Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tablets on the rise as laptops fall

Article first published as Tablets on the Rise as Laptops Fall on Technorati.

Here we go again. 

The San Jose Mercury news is reporting that IDC (Intl. Data Corp) predicts 2013 will bring more bad news for the PC.  The de facto barometer of consumer markets has revised its latest estimate for yearly PC sales downward.  What was expected to be a 1.3% decline has now been  projected to be more like 7.8%.

The blame is placed squarely on an increase in tablet sales.  With 229.3 million expected this year IDC has gone so far as to predict tablet sales to outpace the entirety of the PC market by 2015.

Unfortunately, the news is both obvious and misplaced. 

Comparing sales of the Galaxy Note to a laptop is akin to comparing a fine wine to a 44 ounce fountain drink.

Tablets are consumer devices more on par with their Smartphone cousins than any laptop.   In a market sense they are disposable.  Conversely, laptops and the PC market in general operate on a much longer replacement cycle.  It's not uncommon, for example,  for the average tech savvy consumer to purchase 2 tablets during the lifespan of one laptop.

These days nobody would seriously consider paying upwards of $1000 for a laptop just to browse the web and check their email when a $300 tablet will do.  It's a given that such mundane mobility tasks have been ceded to the smart device market.    

As such, the decline of PC market share is to be expected but isn't quite the death knell the tech punditry keeps drumming on about.  Rather it's a realignment of markets defined by their functionality instead of their volume and that's as it should be.

A Surface Pro is not a competitor to any IPAD even though both claim a tablet form factor.  Their purposes are distinct and so are their customers.

In a sense, the  cheap, underpowered laptop of yesterday is the progenitor of today's tablet which now occupies it's place in the market.  A classic case of technological evolution and natural selection if ever there was one.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

WalMart's a dirty word...

A funny thing happened while I was writing a product review...

I know WalMart has a bad reputation but I didn't know it was this bad...

Click the Images for a larger view.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cord Cutting or A La' Carte, in the End it's All the Same

Article first published as Cord Cutting or A La' Carte, in the End it's All the Same on Technorati.

Last week Senator John McCain (R-AZ) took to the Senate floor with a proposal that seeks to lower your cable TV bill.   His proposal is to allow anyone who has cable or satellite television service to do something previously unheard of in the industry.  That is, only pay for what they want to watch.

A belief shared by McCain's colleague across the aisle, Senator Jay Rocefeller (D- VA)

"...rather than being able to pick smaller packages or choose the channels they want, consumers are still forced to purchase larger and larger packages of channels no matter how few they actually watch. This says to me that the market isn't working."

The Senate Commerce committee is scheduled to take up McCain's bill in a hearing on Tuesday (5-14.)

McCain's assertion is based on a solid premise.  Look at any cable or satellite TV provider and you find that all their programming is bundled into packages or tiers.  The only a la' carte options you have are for the so-called premium stations like HBO or Showtime which by themselves can cost an additional $10 a month or more and in some cases also come as part of a bundle.

Gone are the days of $20/mo basic cable.  A subscriber can easily find a bill of $50 or more per month with no premium channels.   Add HBO and a few HD channels and that bill is closer to $125.

In the end you ultimately end up subsidizing channels you don't watch.  That's because providers negotiate not with HBO or AMC but rather their parent companies like Viacom and Time Warner.  It's an all or nothing deal that can cause a disagreement over licensing fees on one channel to affect a dozen others.  That's why a tiff between a service like DirectTV and Viacom leaves subscribers with multiple blank channels instead of content. 

Cable industry lobbyists are against McCain's proposal claiming it's a "lose-lose" for both customers and providers as evidenced in an official statement from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

"As countless studies have demonstrated, subscription bundles offer a wider array of viewing options, increased programming diversity and better value than per channel options,"

Of course that assumes that the "wider array" is something you actually care to watch.  Even if you don't,  you're going to pay for it anyway and that's the logic of their claimed "win-win."

This is the rationale that's led to cord cutters who've turned primarily to online media sources like NetFlix and Hulu.  Unfortunately, legitimate online sources still can only offer a fraction of the content enjoyed by the traditional delivery model.  Unless you've got an HBO subscription, for example, you're not going to see "Game of Thrones" on the same day it airs unless you turn to illegitimate sources.

That's due to a reluctance of channel owners like Viacom to embrace online options that would lead to greater consumer choice but a less predictable revenue model.    It's flawed logic, however.
If you're a cord cutter it's probably not of any great consequence to you  about what happens to pay TV subscription rates but you're going to be affected all the same.   

With online bellwethers like YouTube launching paid channels it may seem like online TV options are poised to offer what traditional pay TV won't.    If the industry is forced into the a la' carte model, however, online TV will soon end up looking like it's broadcast predecessor.

You may be able to pick and choose from a few sources but likely run headlong into the same bundling schemes as traditional pay TV.  That's because the channels don't own the content, their parent company does and it's up to them to decide how it gets distributed. 

Add in the more targeted paid online options and soon you'll be paying as much if not more than if you'd never cut that cable.  Lest we forget data caps imposed by most Internet providers that could result in a nasty surprise in that bill if you enjoy HD content.

In short, the old guard of broadcast television has nothing to fear as one way or another we'll still end up paying more no matter how we choose to view their content.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Microsoft's new CFO and why Wall Street cares

Article first published as Microsoft's New CFO and Why Wall Street Cares on Technorati.

Amy Hood, Microsoft's new CFO.   It's a name I'm sure nobody knows outside of financial circles.  To the executive suites of Microsoft, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  After all, her last job was CFO of the  business division which just so happens to be the most profitable but the least glamorous. 

Let's be honest here, it's unlikely  Chairman Ballmer will be leaping across a stage to announce a new server product anytime soon. 

If you're a Microsoft shareholder fatigued over an incessant news cycle bent on denouncing Windows 8,however, it's likely you're delighted.  Hood not only oversaw the primary cash cow that nobody talks about, she also served as Chief of Staff for the Server and Tools unit. 

More than just chief bean counter her job was to set the tone for Wall Street in all things Microsoft Enterprise and she knew from whence she spoke.

Now her job is to do the same thing companywide and she's perfect for it.  Microsoft owns the Enterprise for most of the Fortune 500 and that's the story they want to tell.   Consumers likely won't care about who's CFO but they don't buy Microsoft shares either.

Let the pundits go on about the botched launch of Windows 8 and an interface only a video poker machine could love.  In the end it's the enterprise that will keep Microsoft viable long after Windows 8 is as distant a memory as new formula Coca-Cola.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The disability of a narrow mind

Anyone who knows me well has heard me utter the phrase, "mediocrity is the standard" more than once and usually with disgust. 

So what do I mean by that?

To be blunt, the standard of mediocrity means blundering through life never attempting to do more than the bare minimum.  It's a fallback position that many in the working world spend their entire careers operating from. 

It usually happens when someone takes a position they may be qualified for but have no real interest in.  How such a person can rise to power when a more engaged candidate doesn't is usually indicative of a systematic problem within the organization.  In short, everyone up the management chain is similarly disinterested and will protect themselves from discovery.   

If one operates under the standard of mediocrity for a long enough period of time they eventually assume that it's the status quo.  This is the disability of the narrow mind within the context of employment.  Note that racism, elitism and other societal 'isms are similar in that all effectively cripple higher reasoning.

Thus we see the initial stages of the "dominos of disaster" when practitioners of the mediocrity standard run headlong into more engaged individuals.   

When confronted with a potential threat to the status quo of mediocrity, the disability becomes readily apparent.  It surfaces in confrontational behaviors and rejection of information not contained within their narrow focus even when compatible with stated organizational goals. 

In effect, the inability to think "outside the box" regardless of how beneficial the outcome will prevent the afflicted individual from acting reasonably.

If it sounds like a medical or psychological condition it is.  In fact it's pathological in an organizational sense.

This is the dilemma that the long term and formerly self employed face when interviewing with afflicted organizations.  Candidates with such a backgrounds are considered inferior and suspect regardless of experience, accomplishments or evidence to the contrary.

Take the example of the former self-employed consultant now interviewing for a regular full time position.  In this case the candidate may get through HR and lower level managers but find opposition from senior management.  Even before the first handshake is extended the candidate is already in a diminished position.

Overcoming the condition is virtually impossible as any concession the candidate asserts is assumed to be suspect if not disingenuous.   The only recourse for the candidate is to try to frame their qualifications within the narrow context of the organizational pathology.

At this point it's usually a pointless exercise to proceed any further since the organizational dysfunction curtails higher reasoning and shortens attention spans.  This is most blatantly evidenced by repeated questioning about the same topic, yawning and in some cases snoring.

Unfortunately, most organizations suffer the affliction and have even elevated it to a de facto mission statement.  It's a common pathogen meaning you're going to encounter a lot of it in the corporate world regardless of your job function. 

If you do encounter such an organization (and you will) and still  wish to persist in your efforts to join it you can employ the following tactics.  Note that they will likely be unsuccessful but more productive than attempting to alert the afflicted to their condition.

  • ·         Lie -  You can hope they won't check your background and enter the organization with stealth if not outright deception.  With the easy access to information and most organizations requiring a formal background check it's likely you won't succeed past the first interview.  If the organization is dysfunctional enough, however, they may respond well to a cleverly crafted deception. 
  • ·         Debate- This tactic will likely have even less of a chance of success than deception but at least you'll be comforted in the knowledge that you were completely truthful.  The tactic involves countering objections to your qualifications by crafting your responses to fit the narrow focus of the afflicted organization.  For example, when confronted with a concern about work ethic especially if your career consists primarily of self employment try this.  Assert the merits of personal responsibility and client satisfaction necessary to run a successful small business.  It also wouldn't hurt to mention that you're a firm believer in trickle-down economics and would jump at the chance to be standing on the bottom rung with awaiting arms outstretched.  Keep in mind, however, that afflicted organizations and their management have limited capability to engage in higher reasoning so keep your responses short and at roughly the 6th grade level.
  • ·         Violence - Only useful if the prospects of arrest and incarceration hold no fear for you. 
  • ·         Submission - In short, be an apologist for your entire career and essentially "throw yourself on the mercy of the court."  In a severely afflicted organization with candidates less qualified than yourself this may be the most effective tactic.  Be aware, however, that should you secure the position you will likely find it unfulfilling.  Still, the knowledge that mediocre performance is the status quo may eventually make your stay more tolerable.  Beware the danger of becoming infected with the Disability of the Narrow mind, however, as it will alter you on a cellular level.  Then again, once infected you will likely become anesthetized to its ill effects and become blissfully unaware of it.  This is especially true if  the position offers a good prescription drug program.
  • ·         Defiance - This is similar to the Violence option above except the authorities aren't involved.  It's not so much a display of emotional outbursts as an attempt to make the hiring manager feel stupid.  The desired outcome of this tactic is to temporarily shock management out of their disability by forcing undeniable logic on them.  Your ultimate goal is to convince the hiring manager that you are the change needed to further organizational goals.  Unfortunately, this tactic has only been shown to work in the movie Office Space.

In short, afflicted organizations should be avoided if at all possible.  Otherwise damage to your career and possibly your psyche could result.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The good old days.

Vintage Atari Computers and peripherals

I've been rummaging around the house and I came upon a box.

Nothing uniquely special about it but when I opened it I found the contents magical.

It contained a collection of memories in the form of some old Atari computers.  I'm not talking about an old 2600 or a Jaguar but rather a collection of those old 8 bit wonders from the late 70's and early 80's.  They have names like 800, 130XE and 800XL.

I look on them with the same reverence someone a few decades younger may look on a Nintendo 64 or their first Mac.  They represent a time when technology couldn't come close to our imagination but we tried anyway.

I think those of my age are far more fortunate, however.  If you grew up in the late 70's and early 80's and had any interest in computers then you understand what I mean.  I've been privileged to witness the evolution of personal computers from little more than a novelty to an invaluable tool. 

Strange how things have come full circle in the so-called "post-PC" era of tablets and the Smartphone.  To listen to the pundits you'd think we were on the verge of personal computers becoming a novelty again.

To some extent they're right.   There's not much mystery to computers anymore and I doubt anyone will ever look upon their laptop with the same nostalgia I feel for that box full of Atari's.

When I was growing up I was aware that I was in the midst of a sea change.  When I was small there were no electronic games or home computers.  The few that existed  were crude and more expensive than any suburban middle class parent could justify. 

Childhood was occupied by exploring the world contained within a few square blocks of my house.  Friends, adventures and fun were all very much real.  No virtualization allowed aside from what came from my own imagination.

Atari 410 Recorder
When I got a little older I found myself in the middle of an explosion of technology. The first hand held games soon gave way to the first game consoles and finally my box of Atari memories.

 It was nothing short of amazing.  Turn on the power switch and I could play a game or if I had the patience, I could write my own.

I remember spending hours entering hundreds of lines of code from a magazine article knowing that one mistyped character could make it all for naught.

Looking back now, I was a data entry clerk at 12 and didn't even know it.

By today's standards using such dinosaurs was a tedious and laborious affair.  Hours of work could be lost seemingly without reason.  Cassette tapes and later floppy disks made for a poor archive with more than a few hours of feverish work lost because of them.  "Save now and save often" became a mantra.

I doubt today's teenagers would tolerate the shortcomings of early home computers for long.  Maybe that's where I learned the patience that I rarely see in those that came after me.  Today's world is geared toward instant gratification.  Even those of modest means can instantly satisfy a whim with an Internet connected device.  A feat that would take me weeks in my youth if it was possible at all.

Things moved quickly and before you knew it technology was advancing at an exponential pace.  The novelty was wearing off but it was still an exciting time.  The first modems allowed us to reach out to those similarly enamored.  The BBS or Bulletin Board System was the precursor to the Internet most evident in the millions of online forums that exist to this day.

Atari 130XE
It seemed every corner had a computer store and its aisles contained the stuff of dreams.  Computers, Software and periodicals about them seemed to be everywhere. 
Technology itself was the entertainment medium.  Just standing in the middle of a Federated Department store or a Radio Shack was better than a ticket to Star Wars with a free pizza. 

Even movies and television reflected the culture.    Tron was revolutionary for its visual style.  Wargames made millions of parents nervous about their kid's computing habits.  Both films showed how technology had moved out of the dusty confines of universities and corporations and into popular culture.

By the time the 90's came around the idea of personal computing was no longer in the hands of hobbyists or tinkerers.  They were as commonplace as traffic during rush hour. 

Suddenly the computer store on the corner closed replaced by Supermarket-sized electronics stores like CompUSA and Circuit City.  Technology had become commoditized, outsourced and disposable. 

Computers weren't fun anymore, they were just tools.  Cold instruments hailed as revolutionizing a workforce.  In reality, performing the same mundane tasks as their ancestors: pen and paper, abacus and calculator. 

Instead of being a catalyst to our imagination, computers and technology in general rarely rise above the menial anymore.  Smarter, faster but with no imagination there is no substance. 

A faster computer can calculate your spreadsheet in seconds.  A faster Internet connection can connect you to anything the online world can offer assuming there's anything worth seeing. 

Atari 800XL
Technology isn't the catalyst for change I'd hoped for in my youth.  It's little more than a new means to do the same old crap and that's the real tragedy.

Which makes my little box of memories all the more special.

I think I'll keep it.