Blog posts I didn’t write in 2010

In a notebook using the service/software Evernote, I collect ideas for possible blog posts. Rarely do these ideas make it into posts. They turn out to be just thoughts or observations. Some get tweeted. Some, I’ll share via Google Reader. Most get cleared out — or re-filed into another notebook — at the end of the year.

Here are some of the things that got cleared out over the past few days. Or, I guess another way to view them is: Here are some topics I may have been, at some point, interested in learning more about — or writing about. But, life and work were more important.:

1. I wonder if anyone at Sequoia Capital ever talks about that Malthusian presentation they required their portfolio companies to attend a couple of years ago. I wonder if they’ve ever had a “why we were wrong” or “why we were right” presentation.

2. My theory on why many (perhaps, most) historians and economists and reporters and bloggers are not typically very good when it comes to analyzing the present or predicting the future. My theory: There are tree-viewing experts and forest-viewing experts. Both are important. However, your tree-bias or forest-bias will make it hard for you to be objective when it comes to having the mindset to interpret the other. Most of those jobs reward tree-viewers. Forest-viewers are better at predicting the future. Forest viewers provide more latitude for the unexpected.

3. My prediction of precisely what will happen in the GOP between now and the November 2012 election — so you can ignore all the Blah-blah, media coverage between now and then. First, the politically-obsessed wing of the media will be obsessed with the GOP’s “right-wing” obsession with a Palin-Huckabee contest — that will last through Iowa. Palin crashes and burns at some point. Huckabee crashes and burns later. The eventual nominee will be from Massachusetts. He’ll lose in November.

4. What it will take for Obama to win in 2012. He’ll redefine “the middle” as being something other than “moderate,” something like “pragmatic” or “rational” or “most Americans” (anything but, “silent majority”). His backers (including those with blogs) will begin to realize in early 2011 that elections sway entirely on one thing: “the economy.” They will realize the importance (necessity) of “pragmatic Americans” being optimistic and will recognize that focusing on an improving economy will be the key to Obama being re-elected. In other words, they’ll realize their current obsession with how America is headed over a cliff is a great way to unseat an incumbant. Pragmatic voters support the candidate they believe will most likely keep their 401-K from losing value. A flag-waving, it’s morning again in America — don’t mess it up — campaign is the way to get an incumbant re-elected. Those who want Obama to be re-elected will likely realize pessimism about the economy is their real opponent. If they don’t, then he’ll lose. (Ask Ford, Carter, the first Bush.)

5. Why do people think it’s an injustice that the top 1% of American earners earn more than 1% of total American earnings? It’s like thinking it’s an injustice that the top 1% of college basketball players will make it into the NBA, while the other 99% will have to be satisfied with having had the chance to go to college on a basketball scholarship. Or, that it’s an injustice that the top 1% of high school seniors will get a larger percentage of Ivy League acceptances than the other 99%. I can think of better examples of where the U.S. economic system needs fixing than the “top X percent” one.

6. What you can do with Flipboard’s stealthy evolution into being a third-party social media management app (rather than a mere “social magazine”), especially its support of Google Reader integration, is something I look forward to showing my non-geek friends with iPads (however, I won’t use any of the phrases found in this sentence); primarily to trick them into finally using an RSS newsreader without knowing it.

7. How the Kindle, the iPad and an emerging infrastructure that supports those who just want to find, access (both paid and free), organize and read great writing are changing what, why and how I read long-form articles, essays, short stories and books. (Especially, such long-form supporting apps, services as Instapaper, somethingtoread.com, longreads.com, etc.)

8. A long post on why I’m obsessed with the Kindle Singles Store, even though it hasn’t yet launched.

9. The NPR App I’d like to see: Allows me to mix audio feed from their programming with some type of pace/beat music. I can do it w/ iPod’s multi-task, but I can’t easily hack the mix of volume on the two tracks. NPR has both music and news programming that could be pre-mixed.

10. A post about why people should stop trying to understand the iPad much like my previous posts about why it’s impossible to understand Twitter. The iPad, like Twitter (or the telephone or computers, in general) is not important for what it is, it’s important for how one uses it. How I use it and how you use it are different. You don’t need to convince me your use is correct and mine is not.

11. Who is Heraclitus and why does his name always show up in smart people’s posts.

12. Why eBooks and “whatever magazines are called in a digital form” don’t need video to be enhanced. Simplicity, readability, contextual tools — all are much more important.

13. Why I’m not an early adopter, even though people believe I am.

14. Airport advertising (the translucent poster kind) is mostly awful — and why. With examples of both bad and good.

15. “What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work?” (I wanted to write about this 2004 interview with Howard Cunningham I ran across something during the year.

16. Prosopagnosia: It’s a condition where ones brain does not recognize faces, even those of loved ones. I had never heard of it until 2010, and then heard two different interviews on NPR. I think I was going to use it as a metaphor for something. Unfortunately, I have a brain condition that causes me to forget things I don’t write down.

17. The smartest things on the internet: All the free things that can teach you stuff. While there are online universities and training sites that are generating billions in revenue, there is also an endless variety of ways to get free courses, lectures and books online, as well — not for credit or degrees, but for learning. My post was going to cover MIT’s open courseware, iTunes U, Wikiversity and Project Gutenberg — which is just a small sampling.

18. Every gadget I’ve ever wanted now exists in an affordable, consumer-friendly version; except for a flying car. However, I’ve discovered it’s not the flying car I find so appealing — it’s the “not driving” part. If I have the ability to work and communicate and collaborate at all times during the kind of trip I’d use a “flying car” to journey, most of the reasons I’d want to fly go away.

Now that I think about it, I’m going to put this post in that “ideas to blog about” notebook.

Confessions of a MacBook Touch rumor monger

Alan Kay (who I’ll get back to in a moment) is credited with a great quote: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

I’ll add to what Alan said: The second best way is to keep predicting it until someone else gets around to inventing it. And the third best way is to predict something and then spread every rumor possible that is remotely related to that prediction.

When it comes to one of the oldest Apple rumors I can recall, I have clearly done all I can to do the third best thing I can — to echo-chamber it. The rumor is that Apple will one day offer a device that is somewhere between a MacBook and an iPod Touch/iPhone. The device, now being labeled “The MacBook Touch” by the rumorosphere, has once again taken center ring at the Mac Rumor Circus. (Some latter-day rumorists are calling it a “Tablet Mac,” but that’s a rumor of a different color. Steve Jobs will never chase the tablet laptop market for reasons so obvious — even John Dvorak could figure out why.)

A couple of years ago, I posted a list of “All the Apple rumors you’ll ever need.” Of everything on the list — including the iPhone — the only one I’ve ever really craved is “Rumor #3”:

A device that is sort of like an 8″x10″ iPod that does everything a computer does but it won’t be called a tablet computer or an iPod.”

Strangely, for the past two years, if you Googled the phrase, “Rumor #3,” the #1 result has been a link to that list. To you, it might be called a MacBook Touch. But to me, it will always be Rumor #3. For past rumor posts, I’ve even Photoshopped up a version of what a Rumor #3 could look like (right).

But I have a deep, dark confession to make: I’ve never really thought Apple will come out with the product. It has been more wishful thinking than anything else whenever I echo-chambered such reports as this “patent” post on AppleInsider.com. My “rumor” posts have been more fantasy and speculation and desire to have the product I have called an iPod Touchbook (and here), than belief that Apple will offer such a product. Even today, I’m quite cynical and, frankly, don’t believe that such a product is going to be announced anytime soon. (Or, perhaps, I’m tired of being disappointed when these rumors I help spread never pan out, and I’m taking a new tact.)

 

My lust for a MacBook Touch
started with a 1987
video about a concept product called
the the Knowledge Navigator.
 

I’ll credit Apple (and in this case, the then “Apple Fellow,” Alan Kay) with first establishing the benchmark for my desire for such a device — and my willingness to serve as conduit for spreading any rumor which comes close to suggesting Apple will one day offer such a product. It started with a concept video Apple produced in 1987 that oozes with Alan Kay concepts. I’ve written about how that video describing the concept technology, “Knowledge Navigator,” set an expectation in my mind — and a generation of those of us who reside among the hyperlink-obsessed — of what one should expect to have one day. Today, now that all of the technology, infrastructure, pricing scale and marketing channels are in place for such a device, many of us are wondering: Where’s my Knowledge Navagator? (In 2003, Jon Udell posted a great item about the Knowledge Navagator concept video.)

A rumor is somewhat like abstract art — until the artist explains exactly what everything means, it can be interpreted anyway one wants. Until Steve Jobs strolls out onto the stage and explains exactly what this device is and what space in our mind it is to occupy, it will be all things to all geeks.

For me, Rumor #3 is about recapturing a little piece of 1987, when the promise of the future was not about feature sets, but about the cool things you could do if you have a device that goes with you everywhere and allows you to travel anywhere.

Note: One thing I didn’t like about the Knowledge Navigator was the “talking head” interface. I’m more of a touch interface person, myself.

Bonus link: The eBook people are finally catching on that a Rumor #3 device makes having a separate device merely to read books rather redundant.

What happens when Apple responds to the Amazon Kindle?

I must say, I’m beginning to admire Henry Blodget for his unabashed willingness to ignore any irony others might see in his analytical posts about Amazon.com, like this one that looks at Citi analyst Mark Mahaney’s report that the Amazon Kindle could be a $750 million iPod-like franchise in a couple of years. … However, I stand by my earlier prediction — and this is where I find a flaw in Mahaney’s analysis: Apple won’t stand still and let Amazon have this market all to itself.

I must say, I’m beginning to admire Henry Blodget for his unabashed willingness to ignore any irony others might see in his analytical posts about Amazon.com, like this one that looks at Citi analyst Mark Mahaney’s report that the Amazon Kindle could be a $750 million iPod-like franchise in a couple of years.

Blodget does not explicitly agree with the prediction, indeed, he points out some holes in the theory. He doesn’t fully repudiate it, however.

I’m clearly not a financial analyst and so any disagreements I may have with Mahaney’s predictions have nothing to do with market-share numbers. I have no idea about the revenues or bottom-line impact of future Kindle developments. However, since some of his analysis is based on his personal experience with the device, I feel I can at least weigh in on that front.

First, let me say I use the Kindle frequently. Not quite daily, but several times a week. My review of the Kindle from last December is still accurate. I haven’t really been surprised by anything about it during the past five months. It’s still a clunky, poorly designed piece of hardware with a ridiculous interface. Yet the EVDO (digital cellular)-powered feature that allows one to instantly purchase books from Amazon for less than $10 is near magic. That price-point for books and the instant download are what make the device work for me — and, apparently, the Citi analyst, also.

However, I stand by my earlier prediction — and this is where I find a flaw in Mahaney’s analysis: Apple won’t stand still and let Amazon have this market all to itself. As I’ve written about ad-naseum, a slightly larger iPod Touch linked to eBooks distributed via the iTunes store would match and raise the game with Amazon. At that point, Amazon would be competing with the iTunes distribution channel, but with Amazon hardware that looks and feels like it was designed in Soviet-era Russia.

Also, with Apple in the game, its eBook format would be readable via the Mac or iPhone, as well. The Kindle format is locked into a Kindle device.

As I wrote last November, I’ll continue to use my Kindle until Apple comes out with something like this (even if it’s not in the next couple of weeks):



How to rip a DVD to iTunes/iPod – legally

Via PaidContent.org, comes news (I guess it’s “news” that the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are reporting what every Apple rumor site has been saying for weeks) that Apple will announce a rental option for some video purchased via the iTunes Store. However, there’s a new twist to the report today: At least one studio, 20th Century Fox, will start adding an MPEG-4 version to DVDs it sells, allowing purchasers to easily transfer the movie to iTunes or their iPod/iPhones. According to FT.com:

“A digital file protected by FairPlay will be included in new Fox DVD releases, enabling film content to be transferred or “ripped” from the disc to a computer and video iPod. DVD content can already be moved to an iPod but this requires special software and is considered piracy by some studios.

Many people who read that last sentence will know what it means. But if you don’t know, you can find out by clicking over to this website to learn about HandBrake, an open-source, GPL-licensed, multiplatform, multithreaded DVD to MPEG-4 converter, available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows.

For the record, in my opinion, it’s crazy to call what you do with HandBrake piracy. Converting a file is not piracy — it may violate some obscure and legally-dubious terms of usage agreement, but it’s not piracy. You can do perfectly legal things with such a file. Or you can do illegal things, like try to re-sell it. The act of trying to re-sell such a file is piracy — not the conversion of the file.

Of course, I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know? Rather than a legal confusion, mine may be merely a confusion of logic. However, I find it an intellectual challenge to understand how I can be pirating something when I purchase a digital file on a DVD and convert the file into another digital format merely for the purpose of watching it on a digital device other than my TV, like a video iPod or iPhone — or on my computer without having to lug around DVDs. I’m not selling copies or even letting others borrow the movie — something I could easily do with a physical DVD. I’m merely transferring digital media I’ve purchased to another device for personal convenience — a variation of time-shifting, which has been determined to be legal. (I guess this makes me what Fake Steve Jobs calls a “freetard.”)

With music files, the industry has pretty-much given up their efforts to turn their customers into criminals when they decide to transfer their purchase between listening platforms. Recording industry schemes like Apple’s ironically-branded FairPlay DRM are slowly going away. (I purchase DRM-free music through Amazon.com. Update: And now I can buy even more DRM-free music via Amazon according to this press release announcing that downloads from Warner Music Group’s vast catalog are available in MP3 format from Amazon starting today. My guess: Anticipate follow-up announcements from all of the other usual suspects, including Apple and Walmart.) It will take a decade or longer, but I’m sure movie studios and, if they actually become popular, eBook publishers, will go through a period of attempting to “protect” media files (translation: keep you from reading what you buy for a Kindle on any other eBook reader). Ultimately, publishers and studios will understand why it makes sense to let their customers buy digital versions of movies or books one time and then view/listen/read it on any digital platform they choose.

(Note: For those who think I might not understand the differing value of content offered in different forms, let me be clear: I’m referring to various “digital” formats of the same digital file. I’m not suggesting that I gain the right to download the movie free because I paid to view the movie in the theatre — however, I think that would be a clever marketing strategy by studios. Here’s a slogan for them: Buy it once, enjoy it forever. But unfortunately, if they did that, the writers wouldn’t have anything to strike about.)

More on the Kindle vs. a hypothetical Apple device

There have been lots of good comments on my week-old post about the Amazon Kindle vs. a possible larger-format iPod Touch. Today, Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers (the sixth largest trade book publisher in America and the world’s largest publisher of Bibles and books for the Christian market) comments that Apple may now have a good 2/3rds solution to eBooks — a hypothetical larger format iPod Touch and the iTunes Store channel — but what they don’t have is a relationship with book publishers — and Amazon is most publishers #1 customer.

Says Mike:

“I completely agree. I would much rather have an Apple Touchbook than the Kindle (which I own). However, you’re forgetting one small detail. The device is only one-third the equation. iTunes is another third. So far so good. A seamless way to get content from the store onto the device. What Apple is missing is the RELATIONSHIPS. They don’t have any relationships with book publishers that enables them to get access to the content. (I know because I am the CEO of the Thomas Nelson. We are the sixth largest book publisher in the U.S.) Could Apple develop these relationships? Sure. My point is that they haven’t started and this is where Amazon has a leg up. For most of us, they are one of our largest customers—and we trust them.

Related: I’ve had several people email me saying they already read books on their iPhone. And one web-apps company has contacted me with a solution they offer related to reading an eBook this way. I’ll be trying out the different solutions — along with my review of the Kindle I’ve ordered — sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Later: Robert Scoble pops a blood vessel ranting after his first week’s use of the Amazon Kindle. Really, Robert, tell us what you really think about the Kindle. I lost count after the fifth, “Whoever designed this thing should be fired.” He then gives the designers the worst insult imaginable, “Did you hire some out-of-work Microsoft employees?”

Equal time: I point once more to Aaron Pressman’s positive review.