So Very Uncool

The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

Apple to fix geolocation bug

iOS 7.1 to Fix Geolocation Issue That Broke Location-Based Apps

That’s great and all but this has broken many geolocation apps since September 18th (iOS 7’s release date). It broke Apple’s own “Find My Friends” app too which now only works if both users have the app open. The only purpose of the app is to be able to find someone regardless of whether or not the app is open. How do you break the core functionality of a popular app and then take around seven months to fix it? How do you not catch this during testing? This wasn’t new functionality … it was keeping the same functionality around from a previous iOS release.

As much as I like Apple’s products, it’s things like this that made me wish they were as good at software as they are at hardware.

Yelling at the Radio

I’ve listened to the Accidental Tech Podcast with Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Casey Liss for a while now and three things confuse me about these guys.

  1. They hate trackpads – Mice are good for precision photo manipulation and first person shooters. Apple makes the best trackpads and if you spend a lot of time using the iPad and are used to gestures then how can you not like the Magic Trackpad?? Heresy.
  2. They don’t use iCloud for backups – They asked “Does anyone pay for iCloud backups?” The answer is YES! THIS GUY! Apparently these guys back their phones up via iTunes. I bought my parents an iPhone 4S in 2012 to replace the 3GS I had. Because we use iCloud for backups, all they had to do was power down one phone, power up the new one, put in their iCloud username and password and their old iPhone content migrated to the new phone. Seamlessly. Painlessly. Ever have your phone die when you’re traveling and you have to replace it? I have. It happened in early 2010 before iCloud existed. Do you know how great it would’ve been to restore it without needing my home computer? I pay for the larger size because I want my photos and videos stored with Apple too. I also backup my photos and videos to CrashPlan and Dropbox. Multiple backups are good. It’s cheap enough I don’t know why one wouldn’t do this. A good rule of thumb: If someone offers you cheap, plentiful, automated backups … YOU TAKE IT! I believe Apple should make it free and give you enough to back up every device you’ve bought but that’s a different argument. If you support less tech savvy relatives with tech support, these types of backups are great.
  3. They look down their nose at Facebook – I don’t use Facebook is the new “I don’t even own a TV“. All these guys use Twitter which, to me, is equally terrible but for them to be technologists and dismiss Facebook is strange to me. John Gruber, who covers Apple and has a podcast too, seems to do the same thing. WIRED recently covered Facebook’s many technical innovations … most all of which are open-sourced and free. The biggest problem with Facebook is the way a lot of people use it. It’s not inherently awful and it produces a lot of useful tech.

None of this really diminishes the quality of the show but it does make me scream at my phone wondering how fellow Apple nerds can have such opinions 🙂

Good Looking People Have No Spine

Philip Seymour Hoffman died this week of an apparent drug overdose. I won’t engage in hyperbole about how great an actor he was. What I will do is say that this site’s name was an homage to my favorite of his roles … Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous in 2000Here’s the scene in question:

 

Lester Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
William Miller: Well, it was fun.
Lester Bangs: Because they make you feel cool. And hey, I met you. You are not cool.
William Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.
Lester Bangs: Because we are uncool. Women will always be a problem for guys like us. Most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good-looking people, they got no spine. Their art never lasts. Oh, they get the girls, but we’re smarter.
William Miller: Yeah, I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Because great art is about the guilt and longing, and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love. Hey, let’s face it, you got a big head start.
William Miller: I’m glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I’m always home. I’m uncool.
William Miller: Me too.
Lester Bangs: You’re doing great, man. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

Out of all his roles, this was the one I could identify with the most. Forget the historical Lester Bangs for a moment. Hoffman portrays a gregarious, wizened, burnout of a figure that’s a mentor for William Miller. A man who was great but unappreciated. Successful in spite of himself but never lived up to his full potential. Someone who recognized a basic truth about himself and his place in the world and what it meant to be “uncool”. I know it was Crowe who wrote the words but it was Hoffman who brought it to life. Crowe, on his website, said this about Hoffman’s performance:

“My original take on this scene was a loud, late night pronouncement from Lester Bangs.  A call to arms.  In Phil’s hands it became something different. A scene about quiet truths shared between two guys, both at the crossroads, both hurting, and both up too late.  It became the soul of the movie.  In between takes, Hoffman spoke to no one.  He listened only to his headset, only to the words of Lester himself.  (His Walkman was filled with rare Lester interviews.) When the scene was over, I realized that Hoffman had pulled off a magic trick.  He’d leapt over the words and the script, and gone hunting for the soul and compassion of the private Lester, the one only a few of us had ever met.  Suddenly the portrait was complete. The crew and I will always be grateful for that front row seat to his genius.”

Whenever I think of Hoffman, it’s not the unkempt, bespectacled thespian who looked increasingly uncomfortable in interviews in the decade preceding his death. Instead, he’ll always be Lester Bangs to me.

The Hidden Meaning in Pricing

Bitcasa is a company that has angled to be a Dropbox competitor. Their hook? Unlimited Storage for $99/year. This week, that deal is no more. Now the same storage costs you $999/year (or $99 monthly if you go month to month). Over 10x the cost for the same thing.

A while back, I went apoplectic when Mozy moved from $5/month pricing to a variable rate that would’ve jacked my prices up 2,222%.Why would a company do this? The answer is, in my opinion, sometimes it’s because they want to exit the consumer market. It’s a passive aggressive way of getting rid of your most unprofitable customers. In Mozy’s case, they were acquired by EMC whose enterprise storage offerings are most assuredly not aimed at a cost friendly market. EMC doesn’t want the $5/month Carbonite, CrashPlan, or BackBlaze customers. Jack up the prices to insane levels and home users leave. Sure, Mozy offers a home plan of 50 GB for $6/month. CrashPlan, Carbonite, and BackBlaze all offer unlimited backup for $5/month. It’s like Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s all selling a $3 burger and Steak ‘n Shake decides to sell one for $350. The message is “We don’t want you as a customer but if you’re dumb enough to pay it, we’ll take your money …”

Is the same true for Bitcasa? I’m not certain. 98% of their customers (including me) aren’t using anywhere close to 5 TB of storage and 92% aren’t even using 1 TB, so what’s the deal? I suspect it’s to bring them closer to Dropbox’s pricing plans. They do offer 1 TB for $99 which is far more than Dropbox’s 100 GB for the same price. The only problem is that their technology is not as fluid as Dropbox’s. If I upload a large file in Dropbox, the bandwidth is throttled so it doesn’t make my Internet connection unusable. On Bitcasa it consumes all my outbound data until the file is loaded. The syncing seems to go on forever even when a file is done loading. I could go on and on. I tolerated the very rough edges of their technology because unlimited storage was a good deal that no other competitor offered. That deal made one overlook the immature implementation of their software but now this becomes much harder to ignore.

Passive aggressiveness is not a good strategy in life or in business. If you want to exit a market, do so with conviction. Had Mozy said that they were changing course to become an enterprise storage offering after the EMC acquisition and that they would cease offering unlimited home backup at any price, I would’ve respected it. Same for Bitcasa … tell me you want to more directly compete with Dropbox and that means ending the unlimited plan. Unlimited storage at $1,000/year is a price that no individual consumer will pay.

Even though I’m grandfathered in, I will likely stop using the service because I now no longer have faith that they really want me as a customer or that they’ll continue to be around much longer.

Converting the Muggles

I enjoyed reading Paul Stamatiou’s piece on why Android is Better (for him). I’m often fascinated on why people switch ecosystems and I like that he found something that works so well for him and that he provided a very in-depth, thorough review. It was a great read. The only thing I would like to comment on is his closing paragraph. Paul writes:

“The Android community lacks a champion. An evangelist that doesn’t obsess over hardware specs and has a broader appeal. Someone that vividly illustrates how Android can fit into the ebb and flow of your daily life as it has mine. And sure, even someone to encourage budding developers to take their next idea to Android. Where is the Marco Arment or John Gruber of Android? We’ll get there.”

The entire blog entry prior to that paragraph talks about how he changes almost everything about his phone’s stock Android experience and then wonders why there’s no champion who has a broader appeal to evangelize Android as a platform to what is presumably normal users (i.e. non-tinkerers). I would argue that the average smartphone user doesn’t really care about most of the use cases that comprise Paul’s post and the ones who do don’t need an evangelist. Anecdotally, I know geeks and normal people who use iOS and most of their use cases overlap. I know relatively few who even bother to jailbreak anymore. They live within the “constraints” of iOS quite comfortably and happily whether they’re power users or normal users. Both groups of folks buy apps and use the phone to its potential. With Android, all of the people I know who use it are either completely non-technical and would easily be fine with a phone lacking smartphone capabilities (i.e. they don’t use their phone to its potential and seldom buy apps) or are hardcore geeks who customize it to the most minute detail. The kicker is that most of the folks that I personally know that are hardcore geeks that use Android pirate apps, seldom buy any apps, and were drawn to the platform because it was easier to do that on Android than it was on iOS. That is, I don’t know any “normal” users on Android like I know on iOS. Data on the usage patterns of iOS and Android customers would suggest that my observations are not unique to me as more people buy apps on iOS than Android and more people on iOS than Android routinely surf the web on their mobile devices. How do you evangelize development on a platform where many users are indifferent to the platform’s capabilities or are only interested in what they can make the platform do for free?

Marco Arment has some insightful comments on Paul’s writeup too.

Some Thoughts on iOS 7

So last week, Apple announces iOS 7 and there are three camps: One, the group like my parents who aside from having to get used to a slightly different interface will continue to use it and likely love it. Two, people like me who appreciate that they’re going in a different direction and trying new things and are looking forward to it. Three, people that say snarky things about a lack of innovation, copying features from others, etc. more →

I Am a Cranky Old Man

In venturing out last night to go to a concert, I observed some really annoying and selfish behavior. Let me give you some examples.

  • I encountered road construction. This is one of those weird, unsafe things where traffic entering the Interstate can’t just safely merge and you have to yield to oncoming traffic. Traffic cones are set up sporadically to show you where to go. The rule is that you queue up behind other cars and go one at a time. In two separate instances, I saw two vehicles that were third or more in the queue simply pull out through a hole in the traffic cones and enter the Interstate with no respect to the order that should have been followed and could’ve caused an accident for the vehicle that was supposed to be merging. One of the vehicles was a stretch Hummer. Take the most obnoxious vehicle already (Hummer) and magnify it by five. Seems about right for a stretch Hummer to do that.
  • In the event that I saw last night (comedy show in a large auditorium) signs and announcements were made to please refrain from filming the performers and to not use flash photography. Just about every person had their phones out and constant, obnoxious strobing flashes were a distraction throughout the show If you’re in a dark auditorium and the only light is on the stage where the performer is, why would you not turn off your flash since in that situation the flash does nothing but illuminate the back of the heads of the people in front of you? Your flashes literally do nothing except annoy and distract the people around you. Last year, Apple was granted a patent that would disable camera phones in certain locations. I doubt they’ll ever implement it but it is my dream feature. They could compromise and watermark videos shot in certain locations with your phone number and email address in the center of the screen and disable the flash and I’d be happy. I’m with Louis CK … put your phone down and live your life.
  • In the same event, loud drunken hecklers ruined the last five to ten minutes of the show with their obnoxious comments.
  • Leaving the event from a crowded parking garage, it’s polite to let one vehicle trying to pull out in front of you as you leave as it allows everyone to leave in an orderly fashion. I witnessed multiple events of people blocking people from leaving.

These aren’t isolated cases. My wife works in retail and she sees rude customers that begin conversations at the escalation point without even starting at the “Can you help me with my problem?” stage. The problem in every one of these cases is the worship of the self above all else. In every case, people know what they should do, they know that the rules benefit everyone equally, and they choose to ignore them for their own gratification. It’s not like doing the right thing in these cases causes some massive inconvenience or requires some huge personal sacrifice; these are all literally events that require a minimal effort. Be quiet, be courteous, be polite, be respectful. The Golden Rule exists in most faiths and one could argue is the very basis for any morality system. These are all things that most of us are taught in kindergarten.You’ve heard the saying “It’s the least I could do”? This is quite literally the least someone could do. However, they do not do it and must not feel bad about that. I’d wager most of these people who engage in these activities do not even perceive what colossal, selfish cretins they really are because this behavior is so ingrained now that if you called people out on it most of them wouldn’t even comprehend what you were talking about.

I saw people on a plane last week who were sitting in first class with me and they were on the first row with their shoes off and their feet on the wall of the plane. Consider that for a moment: you’re sitting in an area that is the most comfortable (and expensive) part of a plane in the seats that will allow you to be the first on or off the aircraft and that still isn’t good enough so you have to make yourself at home that much more? At what point will I see folks who are just sitting in their boxers once we hit 10,000 feet? These folks don’t even stop and consider “You know, I’m in close quarters with a hundred or more people for the next couple of hours. Maybe I keep my shoes on and sit like an adult until I get home.” Or how about the people that bring the most pungent food on a plane and proceed to eat it mid-flight. To me it’s no different that if you lean over and squeeze out a huge fart. You’ve introduced an unpleasant smell into a confined space but hey, at least you’re happy.

You might be wondering “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is it’s endemic to our society. It’s the root of what’s wrong with us as a species. I’m not advocating giving up all material possessions and moving to Calcutta to help the poor but are we so arrogant as a species that we can’t simply observe simple societal niceties as manners, politeness, and respect for others? Why do people put themselves above everyone else? Why do worship ourselves?

Has it always been like this? Is this a new thing in society? Is it just my fellow Americans? Are people this rude the world over? Let me know on Twitter @veryuncool.

Things I learned about Alaska

I took a two week vacation to Alaska and worked my way from Fairbanks to the Alaskan coast for a cruise that terminated in Vancouver. Here’s some things I learned about Alaska:

  • Fairbanks is close to the Arctic Circle but it was in the 70’s and 80’s in late May and June. It got hot. Skagway is on the coast nearly 500 miles south and it got cold. I could get away with a T-shirt south of the Arctic Circle but needed a jacket and gloves 500 miles south of that.
  • In Fairbanks and at Denali National Park, the sun never set. Sure they say it set around midnight but really it just spun in the sky. It was disconcerting to go to bed at 11:30 and have the same amount of sunlight we have in Atlanta at 7 PM.
  • There is no LTE in the state of Alaska on Verizon. Wait, I take that back … they turned it on two days after I left. Figures.
  • Speaking of Internet, you truly don’t realize how addicted you are until you have no access to it.
  • Mt. McKinley is truly breathtaking to see in person. It looks unreal … as if God himself Photoshopped it into my pictures.
  • I did not realize that the Fairbanks area was an arid desert before arriving … but my sinuses sure did.
  • Saw a lot of moose but no bears or wolves.
  • The scenery was beautiful. One could move there for that alone. Everywhere you look is as untouched landscape as you’ll see anywhere in the world.
  • You can’t drink glacier water … it has ice worms.
  • No matter how well you pack, never underestimate luggage handlers abilities to destroy your cheap luggage.
  • I am of nerdy stock and not the hardy stock one would need to survive in a place where the temperature fluctuates 150°F degrees in a year.