Steve Jobs and the Founder’s Pain

Steve Jobs and the Founder’s Pain: And that’s why I like Jony Ive. He too clearly feels that pain (he once insisted they hold up an entire product launch because he didn’t like the polish on the screws) but he doesn’t lash out at people about it. Instead, he sits down with the people involved and works to fix the problem until they get it just right.

But does it require so much pain? My hope is that I can be just as exacting, demand work just as good, without emotionally destroying people in the process. I want to be a perfectionist and a nice guy. I want to be Jony Ive. I hope it works — for my sake, and Apple’s.

[As I’ve said before. I feel the same way. Sociopath or no, I’ve certainly done my fair share of yelling and bi-polaresque it’s great/sucks sort of thing. And still the hardest part remains finding the passion and will to care at that level and yet not allow that to create pain for others. It may not be Ive’s nature, but it is a part of many of us. We can all do better, and learn from those who don’t try to control this.]
Source: Aaron Swartz: The Weblog

Is This Really the Tablet Everyone’s Talking About?

Is This Really the Tablet Everyone’s Talking About?: All of the reviews seem to agree on the main points: the Kindle Fire is best at video playback, not very good for reading, mediocre at web browsing, and acceptable for playing a handful of Android games.

Given its strength as a video-playback device, though, Amazon really should have given it more storage. One of the most common use-cases for watching video on tablets is on airplanes or while commuting, neither of which reliably offer Wi-Fi fast enough for streaming video. Ask any iPad owner who watches a lot of video if 6 GB would be enough storage.

[Shrug. Scary, though, is the thought that they’ve made an even more compelling shopping experience. :)]

Of pens and swords

In the other haptic interface, a single hand lightly holds a goose feather dipped in ink. This tool makes use of no bold physical gestures and in fact ceases to work if the user’s body is in motion. Much like the touchscreen interfaces that Bret Victor frets about, this goose feather forces the user to a limited range of gestures with just one hand. And the output is only words.

As for the comparison: someone famously wrote about which of these interfaces is mightier.

Moving into the future, interaction designers should remember that simple interfaces are often the best. More importantly, the true worth of an interface is often expressed by how it fits into the world. (Microsoft’s vision of the future: more sloppy info provides a good example.) Don’t get too wrapped up in tactical details or new features. The best experience in the future may very well come from something old and mighty.

[And continuing my own theme, people love when technology fades into the distance. When things “just work”. If it doesn’t do that, it’s not what it should be.]
Source: Good Experience Blog

Of iPhones and Thermostats, a legacy has begun

Today Nest ships their first product. It’s a thermostat that is essentially a smart phone tied to your heating/cooling systems, with a some sensors and the ability to learn. It learns when you turn the temps up and down, how often you walk by it when you’re home, how quickly or slowly your home heats and cools and most likely some other things. They sold out of 4 months of production in 72 hours.

Earlier this week, I had to bring my phone in to get it swapped out. And while at this backwater little Apple store ay 9AM I again saw the line outside for people purchasing the iPhone 4S five weeks after its initial release. I’ve seen this by every store I’ve been in or walked past. Two in New York City, one in Westchester County, One in Rockland County and this one in NJ.

4S queue outside of an Apple store

Nest was started by an Apple alum, and was a designer there for 9 years. The guy worked on the iPods, iPhones, and in a sense because they share internals the iPad. And having absorbed the design and manufacturing culture of Apple he essentially would have it no other way at his new company. That isn’t easy—his relatively little company cannot command the scale and resources that Apple routinely does as part of their strategy for success.

I have a bunch of thermostats in my house. When we moved in I changed them to “set back” thermostats—they are “programmable” and so allow you to adjust energy use automatically based on the time of day and day of the week. Sadly, in my house, the heating and air systems are completely separate. And worse there are additional individual heat systems as well. So it goes a little something like this…

There’s three zones for the main hydronic heat. Two upstairs (bedrooms vs. living area/dining room) and another zone downstairs in the spare bedroom. There’s a radiant system in the kitchen, although it turns out to be more for joy than because the kitchen needs the heat. We didn’t know when we redid the kitchen and pulled out the main system heat, so we didn’t risk having a cold, uncomfortable kitchen. There’s also a gas fireplace downstairs that serves two purposes. It adds warmth and joy to the play room where again we pulled out the main system heat. It also runs when there is no power so that room because *the* living space when power goes out for any length of time. Lastly the central air conditioning system is single zone and on its own thermostat.

That’s six thermostats, three systems and two pumps. And while some careful programming makes it all work, the system is not smart, it can’t react to change. What I’d really like is main control that is informed that we’re home and our desired temp is x this time of year. Also, obviously the related settings for when we’re not home, and when we arrive home so that it can start warming or cooling the house in advance. It should also know the outside temp, so it can adjust to changing conditions. It would be nice if nest can manage all this… and maybe it can now, but I have no idea as of yet. And no, I haven’t ordered one, the current model may not help with this overall problem.

Screen Shot 2011 11 10 at 9 26 27 PM

But why the big embrace from so many? Because it’s pretty looking? Sure, to some degree. Because it begins to act like we think appliances should in 2011? No doubt. But I think there’s more. I think people are also applauding another company producing technology that also cares about aesthetics and simplicity. Unlike my current thermostats all of which have a beavy of buttons and switches and no intelligence, Nest’s thermostat has one dial and one button, a bunch of sensors, and two forms of connectivity.

Nest is a child of Apple and Steve. Twitter and Square are as well although less directly, and in mostly software. They are about delivering the critical functions for a service in a smart way, and reducing the “options” by making smart decisions. They are “designed”.

People are embracing that more than anything. I just replaced my doorbell switch. I used an inexpensive piece of junk. I’ve looked for doorbell switches and found quite few. Some seem wonderfully modern looking. Others have gee whiz LED lights. But for the cost, none of them did something that made me think this is worth the trouble it’s going to be to install. They didn’t take notice of where the average home owner would have to install the thing.

I want my washer and dryer to be able to send me a notification when they’re cycle’s are done. I want the water softener to tell me when it’s running low on salt. It’s 2011.

I watch houses get “stick” built the same way they were 100 years ago. Sure, a few products are different, but the techniques haven’t generally improved. There are better answers now. There are better systems* (see below). What is more simple than a house that doesn’t need a lot of heating or cooling? The change that we feel when we carry our smart phones is the change we want for all aspects of our lives. And it now up to the next generation of people who have experienced the effects of aesthetics and simplicity in design and the power it has for so many to take a leading role in changing the world with insanely great products. People have raised concerns about Apple’s future. I’m not concerned because there’s momentum there. People have resources and embedded knowledge. Apple will be fine for years. What’s more important to me is to see the same passion and care for design that goes into the Apple products now get going in other companies. And with Nest, it seems they are starting to do so.

* Bensonwood’s OBPlusWall: What sets Bensonwood apart is the attention to energy performance, green materials, and rigorous building science. At the heart of this system is the OBPlusWall (OB for “Open-Built”). These factory-built (panelized) walls are framed using 9.5-inch-deep I-studs filled with R-35 dense-pack cellulose insulation, then clad with exterior moisture-resistant OSB sheathing (with taped joints). Advanced gasket technology is used for air sealing, detailing is provided to minimize thermal bridging, a drainage plane is installed on the exterior, and integral baseboard raceways are provided on the interior for electrical and data cables to eliminate wall penetrations for wiring.

The computer modeling not only controls the exact design and fabrication of these wall panels, but even identifies the proper placement of nylon straps for hoisting the (heavy) modules into place on the jobsite. All this is done with a minimum of waste through material optimization and factory fabrication. OBPlusWall modules ship to the jobsite with windows installed and sometimes also with siding, though for some projects the builder chooses to handle more of the finish work on-site.
The companion to the R-35 wall system is a standard R-38 roof system, also insulated with cellulose. Where performance goals demand, Bensonwood can go a lot further with energy performance—by using deeper I-joists and including additional insulation components in the wall and roof systems.

Recently the company was finishing a house designed to Passive House standards. This walls will have an additional 3.5 inches of cellulose on the interior and two inches of polyisocyanurate on the exterior, to achieve approximately R-60 performance. That project was slowed down because advanced Passive House windows took some time to arrive from Germany—one of the complications with creating state-of-the-art buildings today.

PS I worked on a project with NYSERDA, at the energy company where I once toiled, to see if energy use behavior would change via smart meters that relayed the daily market fluctuations. The smart meters eliminated the “social” pricing we’re used to paying for energy. We pay the same price all day and night though the actual cost of energy fluctuates based on demand like any other commodity market. The idea was to find out whether people would react to this awareness and do the most energy expensive things when energy costs were lower. It was interesting, but ultimately didn’t carry enough information for people to make informed decisions. (You really needed to know how much something was going to cost. If I run the dishwasher now, what does that cost versus running it in the middle of the night?)

The Social Graph is Neither (Pinboard Blog)

[This is deep in the technical weeds, but the piece is great and this made me laugh, so it is worth noting thinks I. ]

The Social Graph is Neither (Pinboard Blog): Here the Ghost of Abstractions Past materializes in a flurry of angle brackets, and says in a sepulchral whisper:

“How about we let people define arbitrary relationships between nodes…”

“Maybe even in XML…”

<Person "john">
    <likesToShareRecipesWith "susan" />

“Of course, we’ll need namespaces…”

  <ns:Person rdf:about="">
     rdf:resource="" />

And RDF rises lurching out of the grave to infect the brains of another generation of young developers.

Sorry, Charlie

Sorry, Charlie: If you think you’ve found a flaw in an airport’s security checkpoint and demonstrate that by getting a harmless smoke bomb through and setting it off in the gift shop, you’ve definitely made your point, but spare us the expression of shocked surprise when the airport cops rush over to beat you with sticks instead of shaking your hand and showering you with flowers and chocolate.

[Well said.]
Source: Coyote Tracks

Accept credit cards already!

Too many small businesses do not pay attention to what’s going on in technology with the oft stated “It’s all too complicated..” etc. But it’s not any more in many cases, and can make life simpler for both you and your customers.

Here’s an announcement from the late to the party Intuit and AT&T. If you like those guys, maybe this is for you. But they’re about two years behind Square, who have added CardCase to their lineup to make things even easier for your customers.

I had a conversation with a small vendor who complained about the ever increasing charges for various cards (points, no points, debit, etc. and the fact that he had to lease the machine forever. All that goes away with Square.

Now I’m the first to admit that the slick scenarios painted by the marketing vids are just that, but even if all it does is allow you to take credit cards it’ll help. Recently the October Snow took out small businesses credit card machines near me. If you’re a pizza shop, and there’s thousands of locals who have had no power for days, shouldn’t you be able to take a credit card? Also, the snow meant roads got salted. I go to the car wash since I’m too lazy to turn on the spigots I shut off for the winter, and once again, no credit cards. Really? Seriously? C’mon people. There’s no excuse anymore. And I wouldn’t mind a “Hello Mr. Berlinger, thanks for returning. Same wash as last time?”

Adobe ends mobile Flash development

Adobe ends mobile Flash development:

If web developers must make non-Flash implementations of everything, why bother making the Flash versions at all? This isn’t just the death of mobile Flash: it’s a confirmation from Adobe that all Flash is on its way out.

Adobe’s management is also being pragmatic about its priorities. Rather than fight a losing battle for a particular runtime, Adobe can focus on what it does best: making tools for creative professionals.

Whether those tools build Flash or HTML apps shouldn’t matter: they should build what creative professionals need to build, and these days, that’s native mobile apps and HTML5 web apps.

[I, for one, will not miss it, though I suspect that it’s HTM5 brethren will visually clog pages just as badly. But maybe, some lessons have been learned…]