One Laptop Per Child

I’m sure many of you know of this visionary project from the OLPC Foundation to distribute laptops to less fortunate children across the world. Their goal is to…

Empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-aged child.

OLPC was founded by Nicholas Negroponte, most famous for his work at the MIT Media Lab. I was first introduced to Mr. Negroponte in 1995 when I read his book Being Digital. It was an attempt to decode the mysteries of multimedia, virtual reality, bandwidth and of course the Internet. It was a book about the future. Indeed Mr. Negroponte, it seems, is mostly about the future. Referring to OLPC he states…

“It’s an education project, not a laptop project.”

In a rare moment I was watching TV this evening (The Simpsons) and saw an ad for a program that the OLPC Foundation is running called, Give One Get One. Donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and receive one for the child in your life as recognition of your contribution.


A fantastic idea! What better way to help spread the word than to actually get your hands on one of these laptops. I immediately went online and donated one. Go check it out and if you can, help them out. If you do, you get an email with Mr. Negroponte’s signature.


Disney’s DVD Fast Play Technology Isn’t Fast

If you have kids you know what I’m about to describe. You have wiped the fingerprint smudges from a Disney DVD, loaded it in the player all while your kids are screaming to see it. On comes the FBI warning, then the Interpol warning (sometimes in French, that’s really helpful), then comes Disney’s extra special patent pending technology, Fast Play.


While you are trying to decide whether to be sucked in or not, a friendly voice says the following:

This Disney DVD is enhanced with Disney’s Fast Play. Your movie and a selection of bonus features will begin automatically. To bypass Fast Play, select the Main Menu button at any time. Fast Play will begin in a moment…

Here is where it breaks down for me. Shouldn’t Fast Play actually start the movie fast? But if you make that selection it actually just starts the parade of trailers; one mind-numbing preview after another. All the while your kids are losing it and demanding to see Bambi. But if you select Main Menu instead, you bypass the trailers and can start the film much more quickly. One additional tip here, you can actually speed up getting to the feature by going to Scene Selection after arriving at the Main Menu and selecting a chapter, usually chapter 1. That little trick can reduce screams by as much as 15%.

I know Disney wants to promote their other products, and they have a right to do so, but don’t mislead and frustrate parents and their children with this kind of labeling bait and switch. You can read Disney’s FAQ on Fast Play here. I get a kick out of how they spin it as if they are helping families. One other thing, Don’t you love it when someone gives you one of their old Disney titles and it shows a preview for a film, then proudly announces that it’s coming Fall 2002?

I bought the movie on DVD, and I should be able to use my remote control to start watching it immediately. It’s fine to put promotional material on the disc, but give the customer real choice, not a corporate contrived choice. Just wait till I blog about the experience we are now made to endure when we pay for a first run film in the theater.

Sonos Solves Leopard Issues and Delivers a Great Customer Experience

I’m a huge fan of the Sonos music system. As posted a few weeks ago I was unable to get it to work with Mac OS Leopard. In that post I called for Sonos to develop a new version of their desktop controller software that would be compatible with Leopard. They actually did that in short order, posting a new download on November 20th.

I installed that download but still couldn’t get it to work, so I called their tech support. The customer experience was excellent. First their IVR phone system told me where I was in the cue and gave me a choice of what I could do next. I could either wait, or elect to have them call me back when it was my turn. This is really great. When I selected that option it read my phone number back to me to ensure it was correct. This made me, the customer, feel as if they know who I am.

In less than 5 minutes a call came in. They were not able to fix it in that session, but kept the ticket open. Two days later they sent me an e-mail asking me to call back to speak to a tier 3 support person. That guy was busy, but Matt, a tier 1, wanted to try something, so I let him. In less than 15 minutes he fixed the problem.

Thanks Sonos. I am enjoying music throughout my house again.

iPod to PC Transfer Programs: Caveat Emptor

I recently had a some music files corrupted in iTunes. Uncorrupted copies were on my iPod, but iTunes doesn’t give you any option of copying music on your iPod back to iTunes. (Steve Jobs are you reading this? Why not?) So I did what any resourceful digital consumer would do, I went to Google. With a simple search of iPod to PC, I found a number of software programs claiming to solve this problem.After careful reading of the various web site details I selected Lenogo iPod to Computer, paid my $29.99 and downloaded it. Once installed it would not open, telling me it didn’t work on my architecture. I have Mac OS X Leopard, but their web site requirements indicated it was compatible with Mac OS X and higher. I sent several e-mails to their tech support address, but received no answer after over a week. Not a good customer experience. I have disputed the credit card charge and deleted it from my computer.Back to the web. I found a program called PD+Rescue for iPod, sold by TastyBytes Software, Inc., also for $29.99. So I sent them an e-mail and asked them if it was compatible with Leopard. Their response came quickly and indicated that it would work. Ok, a second download. This one installed and opened and began copying the selected music files back to my iTunes. I was so happy, but it turned out to be short lived. It began to hang up over and over. Very annoying. It also caused my iTunes to hang. Several tech support e-mails ensued, but we could not get it to work. Spent three evenings on this task, no wonder there are so many tech pessimists out there. I deleted it from my hard drive and asked for a refund, which they immediately processed. To be fair, they did work hard at trying to solve it and when they couldn’t, made it right for the customer. Unlike the first company, which completely ignored me.


I thought I would try it one more time. Kind of in a determined mood. This time I chose iPodCopy for Mac at only $19.99, sold by Wide Angle Software here. Downloaded the sample copy and purchased a registration code to own it. Installed, opened and started using it in one minute. It actually did what it promised (what they all promised). The user experience was intuitive and they emulated the iTunes interface as much as possible to help the user through the process. Their online help was actually helpful. Didn’t need to contact their tech support, which of course all of us prefer.So the bottom line. If you are looking for software off the net dig deep and look around at others’ experiences before you charge ahead. It will save you some time.

Double Fracture of the Left Ankle

I don’t frequently write posts of a personal nature, but this event seems to warrant one.

The Friday after Thanksgiving I was walking from house to garage and somehow I overshot the second step. All my weight came down on my ankle which was now turned 90 degrees from top dead center. The result was two bone fractures (fibula and talus for those ER fans) and some seriously stretched ligaments.

My wife immediately took me to Highland Park Hospital, where I got amazing care in short order. What a great experience. They had me in the examination room in less than 10 minutes from hobbling through the door. They brought an x-ray machine to me, and delivered the diagnosis in under 30 minutes. I was out of there in less than an hour! Fantastic customer experience, or should I say patient experience. The following Monday I saw an orthopedic specialist who put me in a fiberglass cast. The prognosis is that I will be healed in 4 weeks. I was very lucky. No surgery, no pins.

Don’t end up like me this holiday season. But if something does happen, I hope you receive the kind of care and attention I received from our health care system, and family. I married so very well.

Be careful, and watch that last step.


Apple’s Site Search Drives Brand Consideration Through Prospect Experience

Apple has always been one of my favorite brands as well as my first choice in computers. I have long admired their web site for how on brand it is, the clean look, crisp copy and easy navigation. My one criticism is that it doesn’t even try to remember me. They never present a home page informed by where I have gone on their site or what I may have purchased from them (and it has been a lot over the years). The same can be said for their email marketing programs. Not a premium placed on targeting the content to me. Great emails to look at, but rarely do I click through and browse or buy. However, their site search capability has caused me to think about overlooking those shortcomings. If you visit the Apple site they have the normal search box in the upper right hand section of the page. Looks like what you see everywhere. But when you start typing everything is different.


I started typing in iPhone. As I was typing a flyout appeared immediately below the box, populated with real time search results that changed with each letter typed. But these search results look more like a web page or a software window. They are categorized, contain descriptions and images, and in some cases prices are displayed. You can always link to a full results page, which is also improved over a normal search results page.


Here is what I got when I typed in iTunes. If you key in something that is not on the site it says “no shortcut was found” and directs you to another page where you might get a “did you mean” suggestion. This is similar to how the Spotlight feature built into their software works.


This experience enhancement gives consumers yet another glimpse into what it is like to own a Mac before owning one. Apple understands how important it is to manage the customer experience (or perhaps prospect experience, as their market share is still small) at every interaction. This is particularly important online, as consumers have a short attention span and are jaded quickly if something doesn’t work or live up to their expectations. Obviously this is much easier to accomplish when you are searching your own site and products vs. the open Internet. But Apple has executed with elegance in design. Apple is now the third largest manufacturer of computers behind HP and Dell. In their stores they have all but eliminated the cash register, as the advisers on the floor can use a hand held device to ring your purchase and email you a receipt. Seems they are always about bringing innovation to someone else’s expertise.

Internet Appliance for the Nuclear Family

As computing evolves, networks expand and technology converges, we are seeing an explosion of new appliances hit the marketplace designed to help consumers remain connected to their new webbed world. There are lots of them that do many things, but the designers who think about culture and society alongside technology will sell the most units. The way people/families live and work today will shape the framework for choosing features and functionality for developers going forward. I’ve spent some time thinking about this and have come up with four imperatives for success.

  • WiFi access, to allow users access to the web, e-mail, blogs, anything that is on the Internet
  • Support for the online community/social networking world by allowing photos and video to be viewed, selected, edited and uploaded. This real time journaling feature is one of the main reasons to have one of these appliances
  • Provide a rich and fun experience for kids, easy switching to the kids account that is sanitized through parental controls
  • Lightweight, rugged, long battery life, and a simple, easy to use interface for all members of the family


I recently had the opportunity to briefly play with one of these new appliances the Eee PC. It is manufactured by ASUSTeK Computer Inc. and sells for under $400. It is white, small and rugged. The software window is displayed on a 7″ screen that is bright and easy to see. The interface has tabs allowing the user to select, Internet, work, learn or play spaces on the screen. This makes it simple to know where to begin. It constantly seeks a WiFi signal and will easily join so you are up and running with a Firefox web browser. You can check e-mail, update your blog, or keep tabs on your friends on Facebook.


It runs on Linux, but they indicate it’s Microsoft XP compatible. I found it relatively easy to use, but a little difficult to control the cursor with the thumb pad. The keyboard has a full set of keys, but because it is hardened, there isn’t much feel when you are typing. You can load on your digital photos and and video clips and upload them. There are also a nice selection of games. You can store music as well. The flash drive size is limited to either 2G, 4G or 8G.

I can easily see myself tossing it into the car for a road trip to keep kids entertained as well as using it myself to update a blog or photos site. Could also serve as a first computer for younger kids, since it is small, lightweight and can keep up with them. I wouldn’t call it a productivity tool, but that’s alright (we have enough of those already) as this milepost is very promising.

The web site that promotes the Eee PC can be found here. It is full of slow loading flash and it is not easy to navigate around from section to section. They are missing an opportunity here. I would also say the product name is not memorable, and the company name even less so.

No Country for Old Men – Film Review

nocountrypost.jpgJoel and Ethan Coen have a talent for hitting the audience right between the eyes (sorry). What an amazing body of work. Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother, Where Art Though?, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and now No Country for Old Men. Yes I’ve left some out, but these are the important works. I ponder long and hard over how best to characterize their films, but I keep changing my mind. My latest word paring description is dramatic surrealism. Their elements are visceral and easily recognized. Serious but laced with humor. Almost always violent, but often the dialog is as sweet as pie. Usually the situation is a little uncomfortable for the characters and the observer, but you can’t possibly look away, no matter what you might imagine will happen. And as you stand back and look at the whole, something is very much askew.

Watching No Country for Old Men frequently evoked Fargo for me. Opening shots of a bleak, barren landscape, not fit for man nor beast. This is not a world of cell phones or blogs, but one of instinct and stop-at-nothing drive. The locations contain only what is essential to the story, no extras, no filler, just pure story. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet and a retired welder living in a run down trailer park in nowhere Texas. He is married to Carla Jean Moss (Kelly MacDonald). All we know about her is she works at Wal-Mart and loves Llewelyn. While he is out hunting one day (still stalking the enemy), he comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone terribly wrong. Carnage everywhere. One of the pick-up trucks is still loaded with product, but there is no money in sight. He follows a trail of blood–the entire movie is a trail of blood–and comes across the last man standing who has $2MM in a sample case. Looks remarkably like the sample case that held the money in Fargo. Llewelyn of course takes the money, thinking that he can actually get away with it. He obviously doesn’t know about one of the basics of life which states, “Just because you find something out there there in the universe doesn’t make it yours.”


Needless to say the finance guys want their cash back. And so their man to retrieve it is Anton Chigurh, played with chilling steadiness by Javier Bardem. They could not have made a better choice. His weapon, or “right tool” is a gas propelled cattle stun/kill gun (no bullets). His voice is deep and dark like the rest of his persona.


Then there is the county sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who is approaching retirement and has presided over this corner of Texas since he was 25. Although age-wise, he still wonders why people do what they do, dealing with it through the use of humor and storytelling. He genuinely wants to solve this case so he remains engaged, but he knows the players in this game are out of his league, so he stays on the fringes.

The story is primarily a violent game of chase between Llewelyn and Anton. Llewelyn leverages his military experience to stay one step ahead, but it takes him too long to discover that the money has been lo jacked with a transponder. There is much these men have in common and we see them doing the same things in isolation, such as treating their own wounds. But only once do they actually speak to each other in a chilling phone conversation (rotary dial models only), where each one ups the ante and challenge. Both make promises you know they will either keep or die trying.I was completely riveted to the screen by the performances, drawn in by the dialog, and in awe of how they use the camera and lighting. The editing was invisible, while Carter Burwell’s music (noticed over the end credits) is more environmental than musical, causing the viewer to reflect on character’s choices and state of mind. So many things are linked together, but left unexplained; a Coen brothers hallmark. Perhaps Cormac McCarthy’s novel, on which this film is based, does a better job of connecting Sheriff Bell’s personal and family dynamics to the rest of the story. But here it is not a useful detour. I did however find it interesting, especially when the Sheriff recounts his dreams and speaks of the proud professional linage that has defined the men in his family. In the end he states that he is “over matched,” an observation that allows him to actually reach retirement. Others in his family didn’t fare as well.

Want to see this one again because I still have some unanswered questions in my mind. And as always, can’t wait till the next Coen brothers installment. In the meantime, I’m still looking for the money Carl Showalter buried in the snow.

Link to the official movie site for No Country for Old Men. Embedded within the end credits is a statement that the production is 100% carbon neutral. Yet another detail the Coen brothers have attended to.

Extra, Extra, Click All About It

Subscriptions to newspapers are down. Newsstand sales are down. Most people get their news from the web (or Jon Stewart). This what we are hearing. But I would posit that we need both the analog paper and the online interactive edition found on the web. I have been a regular reader of The New York Times for over 20 years, and still to this day I get the real paper (yes that’s right actual paper printed with ink) delivered to my driveway every day. I try to get through it the same day, but many times I have other priorities. On those days the paper is carefully stacked in a small basket in the kitchen. No paper is recycled before I read it. I think the record is 3 weeks piled up at once. I carve out a day on the weekend and start a marathon session to catch up.


Until recently I would have said that the paper is superior to its web counterpart. But with the evolution of Web 2.0, a newspaper online can be an elegant thing to behold. The craft of using this new technology is advancing quickly. Doing it right requires a team of artisans, more akin to making a film than anything else I can think of. It is the confluence of writing, graphics, speech, video and web usability principles.

I am taking this week off of work, so I am up to date; today’s paper read today. Nice feeling. But I digress, so let’s get back on track. The NYT multimedia skills are being put to great use online. They have put a lot of money, resources and talent into the effort of publishing the news on the web. In the analog paper you get word and image type set on the page. Online you feel like you are inside the paper as well as the people that have produced it. I often read something in the paper and then go online to get more information and texture about a topic or story. Here’s a great example.

In the spring the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened their newly renovated Greek and Roman galleries. Reading the article by chief Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, was wonderfully fulfilling. I have been in that museum many times and in those exact galleries prior to the make over, so his words got me looking forward to the time when I would visit next. But then I went online and saw this.


An interactive tour through the new galleries that can be easily navigated. When you mouse over the arrows you get a small window describing what you will see. Click and you are presented with panoramic views easily controlled with a slide of your mouse.


Dive a little deeper and you can find accompanying audio by Mr. Kimmelman himself. Now I am really excited to go there, not just looking forward to it. I can also share this with my kids and get them interested in exploring something significant related to the advancement of our culture (not Transformers). And if you live many states away and don’t have the means to visit NY, you can use this to learn and have a much deeper experience than if you just read about it. Try it yourself here.

So you are probably saying, yeah Steve great. But haven’t you heard about TV or video? Yes, but it’s much more difficult to get kids to sit in front of a screen and watch an “educational” video than it is to have them interact with this cool stuff on the web. I must admit it is even tougher for me to do that when I can get such a rich experience online. Add to that the ability to blog it, tag it and share it, and you have life lived in Web 2.0.

Their brand has been positively extended and they have transformed journalism craft beyond the analog into digital cyberspace. The paper is still the best way to see what’s in the day’s edition and the web is the best way to experience what the writer is thinking as well as seeing. We need them both, at least for now.

A WiFi Alarm Clock, But Will it Help You Remember Your Dreams?

Chumby is an alarm clock, music player and news reader. For less that $200 you can put one on your nightstand, connect it to your WiFi network and launch dozens of wizards to display on the 3.5″ screen. It runs on Linux and since it’s open source, I’m sure dozens of new wizards will come rolling in. Program it to retrieve photos from Flickr, show stock quotes or news while you emerge from your dream state. You can visit Chumby here. If you are near sighted, like me, you can’t see anything when you open your eyes anyway. So stick to the digital readout large numbers.


Some things you may not know about dreams. Everyone dreams every night, unless you are textbook schizophrenic. Nearly everyone dreams in color, that is if you are normal. Do you remember your dreams? If the answer is no and you want to, then when you awake, don’t move. Remain still and track back your nocturnal adventures in your mind. They will stick with you longer.

Did Leopard Kill My Hard Drive?


Early on in my computer life I was told by a friend to back up my data in preparation for the inevitable day when my hard drive would fail. “All hard drives fail,” he used to say. I’ve been using computers since 1986 and have never had a hard drive fail. Well last week it finally happened. Oddly enough it was only a week after I installed the latest version of the Mac OS X operating system Leopard. Was this coincidence? My Mac G5 would not boot to my hard drive. A sinking feeling came over me. Quickly I called the Apple help line. First level support at Apple tried a number of things and couldn’t help, so they transferred me to the next tier. In second level land, a young man named Michael was really patient. He walked me through lots of procedures and then concluded that it was most likely a hardware failure and asked me if there was an Apple store with a Genius Bar close by. There fortunately is one about 5 miles away, so I packed up my very heavy G5 and went in. John the genius in the Northbrook Court Apple store came to the dead hard drive conclusion in less than 5 minutes. He offered to handle the problem for me, but said that I could easily take care of it myself more quickly (they didn’t have a hard drive in stock) and much more cheaply. They helped me back out to my car (pouring down rain) and I went to Best Buy where I bought a new Serial ATA hard drive for $160.00.

Less that 3 hours later I had the new drive in, formatted and OSX Leopard loaded on. So how I’m sure you are asking. Did I have my data backed up? Well of course. I’m back in business, all up to speed the next day.


My experience with Apple was really great. I spoke with only American based tech support. They were polite, gave me their direct dial number and called me back within 5 minutes of getting a voice message from me. Felt so supported all along the way. And the Genius Bar experience was also fantastic. From the online booking process to the hands on one-to-one support, and it was all free to me. My G3 is four years old and no longer under warranty, but I was treated as if my machine was only one day old.

But I’m still a bit unsure if the upgrade caused the problem. Guess I’ll never really know.

Sonos Needs to Code for Leopard NOW!


About a year and a half ago I purchased the Sonos music system directly from them online. It has been a great experience, up until now. Sonos is a system that can access your iTunes music library on your computer and broadcast it to small receivers located throughout your house. Those boxes can then be connected to amplifiers to play your music collection anywhere you wish, within range. You can also get very cool hand held controller that allows you to select different songs or play lists for each box, or link them for a house wide party. The user interface is outstanding. I upgraded my Mac (you saw that story a few posts ago) and now I can’t get my Sonos to work on the new operating system. Big, fat bummer. Did all the workarounds listed on their support site, and even spoke with their tech team. No dice. Sonos, are you reading this? Throw those resources at this problem and solve it as soon as possible. I need my music!

Doing My Time at the DMV

Today was one of those days almost all of us face every three years; the visit to the DMV to renew your driver’s license. We so don’t want to participate in this process. But if you intend to be an active citizen, drive, get a job or travel on a commercial airline, this little ritual is pretty much part of your life.Now you have probably launched back into time and are reliving the greatest hits of these experiences in your own life. The day it looked like the process was an underwater tai chi class with seniors in slow motion. Or once when you arrived the line was out the door and down the sidewalk. Here in Illinois we had a licenses for bribes scandal a few years ago. Hundreds of people paid off the Secretary of State clerks to give them the licenses. There were some ugly consequences as a result.Although it took me almost 80 minutes to navigate the process there are some bright spots. First the place was extremely well signed in both English and Spanish (excellent job). You knew exactly where to go for what, road test, written test, renewal, etc. The system was pretty well organized. A clerk determines what you are there for and presses one of seven buttons on a machine. Out pops a small paper receipt that details the date, service you need, and a big bold number. Mine was B266. So far so good. But then you wait in the sea of plastic chairs, surrounded posters promoting becoming an organ donor, fighting road rage, using car seats for kids and on yes, a friendly reminder that there is a stiff penalty for trying to bribe the clerk. Here is the display used to indicate what number is being serviced at what counter.


In addition, to the read out, a friendly voice calls it out. Quite efficient. Of course there are not enough people at the counters, and they move very deliberately, never in a hurry. But their motions are compact and efficient. Nothing is wasted, but nothing is urgent either. The main reason it took so long was due to volume. So hats off to the process, but I still wouldn’t want to do it more than once every three years.


It’s Time to Fly


In the mid to late ’90’s I was a United boy all the way. Living in Chicago it was really easy. Home of United, great Boeing aircraft, attentive service. Why would you fly anyone else? Then things began to go downhill. The United Rising campaign had to be pulled because the service wasn’t. That’s when I started booking my flights with American.

I have been giving United a second chance lately, but I’m sorry to say it’s not much better. On a recent flight booked by my corporate travel agency from ORD to SJC, there were several challenges. It’s a long flight and I had miles in my bank, so I called to see if I could cash some in for a first class seat. The call clearly was being outsourced offshore and the young man, although nice enough, couldn’t understand what I wanted to do until I explained it at least four times. In the end he did upgrade me on the return leg, so I came away from that one feeling better.

I received my EasyUpdate email the day before my flight, standard customer experience for a big airline these days, and noticed something new, BagCheck. I clicked through and it promised me a faster, more convenient way to check my bag and get on my way. Simply show up at the designated BagCheck area at the airport, scan my home printed boarding pass, and hand over my bag. They even had a helpful map on the site.


I didn’t really see the benefit but thought, what the heck. So I followed the map and entered the BagCheck area. There were at least two employees there, obviously assigned to help travelers through the new process. But no one paid any attention to me, even though I was diligently following the instructions by placing my boarding pass, face down on the scanner, etc. Finally I had to walk over to someone and ask for help. They quickly informed me that the scanners don’t work. They directed me to use the kiosk display and then processed my bag the normal way. Some bugs to work out there. I would like to say it was a noble try, but all their effort was wasted as I didn’t see the advantage over their normal kiosk check in.

Customer experience Cardinal rule # 1 – Never go to market with a feature unless the benefit is obvious to the customer.

Several times during the booking and check-in process they tried to upsell me to Economy Plus for more legroom. It was a $44 charge and I didn’t take it. What a mistake! Once on board the seats were so close I couldn’t use my laptop to work, nor comfortably read the paper. The public address system nearly shattered my ear drums and the movie system gave out half way through the flight.

The return flight was much better. First class remember, and the service was great. Both flights were right on time, even a little early. By the way, the return flight had a woman pilot and a woman co-pilot, very cool!

Overall a mixed bag on the customer experience, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for United from years ago, so I will try it again.

Radiohead, The Eagles and the Future of Music Distribution

The music group Radiohead broke from their record label and placed their latest album, In Rainbows, for sale online without a suggested retail price. The choice on how much to pay was left up to the consumer. There has been lots of talk about the potential success of this strategy, and questions about how many consumers will pay and what they will pay. ComScore, a company that measures the digital world through consumer panels, has released data that shows roughly 2 out of 5 downloaders are willing to pay. United States visitors paid an average of $8.05 per download while consumers from all other countries paid $4.64.


You may remember that author Stephen King tried to sell downloads to one of his books online. He asked readers to pay for it a chapter at a time, and if no one bought, then he wouldn’t write or post the next chapter. This approach failed, and Mr. King quickly went back to the regular distribution method. For sure this was many years ago and he was ahead of the curve related to online sales, but holding art hostage will not succeed and is disrespectful to creativity and the people who enjoy it. Even with such a large fan and readership base, Mr. King could not, or would, not go it on his own. In Radiohead’s case they had a much better chance, because they have spent years working within the music system, being established through releases, radio play and concerts. Their fan base is large enough and very loyal. However, if you are a new act, struggling to get your music heard, this online route will be very difficult.

Just as Radiohead has gone outside the system, so have The Eagles. Their latest album, Long Road Out of Eden was released exclusively at Wal-Mart. Details of the deal are not well known, but it is assumed that the band did better with the retailer than the record labels. Sales have been stunning with over 710,000 copies sold in the first week. Again an established group who is using their power to call the shots.

Apple transformed the music business with the release of the iPod, and there are numerous online music stores and services for consumers to choose from. Thanks to iTunes, most consumes think that a song is worth about $0.99. Try to go to a popular concert these days and you will be hard pressed to land a good seat for less than several hundred dollars. True, one is a single song and the other is a live experience, but it’s all music.

I am sure there will be many more music experiments over the next year or so, and it will be fun to watch and participate. It’s not the end of music, but it might be the end of the music business as we have known it. In the meantime, keep listening, and keep buying.

Objects in Mirror are Cleaner Than They Appear

I don’t have a lot pet peeves, but this is one of them. The big car rental companies try to provide a good customer experience. They gas up the car and run it through their car wash so it’s ready for the next customer. But one small thing seems to get over looked, the outside rear view mirrors. They are always covered in water spots because no one wipes them down. So you settle into your rental car and do all the right things. Adjust the seat. Locate the lights and wiper controls, and of course see if the mirrors are in the right place. Seeing those spots actually ruins the entire clean car feel. I rented a car from Avis at the San Jose, California airport this week and this is what the side mirrors looked like (and no it wasn’t raining).  


By doing a very simple thing like wiping down the side mirrors, car rental companies can dramatically improve the customer experience, and have the added bonus of removing one of my pet peeves from the world. 

A Simpler Plan


” Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 8th is World Usability Day. No it’s not another Hallmark Holiday, you don’t need to rush out and buy a card at the last minute. It may seem somewhat contrived and perhaps even unimportant as you sort through the hundreds of details that demand your attention through the press of the day. But you really do care about this one. Fortunately there are thousands of highly skilled and well trained humans who obsess over ensuring things are easy to use. There is so much stuff in the world that we have to use or we can’t learn, or do our job successfully, or give our children an edge. And most of it is driven in some way by technology.

Indeed it is a world of growing complexity. Our free market system and open society has done an excellent job of giving consumers/citizens lots of choices, while removing some as well. Computer chips are in everything. Software, menus and navigation systems are everywhere from microwaves, to remote controls, to alarm clocks, even your children’s toys. You name it, a user must program and then use it. We all hate having six remotes in the family room just to watch TV or switch to a DVD, but have you ever purchased and tried to program a universal remote? You need to carve out your entire Saturday to get all six of those devices into the one remote. Don’t even ask me how many days you will need to explain it to your spouse. Your kids, now that’s another story. They can just pick it up and start using it.

Kids just have a knack for this stuff. I have a 3 year old that picked up my iPhone and was browsing the photo library and making a call in minutes. Maybe that’s the answer. We should just let the kids design all the user interfaces.

 So do what you can to support World Usability Day. If you are a designer, take more time and design it better, if you are a programmer, get out of your cube and talk to that designer and ask, “Who will be using this program?” If you don’t do any of this stuff as a job or hobby, then just use some stuff on November 8th. In fact use everything in your house and car. After all you paid for it.

If you want to know more you can link to the World Usability Site here

Speed, I am Speed

Is it just me, or have you noticed that things are moving much faster than they used to? Of course I’m getting older (we all are by the way), and everyone knows the older you get the faster time seems to pass. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the velocity at which technology and computing are advancing, and how that will have significant implications on medicine, media and culture. Time has not been altered. There are still 24 hours in each day and the seasons seem to be turning at their normal pace. But there are now so many people working and collaborating to solve problems that technology now has it’s own time, and it’s highly accelerated. The web has been a big factor here. It is easy to post out projects or problems, and when you do you get hundreds of people responding. Scientists are and have always been the leaders in collaboration, after all the web was created by and for them. The rest of us just got an incredible benefit.

Earlier this year I was at an Interwoven conference in San Francisco. Interwoven is a global organization and a leader in providing firms with solutions to effectively leverage their content to drive business results and improve the customer experience. I have recently begun to work with them and so was invited to attend their leadership conference. On the second day Ray Kurzweil gave an amazing presentation called Early in the Twenty-First Century, Knowledge and Content will Underlie Everything of Value. Ray is an inventor, futurist, business man, many more things, and overall I would say a genius.I was so relieved to see his presentation because it validated what I had suspected along. Things are increasing in speed. He said so many things like, “Information technologies (of all kinds) double their power (price performance, capacity, bandwidth) every year.” This slide of Mr. Kurzweil’s illustrates it nicely.


According to Kurzweil, “Every form of communications technology is doubling in price-performance, bandwidth, capacity every 12 months.” He spoke of the work going on to reverse engineer the brain with powerful computers, and by 2010, computers disappear into our bodies. And by 2029 there will be an intimate merger of man and machine. The human brain will be completely reverse engineered, and $1,000 of computation will equal 1,000 times the human brain, illustrated by this slide


Things are going faster. We can expect to see some exciting changes over the next 20 years or so, and we should prepare ourselves and our children for it. I will leave you with one last quote from Mr. Kurzweil, “If you understand something in just one way, you don’t understand it at all.”Link to Ray’s site here.  

The Next Web

The Web. Let’s review. First there was the Informtion Superhighway. A very gray place that would ever so slowly appear in a window on something called a browser. I think it was made by Netscape. But, it had something called hypertext. Suddenly underlined words could take you to an entirely new place like an errant brain wave jumping off the normal pathway into a completely new place in your brain. A visual image from your eye was suddenly a pungent smell, or a pleasant sound would become a sweet taste on your tongue.

Next came the Internet as we knew it in the early 0’s. All things unimportant were lost in the bubble, while utility and purpose became the currency. Remember the commercials for Next Card. “Don’t blow up banks, they will be gone soon.” You see users wanted to do something, and so, abandonded places like the “Cool Site of the Day” for a more helpful domain in their address bar. That has advanced very quickly and began to grow business models on the branches of site maps.

Now Web 2.0 is upon us. Web 2.0 is defined by the presence of three things. Rich internet applications (bringing desktop motifs into the browser), service oriented architecture (seamlessly pushing information across platforms) and social computing (user-generated content). I love the video embedded below from Mike Wesch, because it brings all this together without being technical. Mike thinks about things as a cultural anthropoligist, not a technologist. That is critical for understanding what Web 2.0 means to humans, not microprocessors. Please watch.

Ok. Now we are sufficiently primed to take a real leap of faith. Andrei Codrescu is a commentator frequently heard on NPR. Earlier this week he did a piece entitled From Poetry to Web: Tools of Youthful Rebellion. I won’t try to explain, only encourage you to listen to it here.

So there you have it. Web 2.0. Can’t wait for the next version.