somewhere over the buffet

From the late, great John Pinnete (to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”)

Somewhere over the buffet:
Food piled high.
There’s a meal I must get to,
Stop me and you will die.

Somewhere over the buffet:
Watch me fly.
Eating up all of the profits,
Making the owner cry.

Someday I’ll have my own buffet
Where no one can tell me to stop eating.
With prime rib, pork chops, pizza, ham –
A gastronomic wonderland!

I’ll be at every seating!

If scrawny, skinny men can fly
Over the buffet,
Why oh why can’t I?

modularity is great – if you commoditize the right complements

Google bought Android and made great things with it.

They also had an interesting audacity to announce an “open, modular” phone that ‘anyone’ could design from, and make components that would play nicely together (like IBM did with their initial ISA architecture releases back in the 80s). (Microsoft then flipped the tables on IBM and non-exclusively licensed MS-DOS to them, which meant hardware manufacturers could build entire replacement “[IBM] PC compatible” machines … that ran Microsoft software. )

But this only works if you’re Google – an advertising company that wants more eyeballs on its ads.

If you’re a phone manufacturer, like Motorola, the absolute last thing you want is for “anyone” to be able to replace all of the modules in your phone – because you’re not selling the OS, you’re selling hardware. As Joel Spolsky wrote 15 years ago,

If you can run your software anywhere, that makes hardware more of a commodity. As hardware prices go down, the market expands, driving more demand for software (and leaving customers with extra money to spend on software which can now be more expensive.)

Sun’s enthusiasm for WORA is, um, strange, because Sun is a hardware company. Making hardware a commodity is the last thing they want to do.

Motorola is a hardware company. They may want add-ons to be available to their base phone, but the certainly don’t want you replacing everything – unless it’s from them.

Jean-Louis Gassée notes these issues in his latest article, “Lazy Thinking: Modularity Always Works”,

In order to succeed, “disruptive modularity” needs a stable architecture with well-defined and documented boundaries. Module innovators need to be able to slide their creations into place without playing havoc with the rest of the edifice. This is how it worked in the Wintel PC world…sort of. In PC reality, as many of us have experienced, the sliding in and out of modules wasn’t so neat and often landed us in Device Driver purgatory. In the mid-nineties, one Microsoft director told me that the Redmond company actually spent more engineering resources on drivers than on Windows’ core software. …
Most important, strongly-worded theories are less interesting than exploring their cracks, where they don’t seem to work. This is how physics keeps moving forward and this is also how our understanding of business should advance. In the case of Project Ara, the unexamined consensual acceptance of Disruption Theory led many to believe that Modularity Always Wins meant smartphones would (and should) follow the same path as PCs.

I hope JLG (and I, and Joel Spolsky, and basic economics) are wrong.

But I doubt it.

the fishing’s great!

Several years ago, we lost my great-uncle Don. This is a story from him, as handed-down by my dad.

We had been fishing all day. Rowed north and south across the pond. Rowed east and west across the pond. Saw turtles sunning themselves on low tree branches. It was hot. It was muggy. It was cloudless.

Hours went by. And more hours. As dinner time neared, we had caught precisely….nothing. Bupkis. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Don even brought out the Vibra-Bat. When the Vibra-Bat came out, you knew it was time to pack it in: if Don had ever caught something with the Vibra-Bat, I’m pretty sure he would’ve died of a heart attack. The Vibra-Bat was the lure of last resort. If the Vibra-Bat came out of the tackle box, you knew there were no fish. Anywhere. The pond was empty. There might not have even been an amoeba. No fish could pass-up the Vibra-Bat! So if it came out, you knew the day was up: because no fish was EVER caught with a Vibra-Bat. Not. Even. One.

The Vibra-Bat was out. It was time to row for the Bronco. It was time to put your poles away, folks. It was time to plan for dinner – no explanations as to why there were no fish coming home: the Vibra-Bat had come out!

As we came ashore, a station wagon pulled-up. Out hopped an excited dad! There was a whole friggin’ posse of kids in the back.

“How’s the fishing?” he asked.

“The fishing’s great!” replied Don.

“Hey, kids! Let’s get out and start fishing!” exclaimed the dad.

As the boat was hurriedly tied atop the Bronco, Don said, “boy – I’m sure happy he didn’t ask how the catching was.”

That was my uncle Don. Always ready to answer what, exactly, you asked.

kvp is a lousy way to teach 

Recently on one of the podcasts I listen to, I heard an offhanded comment made about how history is taught not in patterns but as facts. For example, “On the 18th of April in ’75, hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year”.

Rarely are the “whys” explained – understandably so at early ages, but not understandably as maturation happens.

“Teaching” in so many subjects has become memorization of what really amount to key-value pairs. Like, Columbus: 1492. Norman invasion: 1066. Etc.

Certainly, facts are important. And some things truly are best learned in a rote memorization form – for example, the multiplication table through 12, 15, or 25. But what about states and their capitals? Sure, they’re “pairs” – but are they more?

This is awesome if you’re a trivia nut. But if you’re not, or you truly want to learn the material – not merely pass a test or regurgitate facts – then you need to understand more than just the “facts”.

Outside history classes, it’s especially prevalent in math – very little (if any) time is taken to explain why the quadratic formula works (or even what it is), instead algebra students are expected to just learn and use it.

My late aunt, who did a lot of tutoring in her life, summed-up the problem with algebra (and other math subjects past elementary school) thusly: before algebra, we give a problem like “3 plus box is 9; what goes in the box?” but in algebra, we swap the box for a t or x or g, and we freak out. She would teach the facts, but [almost] never without the whys.

The whys are illustrated and analyzed very well in some books – like Why Nations Fail (review). But, sadly, they’re not given in more places.

We definitely need more good teachers who want their students to understand not merely enough to pass the class (or the test), but to cultivate the curiosity we’re all born with to become lifelong learners.

First step: stop “teaching” as key-value pairs.

apple tv – how apple can beat amazon and google

In e99 of Exponent, Ben Thompson makes a compelling case for his idea that Amazon Echo (Alexa) is an operating system – and that Amazon has beaten Apple (with Siri) and Google Home (with Assistant) at the very game they both try to play.

And I think he’s onto the start of something (he goes on to elaborate a bit in his note that Apple TV turned 10 this week (along with the little thing most people have never heard of, iPhone)).

But he’s only on the *start* of something. See, Apple TV is cheaper than Amazon Echo – by $30 for the entry model (it’s $20 more for the model with more storage). Echo Dot is cheaper, but also is less interesting (imo). And Alexa doesn’t have any local storage (that I know of).

And neither of them will stream video.

By Apple TV has something going for it – it *already* has Siri enabled. In other words, it has the home assistant features many people want, and does video and audio streaming to boot.

It handles live TV via apps like DIRECTV or Sling. And Netflix and other options for streaming (including, of course, iTunes).

Oh, and it handles AirPlay, so you can plop whatever’s on your iPhone, iMac, etc onto your TV (like a Chromecast).

But Apple doesn’t seem to focus on any of that. They have a device which, by all rights, ought to be at least equal (and probably superior to) with its competition – but they seem to think their competition is Roku or the Fire Stick. From a pricing perspective, those are the wrong folks to be considering your competition.

It’s Google and Amazon Apple should have in its sights – because Apple TV *ought* to beat the ever living pants of both Home and Echo.

If HomeKit exists on Apple TV, and you have Siri on Apple TV, why is it not the center of home automation?