The Revolution Before eBooks

Andrew Shaffer wrote an article for Mental Floss about Paperbacks in America:

“Half a century before e-books turned publishing upside down, a different format threatened to destroy the industry…

“A movie ticket set you back 20 cents. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the year’s bestselling… book, was $2.75. For a nation suffering 20 percent unemployment, books were an impossible expense.”


Why iPad is noGood

Tom Warren, writing for theVerge, cites Lenovo’s advertising checklist (above) which explains at last why it is that the iPad isn’t selling and why no one likes it.

In the same spirit, here, on behalf of typewriter manufacturers everywhere, is a checklist about why it is that computers haven’t caught on:

Typewriter – Computer – Feature

YESNO — Direct-to-Paper technology
YES — NO — Easy to change ribbon when type gets faint
YES — NO — Automatic bell-noise signals line end
YES — NO — Effortless copies via carbon paper
YES — NO — True WYSIWYG real-time display

What are you waiting for? Get a typewriter today!

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

I ran across this profile of Sir Tim today after discussing the Olympic Opening Ceremony with some Americans who didn’t know who he is. He’s a hero, that’s who he is – not only for what he accomplished but for his intentions for it (concerning which, see also his Scientific American article).

Even those things he wished he’d done differently, he did for thoughtful reasons. Another favourite fact of mine: the article doesn’t mention it, but Apple’s HyperCard was one of the things that inspired him.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to have invented something so powerful and widely-used and -enjoyed? Hero.

Low Tech Discoveries


Discovery. Simplicity. Both are fascinating. And when a single phenomenon comprises both, it makes me smile, no matter how mundane.

Hideki Watanabe has found a simple way to harness the apparently chaotic motion of warm-hot liquids to produce a pot in which the soup will stir itself. It’s just a matter of shaping the bottom and building channeling grooves into the sides.

The first thing you think is: how brilliant of him. The second thing you think is: how is it that no one has ever thought of this before? It isn’t as though building shapes into pots and pans is new technology. The ancient Greeks could have done this.

The next thing I think of is the way that some stuff that has been around forever is much less intuitive than this. Eating whipped cream set this off for me… What in the world made someone stir their milk around so madly for long enough to make whipped cream and then butter? Why would anyone who didn’t know something would happen do such a thing?

So here’s where I’m going with all this: How many simple things like whipped cream and self-stirring pots are there that we HAVEN’T yet stumbled on to?! When we meet our first alien civilisation, I think the biggest surprises won’t be about their advanced technology, but about the low technology. I think E.T. is likely to have had self-stirring pots since its ancestors emerged from the pods, but maybe we’ll also make its big green eyes pop out: “Whoa! You get THIS by beating cream!? Who knew!?”


Good Technology, 2112

Asked to describe his wish for technology for the next 100 years, Joichi Ito (current director of MIT’s Media Lab) answered superbly:

One hundred years from now, the role of science and technology will be about becoming part of nature rather than trying to control it.

So much of science and technology has been about pursuing efficiency, scale and “exponential growth” at the expense of our environment and our resources. We have rewarded those who invent technologies that control our triumph over nature in some way. This is clearly not sustainable.

We must understand that we live in a complex system where everything is interrelated and interdependent and that everything we design impacts a larger system.

My dream is that 100 years from now, we will be learning from nature, integrating with nature and using science and technology to bring nature into our lives to make human beings and our artifacts not only zero impact but a positive impact to the natural system that we live in.

May it be so. From MIT’s Technology Review website based on the reply to Steelcase.

Welcome to your new job

When I started at LBC (now LST), no one had to put a note like this on my desk. This is just how I felt anyway. This is how it should be. Tell me companies can’t afford to be like this in today’s economic climate. Tell me that this has nothing to do with Apple’s current success.

(note originally posted on M’s Instagram page.)

Bad Advertising Model

I don’t understand why advertisers put up with this scheme for advertising: the app you’re running displays advertisements until you decide to pay the programmer money to upgrade to the non-ad version.

I understand why the programmers like this model, it ensures them income one way or the other. But advertisers are getting a raw deal.

Their ads are displayed in a way that is designed to be a nuisance and therefore carry over negative feelings their products. But worst of all, they are reaching only a particular self-selecting sub-set of the audience. Ironically, you see, advertisers are paying to show ads to only those app users who choose not to spend money. Advertisers want us to spend, but the app users who are the spenders are precisely the ones who do not see the ads!


“The Love of Free”

For some time, I’ve been thinking about writing an article to be called “The Love of Free is the Root of All Evil“… how in our society even people who aren’t obsessed with wealth are obsessed with ‘free,’ such as free on-line services. But, of course, ‘free’ things aren’t really without cost. I would go on to look at some of the insidious nature of using the “client” as the product.

It was interesting, though, to see a couple of contrasting web articles a few days ago. One is called “I am condemning free on principle, so should you.” It’s by Ben Brooks who argues that an advertising model is good but a free-for-now model is bad. His thinking is purely business: “Free is not only a bad business model, but it is short-sighted and short-lived. No service can remain free indefinitely….”

The second was called “Why ‘ReadItLater/Pocket’ went free.” In it author/programmer Nate Weiner makes his case for switching to the sort of model that Ben Brooks condemns. Customers can see immediate value in some products, he explains. And for such products, it makes sense to have the cost come at the beginning. For other products, such as Evernote or Dropbox, the value only becomes apparent after the customer begins to use the product. Such products, he contends, work best with a different revenue strategy.

I see good points in both articles, although I’m coming at it from another perspective entirely. I dislike the urge in me to get something from someone else for nothing. And I hate the way that some organizations are using that urge in people to get them to give up things without realizing it.