Info

Tech entrepreneur, executive, and investor; father of eight children; Googler.

Posts from the Life Category

The Nexus Q

When it was announced at this year’s Google I/O, the Nexus Q team took pride in the fact that people upon first observation generally had no idea what to make of the device. After playing with it myself for a couple of days, I’m not sure what to make of it either.

It all started well-enough, as I attested to in my recent tweet:

Really impressed by seamless Nexus Q setup and integration with Jelly Bean. Not happy. Life was simpler when iOS was clearly better. 😉

Big bonus points to Q for simplifying the typically tedious wireless network setup process (it uses Bluetooth to send your wireless network config and just requires you to re-enter your password via your Android mobile device). A clear win over Apple TV–and any other consumer device with a remote control I’ve used up to now.

But all that’s mitigated by the physical setup process. Now I have this weird ball–with cables that prominently protrude from its back-side–on top of my entertainment cabinet. The Q team gleefully bragged about their breakaway from boring boxy shapes, but where am I going to put the thing? Sorry, not in the middle of my living room. Whether intended or not, thanks to those cables, it’s going in my entertainment center, like all other devices of its class. Except, unlike the others, it doesn’t fit well, thanks to the awkward aforementioned shape. Hmm.

It turns out avoiding streaming from the phone is a great strategy for streaming from the cloud. So nice to tap the Nexus Q playback button strewn throughout Jelly Bean and have the device quickly start streaming music, YouTube movies, and so forth. Makes iOS seem positively backwards for streaming from the Internet to the iOS device and then from the device to the Apple TV for the same use cases; surely Apple will put in a fix in a subsequent version that identifies when a command to the Apple TV should be sent instead of a media stream.

But the Q’s strategy falls flat on its face since it’s the only strategy employed. I went to stream music from the Pandora Android app to the Q, but of course, that’s not going to work. Oof. And Q doesn’t have any support for my media: my photos, my videos on the phone, etc.? Ugh.

Q plays a standard, circa 2000 WinAmp-esque visualizer when music is playing. My kids find this so incredibly cool. I was a little shocked. I’d sort of forgotten about visualizers. Now, seeing how gleefully they dance and stare at the TV, I wish I had them in the Apple TV.

But streaming video doesn’t seem to work all that well on the Q. I streamed a 45 minute TV show on my Apple TV, using my Samsung receiver’s Vudu app, and using the Nexus Q. Only the Q had any trouble doing it at full HD. And what trouble it had! Eight “loading” pauses–one of which was really long–during the first five minutes of the show. I switched from the Q to just streaming it on the Nexus 7 tablet; after one such pause, it played back without further interruption. It was just the Q that struggled. What a bummer.

The hardware mute switch (i.e., pushing the ball) works great! Love having that. So much better than fishing for a remote to pause the music on the Apple TV.

And then there was my wife’s reaction when I explained to her we couldn’t play back any of our iTunes music on the Q: “What? Oh, that sucks.” It really does suck to have digital media so stove-piped into all of these different proprietary networks. Google is so late to the game here; how many of us are going to start mixing our media across Apple and Google? I don’t think I will–despite Google bribing me with $25 to give them my credit card. I wonder if that’s for bragging rights as much as a bet that I’ll spend >$25 buying media.

So what to make of the Q? Like so many others, I’m left scratching my head. High-production values have gone into this thing (with the exception of the UI in the Q’s Android-based setup app), but it’s not competitive with the Apple TV and it’s triple the price. The software can be upgraded, of course, so it’s hard to get too worked up over the software-specific issues–but then there’s the question of the hardware.

Am I really going to buy a few of these at $300 a pop and distribute them throughout my house? No, I’m going to just have one hooked up to my TV. And if I do that, why include an amp? I’m just going to run it through my receiver. The built-in amp just seems so weird to me. Is it an attempt to justify the big price? Or does Google really think they’re tapping into a big market opportunity?

And then there’s the question of Google TV vs. the Nexus Q. Are they expecting us to buy two TV-connected devices? Or use Google TV for your TV and the Q is just for music throughout the house? At $300 without speakers? Back in iOS-land, I balk at the thought of spending $300 for nice AirPlay speakers. At least with AirPort Express units throughout your house for streaming music everywhere, you get crazy-good Wifi coverage as a bonus and plenty of places to tether USB devices, too. Good luck with this strategy, Google.

I’m just so confused on so many counts.

But one thing is very clear: after initial concerns about where to put the thing, I’ve decided that it’s fun to have an exotic, alien-esque orb glowing under my TV.

Post updated on 7/1 with a note about Pandora streaming and other minor changes intended to clarify various points.

I admire Steve Jobs. I’ve been aware of him for most of my life, having grown up near “The Valley” and played with computers from my youngest years. However, I wasn’t particularly interested in Jobs until about when most of society became interested in him. In recent years, I harbored a secret desire to work for him at some point in my career. Obviously, that will remain an unfulfilled wish.

So I came to this book with quite a bit of existing knowledge of Jobs. As many have observed, if you’ve already read a few books on Apple or Jobs, you will heard much of the material in the book. That, coupled with the fact that Isaacson seems to have designed the chapters to stand alone and thus repeated himself a large number of times, led to the general feeling that the book was less about learning about Jobs and more about celebrating his life by reviewing what I and any Jobs fan has heard time and time again.

Still, the new insights (and to be fair, there were many) are worth the price of admission. I also enjoyed the strong editorial voice of Mr. Isaacson, casting Objective-Voice-of-God judgment throughout the book. Maybe it’s because I studied history in college, but I’m comfortable with biographers taking a point of view, especially when they’ve cut their teeth so thoroughly as this one has.

The book ends with an essay by Jobs himself, recounting the lessons of his life. This was a sweet, intimate way to close out the narrative–and I think stands as a testament to the respect Isaacson developed for Jobs.

Ultimately, I think we’re left at the end of the book with ambiguity. Yes, Steve built an amazing company, and certainly if a life is judged by the things one creates and nothing else, Steve’s legacy is tough to beat. But his callous regard for others–including his own family–is heart-breaking. If this is the cost of building attractive widgets, I would hope most would not pay the price. And so it is left to all of us to work out whether we can achieve career greatness at a level of Jobs whilst also investing in and achieving greatness in the areas of life that matter most.

I think that’s how nearly all of us view Steve Jobs: as a stereotype–a template–of career success that is so comically exaggerated that it is not for any of us to attempt to emulate, but rather, for all of us to study and from which to extrapolate small lessons for our own lives, adapted to the contexts of our own situations. His life seems like a fairy tale of the modern age in classic three-act play format, with achievements of such heights as to defy man to best them with imaginary ones, these accompanied by extreme character traits at home alongside the strongest characterizations of great fiction. It’s as if life decide to write the Great American Novel–and succeeded.

For all that, I have enormous affection for Steve as a person. Rest in peace, thanks for the memories, and thanks for the Macs.

(I bought both the audiobook and the hardcover edition of this book. I mostly listened to the book, but I did read some portions. The fact I listened to this may have contributed to my view of the book. I appreciated the introduction from Isaacson, but the narrator–an actor whose name escapes me–would not have been my choice. I also wish they had been able to use Steve’s own recorded voice for the last chapter, but perhaps that was not possible.)

About one month ago, Walmart’s Global Electronic Commerce division (i.e., Walmart.com) acquired our entire Set Direction team–the start-up that Dion and I created in late 2010. We’re now anxiously engaged in a multi-year effort to energize Walmart’s efforts in mobile e-commerce.

If you had told me six months ago this would be Set Direction’s outcome, I wouldn’t have believed you. Dion goes into some of the details surrounding the deal, including how we came to know the folks over at Walmart and the steps that led us here.

Joining Walmart.com was a no-brainer once we grasped the size and scope of the opportunity. In my role as Vice-President of Mobile Engineering and Dion’s as Chief Mobile Architect, we’ll tackle together the challenge of creating the world’s best mobile retail applications for some of the biggest and most exciting markets in the world, such as the US, China, Brazil, and many others.

How are we going to create top-quality products for a variety of mobile platforms across all these markets? How will we be able to evolve the apps fast enough to out-maneuver our formidable competitors when we have a gaggle of platforms and markets to support? Will Node.js scale to our needs? 🙂 These are some of the interesting problems we’ll be solving. Sound fun? We think so too.

While Walmart is the world’s largest company and has an army of people already hard at work on managing its extensive software systems, we’ve been given the opportunity to build our own mobile team with a start-up culture within the Global E-commerce group. Think small teams of incredibly talented people being supported by the resources of the world’s largest company.

Want to join us? Drop me a line.

Do you remember how much the Web used to suck?

Not so long ago, we Web developers would have to constantly educate product managers and other business stakeholders about the limitations of HTML; we would often contrast it with so-called “rich client” technologies.

Over the past few years, we’ve all watched with wonder as these boundaries have disappeared and the Ajax revolution brought us a never-ending supply of rich web applications.

And while Ajax started out as web developers leveraging little-used so-called “latent” browser technologies, browser makers haven’t been sitting idle. Modern browsers are acquiring new abilities at a pace not seen since the early years of the Web–most of which are largely unused by today’s web applications.

Dion and I started Ajaxian.com a few years back when we like many others felt that a revolution was about to take place, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to chronicle a bit of it as it happened. We feel like the Web is similarly positioned today, ready for another expansion as developers discover and leverage the next generation of browsers.

Bespin Logo

We’ve been fortunate to do a bit of that expansion ourselves at Mozilla with the Bespin project. What Dion and I started as an experiment to see if we could create a code editor on the Web as responsive as the desktop has turned into a full-fledged project team aiming to revolutionize the way the world writes code.

At the same time the Web has been expanding, we’ve all been blown away as desktop computers have somehow shrunk down to pocket size. Clearly a revolution in hardware is taking place and it doesn’t take a prophet to work out that the future of computing lies along this new trajectory.

However, my enthusiasm for this amazing new world is tempered by some unfortunate decisions made by some of the players in this space. It seems that some view this revolution as a chance to seize power in downright Orwellian ways by constraining what we as developers can say, dictating what kinds of apps we can create, controlling how we distribute our apps, and placing all kinds of limits on what can do to our computing devices.

palm

And so as my good friend and long-time collaborator Dion so eloquently explains over at his blog, he and I have taken an opportunity to work at Palm–at the very intersection of these two exciting technology arcs–and we have the opportunity to run Palm’s developer program and to do things quite a bit differently than some others in the industry have done.

Dion and I believe in the Web platform–an open platform that no single vendor controls–and we believe in empowering and enabling developers. We have been honored to work with so many who feel the same way at Mozilla, we will continue to advocate those values as members of the Mozilla community, and we can’t wait to put these ideals into practice in our work at Palm.

Beyond Dark Castle

I’ve a lot of fond memories from my youth that revolve around the Mac: getting invited over to a girl’s house in the second grade… to play Dark Castle on an early-model Mac; retrofitting my 3rd grade teacher’s Lisa to be Mac-compatible; getting pulled out of classes later on in elementary school to help the school principal with their Mac; learning how to do desktop publishing on the Macs at the neighborhood “Laser Layouts” shop; playing with one at the local software store, etc.

I could never afford one growing up, so it was always this magical machine I could only play with on borrowed time. And I guess the small piece of me that yearned for a Mac during my elementary school years still lives on in some form–I own a few vintage Macs, purchased a few years back.

Dark Castle and its sequel were among my favorite games on those old Macs, so it’s been great fun for me to relive a bit of the past and spend a few minutes playing the recently released remake: Return to Dark Castle. Beats firing up an emulator or obsolete hardware. Well, it’s easier, at least.

Jackie

When my first child starting talking, the way she said “baby” was comical: it was basically two grunts, a high-pitch followed by a low-pitch, which when concatenated sounded roughly like the word itself.

As time went on, she learned how to speak with greater precision, but the funny bit was that for a while, whenever she would say “baby” she would revert back to her earliest versions of the word. So you’d hear fair renditions of words and then the two grunts.

Eventually, she worked it out.

Tonight as I spent time with my fourth child, I noticed the same behavior with a different word. And then it occurred to me. We don’t reproduce the sounds that we hear. Instead, we learn how to produce sounds and, independently, map the sounds we hear to the sounds we’ve learned how to produce. Hence, most of us have really bad accents when we learn new languages–we are mapping a new set of different sounds to the set of existing sounds that we already know how to make. Mismatches are inevitable.

I doubt this will be a revelation to anyone but me, but it did get me wondering: are there some people who can reproduce the sounds they hear with anything near fidelity? Such people would be amazing at learning new languages, among other things.

Is this a skill I can learn? It seems so much more efficient than having to map what I hear to what I know how to say.

Does anyone know?