Tag Archives: Apple

From Hot Air to Second Wind (Part 2)

We begin Part 2 of ‘From Hot Air to Second Wind’ with the final paragraph of Part 1, but we encourage you to read the introduction in full before starting the conclusion, mainly because it is not the conclusion, and doesn’t come after it, either. That is one reason that it is called something with a “1” in the name. Go ahead, read it, we’ll wait for you… Okay, then, here we go:

I was becoming one guy on the job, another guy everywhere else. After about a month of looking at meeting rooms full of unhappy harried faces, I stumbled upon a realization that would make me a congruent person for the home stretch of the contest: I recognized that I had better relationships off the job, when I was uniquely, solely “me,” than on the job, when I was a group member, one of “us.” I seized on this revelation like a stick shift and slammed it into overdrive.

To this point, I had been holding meetings and occasionally passing out some memos with sales figures, contest updates, bumpersticker boosterisms. The standard corporate fare. Armed with my new, enlightened outlook, I decided to make the sales-contest memos more entertaining, more “me.”

In the final five weeks of the contest, I cranked out about 150 “entertaining” memos; that’s right, four or five a day. Now, calling these productions “memos” is both too little and too much definition; some were undisguised, unadorned comic strips or short stories. What made them memos in any Websterian sense was that they had the words “Date,” “To,” and “From” on them, and “Subject” somewhere close by, usually near the top of the first page. 

And so I distributed my parodies, plays, and perorations; fraudulent celebrity interviews and fake book reviews; drawings, clippings, and doodles; jokes, insults, rumors, and limericks. Within days I had the happiest team in the contest. They contributed ideas, took copies home for friends, showered me with compliments; I was getting to know them, and they were getting to know me.

But by the end of the sales contest, I had learned another important lesson: Stay balanced. You see, I was too busy making people laugh to concentrate on sales goals and contest rules. I forgot that the idea was for me to motivate the team to better results. The pendulum had swung too far in the other direction, and got stuck.

We lost the contest.

The Big Lesson for me was that balance is essential to a successful life. I knew enough to try to spice up the dreary, empty-hype grind of a branch sales contest; but I didn’t know when to stop with the seasoning, already. I couldn’t seem to find a balance between steady sweaty effort and stress-relieving humor. 

The Big Lesson sank in. I left the computer supply biz; within a year I was writing and publishing an agonizingly precious humor mag called “Pedantic Monthly”; a couple of years after that, having joined the new Macintosh “desktop publishing revolution,” I was flying back to Boston to help some folks bring their national political bi-weekly to that new platform; and then, for another decade after that, I had my hands full running production for a magazine publisher, consulting, composing and performing original music, and writing essays, rants, and raves just for people like you.

There is a direct line from those silly sales-contest memos to the recollection of them that you are reading now. They changed my life. Writing was too serious an undertaking for me to squander my talent on corporate memoranda.

Still, being a philologic pack-rat does have its advantages, especially when it’s close to deadline and I need even more verbiage than I’ve already crammed into whatever weighty piece I’m producing. Having produced about a pound of quixotic and querulous memos way back when, writer’s block is a non-issue. I can reach into that bulging (and forever non-digitized) Pendaflex folder of fustian and flippancy, and transform yesterday’s hot air into today’s second wind.

Ah, the benefits of recycling.

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Porn Drove Tech Boom, Part 3 of 3

Here is Part 1, and Part 2, and Part 3 is down there.

“The means of distribution are transforming,” Graham Travis of Elegant Angel said presciently in 2010, “and potential customers are less and less likely to part with their hard-earned money due to the sheer extent of free porn online.” This meant, clearly, that successful porn companies had to push the envelope again, and harder, to develop products and services that answer the age-old query, “How do we compete with ‘free’?”

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The 21st Century: Brought to you by people like Larry Flynt, John Holmes, and, you know, all those Kardashian people. Same difference! Like, whoa!

IPTV is growing quickly, offering a multitude of alternatives. “Freely surfing the Internet through [any] TV set is just a matter of time,” Travis predicted then. Of course, visionary porn firms did not wait to get started with content, which they began to make download-ready for everything with a screen. Joshua, CEO and director at skinworXXX, was also certain early on (2009) that “digital downloads will become more and more prevalent for movies, and products such as Apple TV will become more and more prevalent” in the future.

“iPorn” sounded about right

Joshua began preparing for the future years ago. “We have already prepared HD digital downloads of [our movies] and will do so,” he announced in late 2009, “with each and every movie we shoot [starting in 2010].” Among the largest growth areas anticipated was the mobile market for—well, everything.

With iPhones, WiFi iPods, Chromebooks and netbooks, Android phones, and tablet PCs, people began taking their adult entertainment on the road as well as downloading it during the journey. The high-tech umbilical cord had arrived, in all its invisible wireless and broadband glory, and one of the best, fastest growing entertainment providers on the web at the dawn of this enlightened era was… the Apple App Store.

It can be costly to make (softcore) iPhone apps for every porn performer in a company’s filmography. Adam & Eve took a thoughtful, measured approach to this particular technology. “We reserve the iPhone apps for our contract stars,” says Katy Zvolerin. Apps named “Adam & Eve’s Bree Olson” and “Adam & Eve’s Kayden Kross” were the debut titles in late 2009, and scores of other “starlet apps” represent both classic and current Adam & Eve starlets.

“The apps include some great images, of course, along with bios and news” about the stars, Zvolerin adds. Users, who pay less than two dollars for an app, can use the images as wallpaper, create custom slideshows, and email favorite pics to friends. The trend toward social networking goes hand-in-hand with the use of apps facilitating “sharable content,” which dovetails nicely into porn companies’ viral, social, and experiential marketing plans, too.

And what about Blu-ray?

Zvolerin had decided by 2010 that Adam & Eve would limit its Blu-ray releases to “top productions and stars,” another smart move given the cost. Joshua from skinworXXX agreed even then, opining that “Blu-ray, as great as it is, is cost-prohibitive for both adult and mainstream,” and did not see it as a big growth area, much less a money-maker. On the other hand, as many salespeople will tell you, there are still plenty of consumers who want to hold a physical product in their hands, and Blu-ray gives them the best viewing experience, bar none (so far).

Andrew Blake, who should need no introduction to film critics or fans, told this writer several years ago that he likes “the physical object as part of my appreciation, whatever the art form. I like to sit down with a physical object, sit comfortably to read a book, watch a movie.” He speaks for many porn consumers, too, when he reiterates his belief “in the physical object, not the virtual one. I want to get my hands on it as well as put my head into it.”

Elegant Angel’s Travis played it smart, realizing that there would always be “a significant market for hard products,” and his firm has maintained a strong, focused presence on the BR-DVD lists. Blu-ray players (not recorders) have dropped to less than $50, and when they hit the commodity-price level of $29 sometime this coming year, tech and porn observers may need to revisit the topic. Perhaps BR will catch on, and maybe it won’t. In Joshua’s original estimation, still as accurate three years on, it “just doesn’t have a strong enough foothold in the business to last.”

Bottom lines

Today’s porn business reflects a very consolidated marketplace with far fewer production studios than just three years ago, and is in the midst of all manner of realignments, including a geographical one. Porn is being made in the Sunbelt, the South, and particularly Florida, now that California has become downright inhospitable to business and L.A. now has sicced the condom cops on the porn studios.

It was the desire for titillation and sex play that drove the development and proliferation of digital video and other technologies, and as the economy recovers, so will the creative energies of inventors and innovators. They know there is a constant demand for quality fare. When skinworXXX’s Joshua talks about making high-quality films, he means to push the envelope of technology “and sex, as well.” This is the attitude that made porn the world-changer that it can still be.

Advocates of “slowed-down science”—more accurately, a moratorium on scientific progress, famously (or notoriously, depending on your perspective) promoted by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy—may wish to reflect that the true price of their proposal is a joyless, dour, pornless, parochial, paranoid police state. Halting progress to clean up the Internet and “stop war” is a much faster and more dependable way to bring about The End Of Life As We Know It than any possible Frankenfood, irradiated children, or computer war games gone bad.

Cogitation 101: Science and Technology

You don’t have to go “full tilt Foucault” to believe that words have great power, and when wrought and wielded in certain ways can utterly fail in their assigned tasks to explain and enlighten. We face that situation today with the words “science” and “technology”—two words often used quite interchangeably, even in places where people should take some care (colleges, laboratories, the media).

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So what is the difference? Is Apple’s MacBook Pro a scientific breakthrough or a technological construction? Both? Neither? Something else entirely? Since it actually does matter, and will provide a foundation for further (real) understanding, let’s take about 500 words and a few minutes to go over some things.

Basic definitions = clear distinctions

Science is a systematized, evolving body (or “base”) of knowledge. Within a particular field, one can trust that following a series of steps will result in the outcome predicted. As evidence accumulates, an initial “hypothesis” or testable proposition becomes a “theory” of explanatory and predictive power.

The various pursuits of knowledge employing this methodology are what we know as “the sciences”—physics, biology, geography, chemistry, physics, and so on. Some 44 years’ worth of advances in computer science, for example, are represented by today’s basic, entry-level computer that’s incalculably more powerful than the primitive contraption that took Americans to the moon in 1969.

Technology is another thing altogether, the application of knowledge (or science) to problem-solving and service provision, primarily via manmade tools and devices. If we allow that science is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, for the evolving knowledge base, then technology is the practical application of that knowledge to meet people’s needs and solve their problems. Advancing solar energy science would lead to such technologies as more-efficient solar panels, for instance.

Science explains, technology performs

Science has analysis in mind, following which come generalizations, then the crafting of theories. Experiments are a way of controlling and defining discoveries, so excellence in science requires creativity, logical thinking, and the usual “x factor” that eludes definition, like Steve Jobs’ star quality and that of his game-changing iMac that revolutionized (modern) computing.

And technology? It brings design to the mix, as well as invention, production, process, construction, testing and measurement, quality control, and synthesis—thus possibly beginning the cycle again with new ideas, even new science, leading to ever-newer technology, and on and on.

To summarize:

Science studies specific subjects, technology applies what is learned.

Science analyzes the data, technology synthesizes a design.

Science is theory, technology is process.

It’s really quite practical and sensible, this “science and technology” lesson, as they both conspire to do us good at every turn even when we misuse them for ill. When the human imagination conjures up positive new ideas to replace the old, great things happen in science. When allowed to fly, creativity always takes wing.

That creative energy is amplified many times over as motivated parties all over the world turn sterile science into useful, productive, empowering, and, yes, fun technology. There’s the occasional nuclear bomb, sure, but it’s only slightly more dangerous than the testosterone that fueled the Manhattan Project, truth be told. Keep the latter in check, and we’ll likely have fewer of the former.

That Was Then, This Is Now

With all the talk about how prices on this, that, and the other thing are always going up, let’s stop a moment and bow, or at least give a polite nod, toward Silicon Valley, Poughkeepsie, and Boston’s Route 128. A rather more reverent appreciation is due entrepreneurialism, capitalism, and the pursuit of happiness. Over the past 40 years, the tech titans of the FPCE (Founding PC Era) have given us the greatest ongoing upgrade at the biggest continuing discount ever. The saga of the personal computer is as fantastic a tale as any sci-fi story ever.

Progress through self-seeking

In fact, truth isn’t just stranger than fiction—it’s often got more magic and miracles in it, too. And, I hasten to add, the progress whose techie little handiwork you enjoy daily is brought to you by a whole parade of people, groups, companies, and cabals all pursuing their own ends, competing more often than cooperating, looking to make a buck, and generally proving Adam Smith right.

PC - Going Back in Time

The longer you’ve been using computers—and some of us had the original Apple, Tandy (Radio Shack), and Timex Sinclair models in the 1970s—the more you can appreciate the astonishing speed of progress. This is a tale that everyone working with computers really should know, and uses terms that everyone really should understand. If you don’t understand a kilo-this from a mega-that, you will never get the full impact of this amazing tale. So read on—you’ll be glad you did.

You can visit PC.net or one of the other great online tech glossaries when you see a new term, but I’ve written such a way that you should understand much of it in context. Some of you, of course, are true experts, so if I’ve erred in any way, by commission or omission, let me know. I’m going to demonstrate just how much technological progress has been made in “personal computing.” It really is an awe-inspiring tale.

Basic computers in 1981

IBM introduced its first consumer-level personal computer in August of 1981, running on an Intel 8088 CPU with a clock speed of 4.77MHz, or 4.77 million cycles per second. It came with either 16 or 64kB of RAM, expandable to a whopping 256kB. It connected to a TV or a monitor, and gave you storage options that included one or two 5¼-inch floppy drives, an optional 10MB external hard drive, or your own cassette recorder. The software bundle? It came with an operating system. Nothing else.

With a monitor and a single floppy drive (giving you 180kB storage per single sided disk) it cost $3005 in 1981 dollars. Depending on how you figure it—Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one common method—today it would take about $2.57 to buy what a dollar bought in 1981. Translation: That IBM-PC computer would cost $7,722.85 (in today’s dollars). Now let’s see what type of desktop computer you can get today.

High-end computers of today

Entry-level computers today are thousands of times faster and more productive than the IBM-PC. The H-P xw8400 was a high-end model in 2006, but it’s still a decent workhorse today and, arguably, is better than many newer models as an entry-level workstation. It features dual 2.66GHz quad-core Xeon processors, meaning eight separate CPUs. A single one runs almost 600 times faster than the IBM CPU, so we’re talking almost 5,000 times as fast with a rough clock speed comparison.

The xw8400’s 160GB hard drive, one-sixth the size of most desktop internal drives these days, holds close to million (932,000) times as much data as that single floppy. There are now hard drives 2TB in size selling for $80—that’s 250MB for a penny, versus the floppy’s 250MB for $7,500 ($30 per MB). That’s 750,000 times less expensive.

For the monitor, the comparison is between today’s 16 million crisp clear colors, precisely displayed by about 2.3 million pixels, with about 9,700 pixels per square inch—and a black-and-white TV with 480 wiggly lines for the entire screen. Today a 20-to-24-inch flat-panel display, bargain basement variety (which are darn good), would set you back as little as $100.

In 1985, when you could get a color MacII for $3,898 without a hard drive, or $5,498 with an internal 40 MB hard drive, you still had to buy a video card and a monitor. That would come to an additional five grand or so. Color system with 40MB hard drive: Over $10,000. Today?

How about we just say, “Infinitely more for infinitely less” and leave it at that?

Bottom line

Today, you can store a million times as much, crunch numbers thousands of times faster, and watch videos in beautiful, high-definition color. For a few hundred bucks you can buy a pocket-sized tablet incalculably more powerful than the room-sized, air-conditioned behemoth that helped send Apollo 11 to the moon—and you don’t have to be a programmer to use it, either.

Apple: From ‘Insanely Great’ to Greatly Insane

When Apple puts on one of its press extravaganzas, as it did this week on Tuesday, the entire world expects “insanely great” product introductions, every time. Fact is, Apple needs another of its occasional “boosts” as the phone biz is getting saturated, the iPad is getting some good competition, computer sales are tanking, and Apple seems to be flailing around a bit. So what did the world get from the Cupertino brain trust on Tuesday?

We will continue to monitor the reactions, but it is doubtful that the “insanely great” level was achieved (one pundit called it “half-awesome at best”). This was especially so at Wednesday’s Beijing follow-up non-event, where it was thought Apple would announce a big phone deal with China’s #1 carrier. Instead, Apple just rebroadcast its Tuesday presentations.

The day before, in Cupertino, Apple had killed the iPhone 5 in favor of the new, multicolored iPhone 5C low-end model and the metallic-hued, twice-as-potent iPhone 5S; announced the release date for iOS 7; promised free iWork apps to new iOS device buyers; and introduced the Touch ID sensor, a fingerprint reader built into the Home button. Some good stuff, sure—but is it enough?

Let’s Break It Down

iPhone 5C — With phones half of Apple’s profits it’s no longer the iconic iMac that represents Apple to the world. The iPhone 5C is now Apple’s entry-level phone dressed up in bright hues: blue, white, green, yellow, and pink. With two-year contracts, a 16GB model is $100 and a 32GB model is $200. The specs are mid-range today, or consider it a high-end model from 2012. It carries over the iPhone 5’s 8-megapixel rear camera and A6 processor, and has a 4-inch version of the incredible Retina Display. Pre-orders for the iPhone 5C begin September 13, and in-store sales on September 20.

iPhone 5S — The iPhone 5S is nearly identical to its predecessor in size, shape, look, and heft. Visual changes are few, with important upgrades inside: the new 64-bit A7 processor and M7 motion co-processor. The M7 offloads work from the A7—continuously monitoring the device’s compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer—for greater power efficiency, even as it invites new fitness and health apps to leverage the technology. Camera, flash, and battery life are all somewhat improved, too. On a two-year contract, the 16GB iPhone 5S is $200, the 32GB model $300, and 64GB will be $400. The phone goes on sale September 20.

Touch ID sensor — Apple built a touch-capacitive fingerprint scanner into the Home button, so forget poking in passwords. Simply run your finger over the button, and it will positively read your fingerprint in any direction. Apple says all fingerprints will be encrypted and secure, and won’t be uploaded to Apple servers or backed up to iCloud. You can use it to unlock the phone or okay iTunes purchases.

iOS 7 — Apple announced the next iteration of its mobile operating system at this past summer’s WWDC event. Its completely new look features more color, flatter graphics, simpler fonts—and something like 200 new features, from Control Center and improved multitasking to a refreshed Notification Center and AirDrop (near-field file sharing). Apple announced a release date of Sept. 18 for iOS 7, which will run on iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPad mini, and the 5th generation iPod touch.

WWST? (What Would Steve Think?)

So, what kind of reaction did the event receive? Yawns, for the most part, as Apple has continued to eschew excitement and creative disruption for the safer play of incrementalism. That approach will not work for a company built on insanely great ideas. In fact, it’s greatly insane to think it will.