Why I never bought a Kindle device

I remember the original kindle with the blocky edges. My boss, at that time, @rickeames bought one. As a fellow early adopter, I was sorely tempted. But I had my reservations. I already loved books to pieces and the Kindle was NOT going to replace the sheer joy of rustling paper and dog earing a hard cover or a paper back. I also had philosophical problems with the issue of ownership. My Dad’s library was a big factor in my love for books and I wanted to make sure I could leave a legacy of a library to my offspring and I wasn’t sure I could do that with the Kindle.

So I waited for the next gen. And while I was waiting, the kindle went cross platform on Windows, iPad, Android and more. So I could dip my feet into the Kindle store without buying a device and that is what I have done since then. Because when it comes down to it, e-readers have underwhelmed me. They took away a ton of the tactile pleasure of reading & owning a book and replaced it with conveniences that I only had a so so appreciation for – lugging a book around is not that painful and you can only read one at a time really. What I really wanted was adding more value along non-traditional dimensions:

How about embedding the sounds from a scene into an e-book to make it more immersive? Almost like a light score that changes from chapter to chapter or scene to scene inside a book… Or how about olfactory sensors that can help you smell the grit in a scene? Of course these advances should be subtle and tastefully expressed and the file formats for e-books should allow easy encoding of these additional elements. Additional advanced features could include social reading. Why can’t lovers who are a continent apart or even a block apart read a book at the same time and share their enjoyment in real-time? Or a group even.

It just seems like there should be more™. And when it comes, then it will be easy to make the decision to buy a dedicated e-reading device instead of emulating it on a phone or a tablet. Now, it’s more a toss-up.

Save us from “Save”!

We really should do away with the ‘Save’ button when authoring things. Every creative computing surface should auto save the content its working on. When I worked on an editor many years ago, there were some performance penalties related to CPU cycles and disk that made ‘auto save’ an expensive operation, but I bet those considerations have been wiped out by the latest advances. I understand why we should have a button like ‘name this document’ or ‘name the file’, but why should we be doing ‘save’ in 2015, 40 odd years into the PC revolution? Makes no sense.

And I’m not even talking about throwing away the ‘file’ concept. That’s a story for another day….

We’re all racists (because our brains are made that way)

Ok, I admit it, that title is a bit of a hyperbole. What a measured person should say is that we’re all susceptible to prejudice because our brains are wired that way. But doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way, does it?!

If you believe some compelling contemporary theories of brain function1, then the human brain is a pattern recognition machine with a bunch of memory. We essentially constantly classify all the sensory input we get and attach it to cognitive or emotional memory. For example: Aluminum sheet – bendable; Steel bar – not bendable, will crack my knuckles. These innocuous categorizations are based on both direct observation/experience or teaching. When the brain recognizes the physical properties that identify the object [Aluminum sheet; Steel bar], then the properties learnt are assumed to be true.

What this means when you’re tackling issues like racism, is that the human brain is predisposed to the classification of people of all types based on some identifiable physical attribute (skin color, hair color, face shape, eye color, sexual orientation, face structure, height, etc.). In short we’re already ‘pre-suggestive’ because we automatically classify things, including people and label them. So when external input gives us a cue with which to classify a set of people, it’s easy to absorb and adhere because this is already how our brain works, regardless of whether the cue is accurate or not. This is why prejudicial views and behaviors is common in any population. It’s not hard to get a kid to hate a certain kind of person they can visually identify consistently. We’re just more quickly filling in classification and labeling holes (with false data) that the brain would fill in anyway, usually over a longer period of time with more factual and accurate observation.

There is natural counter programming for false classification in the brain: personal experience or data that disproves this can put a crack in prior classifications. However because people’s access to contradictory personal experience is limited physically (for e.g. a bigoted kid may never meet a representative subject of his hate under pristine conditions), it’s usually a poor antidote to manufactured bits of classification spread as truthful ideas via parenting, pedagogy, media, etc. The tendency of people to socialize with people who represent their specific world view makes counterprogramming even more implausible for most people.

While prejudice is common and can be transmitted via culture, entrenched versions of it (like racism) are not. This is because entrenched prejudice needs to be paired with a political, economic or cultural system, to enforce those prejudicial views related to physical attributes. This takes effort and planning.

So where does this leave us? Well just with some facts that are uncomfortable, and some truths that may redeem:

  1. Fact: We’re all susceptible to prejudicial (some of which are racist and tribal) ideas by definition. It’s a shortcut we’re all pre-wired to be susceptible to.
  2. Fact: The extent of racist and tribal effect in society is directly related to how those ideas are conjured and disseminated in any given society. In other words, the architects of society and the culture they produce are responsible for prejudicial societies.
  3. Fact: A previously harmonious society can be ‘fractured’ or partitioned around racist and tribal lines if new racist ideas are introduced, combined with physical attributes that people can identify related to those ideas. In other words, even those with a harmonious society can be quickly made disharmonious if they do not remain vigilant.
  4. Truth: The only way to combat ‘ideas that partition’ is to:
    1. Make everyone look physically the same (so distinguishing markers cannot be related to prejudicial ideas) and erase distinguishing familial history from social memory.
    2. Reduce the number of ‘partitioning’ ideas circulating in society.
    3. If a society has entrenched prejudice, its needs to dismantle that system used to prop up the prejudice in society.

1On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

Time for a Consumer Router Internet Bill of Rights

There is an undervalued and critical piece of equipment in almost any home in any advanced country – an internet router. This thing is big business because every home and business needs one (although the ones for business are a slightly different and better) to get online… AND most people are now online in most advanced countries.

So to recap, every home has a little piece of equipment that gives people access to the internet. As you can imagine, in this current world of hackers, the NSA and pervasive cyber security threats, the router is like a golden key. If you can exploit it, you basically can control what a person who is using it to browse on an iPad, play a game or watch Netflix…can do. You can do real damage to the security of a home if you can exploit the router.

The router itself tends to be basically a small Linux PC configured to get traffic to the internet for all your devices, wired or wireless. As such, it can become vulnerable to emerging security threats and viruses and just like your PC, it needs to be occasionally updated and refreshed. So let me ask the internet: how many times do you think regular Joe and Jane Blow update their router? Well look, your guess is as good as mine, but basically I think it’s very little. In this case, the aphorism, “out of sight, out of mind” pretty much applies. One of the first things I check when I go to the homes of family is whether their router has a default SSID, default password and default settings. And if it does, I change it.

This is because the defaults are toxic – anyone who is familiar with defaults can get in and subvert the internet access of your entire household. And trust me, all the default passwords are just a google search away.

You know that old prayer…? “….God grant me the wisdom to know the difference.” Ordinary people will not be fussed with updating their routers. This is a simple back calculation from the fact that ordinary people don’t update their Personal Computers either (so much so that Microsoft and Apple, try to just configure it to update itself without intervention). So they will def not update something sitting in their basement room somewhere. But all these millions of routers collectively are the foundation of home internet use security. So what to do?

Just like OS and PC makers, router manufacturers need to take some responsibility for making their customers secure by default and the internet as a result. This is the only way. If you agree with this premise, we then need something like a set of rules that will govern this new (and logical) responsibility. A consumer router bill of rights if you wish. I’ve basically divided these common sense rules into 2 categories – smart defaults and automatic updates.

Router bill of rights:

  1. Auto update – update firmware when available

    The microcode that drives the hardware of a router will occasionally need to be updated because of new wireless standards or fixing bugs in hardware like the implementation of wireless standards and other link layer protocols. A side effect of this capability means that routers can serve longer as it scales to new standards for customers.

  2. Auto update – update the router OS automatically

    Most of the functionality in a router is in the software at this point. And this software just needs to be updated automatically to cover software vulnerabilities and updates. This update has to be seamless and automatic and require no user intervention.

  3. Auto update – auto security updates as often as needed.

    Most operating systems have regular security updates. For example Microsoft releases updates every Tuesday. Routers should have a similar automatic security update regime.

  4. Smart defaults – randomize admin passwords

    One of the biggest problems with routers is that customers don’t change the default router password. And these defaults are well documented on the internet. Access to the router usually means game over for the computers on your home network. The fix is simple – in the same way that WPS PINs are unique, router passwords should be unique by default. The user can then update the password. Or not. But the likelihood that they will be comprised will be much much less.

  5. Smart defaults – no remote access

    Under no circumstances should an internet router have remote access over the internet enabled by default. Period.

  6. Smart defaults – no information leakage

    Information about the router should be obfuscated as much as possible – it should not return ping udp packets. It should not expose router manufacturer and model information. Maybe even do some mac address obfuscation…

  7. Smart defaults – best encryption, best wireless security by default.

    Wireless security usually has 2 layers – the security protocol and the encryption regime. Routers should have the strongest on by default.

There are probably a few more rules we can add to these, but these are the main ones? Can you think of any that I missed that are important. Send it to me at oji@udezue.com.

Virtual Reality Uncertainty: An Update

To get a refresher, read this post – I’ve basically been thinking through how large the market for Virtual Reality tech can get from first principle. Is it another game console or will it be as big as the web or mobile? So I was talking to someone I respect a lot about platforms – someone responsible for some of the largest chunks of some of the most scalable platforms EVERYONE uses today. He made a smart comment that I want to repeat here:

New large tech markets are created in 2 parts:

  • The incremental user value in the platform itself that creates a pull for customers – e.g. it does novel things (web – followed you around from PC to PC), it’s better than what came before it (mobile + touch – simpler and more personal).
  • Developers have to build new innovative apps to take advantage of the platform, not just modify their existing applications.

The second piece is pretty important, but developers mess around all the time, how will you know if the shift is large enough? So here are 2 canaries (in the coal mine) to look for:

  1. New computer languages – the old languages become a little too inefficient for the new platform. The web saw the rise of HTML, ASP, , Javascript, etc. Mobile saw the modest rise of objective C and Java, but even more so in UI related technologies to take advantage of touch.
  2. Existing UI tools don’t suffice anymore – this one makes sense, genuinely new platforms generally mean new interaction or new display requirements. The web saw the rise of responsive design and the infinite scroll/pagination. Mobile saw the rise of rapid prototyping tools and chromeless design (to optimize space), etc.

The reader might ask – why do you care how big the market for virtual reality will become? To address this and other questions, I’ve put together a handy Q&A below


Q: Why do you care about this? A: Well simply because it’s a question of corporate, venture and product strategy. No-one really knows how things will evolve and examining emerging tech from first principles and strategic insight, helps all sorts of companies be prepared for the future – startups can legitimately get excited and dream of new products. Existing companies can divert resources to new emerging markets instead of being stagnant. If you think something will be the next ‘web’ and it turns out to be just the size of the graphics card market, that will be a lot of wasted investment. Let me illustrate:

Gartner emerging tech hype cycle2010 [top] vs. 2014 [bottom]

Not even on the map in 2010 – Virtual Reality, Big Data, Internet of Things. Stuff on the map in 2010 not in 2014 – Micro payments, Interactive TV, Mesh networks, Pen-centric tablet PCs, Augmented Reality, Wireless Power. You can bet some people lost a bundle on some of these technologies.

Q: So if you’re right so what? Good question, even if the expected size/value of a technology misses, it doesn’t have to be a complete loss – SOME people are bound to do well, at least for a while. For example if VR is about the size of the graphics card market or is just another gaming peripheral technology, Oculus Rift will likely still make a bundle. However the size of a market will mean that lots of other people will not get succor from it and will lose money. It may also mean that some companies will see initial success but will flame out and be unsustainable. If people think something is the next big thing and ramp up investment and it turns out not to be…. a lot of money will be lost.

Q: Why are you obsessed with BIG markets? No idea – it’s a bit irrational, like most obsessions. There are a lot of low-hanging fruit out there even in established markets and most returns will remain in Web and Mobile for the foreseeable future. So yeah, I take the hint, don’t be distracted by shiny objects.

RIP: Bob Woodward’s credibility forevermore

I won’t bother paraphrasing Charles Pierce, so go read: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a35226/bob-woodwards-jive-talking/

What I don’t understand is why these giants of journalism are imploding at the same time? Sy Hersh was quite strident about Bin Laden’s death being fiction about 2 weeks ago. It’s not clear if he is right or wrong, but it’s clear that he couldn’t make the story stand outside his own personal halo.

Virtual Reality Uncertainty

Like every good futurist, I have been wondering about all the new hype around Virtual Reality that was basically kicked off by Oculus Rift. And of course this went into overdrive when Facebook spent a cool $2b to validate the concept. All of a sudden it seems like everyone is doing it. Which makes you wonder if there is something that people in the depth of these tech companies know that we don’t. Maybe there is some super-secret strategy memo that tech CEOs get that we peons don’t have access to?

First I want to be clear about my lens on this – how big can this tech be? Or more precisely I am assuming the interest is because companies think this ‘new’ industry will be eventually as big as or close to the size of the web or mobile – which is essentially what you would need it to be to drive the next wave of tech company growth. By corollary, my lens is not whether VR will be useful in certain applications or have new capabilities that are exciting (this is a given). Instead it’s about wide adoption as a corporate or consumer technology.

The confines of a new industry are well threaded:

  1. First you need to get over human interaction and cool factor issues – the device has to be something that is useful and intuitive as well as desirable.
  2. Next you need to have an affordable price point so a lot of people can buy it.
  3. Third you need to have useful content on the device – generally apps, professional entertainment content or user generated content. This is what makes the other 2 things ignite and generate a mass market. The barrier to apps are basically how accessible the development platform is. The barrier to professional content is basically the cost of encoding abundant professional content into the new format(s). The barriers to user generated content is how well you can distribute easy to use encoders to ordinary people (which partly goes through the same cycle of 1, 2, 3.). Recursion!!

In all 3 things, VR has a significant hurdle to get over: It may be hard to turn VR into walk-about technology; not that it’s required, see XBOX and PlayStation. But more fundamentally, VR forces you to choose more starkly between your world and the virtual world. Something that is less confrontational in say, living room gaming.

However the most significant hurdle will be content. Games are a no-brainer, but beyond that? How can I take a trip through Europe with a small encoding device and then deliver VR content to my friends via Facebook or whatever its successor is? The scarcity of 4K content also shows that even professional content owners can struggle to deliver appropriate content at scale in a short time frame. How hard will it be to do apps? If it takes an order of magnitude more effort than a game, there will be initial roadblocks to mass market consumer ambitions….

The good enough alternative to Virtual Reality is already here – better video, better virtual worlds on a 2 or 3d screen. And this technology is unencumbered by gnarly human factors challenges.

Virtual Reality tech is actually already splintering. Microsoft has a version of this that is basically really Virtual Interactivity, painting virtual interactive objects over the real world. This has real potential of augmenting and improving humanity but may be harder to program. And the HUD will need to disappear a little more than a bulky headset. I hope everyone can remember the Augmented Reality boomlet of a few years ago in the mobile app space that did not quite explode.

It’s really hard to anticipate the future. But my bet is that if this section of innovation is to take over the world, one should not pay as much attention to Occulus Rift as to people quietly building specialty processors, content encoders, UI standards, programming interfaces and tech that makes wearables become virtually invisible in everyday life. It’s really hard to bet against the future but given the many open questions about how fast VR and VI can grow to even rival the gaming market, it might not be the savior people expect.

Huckabee hearts Duggars

Mike Huckabee was shellacked good for his Facebook statement in support of Josh Duggar. How could a man who has savaged Barack Obama on his parenting – because Beyonce! – and has publicly been harsh about OTHER people’s own crimes related to sexual molestation, go so easy on this instance of abuse?

If you browse the Facebook posts of the erstwhile potential presidential contender, you will see a specific thrust of questioning: why make excuses for these people for such a serious crime? Why is this acceptable?

There is a surprisingly simple answer to this: Relationship. People are much more compassionate about people or ideas that they are familiar or intimate with. And less willing to see them punished, even if that is what the law requires. I’ve always thought that part of the reason that the United States invaded Iraq was because most people in the US were not exposed to Iraqi culture or ever seen an Iraqi neighbor. Making the decision was without emotional costs for most people (although let history record that a significant number of Americans opposed the war regardless).

Without delving too deeply into fraught waters, this might also explain why there is a markedly unfair outcomes in the criminal justice system in the US (and has always been); in the fall of 2014, polling showed that only 25% of Caucasians in the US have any African American friends. If I’m right, a criminal justice system controlled by a dominant culture cannot quite be compassionate about minority cultures that it does not quite understand. Or more precisely it understands second and third hand from many anecdotal sources including the media.

In Huck’s own words: “In fact, it is such times as this, when real friends show up and stand up. Today, Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support.”

NFL 2015 Epilogue

Well if you’ve been on earth recently, you know what happened to the Seahawks at the super bowl. They fell to the scurvy and cheaty New England Patriots in a stroke of bad luck. It took me fully 2 months to process another atom of NFL information after that day and I might abstain completely from the NFL this year unless the Seahawks start early to dominate.

I might never get back to Peak NFL.