March 27, 2015

Improbable Insights : Episode 4 : Commentary

Woo hoo, here comes Episode #4!

.....

I thought my conversation with Loyd on Quality versus Convenience would be relatively straight forward, but by the end, I was really puzzled. I've always prided myself as a hacker or early adopter in all areas, but I realized that is no longer true. I've become much more pragmatic about being an early adopter and I wondered why?

  1. Relevance : How relevant is Tinder to a 40 year old married woman? Who do you SnapChat with when its average user age is under 30? Is Slack useful when you are single woodworker with a LLC in Idaho? Unless you live in a major metro or travel a lot, sharing economy apps like Uber, AirBnB, etc. are less useful. Once you have a multi-thousand dollar speaker system hard-wired into your home, would you consider hauling it all the curb or eBay to install a whole home Sonos system? New solution might be less relevant to you?
  2. Priorities, life style, and time : I think this is the real culprit. As we get older, we go from the relatively unfocused, time-rich living to having all-consuming jobs, a loving family, homes, and a dog that eats everything except dog food. We transition from having the time to explore many things to focused free time and experiences that uniquely appeal to us. Focus, increasing experience and expertise, and increased income allow us to remain hackers and early adopters in some areas, but rarely in all?
  3. Pessimism or realism : When we are young and naive, all new products are amazing. Everything is a new shiny toy. As time goes by, experience teaches us that is not true. Some products delight only until the box is opened. Some delight for hours or days, and only a limited number warrant a high NPS and become an everyday carry or use item. That drop makes us wary, pessimistic, or most aptly, realistic. Living and paying to be at the hacker or early adopter edge of new products isn't all about amazing products and shiny toys. It's about bugs, unfinished features, potential, and finding the difference between what is and what will be. If you have limited time and/or money, how often do you want be in that state?

.....

I ended my conversation with Loyd about speakers sorta bummed. When I was younger, I aspired to build-out the ultimate home theatre room with the best components, ridiculous comfort, and deep automation. Right out of school, I started buying better and better components even though I was only equipping a small apartment. Small budget, small room, but huge passion. I love watching movies! So why today do I have a anemic environment for viewing media where I can't even remember the brand of speakers I own? I have the space, the budget, and the passion, but no media room that Tony Stark would be envious of. What gives?!

My answer is consistent with my above theory. I just don't have the time to invest in that while being a hacker/early adopter in other areas. I'm also tired of buying new, amazing A/V solutions that turns out to be a dud. I'll wait a bit to see if the "amazing" is just PR hype or reality.

After mulling on this, I still am happy with what we discussed on the podcast. Quality versus Convenience is not a binary answer. As time goes by, your answer matures from one blanket answer to dependent on the many interests of your life. You might be an early adopter for gaming and VR, but a mainstream consumer for phones and "everyday carry". For some things, we have the time, passion, intelligence, and budget to be a hacker or early adopter. For other things, we crave stability, reliability, and functionality, regardless of cool or cost. I always thought I'd be 100% hacker/early adopter, but I'm cool with going mainstream in many of the technology areas of my life. It leaves more time to go crazy hacker in others!

March 20, 2015

Improbable Insights : Episode 3 : Commentary

Oh yes, Episode 3 is out!

.....

I'm a partner at Lemnos Labs, an early stage hardware fund and incubator, so you might suspect that I'd be an ardent supporter of crowd funding. I'm not as much of a fan of crowd funding as you might suspect. I use crowd funding as a buyer, having purchased over 40 items on crowding funding sites like kickstarter and indiegogo. I've helped quite a few teams prepare their campaigns. I believe crowd funding is an excellent way to build relationships with early, beach-head customers. But I have four problems with the current expression of crowd funding:

  1. Crowd funding sites try to exist simultaneously as donation (patron) tools and as a pre-sales channel. But the customer expectations of those models are very different...
  2. Most consumers consider these sites pre-sales channels, but no one curates product offerings to make sure they are legitimate, of any quality, and have the ability to actually make the product they are representing.
  3. In the particular case of hardware, too many campaigns have their proceeds go to the development of the product, not the manufacturing. The campaigns hit their goal, but raise too little money to actually see the product through to completion.
  4. Product teams believe crowd funding success is automatically indicative of mainstream market success, failing to understand that the crowd funding demographic can be very different than the mainstream audience. Crowd funding does not guarantee product success.

Anyone who tells me that crowd funding is still a patron donation tool clearly needs to review the Pebble Time campaign. It, and many more like it, are clearly pre-sales campaigns! Their successes only reinforce to naive consumers that crowd funding sites are pre-order sites for commercial quality products. The problem is that many crowd funded products will either not ship or not ship at the quality level we expect of products sold at Best Buy or on Amazon.

I believe the above problems are solvable and hopefully will be addressed by an existing service or a new entrant. I wouldn't be surprised if smaller, patron campaigns for civic projects, the arts, etc. are eventually separated from pre-order campaigns from established companies. The expectations for each are different and need to be clear in both veins.

I think curation is critical but hard to implement. It is a value-add that consumers would pay for, IMHO. It hurts the entire crowd funding segment when a decent percentage of campaigns fail to deliver after taking money from consumers. Curation never can be perfect, but if you had no idea if x% of the auctions at Sotheby's were fake or would never be delivered to you, you'd stop buying there. I'm worried without curation the same thing happens to hardware campaigns. I'm already hearing about failure fatigue from leading tech bloggers like Ryan Block and Peter Rojas.

Curation also helps address the allocation of funds problem. Part of the curation or diligence process is determining if the team is far enough along to ship the product with their crowd funding or needs additional money to complete the product. And almost more importantly, if there will be any money left to run the company the day after they pay their contract manufacturer ;-)

I'm a optimistic realist when it comes to crowd funding. It has changed distribution and customer interaction, and helped bring great things to life. But as it grew, problems emerged that will have to be addressed for the mechanism to grow to the next level...

...

I'm pretty sure there will never be the "perfect" headphones and that I should stop buying them. Yeah, right ;-) I tend to follow Marco Arment's can quest as a neutral, well-researched analysis. And I love Massdrop for amazing deals on headphones!

March 11, 2015

Improbable Insights : Episode 2 : Commentary

We've posted Improbable Insights Episode 2. We are on a roll!

.....

AR/VR will undoubtedly come up a lot on this podcast in the coming months. After 20 years of false starts, most believe this wave of alternate reality innovation is finally the beachhead to a significant change in the way we interact with content. We finally have an affordable baseline in terms of compute, graphics, display, input, and sensor technology to create alternate realities. Woo freakin' hoo!

This transition will not come overnight. If you believe the hype, the core technology is done and everyone will be using AR and VR in a short time. I believe what we'll experience is a beachhead, a first footing that moves the roadblock to AR/VR adoption from hardware to user experience and content. Hardware will continue to improve at a breakneck pace, but we can now create an alternate reality that fragilely suspends disbelief and doesn't cause immediate nausea ;-) Hardware (affordances) will have to improve significantly to capture unimpeded high-accuracy movement, and we'll be on a perpetual voyage to increase visual fidelity and field of vision while maintaining high fps. But we're over the first hump.

What we don't have a firm grasp on is what content and user experiences work in this medium. We have a decent corpus of research, great demos, and a few amazing games, but we don't yet have a full end to end experience. There is no desktop analog for a 3D interface to crib from. While we create 3D immersive game environments and movies, we have to learn which of these experiences maps well to AR and or VR, let alone how long AV/VR experiences should be relative to fatigue and motion sickness. We have new interfaces and paradigms to explore and refine. I can't wait to see how we intuitively implement natural interaction with objects. Will we rely on virtual arms and hands, or explore alternate ideas? How does one explore and purchase content in 3space? How reliant will this be on text, which is harder to read on current displays at smaller font size.

So many exciting things to explore! Loyd and I will riff on differing levels of technology adoption in a upcoming podcast, and I think these early days of AR/VR are for hackers and early adopters who are ready for plenty of jagged edges and continual change in the name of refinement. Whatever you buy now will rapidly become obsolete. I think it will be 2-3 years (from the 2015 holiday selling season) of refinement before the cost, complexity, and content of AR/VR reach the mainstream audience. But these coming years will be a glorious time filled with things that challenge our imagination and set the stage for an amazing future.

I'm personally hacking at the intersection of physical and virtual gaming. I am really intrigued by forthcoming AR products like castAR. Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Amiibo are just the beginning...

Now to put my DK2 back on and play Elite!

.....

ugh, the agony of keyboards. I want to become comfortable with one keyboard layout to use with gaming, general use, and programming on both Mac and Windows. I'd like a good mechanical keyboard, but how does one decide amongst the myriad of options, including what Cherry key "weight" to select? I'd love a service where I could rent a keyboard for a week and make sure it will be the right one for years to come. Alas, I'm not sure there is a viable business model behind that, so I'll have to make some educated guesses and be prepared to write-down a mistake or two. I think I'll start with the Das Keyboard 4 Professional...

March 05, 2015

Improbable Insights : Episode 1 : Commentary

Some additional comments about Improbable Insights Episode 1.

The first episode is good and I have empathy for actors starting a new television series. It takes a few episodes to become comfortable with a format, co-host, and topics. We've already recorded a few episodes, so I know the show gets more fluid. And I'll say some things I'm going to hear about from industry friends ;-)

.....

I'm incredibly excited about the potential of Project Ara. While I love my iPhone 6+, I wonder about a mobile world where one dominant vendor ships a singular design language and feature set. I believe self-expression and varying the tool for the task have greater value than perhaps the modern, sealed mono-slab smartphone gives credit to. But unless Apple decides to make a change towards these values that other major phone manufacturers inevitably ape, Project Ara stands as a lone champion towards modularity?

I also really like and dislike Google's initial singular expression of Ara; a smartphone. Focus is absolutely critical when creating a new solution. So I laud Google's focus on smartphones as the single initial Ara expression. But I wish that I could see smaller, tighter implementations of the Ara vision. 2x2 endoskeletons would facilitate a whole range of new consumer devices that look the way we want and do only what we want them to do. Feature creep eliminated by lack of space ;-) These smaller endoskeletons will come, either through Google's expansion or third parties (?) if Ara gains momentum and we end up with many modules and no where else to put them?

Quoting Yoda, "No...there is another..." Check out Runcible. I've met these guys and love their insane and inspired vision. Their selection of Firefox OS might cloud over an exceedingly fresh take on form factor and function. I hope this becomes more than a bespoke product.

My everyday carry phone is an iPhone 6+, which I'm sure we'll talk about in an upcoming episode. I also infrequently use an HTC One (M7) Google Play edition so I can keep with with Android.

.....

I'm still torn on the next-generation monitor decision. I like my new Dell 4K monitor, but use it as a Retina 1080p display attached to my MPB. Once you've experienced "retina" on the desktop everything before it looks like crap. My Dell's 30hz refresh rate stinks however, so I'm glad I got an amazing price on the monitor. It was truly an experiment.

The Tested guys recently looked at 21:9 and 4K monitors, and at the end of their discussion suggested going straight to 4K. I love and trust their opinion, but without a monster video card, can I really drive new games at 4K (yet?)? Seems like more discussion and research is in order before I make a transition. Though my trusty Dell 30" 2560x1600 tries to die on a regular basis, so my decision might be sooner rather than later.

.....

Like Loyd, I'm done with Dragon Age: Inquisition multi-player. As we commented on in the podcast, this trend by game developers to make MP a massive grind with low value, random rewards stinks. While the Diablo loot system has had windows where it was overly giving, it typically felt balanced and rewarding as you level up. Both Destiny and DA:I seemed to have over-rotated to stingy and missed the mark. I hope other game developers are watching this carefully and don't mimic these developers.

I've got a new podcast!

I'm incredibly excited to announce my new podcast, Improbable Insights, that I've been working on with Loyd Case!

I listen to a number of tech podcasts, including This Is Only a Test from the Tested crew and MVP from Ryan Block and Peter Rojas. Both of these are awesome sauce and mimicking them would have an exercise in futility. I was interested in something that complimented these podcasts, something not driven by the weekly tech news stream.

I'm interested in what happens after the relatively quick discussion surrounding a tech news story, what happens after the short review window ends and a gadget is sent back to the developer? What are the meanings, implications, and value of a new technology or solution? Over time, was the product so good that it is worthy of an "everyday carry"? Did something deep and relevant happen but we forgot to discuss it as we raced to the next news story? Did a game suck or rock after we played it for an extended period, and did it highlight an interesting trend or technique? Tell me more about less...

I was talking to Loyd about this over a few of our Friday Night Follies gaming sessions, and he agreed there was a hole in our podcast universe. I was excited to podcast with Loyd because he goes deep with technology. Superficial is not a word you use with Loyd. We share a number of common interests but he knows way more about many topics than I do! I'll do my best to compliment his knowledge and insights.

I'm going to try and write a Director's commentary on each episode to add even more color to the conversation. We want to keep each episode bite sized in terms of run length, so there will always be more to say on each topic than time allows. Don't worry, we'll be doubling back often to extend the conversation on meaty topics.

I hope you enjoy Improbable Insights. Like any new show, it will take us a few episodes to find our groove, but I'm happy with the conversation already. If you have questions or comments, ping me on Twitter.

December 26, 2014

Thoughts on hardware and IoT

I've added a few blog entries recently on the Lemnos site from interviews and panels I've been on, covering the hardware renaissance and IoT directions.

December 25, 2014

Red eye reduction?

If photo editor developers have face detection, they have a corpus of photos tied to an individual. Instead of the generic red eye reduction feature that replaces red with a dark grey or black, could they not use closeups of a particular person from the tagged pool to generate an RGB value for an individual's eyes, then gradient away from the value for correcting images with red eye? It would at least be closer to the true value than black...

October 18, 2014

Post robo war refit

I built a battle bot for a work competition a few years ago. Defeated, the robot was encased in hot glue and electrical tape, aka Carbonite. Nick and I took it upon ourselves this morning to free all of the basic electronic components and the robot base. Now we can build a new battle bot! Bigger faster better!

October 11, 2014

C-Clamps

You can never have too many C-clamps. While this may look like a piece for an avant-garde art exhibit, I'm really just trying to fix an old pair of shoes.

In the background is a name badge project I'm doing with legos that I'll cover later.

December 24, 2013

Too many blinking lights : Possible vs functional hardware UI

Dave McClure made a slightly provocative statement recently on Twitter when he said, "many VCs are betting on HW advances dominating next decade, hwvr they fail 2 realize how critical functional UX will be in picking winners." I read his statement in a pre-vacation haze, but after a late night vacation jam session I realize his statement it is more important to amplify than I originally expected.

I took one of my KickStarter purchases with me on vacation, the blink(1) LED light. I was so excited to work with this. Imagine, I thought, what I could do by adding a near infinite number and variety of notifications to my Mac via a USB LED dongle. The engineer in me couldn't wait to see the limits of what I could do. I immediately wired it up in IFTT, a great, if geeky, web tool that allows you to do "if then" statements across supported devices and web platforms. Soon I was "if X then blink" for all sorts of events, supplemented by some quick hacks I made in Applescript. That's when Dave's statement hit me…

I had quickly created a notification monster. My blink(1) was blinking constantly with a variety of colors. Within minutes I was asking myself "Is the orangy color for my wife's email or the Twitter hashtag #Maker? And is that red really red or is that the orange one?"

There is an upper limit in our ability to process and uniquely identify notifications, both in terms of frequency and variety. My wife always asks me what alert came in when my phone buzzes? I have to admit to her that I have no idea. I have too many things on the phone trying to use vibration for notification. The color LED on my HTC One? Same problem. Other than green for email, I have no idea what the other colors are trying to tell me.

I expect that most designers reading this are having a "duh?!" moment. Having worked with great designers for so many years, I too had my "duh" moment, but only after I mentally stopped and put myself in a design frame of reference. I trained as an engineer but learned from designers. My first instinct was "what can I do" not "what is the right thing to do?" I had not a year ago had this very same notification debate with a group of engineers as I tried to keep the notification possibilities for a prototype down to an understandable minimum! But when placed into the role of creating engineer, I immediately crafted a beast. I had to laugh at myself.

I say this because today I see too few designers in early stage hardware programs. The hardware renaissance has unleashed the creativity and imagination of an army of hardware and software engineers, and that is a good thing. A great thing! I think, however, we need to marry this new found capability and creativity with the greater design community to create amazing AND functional products. I'm so lucky to have worked with designers who taught me when to notice that possible is subservient to practical and how to correct it when I notice that my blink(1) is suddenly blinking like a runway light at Heathrow airport on a busy evening!

So Dave, I agree with you!