Its the little things you notice …

Now that I have a few days on the Mac using it full time, I figured I’d post up some first impressions from a new user. More than that, observations from a new user who resisted the Mac when all his friends told him to go that way in the first place.

  1. When the light in the room gets too low, the keyboard lights up. At first glance this seems completely insignificant, but again, one of those little things that shows the care that goes into the design. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. In a normal company, something this “frilly” would have been cut to remove costs – but as a customer I was absolutely delighted by it.
  2. I like not having a key on the keyboard for every little thing. The modifier key thing is totally working for me for page up / down, etc. Its extremely intuitive once you figure it out (and it doesn’t take long to figure it out).
  3. Using two fingers to scroll with the mouse. Tom the Architect told me about this one. Much more intuitive than a touchpad with the right side dedicated to scrolling.
  4. For years I’ve been irritated with people turning auto hide on the Windows taskbar. For some reason, auto hide makes sense to me with the dock bar. Not sure why, but the whole metaphor of the docking bar works for me on levels that I couldn’t get with Windows
  5. I love the idea of one menu at the top of the screen, rather than a menu in every application. This also works for me on a number of levels.
  6. The overall look of things on the screen is beautiful compared to my Gateway box. Same applications, completely different feeling when looking at them.
  7. Installing software is really a brain dead process. Its the way software should work. On the other hand, I’m going to have to get used to not needing so much detail to get something working. I think I’m finally at the point where I’m ok with this. Must be a sign of getting old.
  8. There is absolutely no need for a “View Full Screen” option on any of these applications. I have enough of the application visible whenever I need it. I can even collapse the top of the window to get more room. Its a little thing, but another one of those “Wow” moments.

Overall, I’m completely impressed. While my initial resistance to going Mac had a lot to do with the price, there are so many little things that I’m finding that are valuable enough to make me feel better about the purchase price. You get what you pay for and I’m quite happy with the new purchase.

The Flickr vs. Zoomr Thing …

I was really glad to read Stewart Butterfields response to the whole Zoomr API key thing that happened over the weekend.

The first thing I thought of when hearing about the hub-bub first on Tom the Architects blog and then on yesterdays Geek News Central (I’m a little behind lately) was the article Strategy III: Let Me Go Back by Joel Spolsky. I think that the essay does a really good job of illustrating the huge barrier to entry that the ability to choose to leave can be to a customer looking to use a product or service.

For me, the attitude of not allowing competitors to access public API keys seemed way too “lock in” like for even me, a very loyal Flickr user. I know that some of the arguments floating around places like TechCrunch were things like “why should Flickr let Zoomr use their bandwidth to take their customers”. The main reason for this is because they chose to create a public API and cannot discriminate against competitors without looking petty and protective.

This is a hard thing for companies to learn. Customers don’t want it to be a hard thing to leave your site or product. It’s a powerful feeling to know that you can move somewhere to try out a service and if it doesn’t work for you — you can leave. At different times in my career I’ve watched people confuse the idea of “creating stickiness” with the idea of tying the customer to a particular product — or at least making it hard for them to leave — and its really just disappointing to me and a clear sign that someone doesn’t get it.

“Stickiness” is the value you are creating that cannot be provided anywhere else and has nothing to do with whether your customer is “stuck” with you or not.

The decision that Flickr has made is to allow public access by competitors to their public API’s is a good one. I do disagree with Tom on one point, in that I think that the requirement that such competitors are required to provide a complete and accessible public API for them is a good one. I think thats a fair trade off and overall will set an example and a requirement to play fair and an expectation that when you take advantage of openness, you must be willing to be open yourself.

Oddly, its the same example Stallman has been trying to set for years …

The Labs Adds A Mac

MacBook Pro

Your looking at the first post to this web site completely written on a Mac.

Yep, thats right. A Mac.

Since the release of OS X I’ve wanted to make the leap to the Mac. The idea of a Unix based system with the useability of a Mac intrigued me to no end. I also have a couple of friends that have used Macs from what seems like day one, and have always told me that I was missing out on something cool. I just haven’t been able to justify getting one in my own head.

I think the clincher for me that a Mac was in my future was when Jonna started bringing one home for her testing work and I was watching her use it. It just looked so cool! Its been on my mind for a couple of weeks now, so yesterday we decided to take a road trip out to the Apple store and “just look” at the Intel based MacBooks to see whether it might be something I want to commit to as my next machine.

Well, I wound up walking out with one with the voice of an Apple customer from the store ringing through my head, echoing softly, “Once you make the move, you will never go back …”.

I got the machine home and booted it up. Within literally 15 minutes or so, I was hooked to our wireless network here at the Labs. Another 25 minutes or so and all of the software updates were downloaded. A few trips to grab the software I use most, like FireFox, the Flickr uploader, etc. and I already felt like I was home.

Of course, being a developer at heart, there are a few things I just had to do as soon as I got the base software like my favorite browser installed. I had to dive to the Terminal window and see what was out there.

  • Perl? – Check.
  • Python? – Check.
  • Ruby? – Check.
  • Java? – Check
  • Subversion? – Nope, but a few clicks and it was installed.
  • Screen Capture Tool? Kind of – only supports TIFFS. I need JPG for Flickr. A quick Google search got me to Snap N Drag, a free screen capture utility that supports JPG files.
  • iTunes – Check.
  • Office Suite? Nope – not there. Have to install OpenOffice, which requires X11. I’ll do that tomorrow.

Here’s the great thing about the whole experience. Every scripting language I use for every day work is on the machine from the moment I opened the box, even my old familiar friend, the bash shell. The important software I use day to day is at least available for me to install.

My email, calendar and news reader? I use Google, for all of that, so there was no setup or importing of data required. I just log in and feel at home.

The loose ends I have to tie off at this point is moving all of my iTunes stuff to the new machine. I’ve found a few articles on this around the NET, but the volume of data I have to transfer is becoming prohibitive. For some reason, rsync just stops part way through the sync — but I’ll get this worked out.

I’m extremely impressed with the machine so far. It has all of the utility of Unix and all the beauty of a Mac. I’m really not sure what else anyone could ask for.

Customer Self Service

As a customer, I like to be in control.

Our family goes out to eat at least once a week (on weekends, mostly). Many times once we are seated we spend quite a bit of time waiting for our initial drink order to be taken, then for our actual order to be taken, then for the check to be presented, and finally for our payment to be taken by our server. I know, pretty normal scenario — what is there to complain about?

Well, I’m not complaining really, just thinking. How could you enable customers to order for themselves and pay when they are ready to leave? Would putting customers more in control of the things they have to participate in anyway increase their satisfaction with the service?

I’d love to see a restaurant in which you are handed a wireless device with a card swiper as you are seated (or it could even already be at the table). The device can be used to select your drinks, appetizer, and meals which is routed to the serving staff (haven’t figured out the specifics of this one yet) who can then fill the order and bring it to you. Once you have finished your meal, the device can present the charges for you, allow you to swipe your debit and / or credit card and pay for the meal. Absolutely no waiting involved except to have the actual things you order delivered to your table.

Tom the Architect has told me that they have something like this in Vegas. I can’t wait for it to get to the mainstream. As a customer, I like the idea of being able to take care of the things I’m able to take care of without waiting on someone else to act first. I like to be in control — and I’m guessing that most people feel that way. I’m more satisfied when I feel like I’m more in control of the situation.

I think the one area that would have to be worked out is the security of the system. As we were sitting in a restaurant one day, I decided that I would enlighten my wife, Jonna, about these ideas. The first thing she hit me with was the opportunity for credit card fraud (she has the innate ability to point out flaws in the utopian ideas I come up with).

She brought the same thing up a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining about having to wait on someone to come over to the Jewel self-service checkout aisle to press a button to allow us to buy a six pack of beer. I started railing on as to why friction had to be added to the transaction, since the bank that we have the credit/debit card knows how old I am and can verify my age electronically. Jonna brought up that it would be quite easy for kids to take their parents credit cards and just go buy alcohol if age verification was done from the credit card (see, I told you she was good — I didn’t think of that).

Ok, thats a problem. What if in these situations you could get the benefits of “frictionless shopping” if you transacted with your debit card only and kept the PIN away from your kids? Then I could have my “lack of friction” and we could ensure that the kids weren’t off buying Tequila on my identity.

These are just a few things that I think about every now and again when I have to wait around for things that I know technology can solve. I love the idea that we are getting to the point where we can automate the friction out of a lot of the transactions we perform in daily life. Now and again, I’m disappointed that we haven’t removed all of the friction that we could out of the process.

As a customer, I just really like being in control.

First Experiences in Second Life

At Curry Castle - With T-Shirt

After all of the talk in the podcasting community around Second Life, I finally decided to take some time and take a look at it. The first thing I did when I got there was look around for Adam Curry’s place, “Curry Castle”. The thing that impressed me the most as I was walking around aimlessly was how much things have developed. So many people have built up around the castle since Adam first started talking about it. It was interesting to watch the interactions among people, from people sitting on the couch on the top of the castle, to Comic Strip Blogger periodically bombing the castle, throwing newbie me into space not able to figure out what happened.

I only spent a small amount of time in Second Life, but I have to say its pretty interesting. I did play around a little with creating clothing using some of the Photoshop templates that they provide on their site and after some fiddling finally got the nice Bieber Labs Podcast T-Shirt you see in the picture. Its not the best, but it will definitely do for now and I think its an ok start after only spending ultimately an hour in the environment. The shirt has the banner of the podcast site on the front, with the URL on the back.

Unfortunately, I decided to mess around with the clothing stuff in the “newbie public area”, something I would recommend you do not do. There is something about the phrase “Congratulations, you’ve figured out how to remove all of your clothes” directed at you in a public area thats a little disconcerting when you are trying to figure out how things work. I did finally figure out how to reclothe myself and get my cool T-shirt on though.

Overall, I think Second Life is pretty cool. It would be cooler if I actually enjoyed IM’ing type of communities, but I haven’t really been into that kind of thing for quite a while. I’m not convinced that I will be keeping the account, but it is definitely something interesting to play around with, at least temporarily. I enjoyed just walking around and checking out the things that people are building for other people to come and socialize.

The Downside of Certification


I found this article, The Downside of Certification, over on Slashdot. Its about time that people stop looking at how many pieces of paper one has and instead on what they can actually DO. Certification programs have always bothered me because of the implication that if you have the certification you are more qualified than someone who has been doing the job for years. Glad to see people are wising up a bit.