The Abstract Truth

Archive for March, 2008

Hello, New York Times!

Posted by rbpasker on March 25, 2008

In Goodbye, New York Times, Jimmy Guterman writes that he is no longer going to read The Times in hardcopy. I can appreciate that. Its expensive (relative to the online version), wasteful (pace recycling), and gets your fingers dirty.

But instead of looking forward to why The Times hasn’t joined up with Amazon to deliver the news on Kindle, or with Apple to produce an offline iPhone/iTouch news reader, this O’Reilly writer, ostensibly a leader in new media, shows himself to be stuck in the last century’s thinking about the newspaper business.

First of all, Guterman writes:

For all the pleasure of holding and print, the Times on paper is just too late. In 2008, today’s paper is yesterday’s news.

The reason people read the New York Times is not for the late breaking news, but rather for its news analysis, which has expanded in recent years. Years ago, The Times realized that it had stiff competition from the web and cable news, especially on the west coast, when deadlines are 3 hours later. New analysis, however, is reflective, and competes on insight rather than timeliness. By Guterman’s logic, print weekly and monthly news magazines would also be worthless.

Guterman also writes:

In this era of advertising-is-the-only-business-model, management at the Times Company has decided that I’ve decided that the value of what it sends to me is zero.

Actually, The Times Company has decided that the value of what it sends him is quite high, but the paywall revenue was growing much slower than the advertising supported revenue.

“The business model for advertising revenue, versus subscriber revenue, is so much more attractive,” he said. “The hybrid model has some potential, but in the long run, the advertising side will dominate.”

I’m not saying everyone has to read The Times in print. I certainly scan the Times’ RSS feed for headlines once during the day. But if you’re going to dump the print version, its should be because of cost, wastefulness, and cleanliness. A hardcopy paper won’t easily be able to keep up with the web, but the print version (or a physical facsimile thereof, like the Kindle or iPhone), read in repose, is more conducive to thoughtful reflection and analysis than sitting at ones desk flipping through links.

Posted in tech | 2 Comments »

My photograph on Curbed

Posted by rbpasker on March 13, 2008

Yesterday, I was wondering what was happening in this lot next to my building building, so I sent Curbed this picture. They wrote back and said they would write a story. Here it is!

Its no art piece, but hey, it’s someplace on the internet besides my Flickr page 🙂

The Renwick Fully Revealed: Hot Chicks in the Sticks

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How to Write Crappy Documentation

Posted by rbpasker on March 10, 2008

Dear Documentation Author:

Thank for putting out a 150 page document on your new product. I really appreciate it when a company puts the time and effort into producing a voluminous manual, rather than just letting people figure it out for themselves.

But I would have to say, your documentation is worse than useless.

Here is a perfect example:


It is not OK to show a screenshot of a dialog box and then just list the elements in the dialog box and tell me to fill it in!

You also don’t need to tell me how to mark a checkbox, “Click next” or “Click Finish”.

I do in fact know how to read the screen, and I do in fact know how to use a mouse and keyboard to move around the screen and fill in boxes.

What I don’t know and can’t tell from your documentation, is the definition and usage of concepts and terms in the dialog box, such as “Server Path Mapping”, “Platform Server”, and “Platform GUI”. Please either inline or hyperlink descriptions of what they are, and tell me how your application uses this information. I don’t need to know how to go about “Defining a Platform Server”. I need to know what a “Platform Server” is.

Furthermore, you documentation implicitly asks me questions (‘Do I want platform integration?’, “Do I want ‘tunneling’?”), without giving me any clue about how to make a decision or what the impact is of my decision.

It seems that some of the information on the form – URL, return host, server root, username and password – needs to be coordinated with other applications. It would be useful to know exactly where this information comes from, and how its used here.

I’m also concerned about putting a password into the dialog box. Is it stored in plain text? What are the permissions on the file in which they’re stored?

And please don’t tell me to “enter the relevant information.” If I knew the “relevant information,” I wouldn’t be reading the documentation. Its your job to tell me what the relevant information is, where it comes from, and how its used in the application.

I wish that the above was an isolated incident. But in fact, this may be one of the more informative sections of your manual.

The point of documentation is to inform and educate, not to explain how to move around the screen and how to fill in the blanks.

I’m sorry, but your manual just doesn’t cut it.

And its worse than useless because I spent way too much time hunting around for information in your manual, and not enough time getting done what I wanted to do.

A former user

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iPhone Application Ideas

Posted by rbpasker on March 9, 2008

With the introduction of the iPhone SDK, people will be writing iPhone apps like crazy. There are a number of special features in the iPhone that make it the perfect platform for advanced mobile applications, so I’ve started brainstorming about what some of these apps might be.

There are three new technology features in the iPhone that I think will make the biggest difference in the kinds of applications people can build:

3D Accelerometers

With previous mobile devices — such as Blackberrys, Window Mobile, and Palm — users interacted with the device via the keyboard, stylus, or scrollwheel.

Using the iPhone’s 3D accelerometers, the iPhone can sense its own orientation to the earth in 3 axis and measure how fast and in what direction the iPhone is moved.

With orientation and motion detection, users will be able interact with the device by holding or moving the iPhone in a certain way. For example, when using the iPhone’s phone function, dialing and holding the phone up to one’s ear disables the touchscreen, so that the user’s cheek doesn’t accidently interact with the screen. When the user moves the phone away from his ear, the screen is again enabled.

Continuous geographic location reporting

Even without a built-in GPS, the iPhone can approximate its geographic position by using radio waves to measure its distance to surrounding cell towers. This position reporting is accurate to within a few hundred yards, and is much less accurate then GPS, which is accurate to a dozens of feet.

Using the location services, applications can change their behavior depending on where in the world they are.

The most obvious use for this feature is for location-based services, such as maps and driving directions. But location services could also for new kinds of commerce, such as distributing discount shopping coupons to consumers who are near a particular store.

Bonjour networking

This is the unsung hero of the iPhone. This technology lets Bonjour-enabled devices interact with other Bonjour-enabled devices in the immediate area without requiring a central server. Now, two iPhones can communicate with each other directly, so long as they were within WiFi range.

This feature would allow friends or family members to find each other in a crowded mall or movie theater, or send each other files and media without using email or SMS.

Other Bonjour-enabled devices include printers and webservers, so iPhones would be able to print on local printers without configuration, or browser the websites of local merchants.

New Application Designs

Rather than putting my application ideas up here on my blog, I am hosting them on Google Sites because I want to be able to add new ones and improve them. I’m Putting each application in a separate blog post so people can comment on them individually.

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iPhone Ideas — RideReporter

Posted by rbpasker on March 9, 2008

RideReporter is an application for pilots that measures and reports areas of turbulence.

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iPhone Ideas — BizCardSwapper

Posted by rbpasker on March 9, 2008

BizCardSwapper is a little program to let you exchange business card information with your friends and colleagues, even ones that don’t have an iPhone!

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iPhone Ideas — FrienDar

Posted by rbpasker on March 9, 2008

FrienDar is a radar screen to help you locate your friends.

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My Letter Made Boing Boing Today!

Posted by rbpasker on March 5, 2008

See the “Update” section below the article.

Censorware that blocks BB mentioned in Denver Post piece on filtered WiFi at DIA – Boing Boing

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Advisory Agreements: Exercising Options

Posted by rbpasker on March 5, 2008

When one of my advisory board positions recently ended, I received notice from the CFO of the company that I had to exercise the options within 30 days after the termination date or lose them.

I had been an active advisor to the company, got paid zero in cash, and now I had to lay out a five figure check. Since the company had recently raised money, the valuation of the company had gone up, so the underlying shares were now worth more than they were when the grant was made. According to the IRS, I would have to pay capital gains tax on the difference between the option strike price and the current value of the underlying shares. This would amount to another five-figure check

This did not make me happy. Here I was, paying the company, not the other way around. And if the stock eventually became worthless, I had not only risked my own time (which I was fully prepared to do), but my money, too (which I was not prepared to do). To add insult to injury, I would also have to pay taxes on non-existent capital gains. If I am going to invest cash in a company, I want preferred stock, not common.

After a bit of research and consultation with my lawyer, I realized I had made a few mistakes.

First of all, at the time the options were granted by the board, I should have received a signed copy of the “Plan” under which my options were granted. That Plan lays out all of legalese that specifies what the circumstances are for granting, vesting and exercising the options. Had I been given a copy of the plan and read it, I might have noticed that the plan stated that the options had to be exercised after 30 days.

Second, I should have added a clause in the Advisory Agreement overriding the 30 day exercise-after-termination provision in the Plan. This would have allowed me to hold the options, cash-free and tax-free, until a liquidation event, before I would have to exercise them.

In the end, things worked out, but it required a lot of effort and caused a lot of angst.

In the next couple of days, I will be writing the CFOs of all the companies in which I have options, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

And in the future, I will lay all this out during negotiations.

Posted in advisor, My Companies | 2 Comments »

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