor of employees’ “physically being together.”

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” the note said. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

The memo continues:

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

Arguably, quite true. And — frankly — quite familiar. Google spoke to similar objectives just a day or two ago as the driving force behind its new workspace design efforts. Why then, would a similar principle ignite such a furor at Yahoo?

Clearly it’s not the objective, but the approach that’s the problem. Both companies are speaking to the awesome potential of accidental collaboration, the “casual collisions of the workforce”. But only Yahoo is making such presence — with its potential for impromptu innovation in the workspace – mandatory, in the process bucking an emerging trend that has high-tech knowledge workers doing their voodoo wherever, whenever, providing it gets the job done.

Personally I’m fascinated by this new star-crossed connection between Internet giants version one-dot-oh and two-dot-oh (and search engine players number 2 and number 1, respectively). Professionally, I’m deeply vested in the results of such work / life experiments as I’m at this very moment searching for a new home far from my employer, preparing to begin the next phase of my career as a tele-working guy.

I’m staking my future on the theory that remote workers can collaborate, communicate and innovate every bit as effectively and fully as the present-in-the-office workforce… and with the right bits of technology at hand, maybe more so.

NBBJ Rendering of Google Offices: Source, Vanity Fair

February 26, 2013
by deCadmus
1 Comment

Designing Work Spaces the Google Way: Driven by Data

After years of being among “the world’s best hermit crabs”1 by repurposing others’ leftover bits of real estate, Google is considering building its own Googleplex “from scratch”. How to design such a space? By accumulating data, of course.

Google studied, and tried to quantify, everything about how its employees work, about what kind of spaces they wanted, about how much it mattered for certain groups to be near certain other groups, and so forth.

The layout of bent rectangles, then, emerged out of the company’s insistence on a floor plan that would maximize what [Google civil engineer David] Radcliffe called “casual collisions of the work force.” No employee in the 1.1-million-square-foot complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk from any other, according to Radcliffe. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said. “We want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

I made a pet project last year of digging deeply into how work spaces shape collaboration and communication in the office. I’ll be following this Google effort with interest.

Notes and Links

  1. Cliff Claven might note that while hermit crabs famously live in second-hand shells, it’s a little known fact that having a shell that fits is deterministic: crabs in shells that are too small can’t grow as quickly as crabs that aren’t so constrained. I bet Google is aware of this.

February 24, 2013
by deCadmus

  • A high-school basketball game features a twist of sportsmanship that makes it the feel-good story of the week. (Reported by CBS’ Steve Hartman, who now has totally inherited the legacy of the late, great Charles Kuralt.)
  • Steven Brill’s Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us is Time Magazine’s  cover story and this week’s must-read:

    “What are the reasons, good or bad, that cancer means a half-million- or million-dollar tab? Why should a trip to the emergency room for chest pains that turn out to be indigestion bring a bill that can exceed the cost of a semester of college? What makes a single dose of even the most wonderful wonder drug cost thousands of dollars? Why does simple lab work done during a few days in a hospital cost more than a car? And what is so different about the medical ecosystem that causes technology advances to drive bills up instead of down?”

    Why, indeed.

  • And, because the medical billing story is almost certain to raise your blood pressure, here’s 15 Hedgehogs With Things That Look Like Hedgehogs as therapy.