Old School Mac Evangelist

My friend Michael Guinn has been running a concierge Mac support and repair service in Santa Barbara and just celebrated 8 years of business. As an Apple Certified Consultant, he makes, “Apple Certified House Calls and Repairs.”

Michael Guinn

His newsletters are folksy and remind me of the old TidBITS updates from the early 90’s. Mick is an old school Mac evangelist sharing the joy of making people’s lives better through technology, not using it to one-up themselves and lord over others.

At Mick’s Macs, we don’t see our clients as “customers.”

Although appropriate in other business models, I’ve never liked that word for ours. For me, “customers” denotes a shopping experience, one less personal than the service and support we provide. When people become our client, they’re never a number. Never. It always makes me smile when people call and begin to remind us who they are and when they last worked with us. It’s one of the rare times I interrupt them with something like, “Tom, of COURSE we know who you are! We upgraded your MacBook Pro last year. How are things?” With caller ID, most of the time we answer the phone calls from existing clients like this: “Hi Kathy! How are you? How can we help you today?” Clients seem to really be happily thrown by this.

Congratulations Mick! If you are in Southern California and need your Mac, iPad, or iPhone checked out, Mick’s Macs.

Apple Watch on cover of Vogue

Apple Watch on Vogue

MacRumors posts that Chinese model Liu Wen will feature the Apple Watch on the cover of next month’s Vogue magazine (wearing the gold Edition model of course).

It is telling that Apple picked China to be the first country to feature the Apple Watch in a commercial fashion publication and, after the pop-up appearance at the Paris Fashion Week.  This is the beginning of what is certain to be a well-scripted product placement campaign for the new device.

While pricing for the base model has been announced at $349, the higher end models are still unknown but pundits are already guessing.

shinkansen

A tale of two incentives

Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.

- How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today, The Guardian

It is standard practice for a Japanese company to pay for an employee’s commute expenses. The government will not tax the company nor will the employee be taxed for the cost of their monthly commute pass. In a sense, the government bears the cost of transporting a company’s workforce, which allows them to spend their resources on locating themselves as close as they can to their customers and vendors who are, mostly, in Tokyo.

As the Guardian article points out, this has allowed for a network of “bed towns” to spring up along the spurs of each of the high speed rail lines to branch out from Tokyo supporting further centralization of the city. Think of Tokyo as a the capital of government, entertainment, media, finance, and business all rolled into one megalopolis. The equivalent of Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago all rolled into one. It is very difficult for a business to be located outside of this center and succeed and, with the commute subsidy, very little reason to do so.

The Japanese commute expense subsidy gives incentives for people to use the public transportation industry so, as a result, Japan has one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

Contrast this with how the tax incentives in the United States work. Mortgage interest is by far the biggest deduction you can apply to your income which supports the housing industry and, more directly, the banks. While this has allowed for distributed population centers to pop up around the country where ever people decide to invest in their home but has also contributed to successive housing bubbles.

Which would you rather have? A kick-ass public transit system that efficiently gets you where you want to go or an over-valued ranch house in the suburbs and an hour commute by car each way into work?

Aaron Swartz’s “crime”

If you haven’t seen the documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy – go watch it. Reminders of Aaron’s spirit are everywhere and just today, while searching for something else, I came across this post from Alex Stamos, Chief Information Security Officer at Yahoo.

If I had taken the stand as planned and had been asked by the prosecutor whether Aaron’s actions were “wrong”, I would probably have replied that what Aaron did would better be described as “inconsiderate”. In the same way it is inconsiderate to write a check at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library needed for a History 101 paper. It is inconsiderate to download lots of files on shared wifi or to spider Wikipedia too quickly, but none of these actions should lead to a young person being hounded for years and haunted by the possibility of a 35 year sentence.

The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”

Apple Watch

Apple Watch Pricing

Model Price Source
Apple Watch Sport $349 Announced
Apple Watch $449 Ewan Spence
Apple Watch Edition $549 The Register
Apple Watch Edition $749 Ewan Spence
Apple Watch $749 Ben Taylor
Apple Watch $999 John Gruber
Apple Watch Edition $999 Brian Blair
Apple Watch Edition $1,200 TechCrunch
Apple Watch Edition $1,499 Ben Taylor
Apple Watch Edition $2,000 The Street
Apple Watch Edition $4,999 John Gruber

John Gruber posted one of the most thorough estimates of what he thinks might be the price of the other two Apple Watch models. In anticipation of the flurry of counter-estimates, I thought I’d keep a running table showing what other pundits are putting down as their best guess and update it as I get new estimates via Google Alerts.

But no need to keep others from joining in on the fun. What’s your best guess for the price of the gold Apple Watch Edition?

Apple Watch Edition

Microsoft Buys Minecraft, 3 perspectives

How much money was the company bought for?
Microsoft acquired Mojang for a smooth 2.5 BILLION dollars.
Mojang blog post

I love you. All of you. Thank you for turning Minecraft into what it has become, but there are too many of you, and I can’t be responsible for something this big. In one sense, it belongs to Microsoft now. In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.

It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.
Notch, on his personal website

Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will acquire Mojang for $2.5 billion. Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even in FY15 on a GAAP basis. Subject to customary closing conditions and any regulatory review, the acquisition is expected to close in late 2014.
Microsoft Press Release

Blade Runner Markets of Shenzhen

I really should read Joi Ito’s blog more. He has a fascinating post about a recent trip to Shenzhen where he visited the back alley electronic component markets and observes an ecosystem teeming with activity, rapidly iterating on designs in a way that I’m sure makes Silicon Valley rate of evolution feel glacial.

However, the more interesting phones were the phones that weren’t like anything that existed anywhere else. Keychains, boom boxes, little cars, shiny ones, blinky ones – it was an explosion of every possible iteration on phones that you could imagine. Many were designed by the so-called Shanzhai pirates who started by mostly making knockoffs of existing phones, but had become agile innovation shops for all kind of new ideas because of the proximity to the manufacturing ecosystem. They had access to the factories, but more importantly, they had access to the trade skills (and secrets) of all of the big brand phone manufacturers whose schematics could be found for sale in shops. These schematics and the engineers in the factories knew the state of the art and could apply this know-how to their own scrappy designs that could be more experimental and crazy. In fact many new technologies had been invented by these “pirates” such as the dual sim card phone.

The other amazing thing was the cost. There is a very low cost chipset that bunnie talks about that seems to be driving these phones which is not available outside of China, but they appear to do quad-band GSM, bluetooth, SMS, etc. on a chip that costs about $2. The retail price of the cheapest full featured phone is about $9. Yes. $9. This could not be designed in the US – this could only be designed by engineers with tooling grease under their fingernails who knew the manufacturing equipment inside and out, as well as the state of the art of high-end mobile phones.

While intellectual property seems to be mostly ignored, tradecraft and trade secrets seem to be shared selectively in a complex network of family, friends and trusted colleagues. This feels a lot like open source, but it’s not. The pivot from piracy to staking out intellectual property rights isn’t a new thing. The United States blatantly stole book copyright until it developed it’s own publishing very early in US history. The Japanese copied US auto companies until it found itself in a leadership position. It feels like Shenzhen is also at this critical point where a country/ecosystem goes from follower to leader.

Read the whole post. It’s an amazing romp through the rough edges of capitalism which makes a nice counter-point to the slick marketing videos out of Cupertino.

Solve by Entertaining

Love this! Use technology to turn ordinary, functional objects into something that’s fun and interactive. Urban environments offer so many opportunities to shine a spotlight on individuals which can make someone’s day.

Also, the obligatory “making of” video below.

It’s all part of an advertising campaign for the Smart car, a brand that promotes “urban joy” and safety.

Connected Address Book Prototype

Joseph Smarr’s blog post, Turns out we still need Plaxo (or something like it) had me digging through my archives for some screenshots taken from an old prototype I worked on a few years back. The concept was simple and combined the double opt-in privacy features you get from Facebook with the simplicity of a phone address book.

The story starts with two phones, Boris’ on the left and Sarah’s on the right. The owner of the phone has a public card they can edit (outlined in yellow). By tapping on it, they can add whatever information they feel comfortable sharing to the public. Updating this info on your phone copies it up to the public directory. On it you see a photo, name, and latest status.

Step One: Two phones, Boris on the left, Sarah on the right.
Step One: Two phones, Boris on the left, Sarah on the right.

Boris decides he wants to search for Sarah. He begins to type and the list of matching entries narrows until Sarah’s entry is highlighted.

Boris searches for Sarah.
Boris searches for Sarah.

Tapping on Sarah’s entry, Boris can view Sarah’s public card. This info is stored on a server, tied to her phone number. Think of it as the white pages in the cloud, like a DNS record for people, matching IP addresses to domain names.

Sarah's public card.
Sarah’s public card.

Boris has the option to save the public contact record to his local phone book. This action sends a notification to Sarah (it says “New Contact” below Boris’ name as a status) that Boris has saved her public card to his phone book. It’s like a Facebook friend request but more functional.

Notification shows Boris has saved Sarah's contact card.
Notification shows Boris has saved Sarah’s contact card.

Tapping on Boris’ name in the list view, Sarah can pull up Boris’ contact card. Because Boris has already saved Sarah’s card to his phone, Sarah has the rights to view Boris’ full contact card with additional information such as his phone number and email address. Sarah has the option to Accept or Decline Boris’ connection request.

Boris' full contact card is unlocked on Sarah's phone.
Boris’ full contact card is unlocked on Sarah’s phone.

Sarah accepts Boris’ connection request so now Boris has access to Sarah’s full contact card and “unlocks” additional information on Sarah’s profile such as her phone number and email address.

Boris now has access to Sarah's full contact details.
Boris now has access to Sarah’s full contact details.

Now that both Sarah and Boris have saved the other’s contact card to their phone, they unlock private information that is only available to their connections. The act of saving a contact card can be either via the look-up method above or even by calling someone and that person saving the phone number from their call log to their address book.

Completing double opt-in, both Boris and Sarah have full access to each others full profile.
Completing double opt-in, both Boris and Sarah have full access to each others full profile.

Later, if Sarah wants to “pull back” her contact details from Boris’ phone, all she has to do is delete Boris’ contact card from her address book. Once she does so, her contact card on Boris’ phone reverts back to its public profile.

Sarah deletes Boris from her phone book, her phone number & email are hidden again.
Sarah deletes Boris from her phone book, her phone number & email are hidden again.

There are many versions of this type of system. As Joseph mentioned, Facebook offers this if you look at the About section on anyone’s profile. Google+ also allows you to manage access to private information based on which circle you save someone to. Even Plaxo had the concept of Work & Home card and you could chose who had access to what.

My point is that no one manages their personal contact details as part of a social network. The only way you’re going to get people to keep their data current is if their card is in front of them every day as part of their daily interaction with people.

Every time you call or text someone using the system above, you’re going to leave a link to your public calling card on their phone. As people interact with your card, they are going to be unlocking additional details that will help build their connection with you. Let’s say your work address or busy/free space on your calendar is part of that additional information that gets unlocked. You’re going to want to keep this information accurate.

There are all sorts of holes you can poke into such a system. For example, I can write my profile to look like some celebrity and save a bunch of people to my phone book and hope to dupe someone into counter-saving my profile to their phone and thus revealing their private information. To counter this, maybe you need to verify people’s names with a text message with a link or code that ties their name to their phone number.

Also, once someone unlocks your profile, there is no real way to take it back as they can take a screenshot and save that info as a photo.

Yes, there are holes but as a start what do you think. Is it intuitive? Does it make sense? The concept of your phone number as the equivalent of an IP address tied to a directory that contains further details is attractive. If we can get over the fact that a phone number isn’t really private and should be used as one-half of a key opens up many possibilities.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

a blog by Ian Kennedy