Life is a Mystery

28 July 2010 . Comments Off

Anchoring yourself

I noticed long ago that our salaries tend to only be flexible at certain moments in time. One of these moments is the hire. I would always encourage staff, especially women, to ask for a bigger salary than they were being offered. There is no harm in asking, and there may be some flex in what you are being offered. Your employer will never be as flexible as they are at the moment of hire and all your future salary increases will be based on where you start. It is worth making some attempt to reset that starting point, I would counsel.

Today I came across an article that helps me understand the dynamic I was unconsciously tussling with: the anchoring effect. David McRaney describes it mostly in terms of sales and purchasing:

You walk into a clothing store and see what is probably the most bad ass leather jacket you’ve ever seen.

You try it on, look in the mirror and decide you must have it. While wearing this item, you imagine onlookers will clutch their chests and gasp every time you walk into a room or cross a street.You lift the sleeve to check the price – $1,000.

Well, that’s that, you think. You start to head back to the hanger when a salesperson stops you.

“You like it?”

“I love it, but it’s just too much.”

“No, that jacket is on sale right now for $400.”

Its expensive, and you don’t need it really, but $600 off the price seems like a great deal for a coat which will increase your cool by a factor of 11.

You put it on the card, unaware you’ve been tricked by the oldest retail con in the business.

It seems that we are wired to anchor our impressions of a number on a prior number we have associated with that item, whether or not that prior number has any basis in reality. This is what manufacturers suggested retail price is about. You may not be able to defend yourself from this anchoring effect even if you know about it. Read the article, I dare you to not succumb to the anchor.

But knowing about it, you may at least be able to use it to help yourself out from time to time. Be prepared to name a high anchor when it matters. And it matters when negotiating a starting salary. Aim high, it is your only real chance to do so, and they want you so they will at least entertain the notion. Value yourself, use the anchor!

Money. Some rights reserved by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

26 July 2010 . Comments Off

Some copyright sanity

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires that the Librarian of Congress check in every three years with a determination of the kinds of works that should be exempt from DMCA enforcement. Today James Billington made the fourth determination of this sort, and one that has me very excited. After a rulemaking proceeding conducted by the Register of Copyright, he has designated six classes of non-infringing use of DRM (digital restrictions managment) circumvention.

By far the biggest news is that “university professors” and “college and university film and media studies students” may rip DVDs for “educational uses”. This has a direct impact on my household, where we have found we had to do this to support media work by my partner, a college professor. Even better, this kind of use is also allowed for “documentary filmmaking” and “noncommercial videos”! There are limits, but they seem reasonable. Mainly this circumvention of DRM is only allowed “solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment”.

Other interesting classes of circumvention allowed by this rulling…

  • You may circumvent ebook protections in order to enable software or screen readers to read the ebook aloud.
  • You may jailbreak and/or unlock your own cell phone.
  • You may bypass an obsolete dongle that prevents the use of software you still need.
  • You may test, investigate, and correct security flaws and vulnerabilities in computer games you own.

Thank you, Librarian of Congress!

James H Billington

12 July 2010 . Comments Off

Kids code too

Google seems to understand the future. I’m afraid Apple may be missing the boat.

Many months back, soon after first starting to use the iPad, Alex and I wrote a simple little program for the pad that got rejected Apple’s App Store. After some back and forth with the App Store I wrote a note to Steve Jobs because I wanted to go on record about the danger of Apple’s tight fisted approach to development and plead for a more open approach. I was particularly worried about the impact on kids.

I am worried that we are making it impossible for kids
to fall in love with the creative side of computing. I believe that computers are instruments, like a cello or a pen, they are tools with which we create, not just consume. I have tried to raise my kids to look beyond the surface of these wonderful devices, to reach in and learn to create with them. My eldest son has come through Lego, to AppleScript, to Cocoa. My younger son has learned to experiment with Scratch. Both love their Macs, iPods, and have had a blast with the iPad.

I lamented the banning of Scratch from the App Store, and the expense kids faced if they wanted to write iOS apps. I never did get a response, but I’ve reproduced the letter itself below the fold in case you are interested.

Meanwhile, last week I started using an Google’s Nexus One phone and started paying attention to Android development options. Low and behold, today I read about Google’s App Inventor for Android project. App Inventor is a visual programming environment to allow kids to write Android apps.

I think Google understands something Apple has forgotten. It is vital that we nurture our kids’ curiosity about the devices they use. The best way to do that is to let them have some agency, to give them tools to create with those devices. Even Nathaniel, the non-coder in our family, has told me he wants to write games for his iPhone. Maybe I’ll have to get him an Android device some day if Apple does not come to its senses.

My full letter to Steve is below the fold, if you care to read it.
Read the rest of this entry »

9 July 2010 . Comments Off

A day with Android

Those who know me know that I am a real Apple fan, and not the sort who discovered Apple with the iPod or iPhone. I discovered Apple with the Apple ][nex, fell in love with the Macintosh, followed Steve to NeXT where I learned Unix and NExTSTEP, and was blown away when these worlds merged into the renewed Apple and Cocoa/xCode. I am an Apple fan, and a real fan of the discipline and taste Steve Jobs brings to the company.

So it is odd that at this point I am the only person in my little family without an iPhone. Mary bought an iPhone two years ago, and has loved it. This summer she upgraded to the iPhone 4, gave her old 3G to Nathaniel, and Alex bought another iPhone 4 for college. Me? I’ve got a Motorola F3, practically no phone at all! I’ve resisted the iPhone for a lot of reasons, mostly to do with monthly costs that just don’t feel justifiable to me when I spend most of my days at home basking in the glow of WiFi. My reasons also include a deep discomfort of the way Apple is running the app store, even though I love the iPhone SDK and development environment.

This year my brother got a free Nexus One at the TED conference. Although I put in my plug for it the very day he got it, I only finally got it in the mail. It seems his daughter wanted to give it a go, and brothers just can’t compete with daughters, which is as it should be! Now I have an Android phone, I slipped my SIM out of the Motorola and have been using it for a day.

The Nexus One is a beautiful machine. Not quite as beautiful as any iteration of the iPhone, but very very close. It feels good in the hand, it has a wonderful screen (until you compare it to the Retina Display of the latest iPhone), and with the Android 2.2 operating system that came out just this week, it is as peppy and responsive as any device I’ve used. Google has done a wonderful job polishing the device and the OS to work really well together. If the iPhone didn’t exist, this phone would be outstanding!

There are a number of things Android does better than the iOS operating system in the iPhone. Multitasking is much more full-fledged than even in the new iOS4, enabling all kinds of nifty features. Widgets were a revelation to me, allowing me to place essentially larger versions of app icons on my phone desktop which contain live-updating information like the next calendar entry, current weather, latest headline, or most recent tweet. This makes the Android phone useful at a glance, where the iPhone is only useful after a tap on some app or other. Android also handles notifications much more gracefully than iOS. The status bar at the top of an Android device is a live notification zone that flashes brief messages and can be pulled down like a windowshade to reveal details about past notices. I can’t tell you how often I wished that the status bar on my iPad or Mary’s iPhone was “alive” to reveal more information, the Android windowshade is brilliant.

Android’s deeper implementation of multitasking also provides the user with a very different navigation model than the iPhone.

Most iPhone apps allow you to, essentially, move back and forth through a tree of information, like a hierarchical menu structure. As you leave one app and launch another, you enter a new tree. Depending on the app, when you return it may put you back on the same branch of the tree, or it may just plop you down on the trunk again. Multitasking on iOS allows you to decide when you want to jump from one tree to another more spontaneously, and makes it easier for the developer to make sure you land on the same branch when you return, but the trees still feel very independent of one another.

It took me some getting used to, but Android is a whole different beast. In Android, the apps are not really trees, they interact, intermingle, and the navigation moves seamlessly from one app to the next. I think this is why Android has a dedicated “back” button, so you can always go back to the last thing you were looking at. If an Android app brings up a web page, a simple click on that back button returns you to the original app and the very view you were looking at. You can, in fact, retrace all your steps right back to the home page this way. The experience is much more fluid than in iOS. I find myself forgetting the boundaries between apps altogether, the device become one whole organism more than the collection of apps I feel on the iPad or iPhone.

I am surprised to find that I am a big fan of Android! But it has some equally deep flaws. Flaws that may be showstoppers for me, and certainly may cause problems for real world users.

The Nexus One was commissioned by Google and built by HTC. These are two companies that know Android inside out and have a lot of experience building what David Pogue likes to refer to as “app phones.” And yet the N1 has wretched battery life. Left fully charged on my night table it was at 36% charge the next morning. An iPhone on the neighboring night stand still showed 100% charge in the morning. I have not been able to get through a whole day of normal use (for me anyway) without running down the battery. I’ve had it for a little less than two days and have already had to charge it three times. And it charges very slowly (at least with the USB cable). This poor battery life is probably closely related to the fabulous multitasking I so enjoyed. That takes power. Apple has constrained iOS in ways that feel draconian to developers and dysfunctional to some users, but these measures are aimed at conserving energy. And it works. Apple also makes much more radical hardware decisions, such as using a non-standard battery that virtually oozes into all the free space of the iPhone to give it as much power storage capacity as possible. Some reviewers count this as a negative, but I see the resulting longevity of the device as a big positive for real world users. The battery life itself almost makes the Nexus One a loser (and you will find many Android phones suffer from the same problem, read the reviews before you buy!).

While I love the freedom and fluidity of the Android OS, I am also a longtime avid computer user with a high tolerance for complexity. I like all the options I have in Android. I can follow the subtle flow from one app domain to the next, I notice the relationships between the widgets and the apps. But I imagine to many real world users this stuff will feel like magic. Some good, some quite dark. What app do you blame when something goes wrong? Why is the phone suddenly so slow? Why does the phone ring, but the screen present no way to answer the call? Where is that setting I was looking for? Android feels like it is aimed at a tech-savvy user, much like Linux. Most of the people I know will feel much more masterful using an iOS device. And being the master of your technology is an important factor in being comfortable with it.

Finally, I hate to say it, but the Android “Market” is no “App Store.” I thought the App Store had poor navigation and search until I met Market. It is not horrible, it does the trick, but it brings no joy to the experience of finding an app. And many key apps (Skype anyone?) are missing altogether. The technology press seems to believe that this will change, that many developers are going to jump on the Android bandwagon. I’m not so sure. For one thing, they are underestimating the seductive power of xCode, Cocoa, and the iOS framework. These are all tools that are over 15 years old! They started at NeXT and have been polished to a stunning glow at Apple. Developers who now experience the Apple way are, I believe, going to find it very hard to pull away. And porting to Android is no trivial feat. It is a whole different and less forgiving development toolkit (Eclipse), with a tougher programming language (Java), and much younger toolkit (GWT). The differences in the underlying navigation paradigms I discuss above also mean that many apps have to rethink at least a few basic assumptions before they are reborn. This is not super difficult, but it is also not trivial. I think it will take a few years for Android to attract these developers, and a few years more in Apple’s hands is a pretty big iOS advantage.

That said, this is also where Apple is by far the most vulnerable. As seductive as coding for iOS can be, the endpoint is only one place: the App Store. In my view Apple has been very abusive of its oversight of the App Store. Developers are starting to get very upset and quite verbal about their displeasure. If Apple does not significantly alter its ways in the next year or two, all bets are off. They could very well lose to Android as it improves and developers are pushed out by Apple itself.

I’ll be giving Android development a whirl. I have a trivial app of my own that Apple rejected. I’ll see what it takes to make it an Android app, maybe I’ll find the tools much more of a pleasure than I imagine.

Meanwhile, my bottom line is that I really like the Nexus One and Android 2.2. It is a wonderful device. I just wish it could keep its eyes open for at least a whole day at a time!

nexusone.jpg

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org