Deflating the Taxis

Los Angeles International Airport is the last place in the city where traditional taxicabs don't have to face competition from the likes of Uber and Lyft. It's been a good run for them, but it looks like that last pillar is about to fall.

The cab services have enjoyed a monopoly on personal transport and as a result, complacency has led to degraded and unreliable service where prices aren't pressured. They take advantage of the fact that each bad cabbie is shielded by obscurity; you call a cab, not a specific driver. Sometimes it's perfectly fine, other times it's downright hostile. Uber and Lyft are offering competition which requires the taxis to be more competitive. While (like a taxi) you still don't choose a particular Uber driver (at least not typically), the service as a whole is cheaper, more reliable, and pleasant, so it's clear to see why they're succeeding.

One area where Uber (and to a lesser extent, Lyft) have absotely nailed is the payment system. You pay on your phone automatically at the conclusion of the ride. No tips (Lyft does allow for tips). No arguing over the fare. No chance that the driver "forgets" to start the meter. No cabbie yelling at you because you don't have $50 in cash on hand and want to pay by credit card. Split the fare amongst everyone with 2 taps. Rate the driver. It's a system designed around the passenger experience. What a revelation! They even have a mechanism by which the drivers can rate the passengers to help weed out unruly patrons.

The beautiful irony is that the same municipal restrictions which the cabbies fought for to give them their monopoly are now the chains by which they're bound, leaving them unable to adapt quickly to their new threats. This is pretty much the definition of disruption, and the taxis are a perfect example of what will happen if you're not constantly vigilant and nimble enough to adapt your business. Never be content with where you are.

While the taxi companies are complaining and scrambling to adapt, Uber and Lyft are taking money, expanding, and basking in the goodwill of passengers everywhere who finally have an option that doesn't suck.



Thoughts on the Camera Nubbin

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have camera nubbins. This has caused a significant amount of consternation. I’ll admit it: the thing is unsightly.

We all know Apple made tradeoffs when designing these phones. But most of us seem to assume that the tradeoffs they made were between: “bigger battery, flush camera, same or slightly thicker phone” vs. “smaller battery, protruding lens, thinner phone”. Given those tradeoffs, why choose the protruding lens and smaller battery when by just about all accounts the phones are thin enough?

Well, what if the nubbin exists because:

  1. Apple wanted to improve the camera optics and
  2. Could not get the quality they wanted at the requisite thickness to fit flush in the iPhone 6/6+ casing, and
  3. Is already well along in development of next-year’s iPhone models, which will retain the same casing, and also include
  4. A new camera which they *are* planning to make flush with the case, but which
  5. For technical reasons they cannot achieve in 2014 but can achieve in 2015, and
  6. Rather than ship a thicker device in 2014 and a different case in 2015, 
  7. Made the decision to stick with the nubbin this year, with the understanding that it will be gone next year and 
  8. They’ll be able to re-use the 2014 iPhone casing for the 2015 iPhones and 
  9. Enjoy the price and manufacturing economies of scale that go with such advanced knowledge and planning.
In other words:

Maybe Apple hates the nubbin as much as the rest of us—maybe more. We all know they made tradeoffs, but perhaps the tradeoffs aren’t as simple as we may think. Perhaps Apple has more information than we do and thus a far more nuanced perspective than we're giving them credit for. Perhaps they aren't prepared to divulge that information right now.

Perhaps with a similar perspective, we would all be celebrating our nubbins instead of reviling them.



Google, Nest, and Hope?

So Google just bought Nest and much of the Internet basically lost its shit. Including me.

My basic objection is that Nest is a company making great products, selling them for a profit and using that profit to make more products. Google does this as well, but their product is advertising and they're selling it to companies who want to advertise. Nest does neither of these things so it's pretty clear there's a mismatch, and seeing as Google now owns Nest it doesn't appear too likely that the latter will more heavily influence the former as opposed to the other way around.

That would be bad news for Nest and probably good news for Google, and any world in which that comes to pass is a world I'd prefer to not live in. But perhaps that won't happen.

A friend of mine suggested the reason Google bought Nest was not to further Google's mission to organize the world's information, but to help re-imagine Google's design culture. It's true that Tony Fadell is extraordinarily talented and his expertise would benefit Google, but if that's really the goal, do they really need to purchase an entire company?

The most hopeful explanation I've read so far comes from Ben Thompson who writes the excellent blog Stratechery. Ben writes:

In short, if you consider the three business models that are capable of being the foundation of multibillion-dollar businesses – consumer devices, ad-supported consumer services, and business software-as-a-service – Google had just about maximized their potential in the ad-supported consumer services model.

Enter Nest.

In my estimation, this deal is not about getting more data to support Google’s advertising model; rather, this is Google’s first true attempt to diversify its business.

I am still unsure whether he's right, and it's far too early to tell, but for the sake of Nest and the products they make, I hope that he is. I prefer companies like Apple who provide a product in exchange for money, and I will continue to be skeptical of companies who provide a product in exchange for my privacy. If Google is in fact preparing to diversify with its acquisition of Nest, I will be one happy customer.


Of Haircuts and Tennis and Sugar Ray Leonard

"It's a Small World" is more than just a ride at Disneyland. We've all been in situations where coincidences just seem too, well, coincidental, leading to the use of that phrase as the logical explanation. Sometimes these coincidences are tenuously but clearly connected, and other times the connections appear completely and utterly unrelated. This is a story of a seemingly bizarre confluence of tennis, a barber, and a champion boxer named Sugar Ray. 


I first met Julian in the back of an Airstream trailer. He was a barber, and I was someone in need of a haircut. Having just moved to a new part of town, I noticed his establishment parked on the corner next to the local Trader Joe's. I'd go running by it and peek in the windows, and one day I decided to give him a ring. The next day I arrived for my haircut and entered the trailer-cum-barbershop. It was nicely appointed given the limited space, with a small seating area, 3 barber chairs, and a small bathroom. Julian gave me a great cut, and he became my barber from that point on.


Not long after I began a new job with a company close to home. "Close" is a funny term, because while the distance from my house to my company shrank some 2500 miles, my commute went from 12 feet to about 12 miles. As noted in my previous post however, the move was a good one, (albeit rather short-lived, as the layoff fairy saw fit to pay us a visit last week). Working day in and day out with colleagues offered some nice perks, not least of which is the resumption of happy hour. And it was at one of these happy hours that things begin to dovetail.

I've been playing tennis for many years, and while at a bar having a drink with some coworkers, I was about to excuse myself so I could make it to practice. It turns out that another coworker is also a tennis fanatic, and she asked if I wanted to go play in a class at Sugar Ray Leonard's house the following week.

"Umm. What?"

This may not need to be said, but if someone offers you the chance to play tennis at Sugar Ray Freakin' Leonard's house, you take them up on that offer.

And so I did.


It just so happened that I had a haircut appointment scheduled for that weekend, which at the time seemed completely unrelated. While sitting in that barber chair in the back of Julian's Airstream, he began talking about how he wants to expand his business, and casually mentioned that he already has one celebrity client. A few snips here and there, and he reveals that his celebrity client is in fact none other than Sugar Ray Leonard.

Imagine his surprise (not to mention mine) when I explain that not 4 days sooner, I had been invited to play tennis at Sugar Ray's house. We discussed it some more, and Julian and Ray have been friends for years, and since Julian started cutting hair, it was only natural that he would cut Ray's hair as well. Of course.


The following week I met the other people taking part in the class outside Ray's estate. We walked through the gate and made our way to the private court, decked out in a classy Wimbledon purple and green as opposed to the traditional green/red or the more modern green/blue color schemes. We were doing drills for about an hour when the man himself Sugar Ray came out to join us. He played with us for about an hour, which was easily the most surreal experience I've ever had on the tennis court.

Before he left I introduced myself and explained the strange coincidence of being invited to play and the fact that we happen to have the same barber. I think he was more surprised than I was.


Time for a Change

A few years ago while in the midst of being laid off from my 3rd different company, and second in as many years, I wondered about how nice it must feel to be able to leave a company on my terms. I wasn't entirely deluded—I naturally assumed it would be difficult to say goodbye and move on—but I was convinced that it was still the easier and better way to go.

I don't think I was wrong about which method of exit is the better one, but I couldn't have been more wrong about which one is easier. Perhaps it's partially due to my inexperience (this is the first time in my career I've voluntarily left a full-time job), but I think the bigger reason is the decision I made to leave a great group of people and a company that clearly valued my contributions. That's not an easy thing to do, and it's a decision I did not make lightly.

But when I evaluated the opportunity before me, it became clear that it was time to move on. Time to work for a company located 10 miles from my home instead of 2500 miles away. Time to work together in an office with a great team instead of working remotely with a great team. Time to go work for a company making their own products instead of a company making products for other people. All of this is not to say there aren't advantages I'll be leaving behind (unparalleled flexibility and a commute of 10 feet from my bedroom to name a few), but for me and this time in my life and career, it's not where I need to be.

So as of today I will be saying goodbye to my colleagues at mPortal and on Monday I'll be saying hello to my new team members at SteelHouse. SteelHouse is a technology marketing company focused on empowering companies to take control of their own marketing strategy instead of relying on marketing firms. Their industry-leading tools and services aim to revolutionize the way online marketing is conducted and sold. My role within the company will be to manage the design and development of their marketing platform product, leveraging my experience in interface design as a bedrock.

It's a different kind of role than those I've held in the past, but at the same time it's exactly the sort of role I've been training for. Working solely on the "design side" of things, my responsibilities have centered on the function and style at the exclusion of implementation. This isn't to say I've been ignoring the engineering implications of my work, but just that I haven't had much direct influence on that aspect. But it's no secret that a great product must be usable, attractive, and expertly engineered, and I am eager to help guide SteelHouse in delivering state-of-the-art products and services.



Getting Rich in America

What's fascinating about the GOP tax proposals is their attractiveness to the middle class lies in the notion that the more you earn the more you should keep, and that's a proportional "more"—because obviously if you make more you will keep more. But their point is that the more you make, the higher proportion of your earnings should be yours to keep. This is endearing to those who make a lot of money, but it can be enticing to those middle-classers as well, since it portends a glorious future if they manage to increase their income by significant amounts. Sounds great! Sounds like the perfect motivation! What they often fail to recognize is that while it's tantalizing to think about the future, those same tax plans are actually making it much more difficult for them to reach that goal.

So while on the surface, the Democrats' plan of taxing higher earners at higher amounts may seem like a plan that helps out the middle class now but screws them when they make it rich, in reality that plan is actually what *enables* the middle class a much greater opportunity to reach those higher incomes.

And while under democrats' tax plan you may have to give up a higher proportion of your income, you still have more money than if you had not earned enough to incur such additional taxes. Oh, and the prosperity for the entire country improves as well. So, there's that.

Some would call this socialism, but we're not talking about showering the middle class and the poor with the riches of the top earners. We're talking about reducing the earnings gap that is getting absurd so the rich stay rich, and the middle class have an opportunity to become rich.



Not sure what this is but I think I'll pass.


The bookcase says hello.


Drinking a "Presidente" in honor of El Presidente. Rock on!