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RIP Steve Jobs

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs today. My first memory of computing was on an Apple II in my 3rd grade “Discovery” class. The Discovery program was for students who tested “gifted” in elementary school, and gave 6 or 7 of us an outlet twice a week to break the normal curriculum and explore. Part of this exploration was done on an Apple computer. I learned to program in basic and still remember drawing on the screen using hlin and vlin. Remember peek(addr) and poke addr,x? And who could forget the reward for all that learning? Playing Lemonade!! Even at a young age, I was a technologist AND a business mogul. Yes, I have a lot of fond memories of the Apple II.

It’s strange that it took a passing of 30 years before I would own my own Apple computer. I love my MacBook Pro! When I bought it, my goal was to unleash my creative side. My primary use was going to be with my photography hobby. Over the past year I’ve found myself tinkering in Xcode and even doing some Java development.  Starting with my first iPod, I have now come full circle and fully understand how Apple and Steve Jobs have impacted how I think about human computer interaction. They shaped it when I was young, and continue to refine it as an adult. These truly are tools that I love to use, and a company that I admire greatly.

Unsurprisingly, as I sat here looking back at some of the “greatest hits” of Steve, I felt compelled to visit the Apple careers site. What would it be like to work for a great software company? You’ve got to find what you love – would this be it? As I ventured through the site, I noticed a sleek look, great search experience, and a nice integration with my Apple ID. Yes, they already know all about me – what music I like, my favorite apps on my iPad and a host of other information that I’ve permitted them to learn – and that’s now all linked to my resume. My only criticism of that process was that it seemed un-Applelike. I guess government regulation over hiring practices imposes a number of constraints that add to a lot of submission confirmation screens. It doesn’t take much to ruin elegance and simplicity.

Steve has left a lasting mark on the computer industry. Elegant user experiences and reductive feature design approaches are now understood and embraced. This was one of the great periods of invention. I hope that we can connect these dots looking backwards and continue to do great things. And make them “just work.”

Give ’em the Razor, Sell ’em the Blades

I’m speaking of Gillette’s strategy in the subject of this post, but it is a business model that several companies have implemented in their product lines. Gillette would give away the base razor, which would then encourage you to re-use it by buying their blades which carried a high profit margin.

HP took a similar tactic with its inkjet printers – they would have gladly given them away in order to get you hooked on purchasing ink. I was once told that if you did the math on HP ink, it’s retail price would come out somewhere around $10,000 a gallon. And you thought a gallon of gas was expensive these days. What HP found was that when it came to technology, if it did not cost money, people would assume it was inferior. So they set out selling those inkjet printers for anywhere between $49 and $129 dollars and would gladly bundle free ones in with laptop and desktop purchases to in order to secure the future income stream from ink.

It looks like Amazon has bought into this model with the Kindle Fire. This makes sense given their moves into a streaming video provider, cloud music purveyor, and digital book seller. Amazon’s value chain was already highly optimized for cost, allowing them to sell dead trees with printing on them for 30% less than bricks and mortar retailers. Imagine their profitability if they are the de-facto leader in electronic books and they are able to scale back the size of their distribution operations. So – give ’em the Kindle, sell ’em the e-books and movies. A recent FastCompany article points out Amazon’s point of leverage:

The Kindle Fires maker also happens to be the worlds largest online retailer, and it can leverage that position to stomach a short-term hit for a long-term future of getting more customers hooked addicted on Amazons services and content.

The fire easily serves up books and movies, and I’m assuming it handles games as well. By taking a small loss on the device, Amazon is poised to fuel sales in its content channel for the next 2-3 years. Seems like a smart move to me.

via Why Amazon Isnt Sweating Losing Millions On The Kindle Fire | Fast Company.

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Enterprise Facility Map Searching

Recently I have been looking at an interesting enterprise problem – providing a mobile enabled facilities application. The idea is that we have a vetted list of between 100 and 1000 facilities for the company stored in a database. If an employee hits our mobile application, we can interrogate it for current geographical location information and, in theory, show them the facilities nearest them. Sounds simple, right? I mean Google does this all the time.

Let’s take a step back and define our problem.

1)      We know the user’s current location (using geo-location on the device)

2)      We have our own proprietary database of 100-1000 addresses that are vetted and maintained as real facilities.

3)      We want to compare the user’s current location to that database of addresses on the fly and determine the ones within proximity

Item #1 is clearly solved 100 times over.  I see the confluence of #2 and #3 as our real issue. If #2 were simply the public Google search on McKesson near 34.089203, -85.2593 (the Marriott), it would be easy. This works fine for retail establishments where weighting can be given to a location, but it’s simply too inaccurate for what is being passed off as an authoritative list of corporate facilities. In my case, we have a vetted list of facilities whereas the Google search includes outdated real estate, home offices, etc.

Possible Solution

On the server side, we could blow through N map searches using starting location as the user’s current location and N[x] address from the database.  I see one main risk here: we would not have an SLA in place, and someone may approve using this as a mission critical location system. Stranger things have happened. I think this can be mitigated with strong messaging, but it’s still a risk.

An example implementation of this could be using MapQuest. They have an OpenAPI that is free for use (requires registration w/ MapQuest and attribution on pages that use it). Each of the queries would look something like this:

http://open.mapquestapi.com/directions/v0/route?outFormat=json&from=34.08955,-84.25856&to=34.088422,-84.247541&callback=renderNarrative

This example is from the nearby Marriott to Windward HQ. The response contains a distance: element that will tell us how far away they are (1.17 miles in this case). The only data translation that would need to be done is to pre-geocode the addresses in our database.

Is this the right solution? I don’t know, but it’s A solution to a complicated problem.

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Hamstring Injury Recover – Day 1

Last night I pulled my hamstring muscle playing tennis. It’s a shame, too. I had won the first set 6-0 and was about to go 1-0 in the second set when it happened. My opponent instantly knew – I imagine the look of agony and near-tearful eyes were also a good clue. My game wasn’t the same after that, and I went on to lose sets 2 & 3 (1-6, 4-6).  The gentleman I played was a great guy, and even offered to suspend the match a day so I could recover, but I opted not to. A win is a win.

So today I sit here in a little pain. It’s a grade 1 strain based on the hamstring injury grading scale, though I assure you it felt grade 3 during the match! Last night I made the mistake of applying moist heat after the match, but am now on rest, ice, compression and keeping it elevated (although I’m not sure vacuuming counts as rest). It seems whether your injury is from swimming/biking/running thousands of miles or from tennis, R.I.C.E. is the answer. I am able to walk normally and have maybe 75% of the range of motion before I feel the pain.  My plan is to start walking 2-3 miles each day beginning today, ice every 2-4 hours for the next day and schedule a massage on Tuesday to try to break up scar tissue that may be forming while it repairs itself. Yoga and pilates may be in the not too distant future for me as I have chronically tight hammies.

If all goes well, I should be able to return to match play on Monday, October 10th. We’ll have to wait and see if that can happen. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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