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Three Tech Companies I Like and Three I Don't

Three Companies I Like

Apple. The whole culture around Apple is simply amazing. People make fake photos of press events and upcoming products. Press events are covered live by several web sites. Geeks have finally embraced Apple and Macs are becoming much more mainstream. Apple's products have always been innovative and set the bar for design (and now with the switch to Intel, performance) that everyone else seeks to reach.

Microsoft. I was originally going to put Microsoft in the "Three I Don't" side, but couldn't really think of anything more to say about it than "I'm not excited about them as much as I was 6 months ago." I think in large part that has to do with Scoble (and Niall Kennedy) leaving Microsoft, leaving me with 0 Microsoft bloggers in my blogroll. That said, Microsoft still has some great products coming down the pipe, notably Vista and Office 2007. They will, however, face a lot of competition in the next year, particularly in the video games division with the Wii and PS3 releases imminent (not to mention against Apple's Leopard in the OS space). Still, Vista RC1 seems to have gotten a lot better than Beta 2; the new Office Ribbon has also had good uptake; and the XBox 360 (with XBox Live Arcade) has been a wonderful platform for both mainstream and casual games and will have had a year's worth of experience before facing the Wii and PS3.

Yahoo. Things have been coming along, albeit slowly, in terms of the integration of Yahoo's Web 2.0 acquisitions into it's mainstream content. We now have "Add to del.icio.us" links on every Flickr page and Flickr thumbnails on del.icio.us bookmarks. Also, not only is Flickr's geotagging feature is great as a standalone feature, it also does a great job of showing off Yahoo's new map technology. I hadn't known that Yahoo had finally made the switch to AJAXy maps, but after using it with the geotagging, I almost like it better than Google Maps. There's only so much that can be different in the two map services, but I feel like Yahoo's does a better job of labeling minor roads and landmarks.

Three I Don't

Google. The "throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks" defines Google's strategy and I don't like it. I feel that it's hard to build a following for a company when you haven't given your fans enough time to really like your products before throwing something new at them. I think it's also going to be tough for Google to balance monetization of user data and easing privacy concerns. You can either piss off investors by not adding context-sensitive ads to Writely (as an example), or you can piss off your users by making them question your commitment to privacy when they see ads related to their top-secret business plan show up in a sidebar. The features of Google that I use have been around for at least 2 years, meaning that in my eyes (and probably the eyes of many others), the company has done very little in the past two years, a long time in any industry, but an especially long time on the internet.

Sony. Talk about a lack of ability to listen to one's customers. Sony has been stalwart in their approach to the PS3. They've defended their outrageous price tags to the death and really think that more graphics and more power will make for a better gaming experience. The success of XBox Live Arcade (and the Nintendo DS for that matter) point more accurately to the future of gaming: simpler, casual and more fun games. Case in point: despite having Madden 07 at our fingertips, I think we've spent more time trying to get 6 black pearls in Hexic. Grand Theft Auto or Zuma. What would your mom rather play? What would you rather your 9-year old play? Gaming aside, Sony bills the PS3 as the cheapest Bluray player on the market. While $600 may be cheap for a Bluray player, I don't know if many people will pay anything for a Bluray player unless it can also play HD-DVD or until the dust settles in the format wars. By pricing their gaming system at $600, they've effectively created an alliance between Microsoft and Nintendo. For the same $600, one could pick up an XBox 360 and Wii and have access to both system's libraries, plus everything on XBox Live Arcade and whatever Nintendo releases out of their back catalog.

Palm. Since the release of the Treo 600, we've had only minor improvements in Palm devices. I love my 650, but is there really a viable upgrade path from it right now? The 700p has only minor improvements over the 650 and not something I would consider worth waiting two years for. In the meantime, RIM has introduced a more phone-like, "less wide" form factor for it's Blackberries with the 7100 and refined it with the Pearl. Even on the Windows Mobile side, we've gotten a slew of phones, both of the Smartphone and full handheld variety. The Motorola Q and HTC's lineup have made keyboards the norm for Windows Mobile phones. Windows Mobile has been updated just about every year since 2002, in comparison to the Palm OS, which has had no real improvements since 2004. We've simply seen far too little in the past few years, from what was once the overwhelming leader of the PDA industry.

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The Perils of Life on the Web

Flickr is down. According to FlickrBlog:

We've had a temporary storage failure affecting a sizable chunk of old Flickr photos and are moving about 20 terabytes of photos across a few thousand miles (between two of our data centers) to ensure consistency and smoothness. ALL PHOTOS AND DATA ARE SAFE AND NOTHING HAS BEEN LOST.

Even though nothing was lost, this event does bring up a serious issue now that a lot of people are keeping the bulk of their lives online instead of on their local machines. Giving in to a false sense of security, I'd venture to say that a large majority of people are even more lax about a backup strategy than they were when most of their stuff was kept locally. The ease of starting up a website is a double-edged sword; it's a by-product of the fact that most websites are hosted on commodity hardware – largely the same stuff that sits on your desktop.

The only difference is that you aren't in control of the backup strategy. Flickr may have a great backup strategy or they may have gotten lucky. We don't know and we probably won't. But hopefully this little incident will push people to order DVDs of their Flickr photos or download their GMail to POP or even to create utilities that'll get your data back in your control.

Now that we're practically placing our lives in the hands of others, we just need to decide just how much actually trust that those hands won't drop us.

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DS Lite Success "Hinges" on QA

It seems that the Apple-inspired Nintendo DS Lite is having quality assurance problems that also seem to be inspired by Apple.

Reports are coming in that the hinge on the new DS Lite is all its cracked up to be (man is this post too punny or what?). Worse yet, Nintendo is claiming that this isn't covered under warranty and is charging users the standard $50 fee (~$40 of the cost of the system) to repair it. This series of events eerily echoes Apple's stance when there were early reports of MacBook Pro and MacBook QA issues (though they've since changed their stance).

Both the DS Lite and the Apple laptops are considered by many to be the pinnacle of industrial design. Is this the unifying factor between the two that is causing these QA problems? Is it still possible to design something aesthetically-pleasing and have it last until at least the end of the warranty period? How much longer will consumers be willing to brave these issues to have something pretty to look at in their hands/laps/desks?

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Philadelphia Getting Credit Card Coke Machines

The Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co will be rolling out 1,000 new vending machines next week. The new machines will come equipped with RFID systems for contactless payment and magnetic stripe readers for credit/debit card payment. According to the article, "Among the planned locations for the new payment system are the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Museum of Art." (emphasis mine)

Its quite exciting to be at the heart of such a huge rollout! Hopefully I'll be able to check one out over the next few weeks and get some pictures up. More to come as I stumble across these new machines.

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Full TV Episodes on YouTube

Here's a list of a bunch of TV shows available on YouTube. There's a good mix of old and new, you've got classics like Diff'rent Strokes and current hit shows like Lost. What really caught my eye, though, was the 30 or so episodes of TechTV's The Screen Savers from 2004. I was a big fan of TechTV way back when and I'm now a big fan of TWiT so to see Leo and Patrick on screen again was a real treat. So throw your crusty old copyright laws aside, sit back, relax and watch a classic episode of The Screen Savers!

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Move Over May Day, It's RSS Appreciation Day

Steve Rubel declared that today would be RSS Appreciation Day and he's got a handy tutorial for using RSS with Google Personalized Home Page. While it may not be much use to the technophiles, it's a great thing to share with your friends and family who may not be as tech savvy.

On a side note, my biggest complaint about Google Personalized Home Page (aside from the ridiculously long name) and what's kept My Yahoo as my home page for far too long, is that the three columns are the same width. I much prefer My Yahoo's approach with the main column taking up twice as much space as the two side columns. Still, My Yahoo can't touch GPHP's cleanliness; boy is My Yahoo ugly.

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High Dynamic Range Imaging

Here are pictures of Tokyo and New York City utlizing High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging techniques, where multiple exposures of the same scene are taken so that you get much greater range of colors in your images. After combining images, you get all the details in the shadows while not having the rest of the scene blown out.

The images are very cool looking, haunting almost.

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Penn Library does social bookmarking

I saw a link to this in my referrer logs…

PennTags is the University of Pennsylvania Library's social bookmarking tool. I haven't added anything yet, but at first glance, it looks a lot like del.icio.us.

It has a feature called projects, which are basically folders for those who aren't folsonomified yet. There also all the goodies you'd expect from commercial social bookmarking sites, such as RSS feeds for everything, bookmarklets and even a Firefox toolbar (for bookmarking and other library tools).

This is the first I've heard of this, but a quick Google search reveals that this is at least 4 months old. I'll be the first to admit I don't spend much time at the libary (Whartonites are averse to any text not in Excel), but this is the first I've heard of it so they haven't done a good job of advertising it.

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Web 2.0 or Star Wars Quiz

I got a 40/43 on the Web 2.0 or Star Wars Quiz, which means that I'm three points below being Mike Arrington, writer for TechCrunch. I gotta say though, the way I did it was by recognizing the ones that were Star Wars characters and marking the rest "Web 2.0".

(The purpose of this post was mainly to try out the Performancing Firefox extension)

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Ben Franklin and Web 2.0

Josh Petersen discusses some interesting connections he has drawn between Ben Franklin and the Web today. He calls Ben Franklin the "prototypical" blogger, saying that Franklin, "he was a self-publisher, he remixed content, he wrote it himself, sampled it from other papers, republished it, built out his own distribution network."

According to Josh, if you were looking for a modern day Franklin, look no further than Robert Scoble and Lawrence Lessig, or a combination of the two.

Josh also tells a short story about Ben Franklin that I thought was pretty funny and says a lot about the city of Philadelphia. Someone had suggested to Franklin that he set up a fund for a few hundred years with the proceeds going to the city of Philadelphia. He did just that, setting up a £1,000 fund for both Boston and Philadelphia for 200 years. When the Boston fund was cashed out, it was worth $5 million. According to Josh, "the Philadelphia one didn't do as well." That sure says a lot about the quality city Philadelphia has become.

I'm not even a quarter of the way through the talk, but I just thought these few points were worth mentioning.

UPDATE:
The word "amateur" comes from the word "amare", which is Latin for "love." An amateur does things because he loves what he does, not because of monetary gain.

(via Signal vs. Noise)

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