August 20, 2014

Outside:

What follows are a series of surprising and shocking conversations in which the three talk about the rewarding and challenging sides of their jobs, from teaching a newborn orca how to eat to disposing of dead animals and witnessing dolphin mothers kill their calves.

Despite the often difficult nature of the work, Horton, Payne, and Dodge were dedicated to caring for the animals. “Animal care is the one thing that SeaWorld can be proud of,” Horton says. “We were the unsung heroes.”

Here are Horton, Payne, and Dodge in their own words.

There are good and bad aspects to the capture and study of these animals in these kinds of parks. I fall on the side of not doing it but I understand some of the reasons for having these animals in captivity. Regardless of your opinion, this is an interesting story from the point of view of those with the animals every day.

August 19, 2014

Ballmer’s letter to Satya Nadella:

As I approach the six month mark of my retirement and your appointment as CEO, I have been reflecting on my life, my ongoing ownership of Microsoft stock, and my involvement with the company. I have reached some conclusions and wanted to share them with you. I know August is the key month during which the company starts to prepare the proxy statement for the next shareholders’ meeting, and so these thoughts are probably timely for that too.

First, Microsoft has been my life’s work and I am proud of that and excited by what I see in front of the company and this leadership team. There are challenges ahead but the opportunities are even larger. No company in the world has the mix of software skills, cloud skills, and hardware skills we have assembled. We draw talent as well as any company in the world. We have the profitability to invest in long-term opportunities and still deliver superior shorter term performance. You’re off to a bold and exciting start.

Microsoft will need to be bold and make big bets to succeed in this new environment. Writing great software is a tremendous accomplishment and selling software has been a fabulous business. In the mobile-first, cloud-first world, software development is a key skill, but success requires moving to monetization through enterprise subscriptions, hardware gross margins, and advertising revenues. Making that change while also managing the existing software business well requires a boldness and fearlessness that I believe the management team has. Our board must also support and encourage that fearlessness for shareholders to get the best performance from Microsoft. You must drive that.

I had not spent any time really contemplating my post-Microsoft life until my last day with the company. In the six months since leaving, I have become very busy. I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time. I have confidence in our approach of mobile-first, cloud-first, and in our primary innovation emphasis on platforms and productivity and the building of capability in devices and services as core business drivers. I hold more Microsoft shares than anyone other than index funds and love the mix of profits, investments and dividends returned in our stock. I expect to continue holding that position for the foreseeable future.

Given my confidence and the multitude of new commitments I am taking on now, I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off. The fall will be hectic between teaching a new class and the start of the NBA season so my departure from the board is effective immediately.

I bleed Microsoft — have for 34 years and I always will. I continue to love discussing the company’s future. I love trying new products and sending feedback. I love reading about what is going on at the company. Count on me to keep ideas and inputs flowing. The company will move to higher heights. I will be proud, and I will benefit through my share ownership. I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can.

Satya Nadella’s reply to SteveB:

First, thank you for all of your support during my transition this year and for the past 34 years. It’s been a great privilege to have worked with you and learned from you. Under your leadership, we created an incredible foundation that we continue to build on — and Microsoft will thrive in the mobile-first, cloud-first world.

While your insights and leadership will be greatly missed as part of the board, I understand and support your decision.

As you embark on your new journey, I am sure that you will bring the same boldness, passion and impact to your new endeavors that you brought to Microsoft, and we wish you incredible success. I also look forward to partnering with you as a shareholder.

On behalf of all of Microsoft and the Board of Directors, thank you.

Apple pops the $100 barrier

Apple stock today popped through the $100 per share barrier for the first time since they split the stock 7-1. That makes for a pre-split price of $700 a share. An important psychological step for Apple investors.

Every Hitchcock cameo

I’ve long been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Rear Window, North by Northwest, The 39 Steps, all great films, in my opinion. One of my favorite elements of Hitchcock’s filming was his Easter egg gift to his fans. He appeared in some form or another in every one of his movies. Usually, he was an extra in a scene with no lines. Sometimes, he was simply in a picture hanging on a wall.

Here’s a multipage article laying out all of those cameos. But there’s no substitute for seeing this for yourself. Watch the video below for a nice sampling. No, these are not all of them and yes, there are some typos, but I loved the effort. Gosh, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much. So many more.

Sometimes design is more about recognizing the true nature of a need and not as much about aesthetics.

In 2005, Facebook launched a way for people to upload photos onto the network. Of course, it wasn’t the only photo-hosting service at the time. Flickr was the golden standard, and comparing the two feature-by-feature was like evaluating a BMW against a Hyundai. On Facebook, you could only upload low-res photos. They showed up small and grainy and on a page cluttered with links and text instead of on a simple, sparse black background that let the photo shine. There were no handy navigation tools like a preview strip or a thumbnail of the next photo in the set. There were no keyboard shortcuts either, and the loading performance wasn’t great.

Within a year and a half, however, Facebook was the most popular sharing service in the world.

Why?

Because on Facebook, you could do something that no other service let you do: tag your friends. Which meant you could upload a photo and say it was of you and your bestie Mike, and not only would Mike be notified of the photo, all your friends would see it in their News Feeds and on your profile.

Terrific read.

There are a number of reasons developers develop for iOS first, or avoid Android completely. Perhaps the top two reasons are OS fragmentation and device fragmentation, both of which drive up the development costs (more use cases to build for, more use cases to test for).

This post from GigaOM makes the case that Google has solved these problems, at least in part. The key is Google’s Play Services.

Play Services, introduced in 2012, is effectively a background download of core services required to run apps on Android. Putting the OS install numbers to one side for a moment, this is the stat that matters to developers – over 93 percent of all Android users are running the latest version of Google Play Services.

More importantly, Google has been slowly moving core Android features, APIs and app elements out of the OS and into Google Play Services — meaning developers can ensure their apps run smoothly (with all the new features they plan to implement) across all devices carrying the latest infrastructure.

This is a very clever solution, and an important step in the right direction for Android. The key here is the widespread availability of Play Services. Play Services will run on Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3-2.3.7) and beyond, which covers the vast majority of Android devices. To get a sense of how big an improvement this is, check out the Android OS adoption numbers, which are regularly updated by Google.

Even with this solution, I still remain bearish on Android development, simply due to the overwhelming testing problem. There are just too many types of Android devices out there, and too many of them have forked versions of Android. That particular toothpaste is out of the tube and it’s going to take more than Play Services to clean up this mess.

August 18, 2014

Lenny Kravitz, The Script, 19 others join iTunes Festival London

The start of iTunes Festival London is only two weeks away and Apple significantly added to the artist lineup today, adding 21 new acts. The new bands join the six that were introduced when the 2014 festival was first announced.

There are some great artists at this year’s festival, but of the new bands announced today, the one that stands out for me is Lenny Kravitz. I love Kravitz’s hard rocking, guitar driven brand of music—I’ve been a fan for many years now and I think he’ll be the highlight for many people this year.

“I’m really excited about my new album, Strut, and playing the festival this year, as well as working with iTunes! Looking forward to seeing everybody at the show next month!” said Kravitz.

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The current iTunes Festival lineup is:

  • September 2 Beck + Jenny Lewis
  • September 3 David Guetta + Clean Bandit + Robin Schulz
  • September 4 5 Seconds of Summer + Charlie Simpson
  • September 5 Kasabian
  • September 7 Calvin Harris
  • September 8 Robert Plant + Luke Sital-Singh
  • September 9 Sam Smith + SOHN
  • September 10 Pharrell Williams + Jungle
  • September 11 Maroon 5 + Matthew Koma
  • September 12 Elbow
  • September 13 Paolo Nutini
  • September 14 David Gray
  • September 15 The Script + Foxes
  • September 16 Blondie + Chrissie Hynde
  • September 17 Gregory Porter + Eric Whitacre
  • September 18 Jessie Ware
  • September 20 Rudimental + Jess Glynne
  • September 21 Ryan Adams + First Aid Kit
  • September 26 Lenny Kravitz
  • September 27 Kylie + MNEK

It’s interesting to note that Apple has yet to announce bands for September 1, opening night, and the last few nights of the festival. These are the biggest nights of the entire festival, so you have to expect that there will be some big acts on those nights.

The best part about this entire festival is that Apple puts it on completely free. Fans in the UK can apply to win free tickets to watch a show in person at the Roundhouse in London. If you’re not in the area, you can still watch the free shows live, and on-demand, with iTunes on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or computer, or on your big screen with Apple TV.

I know I’ll be tuning in to watch Robert Plant and Lenny Kravitz for sure, but I suspect there will be a few others I’ll watch before iTunes Festival London is done.

Update: Updated the current iTunes Festival lineup. 08/19/14

TUAW:

Why would anyone need another maps app when they already have Apple and Google Maps? The main reason is that both Apple and Google map apps need an internet connection. Yes, some map data can be cached, but all of your points of interest need the internet in order to appear. Not so with Maps.Me. Once you load the app, you can download maps for anywhere (including hundreds of points of interest for any corner of the world) while you have an internet connection. When you get to your destination, everything is on your iOS device so you won’t be burning up those precious megabytes.

I can’t find my butt with a map and a flashlight so I always appreciate any app that can help. And for us Canadians who travel and get dinged with ridiculous roaming charges, anything that helps us use our iPhones offline while traveling is welcome.

Macworld:

As I positioned the phone vertically, the boat rocked a bit from a small wave, and—you guessed it—the phone slipped out of my hands.

I watched my iPhone fall, land on the back of the boat, then sickeningly slide off the boat and splash into the water.

Not everyone is so lucky but the story of the near-death and complete resurrection of this iPhone is interesting.

The Blueprint is an online retail site for the next wave of connected devices and wearables. Check out the Blueprint today to discover beautifully designed products like Drop — the iPad connected kitchen scale. Drop is a smart scale that makes perfect baking easy with interactive recipes, smart substitutions, recipe rescaling, and more. Say goodbye to #BakingFail forever. With Drop, you’re on your way to creating one perfectly yummy masterpiece after another.

Pre-order Drop today for 20% off retail.

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Jim Yurchenco was just beginning his incredible design career when he was asked to design a mouse for a revolutionary new computer Apple was working on, the Lisa.

Yurchenco started looking at other input devices to see how it could all be done more elegantly. He found his answer in an Atari arcade machine. Its trackball seemed perfect for the job.

The Atari machine differed from the Xerox mouse in a few key ways. For one, its trackball wasn’t forced up or down. Instead, it just floated. Yurchenco tried doing the same and found the mouse functioned just fine if you let gravity do the work. Moreover, it resulted in less friction and fewer parts. That was one key insight. The Atari machine also used optics to track the trackball’s movement, relying on interrupted beams of light instead of mechanical switches. By borrowing this concept, Yurchenco further streamlined the internal components. That was insight number two.

The third insight came in how you use the thing. At first, Yurchenco remembers, everyone assumed mice had to be phenomenally accurate to deliver a good experience. “Suddenly we realized, you don’t care if it’s accurate!” he recalls. People don’t pay attention to what their hand is doing when they use a mouse; they just care about where the cursor goes. “It’s like driving a car. You don’t look at where you’re turning the steering wheel, you turn the steering wheel until the car goes where you want.”

Terrific read. While you are at it, spend a few minutes with Jim Yurchenco’s design philosophy in the video embedded below.

Some great selfies, some more dangerous than others, but thrilling nonetheless.

Maybe it’s because I just came across the 10,000th social media selfie I’ve seen this month that’s making me snap. It was another of those inane pics taken in the safe confines of a bar that looks like every other, so I burned the morning looking for more dangerously-shot selfies. In particular the famous ones I’d seen those Russian maniacs shooting high up in the Dubai sky.

Jean-Louis Gassée takes us on a walk through the history and creaky evolution of the tablet, then explores the future of the desktop and tablet lines.

If we consider that Mac unit sales grew 18% last quarter (year-to-year), the company’s game becomes clear: The sweet spot on Apple’s racket is the set of customers who, like Tim Cook, use MacBooks and iPads. It’s by no means the broadest segment, just the most profitable one. Naysayers will continue to contend that the prices of competing tablets are preordained to crash and will bring ruin to Apple’s Affordable Luxury product strategy…just as they predicted netbooks would inflict damage on MacBooks.

As always, Gassée is a seasoned voice of experience and an enjoyable and educational read.

Ad Week:

The spot, created by TBWA\Media Arts Lab and directed by Lance Acord of Park Pictures, shows a teen at Christmas who seems anti-socially glued to his iPhone, though it turns out it’s for heartwarming reasons. It beat out four other nominees for the prize. Two of them were Super Bowl ads by Anomaly for Budweiser—”Hero’s Welcome” and “Puppy Love.” The other two were BBDO’s “Childlike Imagination” for GE and Wieden + Kennedy’s “Possibilities” for Nike.

The commercial took three days to shoot and was filmed in a historic house located on the edge of the River Valley in snowy Edmonton. Beautifully done.

This is a tricky piece of news.

Nintendo Co. (7974) jumped in Tokyo trading after its new Mario Kart 8 video game surpassed 1 million units in U.S. sales and affiliate The Pokemon Co. said an online trading-card game will be released as an application for Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad.

The Pokémon game is owned by The Pokémon Company, which is affiliated with Nintendo (Nintendo has certain licensing and marketing rights) but not owned by Nintendo.

“We have been here many times before in regards to Nintendo’s tentative plans to introduce some of its characters for smart devices,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a manager of Japanese equity sales at BGC Partners Inc. in Singapore, said by e-mail. “This latest Pokemon cards plan which is already out on PCs is hardly a change in its direction.”

This is not quite correct. Since there is currently no Nintendo affiliated game on the iPad, this is a “sticking their toes in the water” moment for Nintendo. Pokémon is a huge property, certainly one of the largest electronic gaming properties in the world. Pokémon on iPad is a big step for The Pokémon Company and for Apple, and I would think the sales numbers will be an important source of sales intel for future Nintendo projects.

August 17, 2014

Vice:

How do we try to change whatever it was that brought someone into trouble with the law? And if that proves impossible, what is the best way that society can protect itself? I wanted to find out. I also wanted to see how much of what I knew—or thought I knew—about jail turned out to be true. So I wrote to corrections departments worldwide asking for access.

I discovered that I could go to jail in America as an “undercover voluntary detainee.”

I don’t know if the author is brave or stupid. Undoubtedly, a lot of both.

August 16, 2014

Anxious Machine:

I decided to do just that, purchasing and trying out Instacast, Downcast, Pocketcasts, Podwrangler, Castro, Mocast, and Overcast. I made comparison video to share what I observed.

I have no background in design, but perhaps because I have a degree in comparative literature, I find it endlessly fascinating to compare the interface of apps and savor the details of what each one offers. None of these apps is perfect, but it’s inspiring to see how a group of talented humans use their skills in different ways, through the endlessly plastic medium of software, to approach the same problems.

Good round up and comparison of what’s available.

The Verge:

I consider “tourist” to be the filthiest of words. It’s the curse I grumble when caught behind pedestrians walking without purpose on big-city sidewalks. But I differentiate between explorer and tourist: the former being someone that travels to an unfamiliar place to learn about it, the latter a barbaric asshat driven by the desire to document his very existence.

Funny article that makes some great points about how far too many people “record without being present”.

Hyperlapse

You’ve no doubt seen time lapse videos, where the action in a video is speeded up by trimming a video to show only one frame in ten, say. Time lapse videos are jumpy.

Microsoft’s research labs have introduced a new form of time lapse video, called Hyperlapse. Words don’t do it justice.

Humans need not apply

The video below is long, but thoughtful and riveting. It make the case that just as horses have been replaced by technology, humans are next. If that sounds like silly logic, invest one minute, just to see what you think.

From the narrative:

Self driving cars aren’t the future. They’re here and they work. Self-driving cars have driven hundreds of thousands of miles up and down the California coast and through cities, all without human intervention. The question is not if they’ll replace cars, but how quickly.

They don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be better than us. Human drivers, by the way, kill 40,000 people a year with cars, just in the United States. Given that self-driving cars don’t blink, don’t text while driving, don’t get sleepy or stupid, it’s easy to see them being better than humans because they already are.

Self driving cars replacing human drivers is already a done deal. That die is cast. This is just one small example of what is coming.

August 15, 2014

Ashley Durance:

“The thing about the East Coast is it’s so beautifully Canadian.”

The Publisher and I were lucky enough to have been born in Nova Scotia, Canada. He is lucky enough to still live there. Even though I’ve been gone for 25 plus years, I still think of Nova Scotia my home. This photo series captures some of the beauty of it.

There are some great tips in here.

Elizabeth Holmes is only 30 years old, but has a lifetime of success. Back in 2003, Holmes was a sophomore at Stanford University and envisioned a process of performing blood tests with a device that required much less blood (just a drop) than existing blood tests (normally requiring a vial or two of blood).

Fast forward to today, and she’s a billionaire, running Theranos. Her goal is to change the world. She wears black, and operates her company in super stealth mode, jealously guarding her company’s secrets.

This is a fascinating story, one that reminds me in many ways of Steve Jobs and Apple.

SmartThings started as a KickStarter in 2012. Astonishing.

Right around the closing rounds of last month’s World Cup matches, armed robbers raided a Samsung electronics factory in Brazil, subduing workers and guards before making off with about US$6.3m worth of mobile phones and computers.

Turns out, part of that booty has surfaced in Paraguay, about 1,000 km due west. Here’s a Google Translate version of the story [Hat tip to Marcus Mendes].

Last week, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh rejected the US$324.5 million Apple, Google recruiting lawsuit settlement. This week, Apple shareholder R. Andre Klein sued the Steve Jobs’ estate, along with Tim Cook and others, claiming Apple “misled investors and damaged the value of the company”.

The case was filed by shareholder R Andre Klein on behalf of all Apple shareholders.

In the papers, he criticised Jobs’ “zealous pursuit of profits”.

“Jobs’s conduct is a reminder that even widely respected businessmen can knowingly commit unlawful acts in the zealous pursuit of profits.

“In this case, Jobs and the other individual defendants knowingly caused Apple to enter into agreements that violated California law and US antitrust laws.”

August 14, 2014

The Verge:

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is the latest notable person to undertake the Ice Bucket Challenge, and doused himself with icy water in the name of charity at a company event earlier today. The challenge was created to raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. So far, numerous celebrities and tech personalities have undertaken the challenge, including Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller, who posted a shots of himself getting doused on a beach today.

“Under the rules you also get to call out others who have to do the challenge themselves, or face social shame.” Really? Do you really think these kinds of powerful people can be peer pressured into doing things?

Some people are sick bastards.

Behold, Hanx Writer, created by Tom Hanks. Hanx Writer recreates the experience of a manual typewriter, but with the ease and speed of an iPad.

I must admit, this is a pretty cool app. It’s great when someone can take a passion, like a typewriter, and create an app. The @AppStore will have a live chat with Hanks this morning at 9 am PT.

The network effect is the idea that the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it. If you are breaking ground on a new business area that depends on the network effect, this anecdote offers some terrific insight.

The anecdote goes this like: One telephone has no value. Two telephones have a wee bit of value. After 100 phones, you may know someone with a phone, and if so, then there is value in you signing up for telephone service. After 100,000 phones, you very likely know many people with phones. And at 1,000,000 phones, many of your friends, colleagues, and family will have phones, making the service highly valuable.

Interesting read, especially if you’ve got a bit of the entrepreneur in you.