Monthly Archives: February 2015

Social Tech At Goodnik Demo Day

 

Goodnik is an organization that supports social entrepreneurship by offering workshops, online resources and professional referrals, among other things. On Tuesday I was one of five presenters at Goodnik Demo Day, a showcase for existing businesses and side projects. Other presentations include an IoT platform for climate change, a non-profit travel booking website and a crowd-funding meets food drives initiative. My presentation starts at 4:30 in the above video and I am featured again in the Q&A at the end.

My presentation was a demo of a prototype iPhone app that I have been working on as a side project since last year. The currently unnamed educational app generates a reading list of Wikipedia articles based on any subject. The app keeps track of which articles have been read, has text-to-voice support and can even be controlled the same way as a music playlist. Finally, the app generates test questions based on these same articles. The goal of this project is to facilitate learning via smart algorithms, ease of use and a bit of gamification. I hope to finish the app and release it in the app store at some point but it will probably be quite a while because of my other duties. If you are interested in getting involved with the project feel free to get in touch.

3 Specific Actions You Can Use to Improve Your App

Last night I gave a presentation to the NJ Mobile Developers meetup group titled “3 Specific Actions You Can Use to Improve Your App.” This presentation is short but packed with useful insights for mobile app developers, designers and product people. Here is the presentation:

Car Innovation Will Be Here Faster Than You Think

google driverless car

Google’s Driverless Car (Image: CNN.com)

There has been a lot of news lately about new technological advances being developed for cars. First up is the electric car. Major car manufacturers started out with gas/electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius and begun to move to all electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf. A lot of this innovation by the big manufacturers has been prodded by Tesla, the now widely known electric car company. Adding more fuel to the fire, the rumor this week is that Apple has hundreds of people working on an electric car.

Even more interesting than electric cars are driverless cars. Google already showed off its driverless car last year. More recently, Google is said to be developing a ride-hailing service using its driverless cars and in turn Uber is now working on its own driverless car project to compete with Google. Innovation is also springing out of England, where rules for driverless cars on roads have been approved and a locally designed driverless car has been unveiled. Meanwhile, California has failed to approve driverless cars thus far, potentially hampering Google’s efforts.

If electric and driverless car projects were being developed exclusively by the major car manufacturers and small startups I would be mildly excited. Now that giant technology companies like Google, Apple and Uber (Uber is already huge if their rumored financial results are to be believed), innovation will be fast and furious. The major car manufacturers are terrified with the possibility of competing directly with the brand and money of Apple. Uber is terrified with being leapfrogged by Google in a market they created. What all this means is that there are a lot of companies that are highly motivated to innovate quickly and that electric and driverless cars are going to develop much faster than people expect. I think we could see electric cars go truly mass market by 2017 and driverless taxis being publicly introduced in 2017 and mass market by 2019.

The Greatest PCs of All Time

apple macintosh 1984

On Sundays I enjoy blogging about the history of technology. As my 9th entry, here is a brief discussion of the greatest PCs of all time.


While doing some research I stumbled upon this interesting article titled The 25 Greatest PCs of All Time. I thought it would be fun to go through the list from that and give my thoughts on each choice. At the bottom I will list my own personal top 5.

  1. 1977 Apple II – The Apple II was a genius product of engineering created almost exclusively by Steve Wozniak. The software development community generally likes to talk about 10x’ers – software developers that are as productive as 10 average developers. I think Wozniak an incredible 100x’er in this case, developing both the hardware and the software that was not only years ahead of the competition but also fairly inexpensive thanks to smart design which lead to less components and thus a lower price. I remember briefly using some later version of the Apple II at my elementary school and local library in the 1980s.
  2. 1986 Compaq Deskpro 386 – Compaq was the first company to legally backwards engineer and then clone the IBM PC standard
  3. 1981 Xerox 8010 Information System – The first PC with a bitmapped display, windows style GUI, ethernet and other amazing innovations. This was Xerox’s attempt to capitalize on these amazing innovations but because of its high price and intended use to be part of a network of computers it never gained significant market share. Apple and then in turn Microsoft famously incorporated these ideas for their own hardware and software products.
  4. 1986 Apple Macintosh Plus – The original Macintosh famously launched in 1984 but this is the third versions launched two years later. Because of the original’s hardware limitations, high price and limited software this model was probably chosen for this list because it finally hit the right value proposition and had a more mature software lineup. My first computer was one of the mid 80s Apple Macintosh computers with the 9″ black and white built in monitor so I have fond memories. I remember writing papers and making simple bitmap images back in first grade on my Macintosh.
  5. 1992 IBM ThinkPad 700C – The IBM ThinkPad was the professional business laptop of the 1990s
  6. 1981 IBM Personal Computer, Model 5150 – The original line of IBM PCs was famously designed in about a year based on off-the-shelf parts, a modified version of CP/M / QDOS soon to be known as MS-DOS. This computer wasn’t very impressive at the time but because of its IBM brand and the soon to be widespread ecosystem of clones, it became the standard for the entire industry (besides Apple of course).
  7. 1985 Commodore Amiga 1000 – Commodore computers were huge sellers throughout Europe in the 1980s. The Amiga line was known as a very powerful gaming platform.
  8. Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 - The Tandy brand in the US is known as the Radio Shack brand of computers that were popular in the 1980s. They were not exactly known for their quality but this model was particularly popular, having sold more than 6 million units.
  9. 1982 Columbia Data Products MPC 1600-1 – One of the early IBM clones
  10. 1991 Apple PowerBook 100 – A successful early 90s laptop from Apple. Perhaps the last truly successful Apple product before Steve Jobs’s return and the launch of the iMac much later in the decade?
  11. 1998 Sony VAIO 505GX – A popular ultraportable laptop
  12. 1975 MITS Altair 8800 – The true first PC. It had no keyboard, no mouse and no monitor but it kicked off the entire PC industry so it deserves its place in history.
  13. 1984 IBM Personal Computer/AT Model 5170 – The second generation of IBM branded PCs
  14. 1979 Atari 800 – Atari, primarily known for its arcade games and home video game consoles, also produced a line of PCs. This was one of the original models.
  15. 2001 Shuttle SV24 Barebone System – Chinese manufactured small form factor PC
  16. 1977 Tandy TRS-80 Model I – See #8 above
  17. 1987 Toshiba T1000 – Semi-portable computer that had a laptop style form factor and battery powered option
  18. 1993 Hewlett-Packard OmniBook 300 – “Superportable” laptop
  19. 2002 Apple iMac, second generation – Even though my first computer was an Apple Macintosh, once I received my first PC in 1995 I never considered Apple a serious computing platform for a long time.  I remember the writing department of my University had a line of iMacs in the early 2000′s and I thought they looked stupid and plain sucked. Looking back, I still think the early iMacs sucked but they saved the company so there’s that.
  20. 1996 Gateway 2000 Destination – Gateway was a popular discount PC manufacturer that came in tacky cow print boxes. My first PC was a Packard Bell so I can’t trash Gateway too much.
  21. 1998 Alienware Area-51 – Alienware (now owned by Dell) is a gaming centered line of PCs. The mid to late 90s was an amazing time of growth for 3D accelerator cards and awesome PC games.
  22. 1993 Hewlett-Packard 100LX – Tiny black and white computer. I’m sure it had it’s fans at the time but it hardly seems useful even by 1993 standards.
  23. 1997 Apple eMate 300 – Low cost laptop that ran the Newton operating system. It was thankfully discontinued a year later.
  24. 2006 Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV650 – Large high end laptop
  25. 1982 Non-Linear Systems Kaypro II – CP/M based computer that got swept away when the IBM PC standard was introduced

OK so here’s my personal top 5 PCs list:

  1. Apple II (1977) – the first mass market PC
  2. MITS Altair (1975) – the beginning of the PC market
  3. Apple Macintosh (1984) – the first mass market GUI based PC
  4. Compaq Portable (1983) – first 100% compatible IBM PC clone and was also somewhat portable to boot
  5. Macbook Pro (2006) – an odd choice considering the others, but for the last decade these have been the development platform of choice for software developers. This dominance should not be overlooked as one of the primary drivers that have helped Apple become the most profitable company in the world.

Console Wars Book Review

console-wars-book

On Sundays I enjoy blogging about the history of technology. As my 8th entry, here is my review of the book Console Wars by Blake J. Harris.


I grew up a Sega kid. Not only did I have a Sega Genesis but I also had a Master System, Sega CD, Saturn and well… pretty much everything besides the infamous 32x. Heck, I even won a free vacation for winning a Sonic 3 competition. Most of my friends growing up had Nintendo and Super Nintendo so I got a chance to play the best stuff from both companies. I liked both Sega and Nintendo but when it came down to it I stuck with Sega.

For people who grew up gamers in the 80s and 90s, and especially fans of Sega, then Console Wars (2014, Blake J. Harris) is for you. Console Wars covers the epic battle between Sega of America and Nintendo of America during the 16-bit console era. This book doesn’t cover the details of game development but rather provides an inside look at the American operations of both firms.

Console Wars starts off on the wrong foot with the laziest, stupidest foreword of all time by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The duo is working on a movie adaptation of the book which hopefully involves a bit more effort. Thankfully, following the foreword the rest of the book is fantastic.

tom-kalinske

Tom Kalinske - Alan Levenson/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images

Right away we are introduced to the main protagonist, Tom Kalinske. Kalinske is one of the most interesting figures in American business history, having been responsible for defending Flintstones chewable vitamins in front of Congress, the revival of Barbie and Hot Wheels at Mattel, launching the He-Man series and more recently CEO of children’s educational company Leapfrog. If you are a marketing professional then Kalinske should be on your list of heroes. The book mostly chronicles Kalinske’s perspective as a video game industry outsider asked to come in as CEO of Sega of America from 1990 through 1996.

Back in college I remember reading boring business case studies and I always thought the Sega Genesis marketing strategy should be a required reading. If nothing else, this book goes into amazing detail on every facet of Sega of America’s incredible marketing job spearheaded by Kalinske, Al Nilsen and other Sega executives from 1991-1994. In a few short years, Sega’s American home console market share went from 5% to 50%, even slightly edging out Nintendo for a brief period of time. Considering Sega had about 10% of the marketing budget of Nintendo and little name recognition it was an incredible accomplishment. Many of us remember “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t”, the Sega Scream and “blast processing” but the more in depth details covered in this book are particularly fascinating. For example, I had no idea that Sonic 2uesday (the release date of Sonic 2) was the first global launch of a game in history. I particularly liked the details covering the national Sega Genesis promotional mall tour since I remember playing Sonic for the first time at Raceway Mall tour stop. I ended up getting a Genesis soon after so it worked for me.

Here’s a look at how Sega’s commercials evolved throughout the 16-bit era, featuring ads from 1989, 1991 and 1993:

As you would expect, Nintendo is covered in detail as well. Nintendo is portrayed as the rich, arrogant but wholesome antagonist to the scrappy, crass Sega. One of the more interesting angles that the book dives into is Nintendo’s successful but albeit questionable business practices. It’s been known that Nintendo had underhanded business practices in the NES era (such as the exclusivity contract that prevented third party publishers from also releasing games on rival platforms) but the book really drives home the point of how poorly Nintendo treated all of its business partners and the rest of the industry. From retailers to third parties to gaming magazines to parts suppliers, Nintendo’s business practices opened the door for Sega to come in and gain support from everyone that was tired of Nintendo’s antics. When Sega stumbled in the 32-bit era, Sony came in to take their place as the favored console maker partner.

It took Nintendo a few years but they finally responded to Sega’s aggressive advertising techniques. Here is an example from 1993 promoting the game Donkey Kong Country:

As we now know, Sega’s rise was short lived and they soon fell from grace and eventually out of the home console business entirely. Console Wars covers that in detail as well and displays how quickly jealously and egos can destroy even the most talent rich and successful organizations. Between the fall of their console business and the decline of the arcade industry in general Sega never really had a chance to recover and was acquired by Japanese Pachinko maker Sammy years later. A further reminder of how times have changed happened this week as Sega Sammy announced that they are laying off 300 workers and closing their San Francisco office. Nintendo has faired much better, having had great success with their Wii home console and Nintendo DS portable. More recently though, Nintendo has started to struggle in both their home and portable console markets and seems to be at their own personal crossroads as a business. It will be interesting to see how they respond in the coming years.

Here are some additional tidbits of the book that I found particularly fascinating:

  • Sega turned down both Sony and Silicon Graphics as part of their 32-bit console partner development process. Sega of America attempted to set up both relationships and was turned down both times by Sega of Japan in favor of Japanese chipmaker Hitachi. The Sega Saturn was crippled by a confusing architecture and high price thanks to it’s Hitachi architecture and allowed Sony to come in and take over the industry with their Playstation. I always thought the 32x was the biggest mistake Sega ever made but now I think they could have recovered if either their Sony or Silicon Graphics partnership were allowed to go through.
  • Yuji Naka (lead programmer and later producer of the Sonic series) actually quit Sega after Sonic 1 and was only brought over to the US to work on Sonic 2 after the fact. According to the book he was being paid a paltry $30,000. I could possibly understand if Sonic was his first game but he had already proven himself as an incredible talent having worked on Phantasy Star and several other successful games. Sega executives also complained that it took the Sonic 2 development team fourteen months instead of the usual ten to create the game. It’s amazing how much times have changed as some games now take up to five years to complete!
  • The story of how Donkey Kong Country was funded is truly amazing. I won’t spoil the details so read the book.
  • In general I love the insider stories detailing the hatred between Sega and Nintendo executives. Whether it’s in-person confrontations, confrontational phone calls or nasty letters I get the warm and fuzzies inside just thinking about it. In the end though it was nice to read that Nintendo of America’s Howard Lincoln wrote Tom Kalinske a nice send off letter when Kalinske left Sega.

Console Wars is a great read and I highly recommend it.