Thursday, December 25, 2014

XBox One Sucks

After repeatedly attempting to fix the XBox One, I have deemed it a lost cause. It's a complete POS. If I had a little more Elvis in me, I'd shoot the damned thing. Will you be joining me in the line to return yours tomorrow?

XBox One FAIL: Microsoft Xmas Nightmare Continues (updated)

Ah, the joys of Christmas. A quiet day where you can sit around and play with your new toys -- unless your toys don't allow you to connect to XBox live and play with them.

So far, no connectivity for me. These are the days when you start thinking, "If I have to pay for a year of XBox live and Live is unavailable during that time, shouldn't Microsoft be refunding me for the time that I wanted to play, payed for access, but couldn't get on?"

Seriously though, right now I'm building a significant level of regret from having purchased this POS system in the first place. If someone were to ask me right now, would I recommend the XBox One or any other Microsoft product, the answer would be an unqualified NO.

Just for fun -- and to confirm some things that I already suspected -- I decided to fire up the XBox 360. As expected, it connects to XBox live, it remembers my XBox live profile and, more importantly, it WORKS. With the XBone, I feel like one of those poor bastards who got stuck with Windows 8 instead of Windows 7 or XP, older software that actually works.

And just for comparison, I restart the XBone -- it still doesn't work. I think it's getting ready to make it's way back into the box and get returned to the store. This device is still just not ready for public consumption, which is laughable when you think that this system came from the people who have years of experience making the XBox 360.

XBox Live Hack, Cloud Services and Nightmare of Christmas

This morning I got fired up the XBox One Console to discover that I wasn't connected to XBox Live. After several attempts to reconnect, I noticed the alert message complaining about a problem with "Core Services". While the XBox One offers some limited functionality when it can't connect to the XBox Live cloud, connectivity is a core part of how many games on the platform work, so when it can't connect, it's not happy. So problems with XBox Live equals problems for the XBone. Not a great Christmas present.

A quick check online revealed stories like this and this about hacks to the XBox and Playstation networks. These types of denial of service attacks are compounded on Christmas as many new systems are fired up for the first time and a wave of actual new users attempt to connect to the system. It's similar to what happened a couple of years ago when Apple's networks suffered under the load of a ton of new iPhone and iPads coming online. Still, you'd think that companies like Microsoft and Sony, as aspiring online media content hubs, would have a more robust, scalable infrastructure in place.

Seriously, it's one thing to have been surprised by a scaling impact a couple of years ago, but if you're building a modern cloud platform now, it's like approaching a yellow light from a couple of blocks back and being 'surprised' by a red light.

But this is also one of the reasons why designing the XBox One to be so fundamentally linked to the cloud seems like a strategic weakness. While it's true that many of the modern games depend upon Xbox Live connectivity in order to provide multi-player support, with the Xbox 360, you can do just about everything else even if you don't have access to a network. Trying to play some of games on the XBone this morning, I've suffered repeated failures -- even without attempting to use any networked component.

Frankly, I'm glad that I'm not depending on this device to be the cornerstone of my media center.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

XBox One Platform Follow Up

This is just a brief follow up on my earlier review of the XBox One platform. We started a new game -- Dragon Age Inquisition -- last week after burning through the buggiest Assassin's Creed ever.

I can safely report that we've experienced no crashes, freezes or glitches on the platform in the new game. I still don't love the software interface, but if good code runs on it, the system works.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Uber and the Moral Problem of Surge Pricing

Here is an interesting piece about the economics of surge pricing from an editor at the Harvard Business Review. It comes as Uber faces more outrage when, in response to the recent Sydney hostage crisis, surge pricing kicked in on Uber.

While it's easy to feel a bit cynical about the motives of a business when they promote the socially good aspects of their business practices, it's surprising to see the reality of an amoral profiteering engine, the Uber pricing algorithm. It makes you wonder, will people maintain a long term business relationship with a company that operates with no moral or ethical framework? Or, does a business need to find some mantle of good citizenship to wrap itself in lest it become a pariah?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Whole Foods and the Myth of the Workplace Team

Here's an interesting post that I came across from a guy that worked at Whole Foods in San Francisco. My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty by Nick Rahaim details some of his experiences working at Whole Foods. It's an interesting read. I think that there are a couple of interesting take-aways from the piece.

From his description, it sounds like a strong bond developed between co-workers. The irony is that, while many businesses try to build this kind of connection, in Whole Food's case, it appears that the unifying factor is salary and union concerns. Imagine if that weren't the case and, instead, that team approach was directed entirely toward the customer experience.

In the piece he references a store meeting where they are are given a "vote" on which benefits to cut because of "Obamacare." In the article, he points to Whole Food's stock price, but possibly a better indicator would be profitability. Essentially, shareholders reap increased profits on the backs of the underpayed "team" members. Its surprising that they don't fold more of that profit back into the engine of the business. And yet, this is the problem with the alignment between the performance of a stock and the "success" of the business.

There is another irony in that, Whole Foods tends to cater to an upscale customer, and that most are probably shopping there because they feel a sort of "harmonizing with all of society, hippy coop" sort of vibe. And Whole Foods exploits this image, through in-store experiences and interactions with the staff in the store. It's also part of the reason why people are willing to pay higher prices and Whole Foods is able to command higher margins than many of their competitors. What do you think the impact would be on the Whole Foods customer base if Whole Foods employees -- the friendly staff that the store's customers interact with -- were broadly thought to be treated in the same way as employees of Walmart? It seems like a rather precarious business strategy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Alliance, Company Values: Good Enough Isn't

As I mentioned in my recommendation of The Alliance, it's given me a lot to think about. One aspect that has stood out prominently for me recently relates to company culture and values. Often in Silicon Valley, we work with the idea of "Good Enough". Minimum Viable Product is all about good enough. At the same time, when we deal with our internal culture and our relationships with employees, good enough isn't really good enough.

Don't get me wrong. Many businesses approach their employees with a Good Enough mindset. Good Enough is the checklist version of employee relations -- just enough health insurance to make it seem like the business offers more than minimal coverage, hamburgers and hot dogs at the employee event, an Xbox because all of the other companies have one. It's the checklist that is disconnected from the why (beyond being a minimum threshold for having employees), and it's a symptom of a business that doesn't understand it's relationship in the alliance.

If there is one lesson that the HR department should learn from us marketing types, it's that every action, every event, and every program should have purpose. It should convey a message.
 "For your holiday bonus, we've decided to give everyone a dollar."
Imagine that reality. Congratulations, you've just awarded every employee a holiday bonus; another check mark on the list of employee benefits. And yet most employees, if presented with this, would probably say, "why bother". Other than adding an item on a list, it's totally unrelated to employee needs or interests. Imagine if it were 50% discount coupons to Disneyworld? It's the HR equivalent of spam. Maybe you get response in the 1-3% range. Is that the way that you want to connect to the "corporate assets" that you depend on to produce the good shit?

At best, a good enough mindset and checklist employee relations is simply disconnected from its "constituent base". At worst, it's a trigger for anger at the organization -- "if you can't be bothered to take my interests into account, why should I care about the things that you say are important?"

And yet, regardless of how counter-productive Good Enough may be for employee relations, it's pervasive and it isn't going away. Why? Because these are the metrics that have been established to measure HR. Salary. Benefits. Costs. And because many businesses don't approach things like, 'we want the very best people, we simply need Good Enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

XBox One and Assassin's Creed Unity Bundle: A Review

The holidays are upon us and with it, toys, gadgets and new technology that speaks to the kid in all of us. From a pricing standpoint, the time around Black Friday is one of the best times to buy a gaming console. Often you'll find prices that are unmatched during the rest of the year. Last year, with the launch of the Xbox One and the PS4 consoles, it was another round of the console wars. And while the media plays it as a simple "which platform to choose" queestion, like switching cell phones or operating systems, the decision isn't as simple as this one or that one, with the entrenched user base and established locks playing a factor in the overall decision. In short, if you were already playing on one platform, upgrading was one consideration; but, switching across platforms, that requires a different level of consideration.

For people who have gamed on the Xbox console, Microsoft didn't make it easy with the Xbox One. When announced, the Xbox one had lower graphic performance specs that the PS4, forced you to use a Kinect, and forced an online presence and licensing terms that would limit the viability of the used game market. When the introduction of the XBone was met with a collective, "really?", Microsoft began a PR war, backpedaling from some of these features, bumping the processor speed, and enabling a "software disable" for the Kinect. Still, it wasn't enough and the sales of XBone lagged behind the "you can't find one" PS4 during the 2013 holiday season.

In 2014, you also saw game makers rolling out their new games on the Xbox 360, possibly offering an XBone version, but not forcing a migration. The Xbox 360 hadn't been EOLed, it was just quietly continuing to be good enough for most users. For many Xbox platform users, XBone was a "perhaps sometime in the future" upgrade, worth considering once Microsoft stopped acting so much like the Microsoft that rules the world and more like the Microsoft that made "the gamer's" platform.

For the holiday season in 2014, Microsoft began offering a Kinect-less Xbone, priced lower than the PS4. Theoretically, with a year of manufacturing them, they've worked out some of the hardware issues, but you never know -- Xbox has a long history of things like RROD. But hey, now with the XBone, they've completely eliminated one of their historical hardware problems, there is no more red ring.

And with the holidays comes game bundles. There are a couple of options for 2014, but Costco was offering a semi-black-Friday deal on the Assassin's Creed bundle, with the new Assassin's Creed Unity and Assassin's Creed IV/Black Flag. Black Flag came out last year and was available on the Xbox 360, but Unity is only available on the one (or PS4). After a bit of debate and some comparison of the upcoming pricing options, we decided to buy the bundle at Costco, reassured by Costco's awesome return practices that if anything went wrong, we could bring it back.

Of course, wrong doesn't begin to address the software train wreck that currently resides inside that plastic.

First, the XBox One
With some excitement and pics texted to gaming friends, we completed the ceremonial unboxing. Then, it was time to plug it up. After some basic configuration, the first thing that the "I Must Have Broadband" XBone wanted to do was a system update -- a nearly 1GB download. Having completed it's system update, it then walked you through a series of privacy agreements and basic interface settings before dropping you into the chaotic mess that is the basic OS, sort of a Windows 8 inspired assortment of tiles.

When you're dealing with a touchscreen like a tablet or a phone, you can it's easy to jump from one area of the screen to another. Not so with a mouse. It's even worse with the joystick on a game controller. I'm not a fan.

Perhaps the worst feature of the interface is this "Snap" feature. If you pop the power button on the controller, up pops this snap sidebar. This sidebar will stay with you regardless of the what's going on on the other screen. At one point in the midst of game play and trying to adjust settings, the snap bar popped open and it took fifteen minutes of back and forth between the main interface and the game just to get the snap sidebar to close -- because multi-tasking is so important when you're playing a game on a console.

Another thing that set off the horrific Snap experience was the search to try and change the brightness output on the XBone. The search for settings adjustment in the XBone was another 30 minute affair, punctuated by landing in a "calibrate your display for Xbox", that basically informed you to change the settings on your TV. The XBone isn't too dark, it's your TV that doesn't work correctly.

Multi-tasking and Retained States
The XBone has some features that seem like they'd be handy if you're a gamer and you have a one-to-one relationship with your console. When you restart the XBone, if you are logged in as the same person playing the same game as your last session, it remembers where you stopped and it restores your session -- no more re-watching the launch screen, you're back in the action at the same place that you left. Unfortunately, if that place was an interface bug (a common event in AC Unity), simply closing out of the game will not remedy it.

Again, if the purpose of this device is to be your entertainment center controller, then you may find this level of retained states and multi-tasking support helpful, but if you think your game console something that you want to play games on, then you may find this to be yet another feature that you curse about on the system.

Assassin's Creed Unity - The Crashiest AC EVAH!
After updating the XBone and sifting through the OS to find where to enter the game download code, next it was time to download the new AC Unity. I queued it up and began the download. In reading the paper disclaimer, it notes that AC Unity can take up to 50GB of space on your XBox hard disk. This was going to be a massive download, so I decided to make dinner while it downloaded. As I started to make dinner, I thought that it might be handy to put something on the TV while making food. On the Xbox 360, we have the Amazon Prime app installed, and we'll sometimes use it. As I went to fire up Amazon on the XBone (one of the tiles), it told me that I needed to download the updated app -- which it happily queued behind my AC Unity download. No multi-threaded downloads on this system.

What did surprise me though was, partway through making dinner, the console informed me that AC Unity was ready to play. Surprising, but it seemed like it would let me start with 'enough' downloaded -- sort of like a cached streaming video. What it seemed to do though, was let me play through an extended opening sequence before gearing itself up for a much longer complete download with no additional opportunities to play before the download was complete.

So let's talk about the game play
My first experiences with the game were... dark. Really dark. This is what sent me on the hunt to adjust the settings on the XBone, within the AC game, somewhere. There is a line between dramatic and playable, Assassin's Creed Unity seems to cross that threshold repeatedly. Several "night time" sequences were so dark, they were virtually unplayable. As with many aspects, it's difficult to measure whether this is the XBone or the AC Unity game.

By the time I did get to a daylight portion of the game, I was excited by the high resolution graphics. However, as I started playing through one of the 'chase' segments, I initially found the graphics to be a bit frustrating as it made it more difficult to identify and separate the important details from the unessential random graphic details.

There are other things that become more immediately apparent that you have probably read in other reviews. Probably my favorite in the Assassin's Creed series is AC 2. There are aspects that make the game like a tour of historic Italy. There's an immersive level of Italian language, including a fun level of Italian swear words. AC 2 is why "merda" and "requiescat in pace" entered my lexicon. But with Unity, while we have the French Revolution and all of it's immersive graphics, we get a comprehensive British accent overdub of everything. Despite Ubisoft's links to Montreal and, one would expect, the ability to turn out a product with some level of French feel, instead we are left with an environment that seems far less immersive that the version of the game that's five generations older. Devolution.

The other thing that has been an ongoing devolution in the series has been this increasing emphasis on cool action "parkour"moves. Sure it makes for cool video sequences to see your character make running, sliding hops over tables and under gates, but it seems as though many of these are added while sacrificing overall playability. And, while it's mildly amusing the first time your Arno character does a little cartwheel-like spin at the top of the building, it becomes rather tiring rather quickly. Similarly, the parkour emphasis means that sometimes your free run along the outcroppings of buildings will be supplemented by grabbing the building wall and doing a blind spin -- visually interesting the first time you do it, but equally as likely to interrupt your run and send you off in a direction that you didn't intend to go.

Simpler is Not Always Better
Free running has been evolving over the course of the series. At one time, you needed to use a combination of buttons to free run, but with Unity, you free run by pulling the trigger and use the A or B button as a modifier for "up" or "down". On the one hand, down makes a handy way to down-climb from a building, regardless of what the side looks. It also reduces the number of times that you find yourself accidentally leaping off a building and desyncing. At the same time, it's taken some of the challenge away. You hardly need to control your direction as the software will land you on the right place most of the time.

This same "make it simpler" has changed several other aspects of the climbing interface. While AC2 featured climbing puzzles that could frequently frustrating in their "you must be facing in exactly this direction and execute the correct key combination to make a side-leap off a wall in order to reach the ledge" kind of challenges, AC Unity has virtually removed things like jumping backwards from a hanging position on one wall to grasp at a ledge or handhold behind you. Now the interface features "Wall Eject" as an option, but more often than not, it doesn't even work. Even "Drop" sometimes doesn't work. This leads to numerous game hangs if you find yourself in a buggy location. I've gotten hung on a wall inside a building, two feet above the floor, in a corner next to a plant -- and the interface wouldn't accept any inputs. I would rather accidentally leap to my death than have the safety on the interface say, "nope".

Which brings me to another problem with the interface on this. Often, the engine finds itself switching back and forth between views as you jump between buildings. It's related to the not being able to do the back leap and the engine's seeming desire to give you a straight-ahead view. With several rapid changes in perspective, it becomes easy to lose any sense of real location. Sometimes during a fast down-climb, you'll find yourself facing the wrong direction and, correspondingly, interrupting your descent.

At the same time, one of the cool features is the number of "inside building" spaces that you have. Now, buildings are no longer solid objects, instead having floors and complete inside environments. For the most part, the inside buildings are a nice addition, but it's often frustrating trying to go through a window, even when the tip suggests "use left trigger to enter a window". In all, I would say that windows are still buggy.

Speaking of Bugs
You've probably heard and read a lot about the bugs. The AC series has always been kind of buggy, but Unity takes it to new levels. Playing on a recent Sunday, I think that the game went through eight or nine crashes that forced it to reboot. Essentially, it was play for 45 minutes or so, then crash. Repeat. Finally, midway through a memory mission, when I got hung up on the wall, I quit for the day. Gave up.

It's so buggy that, around Thanksgiving weekend Ubisoft pushed out a large update with something like 3000 bug fixes -- and it's still super buggy. They also sent an email providing the Dead Kings DLC to everyone for free. Another frustrating bug is this "Initiates" feature. Within the game, they've created this Initiates ranking that should link a registered user to their gaming history and provide them with access to things like additional clothing sets. It's the thing that remembers whether you finished the other Assassin's Creed games and things like that. The problem is that, for me and a number of users like me, whenever you try to connect to the Initiates function, it spits out an error and won't connect. That also means that a whole collection of yellow chests (and other in-game items) are essentially unavailable to you. Not a great experience for long term, theoretically loyal customers.

Multiplayer is Amusing
One nice thing about Unity is the multiplayer missions. Select a multiplayer mission and the software searches the cloud for others that are interested in collaboratively playing through a mission. Upon completion, everyone gets some skill upgrade points (only the first run through) and an armor item. While it may sound strange seeing another 1-3 people driving similarly enabled assassins through a collaborative mission, it's actually pretty cool. The missions with three or four tend to play better because they are less dependent on the coordination and collaboration between individuals. And yet, it's kind of interesting to see similar styles of game play and even, essentially uncoordinated collaboration towards a common goal. This is another nice addition.

XBox One and Assassin's Creed Unity: A Bundle Made in Error
Ultimately, there's a level of irony to the XBone / AC Unity bundle. The odds are pretty high that, if that wasn't a bundled option, we probably wouldn't have taken the XBox One console home this holiday season. Currently, there are still enough new titles -- like Dragon Age or Borderlands -- that are also available on XBox 360, that the change isn't quite mandatory. And while the graphics are nice, it's not so compelling an update that migration is a must.

At the same time, between the XBone interface and the bugs in the Assassin's Creed game, I must say that I don't love this console. Considering that, between sequences or fast travel transitions in Unity, it generates a load screen that takes a minute or more (which I believe may be related to the streaming loading of data) to resolve, it becomes a tiresome journey working your way through the game. As noted, the game has also generated more lock-ups and crashes than any console game that I've played, ever. As someone who's just stepped into this platform, it can be so bad that it might make you want to go back to the Xbox 360. We've been told by friends of ours that their experience with Halo not as bad -- like no crashes bad -- so it may be the software and not the platform. But still. I would have thought that somebody and Microsoft or Ubisoft would have said, it's not ready, you can't serve this to customers.

As for Ubisoft, I wish that they didn't seem compelled to crank out a new title each year and would instead focus on improving the depth and flow of the story and the gameplay. While we've been amused at how smoothly the graphics flow from cut scene to action with little degradation, couldn't we take advantage of that to reduce the number of cut scenes? Ultimately, I feel like Ubisoft has targeted a lowest common denominator demographic with the game play and the voicing where they could have done better bringing in closer to the AC 2 environment. I get the sense that they were drawn that way -- sort of the "let's get away from sailing" thing -- but still tried to keep it "safe".

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Uber and the Business that Isn't That Business

Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched as the various Uber scandals have played in the media. Or rather, I should say, the latest big Uber scandal and it's various associated threads. Several times I've felt compelled to write about the it and the various things that we've either learned or had reinforced over the past two weeks. Here are a few highlights for me:
  • Pando Daily gets my consistent reading attention because the writing and analysis is worth it.
  • Uber's visible, vocal flaunting of legal and ethical frameworks reminds me a lot of that once-vaunted company, Enron. The market loved them and they could do no wrong when the money machine was rolling, but then it wasn't. The blow-back was Sarbanes-Oxley. Remember this part? 'Taken directly from the act, a code of ethics comprises the standards necessary to promote "honest and ethical conduct; full, fair, accurate, timely and understandable disclosure in periodic reports;" and "compliance with applicable governmental rules and regulations.' Can you imagine the incoming congress fixing anything? Perhaps as long as it includes the option to ignore them for personal or religious grounds.
  • Ashton Kutcher. Really? Dude.
  • And then there's this, one of the more interesting things that I read about why you might want to consider deleting your Uber app. I know. It's Android, but still.
  • I think someone out there could write a long and eloquent post about the ludicrousness of a "sensationalistic" press writing about business
All of that being said, there's still a lot of discussion around how much money is sitting on table in this ridesharing market and whether, ultimately, that money supports an "end justifies the means" approach to business. Here's more analysis on "Why Uber Fights."

For me though, one thing that resonates is how Uber tries to play the "We're not THAT business" card. When facing cities and states with regulations governing taxis and limos, Uber says, "those laws don't apply to us. We're not a taxi company or a limo company. We're just facilitating connections between riders and drivers." And then, when it comes to the behavior of it's drivers, background checks, insurance or any of the other things that might cost money, the drivers are "not employees of Uber, we're just facilitating transactions between a driver and a rider."

Of course, this "outside of the lines of THAT business" approach stand in contrast to actual aspects of their business. For example, there's the blurred line between employee and contractor. Clearly, the goal of having employees be contractors is to escape many of the employer/employee relationship requirements. Similarly, while the company doesn't want to be categorized as a transportation company, a chunk of that investment warchest goes to fund a program where drivers can "borrow money" to buy Uber cars and the company can build out their fleet of "not Uber company" cars.

There are aspects of this approach that enable the company to grow faster, but you can rest assured that a significant percentage of their "not THAT business" approach is to skate between the lines and rules that bind the rest of the business world. It's as though they said, "this limit that says that a limo requires an advanced booking to pick up a passenger is wrong, so all rules are wrong". The reality is that there are reasons why many of these regulations and laws have made their way onto the books. And while the limits on booking a limo might have not kept up with the internet age and deserved disruption, that doesn't equate to all business laws, regulations and limitations being unbreakable.

Being a business that is "not THAT business" is a position that businesses take when they want to try and capitalize on a loophole. "Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to worry about this rule or that rule". Like ISPs not being liable for the content going through your broadband connection -- we don't have anything to do with what's going through the pipe until we realized we could make money inserting our ads to your content."

It may be that, by espousing a "between the ethical lines" strategy, a business can increase some short term profits. But in the long term, do these kinds of ethical gray areas pay off? Consider something like Silk Road, which probably adopted the notion of "not a drug dealer", instead just facilitating an online marketplace, a place where buyers and sellers could connect". Given enough government interest, it didn't really matter what gray area the people running it claimed, they were still arrested for criminal behavior.

Now it may be that there is not enough will within the government to "crack down" on these gray area definitions for Uber (the regulation bogeyman that conservatives hate), but that's just here in the states. As Uber expands into Europe and other international locations, some European governments are not as regulation-averse.

To date, Uber's approach has been to operate as though the on-demand ride has been an unjust barrier, then hoped that with enough adoption and positive public sentiment, they could overcome any regulatory barriers that were thrown up in their way. That approach is easier to execute upon when you're seen as a positive force, not a threat, a no-harm no-foul concession to technology changing the marketplace. But, as you push the envelope of legitimate business practices and people get threatened, hurt or feel ripped off, the tides can change.

Ethics, Morality, and The Mission Statement
It's one thing to look for exploitable loopholes. It's another thing entirely when that becomes the fabric of your business. Customers can understand and tolerate breaking a rule if that seems part of a bigger mission. Breaking one rule can make you seem principled. Break too many and you just seem slimey.

Ethics matter. Everyone jokes about Google's "Don't Be Evil" value, but consider -- despite many questions raised about aspects of their business, most people recognize that Google does good things with their products, technologies and practices. Or at least they try. Everything from free services to a loftier goal of scanning all of the books so that everyone has access to them -- these aren't things that are born out of a "how can I get leverage over the world" philosophy. And that's probably why people might be more likely worried about how Uber staff like Travis and his Bros might use their private data, where they wouldn't worry about Sergey and Larry in the same way. Sure people worry about what the ubiquitous Google is doing with their data, but it's unlikely that Google would publish their walk of shame/ride of glory.

Ultimately, if you look at the battle for this ride share market, there is this notion that the market is defined and it's just a matter of parsing the customer base. If Uber wins, it will own this market is the prevailing thought. I think what that seems to overestimate is our need for this service. Don't get me wrong, taxis and ride for hire has been around for a long time, but that doesn't necessarily translate to an automatic shift to Uber. While there are aspects of the taxi environment that we all may have encountered -- crazy drivers, unclean vehicles, and selective, sometimes limited support as examples -- there are still aspects of the service, like regulated fares, that have me choosing a taxi over Uber for many in-city rides.

But beyond that, there is this assumption that our need for a ride-share type ride outweighs any ethical limitations that might otherwise drive us to select an alternative. What happens when Uber drivers become like Internet fulfillment warehouse workers, run ragged on a barely minimum wage, indentured servants to the rider class. Will this ethical framework hold? Will there still be joy and enthusiasm in this service? Or will it be like Groupon, with unknowing shop owners leveraged into buy-one-get-one-free deals that drive a momentary customer boost at the expense of their quality, profits and reputation?

At some point, Uber will reach a tipping point, a time when it can no longer play the "not THAT business" card. In order to own it's quality, service and brand, it will need to become THAT business. Taking ownership would also mean taking ownership of it's management and it's ethics. Right now, it doesn't want to own anything -- it's not THAT business. But let's see how long that lasts.

Update: I stopped writing this post over the weekend and then I came across this piece on Pando talking about the differences between Uber and AirBNB. It's totally worth diving into.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

United Airlines and their Customers: Loyalty in Decline

It's the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a horrible time for traveling and airports. And yet, business needs forced my hand and I'm flying back to the east coast tonight. Perhaps the bigger irony is that, as I opened Jason Hirschorn's @MediaREDEF newsletter this morning, I came across this New Yorker article, Why I Left United Airlines by Tim Wu.

I found it amusing and ironic as he echoed many of my sentiments about United Airlines. As I mentioned in previous posts, done with United meant selecting a different carrier for my trip to Japan in October and for this upcoming trip to Boston. And, while I'm gritting my teeth, nervously anticipating the potential frustrations that JetBlue may put me through, particularly this evening (red-eye flight, currently stuck in front of an exit row in a middle seat in that doesn't recline -- not really what you want on a business trip), deep down I know that I'm already better off than I would have been on a matching United flight.

Nope, United, I'm done.

BTW, the article references -- check it out if you want to read more unhappy United experiences. I found this NoFlyNoBuy complaint from MileagePlus members talking about a no-fly no-buy Thursday. For me, every day has become no-fly, no-buy.

But, for every business that isn't United, it's worth noting the power of dissatisfaction. How many of these dissatisfied customers do you think say, "don't fly United"?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Apple: More Frustrating OS Behaviors

Dear Apple: We've been together a long time. I've used Apple devices since before there was an Internet. One of the things that I've always counted on is that you employ people who understand the bigger requirements; that when you make decisions or choose directions, you keep professional users like me in mind even as you make it easier for novice users to work with the tools.

To that end, me and most of my Mac using friends have tolerated some of these experiments in making things easier. I remember the original introduction of the "Launcher", introduced -- I suppose -- because double-clicking on an application icon was too difficult for some people to understand. I also remember my friend's comment about getting rid of it, "the first thing you needed to do was to launch the Launcher."

But now, the current design direction seems to have shifted from utility to fashion -- and the almighty idea of harmonizing the appearance of the phone and the Mac. It's taking the Mac in such stupid ways. Internally inconsistent ways.

So the other day we were sitting around, streaming a video to our Apple TV using mirroring and VLC. But recently -- for whatever reason -- the mirrored video stream has become super-choppy. Tons of dropped frames and video lag. I found several suggestions online, including turning off Bluetooth, and switching the view to "extended desktop". When I did that though, VLC started to act strangely. I could launch a video and you could hear the sound, but there was no video visible. After clicking around and restarting VLC, the video would appear when I launched VLC.

I didn't think much about that problem until the other day when I was doing something that I often do, production-wise. I was entering data into a field into Salesforce in one window, while trying to have Excel in the background as reference behind it. To make it easier, I moved the Excel sheet over to my second monitor (and the extended desktop), then clicked back to my Salesforce window. The problem? Excel would "disappear" from the other window. Vanish. Gone. No more extended desktop.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered a checkbox in the Mission Control section of the system preferences. The setting "Displays have separate Spaces" is apparently checked by default. It appears that this behavior was made default even back in Mavericks. Deselecting it requires a log-out, so you can't do this in the middle of a project without a significant interruption. But once I made the change, I had true extended desktop functionality again.

So first, I'm at a loss to explain why you would make this kind of change in the first place. But beyond that, here's my bigger question -- what's the point of having transparency baked in as an effect throughout the system when you don't allow things to be transparent across application spaces? Is it because it's cool? It sure as hell doesn't provide me any utility.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Net Neutrality and Obamacare: Are There Similarities?

So Senator Ted Cruz claimed that Net Neutrality was like Obamacare. That spawned a number of comments about how he wrong. I even read one article "hoping" that he was right because Obamacare was a success.

Not to wade too much into the polarized politics of it, I suspect that whatever comes out of the current Net Neutrality debate will actually be a lot like Obamacare -- but I mean that in an entirely different way. When Sen. Cruz talks references Obamacare, what he's talking about is government involvement in health care, the regulation bogeyman, and "government overreaching". Remember the message, "regulation bad. Evil." with the subtext of, "our friends can't make as much money." When I reference Obamacare, I'm thinking more about the evolution of the legislation and the interests that must be addressed.

If you remember back in the early negotiations around Obamacare, one of the first things that they did was to sign an agreement with the big pharmaceutical companies to limit the impact of the legislation on drug companies. Why? Well, for the drug companies, this "concession" meant that they could count on their profits even if the legislation went through. Big pharma has big pockets, and they were part of the reason that healthcare reform was quashed back in the 1990s. This agreement was an attempt to take them out of the game.

Then there was another aspect of healthcare reform -- a single payer universal system. Medicare for all. It never even got to sniff the paper the legislation was printed on because most people understand that it would kneecap the for-profit health insurance industry. Instead, they kept it off the table and pushed through "everyone must buy health insurance", a broad concession to the insurance industry. Not that those guys weren't making money before, and not that they didn't complain through the process. The net effect was designed to be, we give you guys more business so you don't lose money.

What these two aspects of Obamacare have in common is the idea of finding ways to appease the moneyed lobbying interest while putting a public "we're taking care of you" wrapper on it. For years now, that's the same solution that they've been trying to find for Net Neutrality. To find a way to support the telecom and cable lobbying, to ensure that they can take whatever profits they want, all while finding enough of the right words to make you feel like you got things reeled back from Comcast being able to say, "whatever, I do what I want".

This is why they floated the more recent regulation saying in essence, "mostly net neutrality for the stuff that goes into your house, but big money companies like Comcast and Netflix can negotiate fast lanes." See Mom and Dad, you won't have to pay a premium to send grandma and grandpa that video of the school play. It just may take a couple of hours.

So when Ted Cruz says Net Neutrality is like Obamacare, he's not far off. That being said, Cruz isn't really playing to your interest -- unless your name is Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T.

And how about President Obama -- why weigh in on this now? I think that this was a, "we've crossed the threshold of the midterm elections, it's not like I have anything to lose one some of these issues." Thus, net neutrality and immigration.

Meanwhile, back at the "independent" FCC, they're going to have to look for some sort of path that can answer the issue while keeping "the industry" happy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Phones, Tablets, and Tokyo Rush Hour

During rush hour in Tokyo packed in a train car, you'll also find yourself surrounded by electronic devices. While there are some people who still read the newspaper or books, most (by my observation) were engaged with electronic devices. More specifically, phones.

You'll see a lot of different types of phones on the trains in Tokyo these days. While you still see some people with the older Japanese version of flip phones, the majority of phones that I saw were touchscreen smart phones. Lots of different brands -- Samsung, Sony, Apple. And it goes without saying, lots of different colors, cases, and attachments. I even saw one young woman one morning using a phone with a cracked screen. Wherever you go, phone frustrations are universal.

One thing that surprised me though -- with all of the electronic devices that you see on the train, I saw very few iPads. Or any other brands of tablet for that matter. I think I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I saw somebody use an iPad on the train over the course of the week. It's just too big. Even the iPad Mini.

I think that the majority of phones that I saw looked about like the iPhone 6 size -- either new iPhone 6 phones, or Samsung/Sony/misc other Android equivalents. I saw some of the larger 6 plus / Note models, but that didn't appear to be the preferred size in Japan either.

Here in the states, the iPhone 6 is outselling the 6 plus 3:1. While they are clearly selling some of the larger sized phones, it still seems to me like Apple was chasing an over-hyped competitor niche more than designing the perfect product -- like so many of the "Designed by Android" features in iOS and Yosemite.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Net Neutrality, Title II and the Looming Battle to Reframe the Debate

I was deeply surprised when I read that Obama had weighed in on Net Neutrality and had come down on the side of reclassifying broadband as a regulated service. Initially, my thought was, "finally, someone on the government side weighs in on the side of common sense." I actually expected the No Drama team to take a more nuanced, less sided approach, common sense and millions of public comments to the FCC be damned. "This," I thought, "might be the defining moment when we take back the initiative on the Internet and return it to a free and open communications platform." If, despite all of the lobbying and industry money aimed at sanctioning Comcast's "right" to manipulate the bits flowing into your computer, Obama could get behind reclassification, perhaps there was hope.

And then I began reading some of the articles being published, like this interview with Tim Wu in the Washington Post.
So what does Obama's statement do to the politics?
The FCC was leaning toward a slightly more compromised approach, and I suppose having the White House do this could leave them feeling like they have no allies and are unwilling to act for a while. I imagine they're not very happy over there.

Chairman Wheeler's statement on Obama's move actually, seemed, well, pretty sassy. It emphasized how the FCC is an independent agency...
I think the FCC had settled, and may still be settled, on a different way of using Title II. And without the White House on its side and with Congress against it, they're kind of in that middle of the road area where you get run over. Politically, they're stranded right now, and I'm not sure what that means from them. Wheeler seems to be indicating that they're going to push the hold button on net neutrality, which could be a disappointing outcome if that hold button stays there for a very long time.

Their argument seems to be that they haven't developed the record to be able to defend a Title II-based approach in court. But Title II has been around for 80 years.
"We don't have the record yet" is agency-speak for, "we gotta figure out what to do next." They can act without the White House and without Congress, but no one one in Washington likes to go it alone. It's very precarious.
There's been a persistent effort for more than decade to stigmatize Title II, to make it unusable and unmentionable. The fact that the president's talking about it and that the Commission has also been talking about it, at least in hybrid forms, means that Title II is back alive. There's been millions spent to make Title II dead and buried. And there it is. It has risen. It's a live law again. Title II is back.
After reading this piece, the next thing that happened was that I started noticing a incoming tide of media appearances by more people talking about net neutrality, The funny thing about it is, while the Republican-linked opposition also likes to stand up on soapbox and tell us that we stand on the precipice about to step into our doom, they usually follow the dark picture with "Regulation equals the anti-Christ, that it is so evil that it will destroy everything that we hold dear". When it comes to the anti-net neutrality lobby, they then begin a shift into telling us how lucky that we all are.

I heard one guy talking about how incredible our Internet access was and how lucky that we were compared to the rest of the world -- that we have LTE wireless broadband service available in most areas around the country -- way more wireless broadband deployment than any other global region. He then used this as a basis to say that we have lots of choices when it comes to broadband. The politics of disinformation -- it's good to see that our horseshit manufacturing industry continues to thrive.

The Bottom Line
Despite millions of people commenting to the FCC and a broad, popular understanding that the Internet is breaking / broken, the moneyed interest want an Internet that benefits them, one where they can profit on every packet of data, where they can control content and ensure that all of your content incoming content comes from them at a low low monthly price of $200-300 per month, perhaps with an optional $100 per month for a premium package with movies or sports. These are the guys spending on lobbying, on congress and the FCC. They are buying opinions.

The anti-network neutrality folks want to have to create a different kind of internet. Several years ago, people wanted to charge ISPs with being complicit with users who did illegal things. Downloaded something illegal, maybe provided the infrastructure for someone pirating movies and music. But, with the big guns of a lawsuit facing them, most of the ISPs stood up and said, "hey, we're not responsible for what our users do -- we merely provide an access platform. We have no control over what goes through that pipe. Now, as people start using that pipe do deliver services that are competitive to their content industry and they're like "oh no, this is no good. Somebody should be paying for this..." The reality is that they have been monitoring your traffic and they've even been inserting packets into your traffic. They are not just providing an access pipe.

But this is a great story. Netflix is a Data Hog And other myths about Net Neutrality provides you with a simple reminder about the core lie that's driving the anti-network neutrality folks. From this article:
Some people use the Internet ten minutes a day to check their email. Some people leave their computers on 24/7 to download entire video libraries. None of them are data hogs.
How can I say this so unequivocally? Because nobody gets a drop more data than what they pay for. The ISPs make damn sure of that. If you pay for, say, a 10 megabit per second connection, you are not getting any more than 10 megabits of data per second even if you have Bittorrent set to “Stun” all day every day.
And this also points to another fundamental lie underneath the whole anti-network neutrality side of the argument. If we all downloaded our 10 megabits at the same time, we would cause tremendous problems for our ISP. Comcast would crash. We would break the Internet. Why? Because even while they've promised you 10 Mbps, they have oversubscribed their line. They've sold you capacity that they can't guarantee, driven by the idea that most of the time, everyone won't need all of it. But do you get a rebate for all of that bandwidth that you don't use? No, because that wouldn't maximize their profit.

But, in the same way that by framing "lots of competitive broadband options" if you count your phone as being equal to the wired connection coming into your house or your office, framing Netflix as a data hog makes you feel like somebody watching Orange is the New Black is taking something away from you because all you want to do is check your email.

And so, the "independent" FCC needs to keep working in order to find a find a way where that can sell you no net neutrality with kind of like net neutrality wrapper.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rush Hour: Silicon Valley vs Tokyo

I'm back from a week in Tokyo. It's often strange to visit there, being so wired and so off-the-grid at the same time. With internet access and mobile phones, it's easy to remain connected and yet, with the timezone differences and the language disconnect from the TV and news media, "current events" in the US seem like trivial pursuit facts. Life is those moments that you are immersed in.

For me though, the great inescapable reality driven home by time in Japan is how much our transportation system sucks. Imagine trying to explain our lack of trains to someone from Japan whose never been here. We have one that goes up and down the Peninsula, we have BART that connects points in the east bay to San Francisco, and we have a light rail connecting a few points in San Jose, Muni connecting a few areas in San Francisco... oh, and Amtrak running a line in from the central valley. And that's it. Else bus. Or car.

Millions of people live and work in the Tokyo area. Rush hour in Tokyo is this crazy sea of people moving through trains and their metro subway system. Train cars get so crowded that people literally squeeze into them. Lines and lines of people flow through stations, up and down escalators, flood over stairs. Wide hallways and tunnels that are virtually empty during off-hours flow packed with people during rush hour. Millions of people go from their residence to their place of work and back each day.

Contrast that with our rush hour. Thousands and thousands of cars crawling through stop and go traffic, sometimes three or four lanes wide. Mistakes -- trying to shift direction too quickly or move a little faster than a less rushed portion of the crowd -- result in crumpled steel and plastic, thousands of dollars in damage. It's not like bumping into a human in a crowd.

Pedestrian crowds do a much better job of coordinated navigation that car crowds. Even as they study pedestrian crowd dynamics, they could probably benefit from the amazing dance that is the crowd flow in rush hour Tokyo. There are no horns, no yelling. It's a mostly quiet shuffle, complemented by the background noise of various train announcements. While most might find rush hour Tokyo very stressful, for me it was a relaxing break from what rush hour has become here in the bay area. It was also a strong reminder of how totally screwed up our transportation infrastructure is here.

An Innocent Question
When you're abroad, it's not unusual for you to find yourself answering questions about home. One night during dinner, we were asked a question that was so simple on the surface -- and yet, provided a telling story of the underlying mess. The question was simply, "does the magnet strip on your train ticket work on all of the trains in California?"

For most of us here in the bay area, this question doesn't touch on our commute. For many, we may not even have the experience to provide an accurate answer. But the question and the underlying assumption is actually a more interesting story than an accurate answer. Put simply, if you live in a world filled with trains, can you imagine a virtually trainless world like the San Francisco Bay Area?

Before we could answer the train ticket interoperability question, we really needed to frame the world that we live in, a world with one train running up the Peninsula, one up and down the East Bay, and a couple of rounds of municipal light right connecting a few parts of San Francisco or San Jose. Oh, and the ACE train. That's it. You can't imitate the week I spent in Tokyo, traversing the city from one side to the other, on a combinations of municipal trains and metro subways. 

In the bay area, any attempt to go anywhere other than one end or the other on a line will probably leave you waiting at a station for a long time, riding for a while, then walking, taking a bus, or just not going anywhere further than a few blocks from the station. Our trains are not interwoven into our transportation fabric. Instead, we now suffer under the traffic of a transportation infrastructure crafted by the same geniuses that brought you LA traffic. You know what we need? More houses, more people, and more freeway lanes. Bah.

If nothing else, experiencing Tokyo rush hour that we really need to transform our transportation infrastructure, and that's not exactly a high-speed train line to LA. Most of us might be satisfied if we could get on VTA light rail and make it from one side of San Jose to the other in less than two hours. Or if Baby Bullet trains ran up and down the peninsula line all day long, supplemented by local routes that could pick up stops along the overall route. Express lines running parallel to local lines. Imagine trains running along Lawrence, Page Mill, Sand Hill, and everywhere.

Of course, even as I write this, I know it's a crazy pipe dream. All you have to do is look back to the BART extension into SFO and the great BART versus Caltrain battle over which could best service the airport. After years and years of construction, they managed to build a train that charges a surcharge, delivers poor service (who wants to go to Daily City in order to go to downtown San Francisco -- it's nearly an hour on BART), and makes it nearly impossible to connect with Caltrain. Why couldn't we have both connections? Or a master plan that made it easier to bridge the two?

No, instead of the infrastructure we need, we must live in the ad hoc transportation network we've got -- the world's "most brilliant people", left to rot away in gridlocked automobiles, shaking their fists at one another and while trying to understand the lane change logic of the people in front of them. We're doomed.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Apple: Yosemite's Transparency Effect Sucks

If I sound like a broken record, it's because I'm confronted with aspects of the stupidity that is the new Apple UI on a daily basis. Rather than getting used to it, each of these moments serve as a reminder that the design team has gone off the rails. I discussed a few of the elements in the Yosemite UI that drove me crazy in my post, Yosemite the Horror, and I'm still fighting the stupid redesign of Safari on a daily basis.

But here's another example of why this transparency look sucks. I happened to capture this screen while downloading a file.

I've blurred the file name, but you don't need to that to see that the screen is essentially unreadable. Thin dark gray type on a light gray (due to transparency) background equals a puddle of gray, inky colors. Functional? Hardly.

You might argue that this is designer narcissism, but I happened to see a colleague with an Android phone with similar image elements. Perhaps a better rename of this interface should be, when plagiarism attacks. It's kind of like the UI team at Apple saw somebody wearing 6" platform shoes with goldfish in them and said to themselves, "those are so cool, everyone should wear them."

If I could wish for one product to hit the market, it would be a tool that would enable me to reskin the entire interface back to the time before all of this design style took over. Skeumorphism be damned, I'd much rather put up with an electronic calendar with a fake binding that an unreadable screen using modern "flat" colors.

Perhaps the worst aspect of all of this crappy UI design is that, it makes you seriously question the underlying code and framework of the OS. Put differently, if this kind of crap gets through the design filters, what kind of crappy code is escaping through the technical teams?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Celebrity News: Lessons for a Polarlized World

Some time ago I was thinking about politics, our news media, and the stupider aspects of polarization. In politics, the news about politics, and the media that surrounds it, everything seems to pull to one pole or another. Often, this need to align with a pole will transform positions and reasoning into an idiotic farce. What I mean by that is, if you start with a basic story like "President Obama Kisses Baby", before ink has hit the presses groups of people will find the need to author "How dare he kiss a baby", "Presidential baby kissing is destroying our economy", or perhaps even "Obama kisses baby and ignores the dangers of Ebola pandemic". It's a constant game of "I'm Rubber, Your Glue" and for most of us, it can be exhausting.

It's particularly relevant as we swirl through the election season. As election season nears, the madness of all of this polarity comes to a boil. If one candidate uses a serial comma, there will be widespread backlash against serial commas and anyone that uses them. Soon you'll find yourself needing to align with the comma users or against them -- but choose carefully, because the other side is hell-bent on evil.

What makes it worse is that there are ecosystems devoted to echoing and amplifying the two poles. From the cable channels to the papers and the radio stations, the media aligns with an audience and, before you know it, your feed is saturated with one pole or the other. And these ideologies live like religions, with us in the midst of an epic, never-ending holy war. It's so pervasive, that it seems almost a natural part of our existence.

But it's not.

I realized that one day while reflecting on lessons from the celebrity/gossip media. In the celebrity gossip world, you don't really have poles. There is no liberal/conservative split in the news about celebrities. When you get "Justin Bieber Arrested for DUI in Florida," you don't see a knee-jerk response from some other side. There are lots of "Bieber is an asshole/jerk/idiot" stories. Perhaps some teen girls with the "Leave Justin Alone". Even a certain number of publicist-driven, "Ah come-on guys, it wasn't like that" stories. But there is no "other half" of the media saying, "Justin Bieber is not an asshole/jerk/idiot" or "Why do they always bust white Canadian men, nobody says anything about Rihanna being drunk" stories. Or even the "They're just trying to destroy our traditional street racing culture. This is a classic American value. Did everyone forget about American Graffiti? American Graffiti should be mandatory in every high school."

Regardless of where you look in the celebrity media coverage -- if you parse it by celebrity, by communications outlet, or even as a broader sort of survey -- you won't see the kind of polarization that you see in anything that touches politics. That's probably why politics and political news is so disheartening. Put a different way, if every time you opened a story about your favorite celebrity, you knew that somewhere, there was a corresponding series of stories from the side of a "competitive" celebrity" saying that you were an idiot for showing interest in the first celebrity. Odds are, you'd probably buy less product, go to fewer movies, download fewer songs -- and you'd certainly only want to buy, download, or support the appropriate side.

The world we live in... strange, but not as polar as you've been lead to believe.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Apple Yosemite Release: The Horror

So yesterday I went ahead and installed Yosemite on one of my systems. Normally, I'm skeptical of installing a newly released Apple OS as history tells us that critical functions tend to break (like printing a few releases back). In this case, however, I was drawn in by some of the continuity features. Even then, I did some research online and came across few people expressing concerns about the potential for buggy behavior.

Overall, the install went smoothly -- I didn't encounter any hick-ups -- and so far, I haven't come across anything that you would consider a bug. And yet, I have no glowingly positive things to say about Apple's Yosemite release. Instead, and let this be a warning to you before you update, my list of really stupid, sucky stuff that Apple is doing continues to expand.

Here are just a few of the things that are wrong with Yosemite:
It's a reskinned OS that looks a lot like iOS7/8. While somebody somewhere may like this design, it makes me wretch every time I look at the screen. It looks like somebody stole the color palette from a pastel parrot. Apple and much of the publishing world refer to this as a more modern, flatter look. But for me, if it doesn't do anything else, the desktop version really magnifies and drives home how terrible this approach is.

When they rolled it out on iOS, the bullshit that they were spewing was that "it's designed to show off the awesomeness of our Retina displays." But it doesn't. That's why they came back around with bigger fonts and stronger colors post iOS7 release. With the desktop version, what you get is a wash of white, washed out colors. There is no contrast, no definition. When I fired up my laptop this morning, my Apple email client made the screen look like one big white screen.

Contrast this interface design with virtually any video game you've seen. The majority incorporate 3D graphic elements designed to add to an encapsulated, immersive experience. The problem with the current interface -- regardless of how they push it -- is that it's not easy to distinguish different elements in the interface. Your eyes don't know where to go. You can't just tell the difference between one element and another. The bullshit that they want to tell you is that, "you get used to it", but we've have over a year of iOS7 to disprove that notion. With Yosemite, they've doubled down on this line and it's horrible for the desktop experience.

When Steve Jobs passed and they put Jony Ive in charge of software design, one of the things that they talked about was more of a unified hardware/software design. To me, this feels like designer sans editor. If I didn't know better, I'd think that the purpose of the interface design is to show off how elegant that the hardware design is -- rather than a platform that makes interacting with software easier.

But, beyond the overall interface rant, let's dive into a few specifics.
A simplified Safari interface. I guess the browser interface has just become too crowded or too complicated for some people. With Yosemite, they've removed all of the old bookmarks, search windows and other stuff associated with it. It's so empty that, when you first look at it, you'll swear that important stuff is missing, like you've been popped into one of those windows where you no longer have navigation control.

But for me, the worst thing about it is the way that they've changed private browsing. On most of my systems, once I launch Safari, I turn on private browsing. I use this to prevent cookies. I also use the "reset Safari" regularly to purge the browser of any auto-executed chunks of code that I might have picked up. Now, you can selectively launch either a normal Safari window or a private window, but it's harder to launch a private window. Even if you are in private browsing, if you open a new window, it's not private. While there is a preference pane that tells Safari to launch with a private window, it appears that that only works on launch. After that, you're back to tracked. Brilliant.

Put into more basic terms, you need to actively monitor your state or you may find yourself surprised by an unintended state change.

Another one that, admittedly, is a carry-over from Mavericks version is this idea of getting rid of scroll bars on windows. It's as if, after 20 years of computing and using this tool that helped us get through extended pages of content, some genius designer said, "I hate them. They are ugly. They ugly up my beautiful window design. Let's make them go away. Damn the utility." Fortunately, this is one of those features that you can change behavior on in the interface controls, but why we had to go there is really beyond me. What is it with scroll bars that seems so maddening that the designers just keep wanting to change it?

Transparency is kind of overrated. A perfect example of this is in Safari, again. Opening multiple tabs in Safari now means that you have several transparent tabs at the top of the window, but with the active one just a bit more white than the rest. While some might argue that it makes the tabs more background, what it also does it make it more difficult to tell which one is active. At a glance, it's not exactly straightforward which window you are in -- and that means you're concentrating on the interface instead of using it as a tool.

Perhaps equally annoying, somebody decided that Safari should simplify the URL shown in the navigation/search window. Instead of showing the full URL of the page you are on, the browser window only shows the top level domain -- in case you forgot what it was. It's like "web browser brought to you by the branding board of the Internet". Let's not forget that monitoring your prage URL is not only a good security practice, it's one of those things that's kind of essential for a lot of web development work. Fortunately, there's a check box to disable this bit of brilliance. Come to think of it, I think the guys over at Mozilla first started doing this and I had to disable it in Firefox as well. So -- original idea, no... doing the same stupid thing when somebody else already did it... again, Apple, I expect better.

If you can't say something nice...
In one of the creative writing classes that I took, the teacher insisted that we open our comments about a specific piece by saying something positive about the work. Since I've already opened and commented, I'll close with a positive. I like aspects of the way that they've updated they've updated the dock in Yosemite. Now, it's easier to actually tell if an application is open. Before, they used a white dot underneath the app to indicate open, now they use a black dot. Finally, something I can see.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dreamforce 2015: Just Visiting

So we're headed up to Dreamforce today, getting ready to battle the conference crowds along with the bonus Giants' game crowd. Taking Caltrain again. If you remember my previous post, My Terrible, Awful Day at Dreamforce 2013, you'll probably have some sense of why I'm not looking forward to this.

This year, I decided to skip spending the money on the full conference pass. Instead, we're keynote and exhibits only -- adding to the crowd and not much else. We'll see how that works out. There's a part of me that feels like I'm missing stuff by not going to the full conference, but I think it's probably one of those things like not booking a United flight -- your gut telling you one thing, but your brain telling you the ROI isn't there. I shoulda used the guy's ROI calculator.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Heroes of Customer Service - 1Password

I write a lot about bad actors, those businesses and individuals who demonstrate really bad customer service. It's one of those things -- sometimes there are those experiences that are so bad or stand out so significantly -- you feel like you need to share them. But the reality is that we often go through the day with hundreds of customer service interactions, that are all just okay. But what about the amazingly good one?

When I get the chance, I like to call those out too. I think it's a reminder that good customer service can save a relationship. Consider this story of my experience with 1Password and their incredible customer service team.

After the theft of my laptop, I needed to change all of my passwords. I didn't want to use any password patterns that I might have used in the past. I also wanted to change the way that I stored my passwords. After discussing various password vaults with colleagues and reading reviews online, I decided to try 1Password by Agilebits.

1Password had some very strong reviews. It enabled you to sync and carry all of your passwords across multiple devices, Mac and iPhone. It did cost some money, but it also seemed to have some helpful security features as well. Thinking that it was a reasonable software to try, I purchased it through the Apple App Store, and installed it on the Friday beginning the Labor day weekend.

Installation was pretty straightforward and before long, I entered about a dozen passwords into 1Password and was able to see and sync them between my Mac and my iPhone. Everything seemed to be good.

1Password uses a single 'Master Password' to unlock your vault. When I woke up the next morning, I needed to get into 1Password for a login. When I entered my Master Password, 1Password rejected it. I checked the caps lock key. I tried reentering it several times. I even entered it using a text editor, then copy and pasting it in. Nada.

I searched the 1Password site, but I couldn't find any helpful guidance. Using the site, I was finally able to submit a ticket to 1Password customer support. I got a response back in less than 15 minutes. When I say a response back, I don't just mean a generic auto-response, but an actual response from Eva, the "Good Witch of the Pacific Northwest".

Eva worked with me through email through the day on Saturday attempting to correct the issue, running a diagnostic tool for their software, and evaluating the results. In the end, we wound up needed to blow out the old version and reinstall. Unfortunately, because of the cloud-based sync, the corrupted master password rewrote the wrong data when I tried to reinstall. It was Saturday evening and I still wasn't up and running. At what worked out to be 3:00am my time (my guess is east coast office), Steve, the "Ninth Inning Closer" joined in, emailing instructions about how to correct the syncing problem. And, by the time I got going on Sunday, I was up and running again.

Since that time, I've had no hassles with 1Password. The application has run flawlessly. While I had to essentially do a completely clean restart, I felt like I owed it to Eva and to Steve to give the software one more try and the product has performed as promised. When you consider that, on that Saturday morning I extremely angry and frustrated, with more thoughts on refund than on repair, Agilebits' customer service saved their business. I went from being someone who was on the verge of being a very negative word of mouth to being... a customer.

People like Eva and Steve can be the unsung heroes of your brand, but you need to empower them and to recognize what an important part of the customer experience they can play. Odds are, if they had not been able to revive me as a customer, no amount of new features or marketing incentives could have brought me back.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

United and MileagePlus Fail to Win My Business

So we're going through the process of booking flights for another trip to Japan. As I mentioned previously, I have Premier status on United and my fiancee has status on American. As we try to coordinate the best flight for this trip -- one that's mostly business for her -- we considered a number of factors in selecting our flight or flights. Here are some of our factors, in no particular order:
  • Cost of the ticket
  • Departing and arriving airport
  • Miles and status on the airline
  • Number of stops
  • Fare codes on the various tickets
  • The potential benefits of miles on said airline
  • The potential to upgrade
On our last trip, we actually took different airlines just so that we could both benefit from our respective mileage programs. This time, however, after considering all of the factors, United has lost. Not only has United lost, but MileagePlus and my experiences with the program earlier this year have basically essentially downgraded the airline in our decision process.

That's right. Depending upon the route that we selected, a United flight actually offered a lower priced flight but we opted against taking it. All of those 'benefits' that I've accumulated, lounge access, the theoretical option to upgrade, and the potential flight miles from the trip were not enough -- even with the lowest price. Here's why.

With their new MilieagePlus qualifying dollar requirement, even thought I spent the first half of the year flying on United -- and even with the cost of this ticket to Japan -- it's still unlikely that I would have met the dollars spent requirement. Hey, the company demands that we attempt to purchase the lowest cost fares. I can't do anything about that.

Based on my experiences expecting an automatic upgrade to Economy Plus combined with a new note on their site that says, 'automatic upgrade for Premier Exec with minimum class ticket', I now know that I can't expect an automatic upgrade. I also know from my experiences that the idea of using my accumulated miles to buy a class upgrade is, similarly, a pipedream.

But even if all of those things weren't the case, the low price fares are actually a ticket class that you can't upgrade. C'est la vie.

Practically speaking, what that means is that even with all of the miles that I've spent in United Airlines seats over the years, for all of the customer loyalty that I may have built with the airline, my reward is to be treated as though I was a customer that traveled only once every couple of years.

Similarly, even though my fiancee has status on American Airlines, we won't be flying on them either. In this case, a direct flight and a newer 787-class plane were more important that status. In short, as I mentioned in my previous posts on this topic, the mileage loyalty program has become so diluted that it's not enough to incentivize loyalty.

And the ironic thing is that, if everything goes according to schedule for next year, I have a busy year of travel coming up. Lots of tickets, lots of domestic travel. In the old days I probably would have booked all of that on United and been a happy Premier passenger riding along in Economy Plus. Now, I'll be surprised if I find myself on a single United flight.

The really crazy part is that, with all of experiences in the past, there is a part of me that holds onto the pipedream, deluding a part of my brain into thinking that there is the potential for special, better treatment and that I'm somehow missing it. Even in the face of my experiences in the past year, there is a part of me that feels like I'm leaving something on the table by not choosing United. That's some seriously mad Pavlovian shit there. Even crazier that a business would sit back and just torch that kind of thing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

LinkedIn Search and the Illusion of Continuity on the Web

For several years now I've had a set of saved job searches on LinkedIn. Recently, I discovered that LinkedIn had made changes to their search system and that, when I looked at the results of my saved search, the results I thought I was seeing did not match the criteria that defined my saved search for several years. Put simply, LinkedIn broke saved search in such a subtle way that I only realized it recently and I'm not even sure how long it has been broken.

So here's what happened...

A saved job search is a pretty straightforward query. The odds are pretty high that you know what you are looking for and that what you are looking for doesn't change much day to day (except for those days when you think, I wonder what the job situation is like in Hawaii -- I could totally work in Hawaii). If you build a saved search, rather than rebuilding that job query each time you need to use it, you can just run the query and scan through your results. Many job sites will even email you the results so that you don't need to visit their site.

When you're running that kind of a search, it's probably most helpful to view the list with the most recent listings first. Instead of giving you repeats, it's the kind of thing that makes it easier to see what's new. Scroll down until you get to what you saw previously and you're done. It's the way blogs work, news feeds, you name it.

But when LinkedIn revamped their search, suddenly all of those saved searches that used to be sorted by most recent became sort by relevance.

Relevance is helpful if you want somebody to think that the search results are closely aligned with what you were looking for, but it's not very useful for determining changes because the same results will keep ranking near the top.

This is how I realized what happened. I ran my saved search a week or so after the previous time and the job listings were the same. Some of them appeared near the top for nearly a month. I began to look more carefully at why the results looked the way that they did and, low and behold, LinkedIn had changed recent to relevance. You killed my Saved Search! You Bastards!

While my instinct is to blame it on the accidental fall out of a software upgrade, part of me can't escape the idea that it is intentional -- that somebody felt like always defaulting to relevance would make their product look better. Or smarter. And while part of me wants to get angry, another part of me feels like this is the kind of thing that companies just do, like Adobe and their code bloat (when you realize that, with all of the modern faster processor speeds, memory, and drive interfaces, Adobe Photoshop still takes longer to launch now than it did when we were at version 3.5, there is a part of you that wants to rage!).

Anyway, bottom line. LinkedIn sucks. If you have saved searches, you may be seeing results by relevance now. Caveat Emptor. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Apple, My Shit Don't Sync

So, it wasn't that long ago that my Macbook Air was stolen. That device came from a longer line of devices that had served as sync point for my iPhones going back to my iPhone 3G. For nearly six years, my iPhone and my Macbook lived harmonious lives celebrating each other's existence. When the iPhone was plugged into the Macbook, the Macbook would recognize it, then say, "it's been a while since I've seen you. Look at all of the applications that I've downloaded for you. Here you go."

It was wonderful. A perfect family portrait. There were times when I even raved about the relationship -- like the time would I stood in line for nearly a day to get the iPhone 4, activated it, and was able to sync all my contacts in less time that it took them to prepare the Thai food I ordered for my return home. Prior to that moment, my experience changing phones was less than positive. My first phone call on that iPhone was to my girlfriend to let her know that my line ordeal was over and that I was going home. Yeah contacts. Yeah sync. Yeah iPhone. Yeah Apple. You made the phone switch a seamless experience.

Perhaps that set a basis for unrealistic expectations. When my Air was stolen, it turns out that many of my preconceived notions were taken as well. When I brought home a new Macbook, I expected it to connect to my iPhone and form the same kind of bond that my old computer had. After all, they are just electronic devices, right? When I first plugged my iPhone into the new computer, it gave me a warning, something along the lines of, "this iPhone is already synced to another computer, do you want to erase it and sync it to this one?"

The first time that I saw that alert, I still needed to move a bunch of data that -- at the time -- only lived on my phone. So I clicked cancel, not now, no, or whatever the "I don't really want to do that" option was. And from that point, things seemed to go well. I was able to move all of my photos and such off of the iPhone and onto the new Air.

For a day or two, everything seemed good. But then I started to notice a growing number of apps that needed updating. So I plugged my phone into the new Air and clicked okay on the erase and sync option. Mission accomplished -- or so I hoped.

Unfortunately, all that it seemed to do was blow out my playlists. I started out with an iPhone full of music and I ended up with an iPhone with no playlists on it. I had to go back into iTunes and redefine what playlists I wanted on the phone, then resync it. Annoying, but you tell yourself that this was probably a one time thing.

The other thing that I quickly realized was that my Apps didn't sync. I had apps to update, but they didn't update during the sync when I plugged the phone in. I tried unplugging then replugging the iPhone. I tried rebooting the iPhone. Still nothing. I dove down into iTunes to the Apps menu on the phone. Now I was presented with a list of the apps that were on the phone. Next to the apps that needed to be updated there was an update button. It looked like I needed to manually select update for the apps that I needed to update.

This was not the way that it used to work. And so I scoured the preferences and settings, looking for the thing that would fix this behavior. I looked on the iPhone and in iTunes. There is a setting for automatically sync apps, but that does it over the air. Not what I wanted. I thought that maybe the update to iOS 8 might fix all of that it didn't.

Finally, I was so frustrated, I made an appointment with the Genius guys at the Apple store. Side note -- a sucktastic feature of the Apple Store appointment engine, it doesn't create a calendar record or send you an email with the time for your appointment. I missed mine because I forgot which time I chose right after I closed the confirm window. I went back to look -- no record.

My Genius experience bordered on the worst ever. Since I missed my scheduled appointment, I was cycled through a serious of "not genius like technical genius, but smart guys" who didn't know much about iTunes and iPhone syncing to one last guy who changed the UI on my iTunes, complained about my use of the "original" trackpad scrolling direction, and checked all of the same settings that I had already looked at. His final proclamation -- after talking to someone else -- was that the behavior that I was seeing was the way it was supposed to work. That my previous version must have been an old version of iTunes. Now, according to this guy, all of the sync went from iPhone to laptop, not the other way around. And we were done.

Until a week or two later when the iOS 8.01 & 8.02 updates landed. My iPhone wouldn't update the apps and I wound up with a list of nearly 30 apps that needed to be updated. My theory is that it wouldn't update those apps until I updated the phone to the latest version of the OS. Eventually, I was able to go through and manually select update for all of the apps that needed updating, but it is so incredibly stupid that it makes me want to toss the phone across the room.

Today my iPhone shows a badge with 29 apps to be updated. I might as well have a carrier-designed Android phone it's so un-updated. But hey, this is the way that it's supposed to work, right?

Friday, October 3, 2014

More Net Neutrality Positioning

So I came across this post, Why Phone, Cable Companies Want to Kill the Internet’s First Amendment, yesterday. It's a good reminder how political messaging often attempt to transpose a message positioning. Honestly, I would write more, but I think that the piece speaks for itself -- totally worth a read.

But just a warning, if you've managed to get less pissed off about Net Neutrality, this will probably refuel your fire. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Apple it's Still Messed Up - Download All Updates

After I published my post yesterday, I started thinking about other things in my Apple universe that still behave stupidly, don't work, or just generally annoy me. It reminded me of the giant Powerpoint that came out of the Apple Samsung trial showing all of the features that Samsung copied, did wrong or were poorly designed. It began to make me wonder -- what if I went through my list.

So here's today's issue:

iTunes Update All Apps
I think this became a bug when Apple updated iTunes to the current version with the pull down menu to select music, apps, etc. I think that was iTunes 10 or 11, but I'm not sure. As someone who has been through every generation of iPhone other than the original, the method for updating apps on your phone was, traditionally, to use iTunes, download the app on your computer, then sync the phone with iTunes on your desktop.

There were a lot of reasons why this worked well -- often, your desktop Internet connection was better than the wireless connection on your phone. And there were also limits on the size of the download that you could pull down through a cellular network.

Okay, so when they moved iTunes to this pull down menu that ever seemed to be in the right interface, you had to go to Apps section, then check for updates (if there wasn't already several of them). If you had more than two, you were presented with a button that offered the option, "Update All".

When you click the "Update All" button, iTunes will ask you to authenticate with your password (if you haven't been downloading stuff already). Once you do this, iTunes will begin downloading the first of the apps to be updated. Once it has downloaded, the process dies. In order to update all apps, you need to click "Update All" a second time in order to restart the process.

It's something that seems like a simple bug, one that could be easily fixed. And yet, despite a number of updates to iTunes since the issue was introduced, no fix. It's still broken. It's not life ending, but it may be another brick in the Jump the Shark wall.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Has Apple Jumped the Shark?

I used to love my iPhone. From the design and the interface right down through how well it flowed when you used one feature or another, only to see how it linked logically to the next step in a process. But, not so much anymore.

These days, the design, the software, and interface flow seem more like they were designed by a committee of parrots. It's like a Hollywood focus group was brought in and they said, "needs more explosions, more action". Many aspects were bad with iOS 7 and they've only gotten worse with iOS 8.

The other day I opened up my calendar in order to plan for something a couple of months in the future -- not what I would consider an uncommon task. Instead of seeing a list of months and days, I get a list of all of the things that I have scheduled. I look around a bit, a couple of clicks -- I've got a list of the calendars that I can show, but still no basic month by month calendar interface. I gave up.

Same sort of experience with the camera. I took a photo with the camera then clicked on the photo roll to view it in detail. Instead of the picture, I get dropped into a menu tree showing all of the photos that I have in my phone, cataloged by year. Each of the images are a thumbnail, probably no larger that 7 pixels by 7 pixels. WTF?! I mean really, what am I supposed to do with this interface on my phone? Celebrate the beautiful colors and the elegant red lines connecting the years? After a series of random clicks, I found something that approximated a view I could use.

But I'm Not The Only One...
In the days since the iPhone 6 launch, I've had a number of chances to talk to people about the iPhone 6 and the plus. Every conversation has centered around the same topic -- the size -- with the general consensus being big and too big. When we went into the store, I hear the same thing. I saw something from the sales numbers that point to the same story. You have 'that's big' and 'seriously?'.

Over the past few months, we've seen story after story about how consumers want phones with bigger screens. I wonder what they'll say when the iPhone 6 plus sales turn out to be significantly less than the 6? Will it be the same as what happened with the 5c -- the idea that everyone wants a cheaper, color phone, only to see sales of the 5s run significantly higher? It all reminds me of how they used to say that Apple needed to make a Netbook because everyone else was making them and consumers were eating them up.

What's changed since way back then? Well, perhaps Steve Jobs passing is a factor, but I'd like to think that there's more to it than that. I think that part of it comes from the perceived competition from Android and from Samsung. Take the Apple Watch as an example. Before Apple had anything on the drawing board -- beyond rumors -- Samsung and some other competitors were releasing products. And while the Apple Watch may be a far more elegant version of a Watch than anything that any of the competitors have introduced, it still seems like -- at best -- an accessory. And that, historically, has felt like something Apple let their ecosystem do. It's not that they don't have the capital to fund the development, but it doesn't seem like it's laser focused on a very defined future in the Apple universe. 

If that seems more philosophy that marketing, that's probably true. But perhaps that's what's missing from some of the product direction right now -- the mission, the philosophy, the ideology. Perhaps that is what I miss. Instead, it seems like we have now have a goal of being the market leader. Have we jumped the shark?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Monday Recipe for Success: Stop Emulating Successful Recipes

This morning I came across this post regarding the narrative fallacy of acting like 'successful' people. It's an amusing read and some interesting perspective. At the same time, think about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin. Would these guys have achieved what they did if they didn't listen to American blues records? They may not have found success emulating them, but they certainly were influenced by them.

It reminds me of this element in Finding Forrester, where Jamal is having trouble finding his creative voice and is helped into the process of writing by retyping the words from one of Forrester's stories. Sometimes the rhythm and flow of playing song can take you to new places. But there I go, busting out a narrative fallacy. Anyway, the post is worth a read. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Driving by GPS: Sometimes Data Isn't Enough

It seems like the kind of thing that you see around here a lot more these days. As you approach a light, there's a back-up. It turns out someone has realized that, although they were in the right lane, they needed to turn left at the light, so they are now slowly making their way across three lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane. Everyone behind be damned -- they don't matter.

These accidents-waiting-to-happen don't just arise out of the blue, they happen because someone has just received new data, just processed their location, and realized that they were poorly positioned to respond to it. This is driving by GPS at it's worst.

The ability to anticipate what will happen, to expect the possible and position yourself accordingly, is something that sometimes seems lost in the Silicon Valley we live in. Predicting these moments is a combination of strategy, planning, and experience, any one of which will enable you to do better than an ugly last minute "oh shit".

But even in the face of those unexpected events, there's no reason that you can't make a graceful adaptation -- recalculate your route and adapt to your new course with a smoother transition. Remember HP's tablet effort? So your tablet sales sucked, does that mean that try to work your way across three lanes of traffic in order to reach your, "we're not going to do hardware anymore" left turn?

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Laptops

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
(and they say I write long sentences) Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

It was within the period of a little more than a month or more that two laptops were stolen. And while law and justice play a role in the unfolding of the events, sometimes the injustices that you find are bound to a different set of concerns.

Property crime is not new to Silicon Valley, or the rest of the world for that matter. For years San Jose promoted itself as one of the safest big cities, hiding under mantle of a low murder rate. But there was always property crime. Several years ago when we had an office in San Jose, somebody broke in one night and made a quick walk-through grabbing laptops off the desks where people had left them. At the time the thing that struck me was the irony of providing giving someone a laptop that never left their desk. In addition to the hardware, some data was lost as there was no structured practice for backup. In the months and years that followed, the official practice for laptop backup became being supplied an external drive -- maybe -- and a request/suggestion to back up to that drive.

Offices in the areas around what is now the Google campus used to get broken into a lot -- to the point that you would sometimes see more Mountain View cop cars in that neighborhood than your own. Friends that had an office in that area had several break-ins. Once, they not only stole computers, they also stole the software disks. It's probably better now with Google everywhere over there. Is it worth breaking into a building for a Chromebook?

Stealing laptops out of cars is so common, most local restaurants have signs warning you not to leave personal property in the car. Sometimes the signs even specifically mention laptops. Over the past couple of months, I've heard stories of several laptops being stolen from cars in parking lots. And one evening, when we were at happy hour and discussions about the cops in parking lot came up, it was noted that they were there because there had been repeated break-ins.

It was in this manner that Mr. Thinkpad was stolen. He was boosted from the passenger area of a car, window smashed, laptop grabbed, thief and laptop into the get-away car, and away. Mr. Thinkpad probably thought he was safe in the same way that novice campers may believe that bears or racoons won't take food of their tents or their cars. Unfortunately, glass provides little security and SUVs, wagons and hatchbacks live under greater threat as access to the cabin provides access to everything -- there is no real out-of-sight.

Most of what Mr. Thinkpad took with him was in the cloud, as many of our processes have moved that way. There were several active presentations underway that were lost, possibly more, but when it comes to work systems, Mr. Thinkpad was probably backed up more consistently than most. And the concern? Other than for the active presentation, perhaps the greatest concern raised was for the glass in the SUV as the vehicle was new.

In the days and the weeks that followed, a new system was spec'd, ordered, and arrived around the time when Mr. Air would disappear. In fact, Mr. Thinkpad's relative was sitting on a desk, still in the box, when Mr. Air vanished. Mr. Air was abducted, seized from the desk in a daring mid-day entry into our office around 1:00pm. The thief walked in through a normally locked door that was propped open slightly to facilitate international visitors going back and forth to the bathroom. This inside of a semi-secure building with cameras and a guard who often hangs out at the front desk in the lobby -- the illusion of security. The disappearance of Mr. Air was such a surprise that, people in the office thought that maybe somebody had played a joke, hiding him for amusement.

While Mr. Air was not a work system, work was sometimes done on him. It's one of those crazy things -- sometimes work doesn't invest in tools for the work environment and you find yourself working on a system that's five or six years old -- functional, but heavy, slow, and hitting the limits of it's capacity. When Mr. Air did do work, most of it was shared back and forth through the cloud, meaning that no work was lost. At the same time, what Mr. Air did carry from work was the password and keys to a host of systems that all needed to be reset.

But the greater loss with the disappearance of Mr. Air was the personal data. Not only did Mr. Air hold the passwords for work systems, he also carried passwords for all of the home projects. And then there's all of that other personal stuff, like taxes. Mr. Air was not backed up. Mr. Air's predecessor, Mr. MacBook Pro had been time-machined shortly before his surprising, untimely passing, but in a strange twist, the drive used to back up Mr. MacBook experienced disk problems in the weeks following Mr. MacBook's passing. So, also lost with Mr. Air was nearly a year's worth of activities.

In the hours and days following Mr. Air's disappearance, the main questions tended to surround aspects of Mr. Air: Wasn't he backed up? Didn't he use a password? Did he have "Find my Mac" enabled?

And, in the days following Mr. Air's disappearance, there were continued postmortem reports on the thief -- they got him on video, they could see the car on video -- as though this would provide comfort or a return of Mr. Air. Additionally, it was noted that, "it's too bad it wasn't a work system."

A cost-conscious business might question or nuance the liability, or hold no responsibility for events and property under their roof. But that same line of questioning might lead to larger questions like what is reasonable to expect from an employer or an office environment. And with the Internet, broadband and online collaboration tools, is it necessary to subject people to unpleasant aspects of a shared office environment. And while many businesses offer features like gourmet kitchens, free sodas, or Xbox gaming areas, is a base level of security a reasonable expectation?
The storyteller makes no choice 
Soon you will not here his voice
 - Terrapin Station
I don't have any good take-aways from all of this. Much has already been taken. I will say that, from a broader perspective, the entire experience has prompted me to reevaluate a number of my views on company culture. Here's hoping you find insights along a gentler path.