Sunday, December 11, 2011

iPhone 4 Can Survive Being Run Over by NYC Taxi

On November 21, 2011 I was exiting Grand Central Terminal and waiting to cross 42nd Street, when I looked down at the pavement. There I saw a pulverized iPhone:

As you can see, the glass wasn't just cracked - as frequently happens when an iPhone is dropped - but it was shattered. There were the tiniest of glass shards dropping from this device. I carefully picked it up and carried it by the metal band to my office. I figured I'd charge it up and see if I could identify the owner. It wouldn't charge. And then it occurred to me that I might be shorting out the circuitry because it was wet due to the rain from the night before.

So I wrapped it up and brought it home where I dried it out with the help of some desiccant we had in the basement. I left the iPhone in some Tupperware full of this stuff for a few days. I also ordered some tools and parts to see if I could replace the back glass, and the front (actually called the digitizer and LCD). Then on the next weekend, I took the iPhone apart:

Getting all the glass and grime off it wasn't easy, but in the end, I succeeded and was surprised that most of the guts looked like they were intact.

By yesterday, all the spare parts had arrived and I was able to re-assemble the phone. YouTube is a great resource with many "how to" videos. I followed this one to disassemble and reassemble the iPhone:

And I was able to easily find the parts I needed through Amazon. $63 spent. Well worth the expense to geek out on a project like this.

After charging the iPhone for a little bit, I was able to get to the home screen (there was no screen lock passcode needed). From there, I opened a few apps like Twitter and picture gallery, and was pretty sure I had the owners name. To be sure, I opened up the email app and found a non-personal email to the owner from Amazon. Within the email, I clicked on the "to" field (obviously, the email was sent to the iPhone's owner) and found the owner's email address, full name, and telephone number. The telephone number was likely the number associated with this iPhone - or perhaps a new iPhone.

I suspected that the owner had bought a new iPhone since it took me 3 weeks from finding the pulverized device until I got it repaired. So I called the number, and he picked up.

I confirmed it was him, introduced myself, and asked him if he had lost an iPhone. He had (duh!). I told him the whole story - he had no idea where he lost it, or the circumstances. So he was surprised and very interested in the details - even though he had a new iPhone. I think he was mostly relieved to know what happened and to come to closure.

I offered to meet him and hand it off. He thanked me and said I could keep it. Now I'm struggling with how to use an iPhone 4 as a glorified iPod Touch with a SIM chip that's obviously been marked as lost/stolen. Might have to jailbreak it.

By late this afternoon, I couldn't even get it to boot up. I'm starting to suspect that Apple or AT&T have disabled it. I might just have a $63 brick on my hands.
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Paying for Bundled TV or Cord Cutting?

TelevisionImage by largeprime via Flickr

Ryan Lawler over at GigaOm has an interesting post up regarding pay TV services. The high-level point that he's emphasizing is that kids and younger adults are not paid subscribers to a Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (MVPD) - basically Cable TV, and the like. The post's headline declares, "The Children are our Future, and They're not Paying for TV" (link below under Related Articles).

When I read that, I immediately said to myself, there was no paid TV when I was a kid. My parents didn't pay for TV until some time in the 1980's. Paid TV is a relatively recent phenomenom.

The GigaOm blog post goes on to cover some interesting data points regarding the trend towards a la carte programming - or at least consumers' demands for a la carte programming. Who needs 500 stations (or wants to pay for them) when there are only a handful of shows that are of interest?

And that's the reason I've cut the cable TV cord. In our home we do pay for programming, but we get it through streaming services (like Netflix). I'm no young adult - I have two young children - but there's plenty of content to keep everyone entertained.

There's a strong trend towards unbundling of content programming. And it's happening whether or not the cable TV, satellite dish, or telephone companies want to participate. Just like the music business, kids will pay for the content if it's packaged and priced in an appealing manner.
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Friday, October 7, 2011

My Way or the Highway

Self madeImage via Wikipedia
There's been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the last few days. He was a remarkable man.

David Pogue's piece in the New York Times, among others, does a great job describing Steve Jobs' strengths, his creativity, his genius, his focus. We've also heard the stories that he was, at times, hard to work with.

I think the "hard to work with" sentiment is a direct symptom of working with someone that has a clear and confident vision and controls, if not demands, having the final say. There's an expression, "My way or the highway" - In other words, "We're going to do this my way, otherwise you can drive off into the sunset".

That doesn't make everyone happy. But running a business isn't about making everyone on the team happy or coming to some sort of compromise. After all, isn't "compromise" often a euphemism to describe a less-than-ideal outcome?

Too many boards, product, and management teams at start-ups are paralyzed because everyone's opted into management-by-committee. Five people; five different opinions.

I'm not sure who said it first, but I heard it first from my pal Scott Rafer: "Start-ups are not democracies."
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Saturday, October 1, 2011

If Everything is Shared Automatically, Nothing has Significance

SHAREImage by SHAREconference via Flickr
I often struggle with how much to share on this blog, on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on other social media platforms that I participate on. There are so many factors that come into play, such as the audience on each platform (some are more business focused; others more personal), the "who cares" factor, TMI (too much information), and other influences. In the end, "over-sharing" has become one of the problems with social media. It's no longer social or helpful if it's overwhelming.

I've felt this way for a while now, but couldn't really articulate it well until I read a great piece by Jeff Sonderman of the Poynter Institute. In his post regarding "frictionless sharing", he brings it all home with this:

The fact that people choose to keep most things private places significance on what they choose to share. If everything is shared automatically, nothing has significance.
“Sharing without intention is not social, it’s overwhelming, it’s noise,” social media consultant Jeff Gibbard observes on his blog. “Not everything I read, I endorse. Not everything I watch, I like. Not everything I listen to, I want to share. Without intention it’s simply surveillance.”
Their target here are services that automatically broadcast what you read or the music you listen to. I believe my settings in the music service Spotify are set to broadcast every song I listen to into my Facebook stream. So far, none of my friends have complained about that - but I suspect it's overkill.

Sonderman brings up a great point that news publications have to be careful how they deploy these broadcast tools. They could end up alienating their readers if their readers' friends feel overwhelmed.

Let me know in the comments what you think and how you balance sharing versus over-sharing.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Real Names, Pseudonymity, and Anonymity

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 29:  Royal fans wearin...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
In the last week or so there's been a lively debate a'brewin' about identity online. Facebook is opposed to people using anything other than their real names - primarily, it would seem, to combat cyber bullying. Google followed suit when they launched their Google Plus service - but they took a lot of heat for not letting people use pseudonyms (nicknames).

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a good post on Google's position on real names.

Fred Wilson has staked his position. As has the Electronic Frontier Foundation. There's more coverage on this listed below under "Related articles".

I don't think there's one answer that suits the internet as a whole. There are cases where anonymity is needed (e.g. political discourse in repressive countries). And I do (mostly) agree that real names clean up most of the bullying, nasty, and spammy comments online. But it doesn't prevent all bad behavior.

One part of this debate that some folks might be missing is that pseudonymity is not the same as anonymity. Using a nickname to create a different persona online is a fun and expressive way to participate in social media (sharing, blogging, twittering, etc). But it's not the same as anonymity.

I choose to use my real name in most places online. Many of my friends use pseudonyms (but I still know who they are; they're not trying to hide their true identity). Bottom line: I think it's a personal choice.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Privacy is About Expectations More Than Anything Else

Chris Kelly - Chief Privacy Officer FacebookImage by ShashiBellamkonda via Flickr
Chris Kelley
I attended SecondMarket's "Cocktails & Conversations" event last night. The guest speaker was Chris Kelly, formerly the Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook. His talk was titled "The Evolution of Social Privacy" - as you can imagine a very timely and relevant presentation given privacy breaches and blunders at companies such as Apple (geo-tracking iphone and ipad users), Sony (Playstation Network debacle), and increasing regulatory action in this area.

The thing that really stuck with me is that privacy, like many things, is so critically dependent on expectations. Chris pointed out - (obvious once you hear it) - if you are transparent upfront about what you are going to do with user data, then users will be OK with that. (The ones that aren't OK with it, well they can make an informed decision to not participate; no one gets misled). The point is that if you set someone's expectations that certain online behavior (sharing photos online, "friending" other people, posting a video, tracking click behavior, targeting ads, etc) will be used in certain ways or publicly shared, then users will generally be OK with that. Don't surprise them.

It's when online services are opaque about these things that they get in trouble. So, set expectations upfront by informing users what data of theirs or about them is collected and how it will be used.

As Chris said, if you're not upfront and transparent with your users, then you probably have something to hide. I'll add that it can make you appear evil if it's intentional, or otherwise apathetic and ambivalent about a very sensitive issue.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

BioDigital Human - Browser Power

Virtually dissect anatomy to reveal underlying structures
At last week's NY Tech Meetup, one of the companies presenting was BioDigital Human. It's a collaboration of medical and computer science that is very impressive. And it's a sign of things to come.

The astonishing thing is the 3D rendering of the human body from the skeleton on out to the skin - viewable in whole, in layers, in cross-section, in dissection, and from any angle. The level of detail and utility is so much more impressive when you realize this is all done in the browser - no plug-ins, no downloads, nothing to install. (Firefox only, for now).

The applicability and implications go beyond science, medicine, and education of human anatomy. This type of utility delivered through a browser will do amazing things to advance other areas such as architecture, gaming, manufacturing, finance, and more. Certainly there are desktop applications that these industries use for visualization, but it's the power of browser ubiquity that will make rich information more accessible and engaging to more people.

If you don't have Firefox, or would rather just sit back and watch the awesomeness, check out the video of their presentation and advance to timestamp 01:17:00.
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

NY Tech Meetup's After-Party Hits the Mark

"Longtimers" by @innonate
Tuesday night's NY Tech Meetup was awesome in so many ways. Interesting and innovative companies presented, high-tech magic was performed, and it all wrapped up with break dancers.

I'm a regular at this monthly meetup of 800+ folks interested in the NY tech scene. It's the largest and oldest Meetup with a community of 18,000 members. I go to see new tech and the people behind that tech. I also go to see old friends and acquaintances in the tech community. But I've always found it frustrating because it's difficult to network at these events.

That's because - by virtue of the size of the audience - the events are held in a theater. Obviously, you can't mingle too easily within a theater. So I was thrilled when the after-party was held within the same venue as the main event in an open meeting hall at the NYU Skirball Center. Usually the after-party is in a local bar where tons of people crowd in and you can't have a conversation over the loud music.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I'm not the only one. Many people at the event the other night were praising the new arrangement. I hope they continue it because I caught up with some friends and met some new and interesting entrepreneurs. And that's what community is all about.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

They've Been Tracking You for Years...Offline. Is Online Tracking Over-Hyped?

How to Manually Flush a Self-Flushing ToiletImage by ancawonka via Flickr
After writing a post last week about Interactivity & Privacy, I got to thinking about all the ways that we've been tracked offline for years. Here's my list (so far):

  • Supermarket - Discount & loyalty cards allow them to track what I buy, and infer if I have children (diaper purchases!), income level (do I buy the expensive brand or generic), how much beer I consume (let's not go there).
  • Other stores/malls - Images of me, in addition to similar data as above.
  • Hotels - Through cardkey systems they know when I come and go.
  • Credit Cards - What I buy, where I buy, where I geographically am, and a bevy of inferred data from purchases I make as in supermarket example, but much broader.
  • Bank - Income (direct deposit), debt, homeownership, purchase behavior, timeliness of bill paying.
  • Cable TV Company - What I watch, how much I watch, when I watch.
  • Landline Telephone Company - Who, when, and duration of calls, who I call most frequently.
  • Mobile Telephone Company - Same as landline plus where I am geographically located currently, and where I've been. Content of my text messages.
  • Home Security (Alarm) Company - When I'm home/away.
  • Automotive Servicer - How frequently I exceed the speed limit.
  • EZ Pass (highway toll payments) - Where I am, where I've been.
So, it occurs to me that this data far exceeds the amount of data collected about me online. I'm not concerned about privacy to the degree that certain media coverage would have me freaking out. I've had no bad experiences with the above establishments tracking to-date. That said, I'm still a little at ease that many auto-flush public toilets have the ability to track my frequency and duration of use. Thank goodness this data is anonymized and aggregated - just kidding!
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Good VCs Have Always Had Good Ideas

"Ideas Creativas"Image by *r.s* Photography * via Flickr
There was a nice article yesterday in the New York Observer by Adrianne Jeffries titled "Steal This Start-Up! No Longer Content to Write Checks, VCs Are Giving Away Their Best Ideas".

The premise is that there's a new trend: venture capitalists are pitching entrepreneurs on ideas, instead of the other way around. I'm glad to see Jeffries call attention to this, but the thing is, I don't think it's anything new or surprising. Good VCs have always shared and pitched their ideas, especially to A-list entrepreneurs pitching them ideas with good "bones". Early-stage investors are not just silent financial backers; they're value-add collaborators. Part of that value-add is helping entrepreneurs tweak their business models, and to the extreme, helping them pivot (i.e. make a wholesale change in their business model).

Why are early-stage investors good at this? They see tons of "deal flow". So, it's no surprise that they have great ideas - their minds are constantly chewing on the aggregation of innovators' pitches.

As a matter of fact, if the VCs you're speaking with have no good ideas, that might be a cause for concern; they're either not the right VC, or your idea is uninspiring.
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interactivity and Privacy

Window shopping at Eaton's department store. (...Image via Wikipedia
I'm often surprised by people's reaction to privacy issues online. It's as if they've forgotten that the Internet is an interactive medium. As we browse the web, it is not analogous to window shopping, watching the tube, or flipping through a magazine in a dentist's office. Every website visit is a visit onto someone else's property.

The interactive nature of this medium means that there's a two-way channel of communication between the user and the website they're visiting. I see them; they see me.

When I enter a brick and mortar store, I expect that my every move is video-taped and that the purchases I make are tracked by my credit card company and the store. When I enter the store - as opposed to just window shopping - the expectation and reality change with regard to privacy and propriety. I've moved from a one-way relationship to an interactive relationship once I've entered the store.

I view the Internet in a similar fashion. I'm not surprised that Amazon tracks the products I browse or that an online publisher knows which articles I have read...and then some.

The goal is to make it a better experience - an interactive experience - a more personal experience. Certainly the line can be crossed and privacy violated. But I'm optimistic that the tracking that's currently going on is, by and far, done in good will for the betterment of the medium.

Interactivity changes privacy expectations online, as it generally does offline.
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